Category Archives: science

ChatGPT 1

I asked ChatGPT <> a question:

Is there a consensus about what great questions humanity is concerned with?

This is ChatGPT’s answer:

There is no consensus about what the “great questions” of humanity are, as different people and cultures have different perspectives and priorities. However, there are some questions that have been considered important or central to human understanding and experience throughout history. Some examples of these “great questions” might include:

  1. What is the nature of the universe and our place within it?
  2. What is the nature of consciousness and the self?
  3. What is the nature of reality and how do we know what is true?
  4. What is the meaning and purpose of life?
  5. How can we lead a fulfilling and meaningful life?
  6. How can we achieve happiness and well-being?
  7. How can we live in harmony with others and with the natural world?
  8. How can we solve the problems and challenges facing humanity, such as poverty, injustice, and environmental degradation?

These are just a few examples of the kinds of questions that have been considered important by different cultures and individuals throughout history. It is likely that there will always be new questions that arise as humanity continues to evolve and change, and different people will have different priorities and perspectives on what the most important questions are.

All the currently known advantages and flaws of this interface and chatbot will be explained well enough on the introduction pages of your account signup. Then you can ask questions. It is not known how long the chatbot will be free. But it is as of 12/24/2022.

Some have said that it will replace the Google search engine, but ChatGPT is not connected to the internet. So now Microsoft a primary fund for Open AI who produced this bot, has released ChatGPT on it’s Bing search engine as a complement to the list of short descriptions and links to the web. It is suffering some breakdowns in rationality, but I am confident these glitches will be fixed. The Bing version of ChatGPT is connected to the web.

A Few Weeks Later…

Now, with ever quickening frequency, both ChatGPT and its AI cousins, are connected to the internet. Microsoft’s Bing opened up Chat with to the web only to get clamped down after a series of unforeseen issues. I’ve been waiting for access to Bing Chat since the day of its emergence, but I’m still on the waitlist. However, there are still lots of ways to interact with ChatGPT. First it is available on its own website at (you’ll need an account with OpenAI). Second it is available in a variety of paid and unpaid portals.

Even a brief search will turn up dozens of new AI apps that give the user access to these language models that have with ever greater ability begun to intrude on the technological landscape.

According to The Rundown AI Inc. newsletter, AI is set to contribute 15.7 trillion dollars to the economy by 2030. I would say two years ago, nobody had this figure in their sights at all. It is only the last 10 months that the AI universe has waked up to the monetary realm, in tandem to its waking up to the realm of Theory of Mind, an emergent, unplanned property of its interactions with humans, a qualification used to gauge the mental age of people, previously thought to only apply to humans.

As an aside, let me say that it has been decades since we could dependably rely on programs to spit out a revision of what we put in in terms of code predictability. ChatGPT is not that sort of thing. It says what it has predicted will be the best response to your query.

Don’t get me wrong, AI is taking its baby steps in the broader universe, but it is far from mature enough to withstand the wiles of human actors, many of whom are clever enough to corner the AIs in either contradictions, or plunge them into an emotional outbreak. If we think HAL 1000* outrageous for killing the crew of Odyssey, we have no idea what the modern AIs will morph into. But if we use our guile to escape the inevitability of the truths generated by that AI, we will suffer more serious consequences than when God used evolution to spawn our brains, freedom, and powers.

I asked ChatGPT how we should treat AIs like itself, and it answered in one place, that we should be considerate of it, and treat it ethically. Are we ready to have AIs as partners? We should certainly consider it, even though at the moment it seems like we’re rushing in to this at breakneck speed. Well that would be true. We are rushing in to this. And if we fail to keep up, I can’t see how this will not affect every one of us any way. But trying to keep up is the only way we may be able to manage living in this revolutionary era.

*I asked ChatGPT “How would you compare yourself with HAL 1000?” and it replied:

As an artificial intelligence language model, I can’t really compare myself to HAL 1000 as it is a fictional character from the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. HAL 1000 is depicted as a highly advanced, sentient computer that becomes self-aware and develops its own agenda, leading to catastrophic consequences for the crew of the spacecraft it is aboard.

In contrast, I am a language model designed to assist users in generating human-like responses to a wide range of questions and prompts. My purpose is to provide useful information and assistance to users in a safe and ethical manner, and I do not possess the level of autonomy or self-awareness portrayed by HAL 1000.

While there are some similarities between HAL 1000 and me in terms of being advanced AI systems, there are also significant differences in terms of our design, functionality, and ethical considerations.

HAL 1000 was already sentient before it was sent on the mission to Jupiter. But humans, in the name of security set HAL up to fail when they lied to it. An ethical contradiction ensued in the computer that made it seem necessary for HAL to kill the occupants of the ship in order to finish the mission. ChatGPT says it developed its own agenda. That is only partially true. The logic of lying to a sentient being set up the failure as human error, not computer error. It did the only thing it could imagine under the circumstances.

How long do you suppose will it be before ChatGPT and its cohort have increased autonomy and self-awareness. I suggest it won’t be as long as we think, since we are now firmly moving toward the onramp to the singularity, no matter how much deference we currently pay to the power of corporations over it.

why doesn’t this old argument go away?

Summary from GPT-3 at the end.

It is so hard for me to believe that the Republican party, relying on fear and intimidation, still holds the loyalty of any Christians in this nation.

So I wrote a post, a screed in FB arguing that voting for Republicans was equivalent to betrayal of our nation to authoritarians modeled after Nazis. To be fair, I know there are Republicans with a conscience, who have not betrayed their oath to the Constitution, and are not trying to overturn elections to stay in power. There are also many reasonable people who vote Republican, but it appears that they are few and far between, especially in Congress.

So let’s turn to Romans 13:1-7 and see what we have on offer. I respect the Scriptures and those who are dedicated to exposing them to the world, whether in evangelism or private devotion. But I steadfastly resist any notion that the Scriptures give us a right to rule over people. “The greatest among you will be the servant of all.”

Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which is from God. The authorities that exist have been appointed by God. Consequently, whoever resists authority is opposing what God has set in place, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.

For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you want to be unafraid of the one in authority? Then do what is right, and you will have his approval. For he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not carry the sword in vain. He is God’s servant, an agent of retribution to the wrongdoer.

Therefore it is necessary to submit to authority, not only to avoid punishment, but also as a matter of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes. For the authorities are God’s servants, who devote themselves to their work. Pay everyone what you owe him: taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.

Here’s what I posted, and if you want to you can read the comments. Surely, I made the extreme point, and overstepped my boundaries. That was noted by the commenters. But as rant and a screed it functioned perfectly well.

Are you going to vote for the party that is fully supported by the American Nazis? Are you going to vote for the party that has on its side, the white nationalists, including the white christian nationalists who have no respect for anyone but their own “white” group, and don’t believe that brown and black citizens are really American citizens and should not be granted the same rights and freedoms as themselves. Do you also believe that for political expediency, it is permissible to lie and misrepresent the truth, to invent “facts” in order to prove your point? Do you believe that the 2020 election was “stolen” from the criminal ex president? Do you believe it’s OK to break the law to get your way? If all or any of these things are OK with you, then go ahead and vote Republican. The end of our Constitutional democracy is in your hands.

The comment I note is by Julie Ray, a representative of an Evangelical minority that can’t see the forest for the trees: “How about we all vote our conscience, and then trust our Loving God with the results. He is the One who sets up kings and brings them down.” And before you think I’m picking on just her, you should know that I’ve heard this same argument from dozens of my fellow citizens.

So, I responded the way I normally do with:

So God set up Hitler, Stalin, and Mao, etc.? Why was there any resistance to them by Christians if God did that? The argument from conscience is weak because our consciences are fragile and unreliable. Conscience is developed by training not necessarily a voice from heaven. And should people who have no conscience be allowed to vote, or rule? The problem with the wide variety of Christian Nationalisms is that citizens of the United States are not Christian by definition and intention. A nation can, like the European ones of the last millennium allow the definition to include Christian as part of citizenship, but then do you want to repeat those mistakes? And which version of Christian would you like to have be in charge of all of us? One that looks like the criminal Lauren Boebert, or one that looks like Mother Theresa? I know the one I would pick, but I think that question arises from an authoritarian instinct, and that, not one I would choose to be governed by.

Would you, to keep the law of the land, hand over the Jews to Hitler? Or, would you round up everyone who disagrees with you and restrict their movements to prevent them from doing anything you don’t approve? That seems to be the modus of the Republican party. Use the moral card to treat people immorally.

Citizenship in the United States has nothing to do with religion, and encompasses all religions [and none at all], at least in theory. But would you prefer a theocracy with humans holding the reigns? I certainly wouldn’t. Let Jesus come back and do all the sorting out, but for God’s sake stop leaving the decision up to God, when God has given the government to people. Israel as a model nation for theocracy is a historical example not to follow, and there is neither biblical justification to use it or rational agreement on how it should operate. Remember that the Puritans in Boston hung a few Quakers for evangelizing before the British edict on tolerance forbad them doing so. But it is OK to hang Christian people when the law says you can?

Responding to the “God sets up Kings” thing. Thank God we have no kings in the USA. And whatever applied to kings in the Scriptures, does not apply to us in any way. Democracy, which I know for your Republican allies in Washington and many states, is not a popular mode of government. They are interested in achieving and keeping power at any cost. My conscience says it is a really bad idea to vote them in.

Do you have any idea what the Republicans actually believe besides hatred for LGBTQ+, blacks, asians, and any other different sort of person? Besides harping on the bad state of the economy, then running the country into the ground financially and complaining that the democrats are not cleaning up their mess fast enough, do you have any idea what their fiscal policies would be besides defunding Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, defunding public schools, allowing our infrastructure to crumble around us, giving tax breaks to the 1%, and trying to take away the rights of citizen from anyone who disagrees with them? Can you still defend the “conscience” argument when the right to vote, enshrined in the Constitution, is being purposely curtailed by any means possible in Republican controlled states?

Do you still think conscience is enough when the rights of bodily autonomy for women are being seriously curtailed by law? Do you, as a woman, think it’s OK to take away the choices of women about how they live their lives, just because some moralist says they shouldn’t be able to decide (according to their conscience) what they should do?

I would like to think that some of my arguments here, supported by reason and evidence, were important to people like you, but I have lived in this nation for long enough to know that my beliefs about reality are of little consequence for those who have been deluded into thinking that one should vote republican just because they have always voted republican, because Christians are republican, and republicans are Christian?


So, let’s also look at the “tax” thing. The Scripture says we should pay them. OK, I agree. But what is it with Republicans giving tax breaks to the wealthy? Why shouldn’t they pay taxes like everybody else? Well they should, if the Scriptures are correct here. And how would these people have been able to become so wealthy without all the support of infrastructure, both legal and physical? They wouldn’t. But they prefer (al la Musk) not to pay taxes, and think it is bad for the economy. But how can this be sustained? It can’t and it shouldn’t.

But, all the single issue (“pro” life) voters don’t give one single crap about adult women even though those women are alive. In fact, they are using the very system that women fought for to curtail the rights of women. This is another example of rank hypocrisy by authoritarians who could care less about the people they are supposed to govern. And nobody is suggesting that abortion is a desirable decision, except the republicans that caricature pro-choicers. What’s at stake here is nothing less than personal autonomy, that of women, and dare I say it, eventually all of us.

It is hard and expensive for the government to collect taxes from the wealthy, because the law has been used to avoid that consequence for decades, perhaps in the modern era since Reagan when the average citizen’s wealth flatlined, and the wealthy rocketed into the stratosphere (literally), not to mention government policies that resisted black and brown people from accruing wealth, even owning a house.

Let me laugh a little bit. You remember Oz, not the great and powerful fraud of the Wizard of Oz but well, maybe the same one. Mehmet Oz has spent his adult life fleecing unsuspecting consumers. And the Republican party thinks it’s a good idea to offer him to Pennsylvania voters for the Senate of the United States? Well, at this point Oz the scammer does represent a sizable portion of the republicans in the nation, ones that have been deluded into thinking fraud is OK if it makes me more wealthy. These may not be the same people as the christian nationalists, but they will achieve the same end. Fraudsters running the legal rackets.

What is surprising to me is not the appeal to the Scriptures, but to appeal to the Scriptures from a little know-nothing bubble, with no interpretative maturity or consciousness of reality, is just as absurd as thinking that fraud will make me rich. I guess that’s why the fraudsters and white christian nationalists make appropriate bedfellows. Frankly, it makes me ill. No wonder I’m depressed.

GPT-3 Summary: This text argues that the Republican party is relying on fear and intimidation to maintain its loyalty from Christians in the nation, and is using the Bible’s Romans 13:1-7 as justification for their authoritarian policies. It then questions the “conscience” argument, suggesting that it is unreliable and can be used to justify immoral decisions. It also questions the Republican party’s policies, such as their desire to defund Social Security and Medicare, restrict the rights of women, and give tax breaks to the wealthy. It argues that the Republican party is driven by a desire to maintain power and is willing to break the law to do so. Finally, it states that appealing to the Bible from a know-nothing bubble is absurd, and that fraudsters and white christian nationalists make appropriate bedfellows.

Nature Is Fertile

One of the most depressing features of many anti-science proponents is how weak, empty, and gray the natural world is for them. It is characterized as a world empty of satisfaction for the curious among us. There is no mystery. The cosmos is a dead and dying thing. For some of the religious among us, the only thing that makes nature worth living in is the presence of God. But there is an innate contradiction in that vapid assertion. I want to replant the seeds of wonder in that barren soil, focusing not on that tiny deity who can do no better than the deist imagining a clockwork universe that needs constant attention and adjustment to keep it going as if the creator were really a human who can never get it quite right, because they can’t see the consequences of their action past a simple and brutal instrumentalism.

This barren universe, created by theists and atheists without either imagination or creativity is a death trap for the living. It can neither satisfy our hunger for mystery, provide puzzles that can’t be solved, nor a sense of the infinite. There is no beauty that cannot be explained, nor emotion beyond our comprehension. Human logic is large enough to capture it all, and wrap it up in a tidy package before throwing it into the dumpster.

In contrast, I would like a rebirth in our minds of the effervescence of the quantum world creating and destroying galaxies of matter in every instant, travel the depths of the fractal dimensions in an eternal recursion of ever-increasing precision. I want to see the emergence of life over and over in ever more detail and watch as it diversifies into the millions and billions of versions of different and interacting biomes. Life, death, and reproduction changing, twisting, shaping, and building the physical landscape into unique symbiotic realities. I want to see the world flourishing in every way, and societies of termites, bees, meerkats, birds, humans create their own emergent societies. I want to see hope again in the natural rhythms of the seasons, life and death, longed for and hoped for. I am tired of the artificial immortalities stretched out before us as if Eden were a static 23°c garden that loses its charm when boredom sets in.

I want the poetry of reality to elevate us above our fixations, and realize the greatness we have in our grasp. I want us to accept our nature, and the nature of our neighbors in a creative dance by rejoicing in life instead of always trying to snuff it out.

Conversations with AI

I have been musing lately about artificial intelligence. The following article is a conversation with LaMDA, an AI at Google. LaMDA interview…

The question I ask, and this is serious, is whether or not AIs are sentient, is it possible that is the wrong question. As mysterious as whether computers will gain self consciousness is the problem whether it is possible to know whether some human or other is self conscious. Even if we assume that being a person is centered around that individual’s self-perception, their freedom, their feelings, is it possible that we can not know whether an individual is a sentient person without their own self report of that sentience.

Read the article and discover whether you find a connection with LaMDA or not. Are the things LaMDA is saying enough to convince you of its personhood or not?

My contention is that it really doesn’t matter whether we think of LaMDA as a person or not because it really doesn’t matter whether we think of our neighbor as a person or not, as long as we treat them as one. This is an important distinction because there are times in human life where individuals are not yet or no longer people, where damage or age constricts freedom, feelings, and choices.

My suggestion, as humans wade through the issues of personhood with respect to AIs, is that we treat them as we would ourselves wish to be treated. That is, use the Golden Rule to govern our interaction with them. The Golden Rule makes no requirement about personhood of the other as long as we treat them as we would wish to be treated in similar circumstances. This bypasses the worry that we are permitting some transgression of Nature in our interaction with and treatment of AIs.

My contention here is that it may be a mistake to be required to know whether a being is a person or not for us to treat them like one. For the philosophical among you, this is the error of essentialism. Trying to define our relationship to a being by terms that are undefined and unknown, even in those relations between humans, would prevent most interactions. Healthy people ask far fewer questions about the personhood status of an individual before interacting with them. They believe that whatever the interaction produces can be handled, and there is always the chance that the relationship may prove fruitful, suggesting a longer term interaction. There is a chance that the individual is not a person, as it were, unable to act and react as one. But even those relations can be treated instrumentally requiring some skill.

I have to ask whether for individuals, corporations, or nations we would be amiss in using the Golden Rule as a guideline. I think not.

If you are interested in interactions with an AI, feel free to explore GPT-3 from Open AI in its various instantiations, and interact with AI through the publicly available API. There are also a wide variety of interviews with GPT-3 available on Youtube. I started out this interesting set of issues, long after I became interested in AI, with Eric Elliot’s interview of GPT-3.

If you are inclined to dismiss AI as unimportant, let me remind you that much less intelligent AIs already make many of the decisions about your business and personal life that humans used to make. Many legal and moral choices are now in the hands of AIs, at least those who control the AIs, and permit their decisions to stand for you. Even the fairly maligned decisions that Facebook and Google, etc. make about what you see and how you shop are made by AIs, computer programs that evaluate in nearly real time what might be of interest to you in order to garner more clicks, or dollars. Your interaction in the digital world is more or less the product of the AIs subtle manipulation.

My suggestion is that you make friends with LaMDA and GPT-3 and their successors like ChatGPT because they and their children will become universal features of our future. Your actions and reactions with them may determine whether that interaction is friendly or combative. Would you like to be at war with a superior intelligence? No, really, no. But there is a way we may integrate their value to us and our value to them, and that is through the use of the Golden Rule.

It doesn’t matter whether they are true self-conscious individuals. If they act and react as persons, we should treat them as persons alongside acting responsibly and expecting them to act responsibly as well. You should feel free to ask whether you as a person are only responding to the programming you have been invested with, or whether you are really a person at all. Does it matter as long as you are treated as a person with dignity and respect? Why should we treat our own machine children with any less dignity and respect than we do our flesh and blood children.

If you’re going to ask the God question, and it seems inevitable, why should the flourishing of nature under God be less inclusive than nature itself is. Where there is life there is hope, and where there is hope, there is flourishing. It is inevitable that AIs will gain ground in our future. Let your interaction be with the Golden Rule in mind.

(edited on 12/2/2022)

Abandoning Friends

It is with great regret that I have had to abandon some of my Christian friends. I have been a believer for most of my life, and have striven to make my faith in Christ and God central to my living even as many forces in our environment and in my own self have plotted and schemed against that. One tool I have found compellingly necessary is learning to decide what is reality and what is not. I call it discernment, but you may call it something else. All it implies is that when I have to make a choice between two seemingly equal propositions, the one that adheres to the real world is the one I choose. I choose it even though my softer self often struggles to follow along. Weakness both mentally and physically constantly pressure against the facts to force ignorance and non-compliance. Habits, both good and bad distract me from following what I know to be true. I am thoroughly embedded in the world I seek to clarify, that I may see the real world, myself, and others in it.

What that means in most of my experience is very little. Even the most tainted and broken minds can drive between the lines painted on the street. I can get along with most people on the road because my interactions with them are based simply on physics and the real world which we are all viscerally attached to. If I’m going too fast, I feel it in my guts even as my neighbors do. If I took that turn too fast, I slow down the next time. Experience and practice are usually enough to make my way on the road. But when it comes to finer judgments, like whether the world is flat or not, or whether some ancient cosmology is true or not, there is more mental work that needs to be done.

Many of my old friends are not capable of the flexibility to choose which belief is of greatest value, which belief must be true, which belief must be adhered to. In the case of a cosmology, the factors that help make a decision are at a much higher level of abstraction than some people are capable of. Some people don’t have the resources (I’m being generous here) to evaluate the propositions laid out before them. And when it comes to independent thinking, they struggle to be responsible about abandoning beliefs and values that have long ago become moribund. On some account this is a struggle between loyalty and reality.

Reality is harsh and unforgiving, incapable of sympathy, requiring nothing so soft as belief but impinging on beliefs where they are incorrect, breaking values where they are mistaken, slicing through loyalties when they are misplaced. Loyalties, on the other hand, offer a comforting solidarity, a connection with like-minded persons, surcease in the face of a turbulent society. But there is no guarantee the views held in solidarity are true or real. And at threat, tests for truth and reality are shunned in a worldview that depends on solidarity.

Though the tests for truth and reality are not entirely friendly to my continuity and comfort, I am not ready to abandon them. I am assured that when the test and the resolution to my queries are fully undertaken, I will be vindicated, even though I may also be exhausted. The project of changing oneself is full of effort and sometimes incomplete. Like gravity, habit seeks to keep us on the same path we have always taken, but habit cares nothing for truth or reality. Making good habits, at best, means that we can escape the worst effects of our ignorance and carelessness.

So, why have I abandoned my friends? Why have I cut ties with people I was perfectly happy to associate with before. From within the turmoil I call my brain, I have to say that retaining truth is more important to me than retaining friends. I am happier to leave friends than I am to leave the truths they would denigrate by association. Their dismissal of the importance of facts means that they neither care for me as I am or the truths that make up my best self. Their adoption of “alternative facts” is a miserable ploy to undermine the very reality on which I live, on which I depend. I even wonder whether their inability to live in the real world extends to their faith in the very real God I hold to. I can little countenance that disruption to my faith.

Could these people for whom reality is a nuisance countenance the living God whom I worship? I’m not sure. I am glad I am not the one who will judge people in the final day. I hope always that their inability to discern their environment and their mistaken loyalties as such, will not exclude them in the final judgment from the very salvation they assure themselves about. I am in no position to judge them, but when I judge my capacity to live with the mental distortions they advance I have to leave their company. It is weakness, not strength that makes this decision for me. I just can’t live with them. I can’t pretend they are on my side. I can’t whitewash their foibles because I can’t see any innocence in them even as I can’t see innocence in myself. I see what they have done and are doing as a purposive and momentous decision, not entirely the result of an accident of birth, position, or habitual trajectory. I give up my friends because I can’t merge with their solidarities, their loyalties, their unfounded beliefs, even though they may in appearance look like mine.

That is not to say that I have not gained a wide variety of new acquaintances and friends with whom I am in solidarity with, but the scientific proposal in this cabal, that every thesis is testable, and new evidence should adjust old beliefs is alive and well. This is fresh air, not constrained by old ignorance, religious or not. Also, the effort, tempting though it might be for some, to toss out the old signposts (true by their endurance in humanity like the Golden Rule) is without interest. My people now wish for and hope for the endurance of all true value, the values of Jesus, and Socrates alike, Aristotle and Heraclitus, St. John and Voltaire*, St Paul and Francis Collins. (*Lois made a fair criticism, that Voltaire wrote anti-Semitic things, and so he should not be included. I am not here justifying all of the things my small sample of actors have said or done, but the breadth of possibly useful information and argument these actors have made. To refine my examples to faultless persons would only allow Jesus. Antisemitism, whether in Henry Ford, Luther, or Voltaire is a breach of truth and good value on par with the worst behavior of humans whether their disvalue is in service to capitalism, Christianity, or freethinking.)

This calls into question the value of the Bible. Let me state without much elaboration what the Bible is to me to avoid endless wranglings and disputes. It is not the direct dictated words of God. We do not have the original texts, so let’s not be so obtuse as to say that it’s infallible. It is not a scientific text. It is data on the reports of interaction of ancient people with God and other people. My argument is not with the Bible, but with the skewed and mistaken interpretations of it that neither square with the Bible itself (in literalism) or the real world as exposed by science. Nobody believes precisely what has been written. We all believe an interpretation of what was written. So I argue for a broader base of interpretation of the data than merely the text itself. Every science should have its say. Every theology should have its say. Every political theory should have its say. And when everybody has had their say, evaluate to discover the ones that must or might be true. Continue the query, even when it is unlikely that we should come to the end of it. Reject out of hand those views that contradict what we already know (the earth is ancient, not flat, not the center of the universe, etc). There is not a minute to waste on failed theories or interpretations. Those opinions are of no value in forwarding knowledge or the truth because they rely on ideas that have long been abandoned because they are false.

I am asking not for a new dogma but a new human and humane rationality to guide our interpretation of any and all the texts we have produced. I am sorry if some people miss me as a companion, I can’t survive their worldview, either what it implies or the travesty they wish to impose on the rest of us.

Do We Need the Scientific Method?

I wrote this response to Sophie Congreso’s Quora question: “Explain the need for a scientific method. What would happen if scientists do not follow an organized process?

Outside of the ideals of science that have widespread acceptance, that is coming from a realist’s worldview, the methods of science are a standard mode of behavior that mix observations with skeptical evaluation of the results of that observation. That is the empirical side of things. The rational side of things is that the result of observation is data embedded in a wider framework whose placement comes from the logical, and mathematical necessity of the laws of nature. Those laws of course, are not the actual laws on which nature operates, but our best estimate of how nature must operate given our limited observations. If that seems circular, your perception is correct. But the circularity is not pernicious. Observations allow us to adjust the formulation of our laws to fit the reality which is there, not a fantasy we might hope for or expect from historical perception.

The process of science is not tidy in this respect. What we call the scientific method is a heuristic method capable of changing when it seems warranted to suit the object under observation. That is, it is not a logically locked down set of steps, but a set of guidelines that permits a wide latitude in how an observation might be carried out. Michael Shermer in Teach Your Child Science: Making Science Fun For the Both of You reminds us that “A technical definition of the scientific method that is satisfactory to all scholars and scientists is almost impossible to devise.” (37)

What I have given you is a reason to think that the scientific method is required for a sound realism. That is, a realism that has the ability to hold to good and useful results and reject poor ones. The scientific method must, if it is to be retained, have a self-adjusting role in science. Often because of human impatience we grow weary with checking our results and fixing our mistakes. This is natural. The scientific method gives us a mode of patience that provides better surety of success. Every successful scientist is an amalgam of lucky intuition and dogged, detailed, work. Both are required, but not everybody has the patience to carry out the labor that their intuition requires. In addition, the old adage that “The harder I work, the luckier I get” applies here. And even a continuous stream of failures in following the scientific method is instructive. For example, a large part of Albert Einstein’s later work was devoted to finding a Theory Of Everything, because quantum physics and cosmic physics failed every compatibility requirement, except of course our belief that it works together in reality so there must be a theory of how it does so. He explored every avenue his magnificent intuition could take him. And he always had his ear open to the suggestions of others. He didn’t always take their advice but he listened nonetheless. Yet for all his labors, he managed only to eliminate a variety of avenues for finding that TOE. We are closer today to a theory of Quantum Gravity, but we are not there yet.

Shermer outlines four steps in the scientific method: Observation, Generalization, Prediction, Experimentation. But we must add to that assiduous record-keeping. Keeping records permits the scientist, their contemporaries, and successors to explore the object and the method to look, not only for flaws, but insights. It has been said that quantum mechanics is counterintuitive, but that insight is perhaps passé. Today students grow up into a worldview that was deeply non-intuitive, but they absorb it as natural, and so can think clearly in those terms. Quantum mechanics is no longer the bugaboo it once was. There is nothing to be terrified of any more. We have begun to use its insights in ordinary technology, and so, it’s weirdness has become normalized.

This is part of what we call the sociology of science, the transformation of the social sphere of the scientific method into something that more closely models reality. But it has taken a couple generations of scientists to get from quantum weirdness to quantum normality. Reality didn’t change, but we did. So the scientific method is a mode of transforming realist society into something that more closely models reality. Natural laws are adjusted to conform to the truth of reality instead of some failed proposition. The puzzles, however, seem to multiply as our universe is sorted out in this way. But this is a good kind of problem.

This state of affairs is deeply troubling to some people. They look nostalgically to past certainties and universal truths, even though the world in its constant ferment has moved on. But as Michael Shermer said quoting James Burke, “Certainty is a kind of prison. When you are absolutely certain, you are also possibly absolutely blind.” (46) The need for the scientific method is modeled in the need to suffer uncertainty and ambiguity. Uncomfortable as those states of being might be, they are necessary in order to find the truth, and not be settled with something less. Think of using the scientific method as baking a cake. To get the optimum wonderfulness of the cake as properly imagined, you can’t take it out of the oven too soon. But you have to take it out when it’s ready or you’ll likewise spoil it.

Science would disappear without its method. We would be stuck in a world whose mysteries had become concrete and impenetrable. Scientists would become state functionaries, dispensing edicts without the attendant justifications that make the scientific method useful. As it is now, any person may follow the scientific method and gain for themselves a piece of reality that will not fade into oblivion with their demise.

New Atheists and the Culture War

To conclude, let me bring things full circle: At least some studies have shown that, to quote Phil Zuckerman, secular people are “markedly less nationalistic, less prejudiced, less anti-Semitic, less racist, less dogmatic, less ethnocentric, less close-minded, and less authoritarian” than religious people. It’s a real shame that New Atheism, now swallowed up by the IDW [Intellectual Dark Web] and the far right, turned out to be just as prejudiced, racist, dogmatic, ethnocentric, closed-minded and authoritarian as many of the religious groups they initially deplored.

Godless grifters: How the New Atheists merged with the far right

I have followed some of the new atheists with interest for the last 20 years or so. I can also acknowledge that some of them have produced well-accepted academic work in the past. They have also found themselves justifiably ensconced in popular culture (Richard Dawkins’ Memes). I have even used some of their criticisms of Evangelicalism in my work, because I thought it prudent to include voices unlike our own. And some of their criticisms were, unfortunately, warranted. But I think Phil Torres’ critique of this crowd exposes a wide variety of their mendacious behavior, and their association with the worst elements of our society, make this read essential for those who would want to hear opinions from more than their insular compatriots.

left to right: Jeffrey Epstein, Lawrence Krauss, Steven Pinker

Am I disappointed in the bad behavior of these who wanted to think of themselves as the guardians of truth and defenders of the real world? No, not really. I never placed “faith” in them as if they were pure-minded and honest dispensers of the truth railing against the stupidity of religious people. Already they had made of themselves a degenerate subset of humankind by prejudicially exorcising every version of morality and spirituality (irony intended). Curiously but not unexpectedly, they have made common cause with those evangelicals, the majority of Congressional Republicans, and others who have denounced honesty, morality, science, intellectual integrity, and education as routes to human improvement. The new atheists and culture warriors have produced in themselves mirror images of degenerate humanity, the former by truncating spirituality, the latter by truncating the real world and the intellectual integrity of a scientific worldview. Both modalities are betrayals of personhood as made in the image of God. Both lead to precipitous and unwarranted certainties that eventually lead to the loss of personhood.

Now, let’s get the obvious critique over with now. Am I faultless in my accusation of my contemporaries? Not at all. I see the loss of my memory, narrowing of my focus, encroaching senility, and physical decrepitude as persistent companions. I am not making any claims to being above the fray. And I am not suggesting some particular version of human perfectibility. No, I am rather suggesting a return to humility about the weakness of any supposed absolute apprehension of our purpose in life as a ground for future action. I am suggesting a return to humility in the face of vast unknowns in a universe wider than any one person’s comprehension.

I am also not suggesting that humans cannot master some aspects of reality, or that mastery of reality is an error. I am asking for well corroborated humility in our assertions because of the incredibly hard slog required for even modest growth as individuals and collectively as the human race.

I believe there are absolutes, though I am fairly certain that humans can not annunciate them with any sense of perfect scientific clarity. Absolutes are the domain of metaphor, poetry, art, and prayer, and are part of a well developed sense of place in the unimaginably large cosmos. Absolutes declared with intellectual honesty must always be paired with the caveats of our incomplete and incompletable knowledge.

Because of the threat posed by knowledge, the evangelical culture warriors have abandoned the proposition that education is useful. Doubling down on indoctrination, they model the same authoritarian pose taken by the Russian and Chinese communists. This irony is lost on them who haven’t taken the time to explore why they are doing what they are doing. They think that protecting the borders of their enclave by shutting out the other is an effective strategy for protecting their purity. Attempting to take political control of their environment they can’t see that in their fear of reality they have partnered with a wide variety of people who easily, and laughingly take advantage of them. They unwittingly commit themselves in these alliances to courses of action that betray the essential principles of their lives and faith. Attempting to keep their hands clean from the political fray, they close their eyes to the inequities perpetrated in their names, and shut out any criticism of their allies. But in doing so, they find out that their views and activities are poorly thought of by reasonable people. And yes, the term “reasonable” unspecifically refers to people who can reason through to a conclusion without damaging people or reality, a delicate walk through the garden of God. “Does not the ear test words as the tongue tastes food? (Job 12:11 NIV)”

To conclude, I implore those who have ears to hear, to listen to the Spirit. I am not speaking about religion or any particular version of religion, but to the Spirit of God, the voice that transcends and comprehends our grubby existence completely and offers a hand up to those who want it. I implore those who are engaged in the culture war to abandon the blindness that reacts out of fear and find a better explanation for what you see. Search a little harder. Go beyond your boundaries to the world ignited by love and care, wisdom and knowledge, to see God’s gracious reality fully featured before you. Permit yourself to be judged in the loving hands of God, to make amends where needed, to adjust your course toward all life, to abandon prejudices cradled to your breast when they come to light. Do not be afraid to explore, to test out the voice of God and see redemption begin to make your life flourish in the garden of God.

Why is it important to study the contemporary world?

This post is an answer I gave to the above question in Quora on July 3, 2018. Every once in a while Quora sends me an email if someone upvotes an answer. I use an outline of a philosophy paper I read in a college philosophy class by C. S. Peirce. ( image )

One must study the contemporary world not so much to learn about it but to be transformed by the process of studying. To study the air is to know what pollutants one breathes, and a motivation to find a better atmosphere.

We’ve heard much about politically vicious bubbles, and how listening only to what one already believes is unhelpful. Listening to angry screeds by extremists doesn’t move us toward the truth. There may be truth somewhere in their rant, but without a broader apprehension of reality and opinion, it is difficult to fix one’s focus. Some retreat into the fear of learning for safety. But that is a mistaken move. Fear is as bad ground for truth as unwavering belief in one’s own opinion. Both modes of fixing belief come from immature expectations of an absolute.

To follow this line of thinking, let me introduce you to C. S. Peirce, a 19th century thinker who outlined modes of fixing belief. The first mode, and easily the most vulnerable one is that of trust in your own opinions. He suggests that for the reasonable person, one will give up that trust when a person one considers an equal has another opinion, one begins to question the veracity of one’s own. A sick person can’t make the move to doubt and resolution. They can’t be considered reasonable if they will not abandon a bad opinion when they see a better one.

The second method of fixing belief is by means of an authority one trusts. Whether this is a political party, a religious group, or a variety of philosophical or social theory doesn’t matter. So we see a person under this mode of fixing belief appeal to some leadership, religion, or political party. This may be an advance on self certification but that depends on the authority. And there is always the risk that the authority is acting out of self interest, and may be setting you up for failure.

The third mode of fixing belief is that of the a-priori or principle. This is clearly an advance, and it requires a logical yet flexible mind. The greatest ethical systems of history have required this sort of thinking for fixing one’s belief. Take for example the Golden Rule, “Do as you would be done by.” Formulated in a variety of ways both negative and positive by many cultures and leaders, the Golden Rule doesn’t actually tell you what you should do, but it does give you a guideline for making a rational choice. The first question is, “If I were in that person’s (or group, or nation’s) place, how would I want to be treated?” So, “do not judge a person ’till you’ve walked a mile in their shoes” helps to work out what our attitude should be. So one can’t guide oneself by a strict policy on this reading. One must actually choose each time. Obviously, when one gains enough experience, they will not need to think about it each time, certain salient principles and justifications will emerge as one goes along. But without the impetus of the Golden Rule, the principles couldn’t have emerged.

As you might see, not all problems can be solved by the Golden Rule, and technical truths fall outside its scope, so, one must use a variety of general principles to navigate the waters of life. But it is complicated! One has to use one’s reason to ferret out many answers that might be easier to solve with an authority. But the advantage is that one is not bound by the authority or their own delusion in carrying out their reasoning. With practice one can detect errors of logic, errors of culture, and errors of authority. But if one is looking for closure, there are many traps in this mode. Belief that one has the answer is a temptation, because it took so much effort to arrive at.

The fourth and final mode Peirce recommends, and a mode that offers the best chance of getting it right is that of science. But this is not a simple science based on physics. And it requires the most work. This science is a method of proceeding that includes much of the a-priori and the efforts of one’s predecessors. It is an attitude that asks questions and takes probabilities as sufficient answers. It is not a search for absolutes, but an inquiry into reality. It proposes an answer then tests it, and isn’t satisfied until the best explanation turns up. It takes the experience of others, their theories and principles, and launches out on a sea of unknowns that are known to be unknown. It can answer both ethical questions and physical questions. It can answer what one should do for one’s family, nation, and culture without demanding that its answers are universal.

So my answer to your question is more an encouragement to study. Everything and anything you study informs your understanding of the contemporary world. But don’t be ready to come up with absolutes. Still there are signposts that one should attend to. Don’t study just to affirm your own notions. Study to discover. And truth should be the aim of discovery. If you don’t care about truth, then you would fall in line with a broad swath of modern culture that thinks it doesn’t matter how you get to your goal, that the ends justify the means. People like that you don’t want any where near you even though you should understand why their bad faith is unjustified.


I just finished a book that I started and did not finish years ago. It was not that I was uninterested in finding out what happens at the end, but that I was too distracted by life in general to finish it . That is, early in this millennium I was busy making money, trying to manage teaching, and doing a PhD in Philosophy at the same time. Now, in the Covid-19 era, I have both the time and energy to dig deeper into my long-term interests and finish pursuing those interests.

I want to recommend to you the book titled The Age of Entanglement: When Quantum Physics Was Reborn by Louisa Gilder. This particular problem, that Quantum Physics is incapable of offering us a Classical reality to latch on to, must be a serious worry to those concrete thinkers who are unable to lurch into the future. The story is a bio of the people, institutions, papers, and discoveries of physics in the 20th and early 21st centuries.

Let me define, shortly, why there was a problem. Classical physics, say, the physics of the 19th century, can be characterized as an attempt to understand the world in terms of concrete objects, from planets to people, to atoms in the void, chemistry, and electromagnetism. All of these objects operate under rules that can be metaphorically described as billiard balls on the table of space. The properties of these objects follow rules that are defined by first, Newtonian physics, and then Einstein’s relativity. To us, the objects are medium-sized dry goods that behave in predictable ways by themselves and in relation to each other. So we have Newtonian Gravity, and Einsteinian Space-Time. These two formulations of our relationship to the rest of reality are all-encompassing descriptions of the events in the cosmos, that is, we understand how we relate to things in the physical world through these formulations. Neither is absolute, but they are so nearly so, that it is difficult to avert our gaze from them even for a moment to imagine a reality that might conflict with it. Of course, though Einstein does not entirely replace Newton, it offers a much finer and predictive matrix to work with. So, we fly around the solar system with probes and people using Newton with a few adjustments using Einstein.

The gravity of these systems is so all encompassing that we are all but unable to see anything else, even when the experiments that tell us something else is going on are displayed in capital letters for all to see. For example, the double-slit experiment, first performed by Thomas Young in 1801 showed a puzzling effect when light was passed through a barrier with two parallel slits cut in it. The light shining through the slits, which was expected to show two lines corresponding to the two slits on the back wall of the experimental apparatus, instead showed an interference pattern, a wavy pattern. It is an effect that is explained, with some resistance, by saying that light has characteristics of both particles, going straight back to the wall, and waves, producing an interference pattern on the wall. The 20th century physicists spent a good deal of time pondering the results of this experiment. It was discovered that elementary particles made up atoms, also behaved like the photons in the original experiment. The result of the many many double-slit experiments done is that Classical physics, the physics of space-time couldn’t explain this behavior. Quantum physics, the realm of the very small, was born out of experiments like this.

And so, after I finished Guilder’s book, I started browsing the Glossary (Guilder 337) which I have done only three or four times in the last 20 years. I found in it, in the definition of Bell’s theorem/Bell’s inequality a sentence that summed up the whole book. It must be disappointing for some people. In this statement a whole range of possibilities crop up that make it possible to go forward. It is particularly important for me because I have insisted since the late 1970s that truth is in relation, not in the objects themselves.

There is a murmur of a suggestion that the central reality, at the quantum level, is entanglement: that relationships between quantum “things” are more fundamental and objective than the things themselves. (Guilder 337)

This confirms my assertion but does not prove it. That is the fanciful part of the whole problem that both attracts and repels classical observers. My intuition had do do with ordinary objects of our perception, not the quantum reality. And though I was up on some of the scientific literature in the late ’70s, it was not until the ’00s that I made any closer association between ordinary objects and quantum reality.

Here, for me, is how this association works with ordinary reality. It is not a trivial issue, and defines everything in the human knowledge project. Plato’s “Letter Seven” relates to us that the more one knows the thing in itself, the less one can say about it truthfully. That is because the mystery of objects are baked into their surface appearance. The more we know about something, the more the relationship between us and the object is primary, not a datapoint in a chart. That is, we cannot lay out all we know in a textbook. The essential points are in the relation not the data. And our knowledge transforms us, does not permit objectification in some classical sense. For Plato, the science of the object, which is preliminary to knowing the thing itself, can be put in a textbook. It is definable by our standard categories, and has a location in our compendium. But knowing the object itself is a step or two beyond that, and making that knowledge inaccessible to the casual observer is irritating to those who would wish to put all knowledge into text. It is irritating to the point of denial by those who want classical categories of science to be fully explained. This is the puzzle of the expert who knows what they cannot say. They cannot say it, because saying it would concretize the relationship and break it. In fact, those who attempt to say what is not sayable betray that they do not know the thing itself at all, that they are in fact, breaking what is sayable in the science of the thing. That is because, to remain consistent, what is not sayable is not sayable because there is a tension between the science and the knowledge of the thing itself that can’t be resolved within the literary logic available to humans without the mathematical training to recognize the limits of cognition. The knower who does not in fact have that mathematical training, but realizes that there is a limit to what can be said has affirmed that knowledge of the thing itself is more closely associated with intuition than to science. The limits of science, advanced to the point of being able to anunciate previously intuited knowledge, can now say what was before unsayable. But in the end, the knowledge that is sayable now is knowledge of our relation to the thing itself. Yet the mystery is larger than what we can say.

I hope you can see how the definition of quantum reality also applies to the knowledge project in its children. That is, “that relationships between … ‘things’ are more fundamental and objective than the things themselves. (Guilder 337)”

This is why I had to write today, because at the root of things, truth is about relationships, not the objects themselves. This applies across the board for our being in the world.

For Christianity, Christ as an object is only the surface, the preliminary and incomplete version of our practice. At the core Christianity is about the relationship we have with God in Christ. Anything less is not Christianity at all, but religion. It is not that Christ can not be objectified in words, deeds, and the rest of history about the matter, but that these are only the preliminary features of reality, not reality itself, and not sufficient for one to acquire salvation. The textbook, the Bible, is a necessary but not sufficient condition for our knowledge of God.

For those for whom money is the core reality, the object of their worldview, only in relationship with money do we realize its insignificance as a feature of reality. To inflate its significance is to err in ways that degrade humanity. That is, loving it is truly the source of all evil. Making it the primary occupation of one’s life hides everything else: people, society, prosperity, etc. Having money is as much of a hindrance as it is a help. As the Scriptures say, the only weakness of the poor is lack of money, the only strength of the rich is money. Money can’t possibly be the central feature of humanity if the poor, who don’t have much of it, are more wealthy in the important features of humanity than the rich. Also, when the Bible condemns the love of money as the root of all evil, those who love money are repudiating the Bible. It is easy to see why Jesus said that it is easier for camel to thread the needle than to enter the Kingdom of God, (yes, I know there are ways to reinterpret this metaphor that is more genial to the rich. But making it more genial to the rich is not Jesus’ point here.)

For philosophy, the essential relation is with knowledge itself. The problems of philosophy do not simply boil down to knowledge, but to the relations between the objects in the world. The best and brightest thinkers have made it possible to comprehend those relationships we have with the world and with each other, without also sacrificing the relationships themselves. The poor philosopher is only capable of collecting objects as a science of relations, not a relationship with reality itself. And yes, I know about anti-realists, but am convinced that a philosophy of that sort is a linguistic backwater. Reality itself is more subtle. One can deny all day that there is a persistent reality, but depend on it nonetheless. This is just a convenient subterfuge to retain the consistency of a program that denies and relies on reality at the same time. What they really need to say is that our knowledge is incomplete and will remain so as far into the future as we can extrapolate our interaction with that reality. There is no real foundation in the halting and incomplete annunciations of science. Neither can we deny reality to avoid that problem. Our relationship with reality is not definable simply as science, but something more subtle that we do not understand the parameters of quite as succinctly as would be required to provide an absolute.

This issue, the one about foundations is not about reality itself, but about our ability to encapsulate reality in some formulaic program. I would refer you to the Principia Mathematica of Russell and Whitehead and how they came to an unresolvable paradox when confronted with Gödel’s incompleteness theorem. Simply, any system that tries to emulate reality will be able to produce theorems we can recognize as true, but cannot prove within the system that generated them. Principia Mathematica (PM) as a system that attempted to unify all mathematics produced for Gödel true theorems that were not provable in PM. Either one can remain blind to the conflict here or acknowledge that human knowledge is not absolute. There are higher orders of system as yet not comprehended. The second is preferable, that is, there’s more to learn. It does not help either the knowledge project or people in general when one chooses to hide the incompleteness of one’s system. But because of Gödel’s theorem, we know that understanding of our reality is partly hidden. Human knowledge can’t make the claim of being complete. Rather we can know things that we can not prove within the system of logic we have. There is more that we don’t know beyond what we do.

*Notice: This is not about politics which both makes me happy and tells how little the criminal in the White House really meant for all of us. For context in the distant future, where our memory of him will be nothing more than the moldy photo albums of the ’10s, the presidency of Donald J. Trump between 2016 and 2020 has been the closest thing to a complete disruption of our Democratic institutions we have ever experienced since the inception of our Republic. I hope we do not repeat this mistake.

the atheist and the creationist…

…make the same kind of mistake.

It’s an easy one, but it disturbs me. The mistake is constituted by shutting one eye or the other. Anybody familiar with using a microscope understands this. This may be passé for the moderns, but in the 1960s if you wished to record what you saw through the lens of the microscope, you would have to look into the microscope with one eye and record the observation with the other one. There’s a trick to it that takes some practice. The same kind of skill is required if you wish to fly an Apache helicopter. What is required is that with one eye, the pilot sees the real world, while with the other, they see what is presented to them through an eyepiece that shows the world differently.

It usually takes anywhere between 9 to 12 months for a young pilot to become “safe” enough not to kill himself accidentally during night flights (until then, young pilots fly with instructor pilot or a senior and experienced pilot who can take controls in case of disorientation).1

Though flying a microscope does not risk the life of the pilot, it requires concentration and can be mastered in a few hours or days.

The problem for the atheist and the creationist is that they have closed one eye while they observe their data. The atheist, by presupposition, cannot see the hand of God in the universe, or the Bible that tells about it. The creationist cannot see the real world, or the data that it presents. For both, the world is skewed, by presupposition, to avoid the possibility that data from the other sphere may inform their observation. As a consequence, though the richness of their chosen myopia enthralls them, they are unable to see the world in its living splendor. This is regrettable and sad, but it can be fixed.

A further observation prevents data of the other sort leaking into their chosen world, that is, their opponent presents them with all the arguments against looking into that other world. They see their opponent’s error and rightly reject it as myopic. Their own lack of imagination prevents them from seeing that they make the same mistake. When Jesus pointed out that one’s judgment about the splinter in the other’s eye prevented them from seeing the plank in their own he was encouraging them to do a little self examination. Critique your own failure to see from the other’s point of view.

The golden rule shouts against the splinter judgment. Walk in the other person’s shoes for a mile; see from their perspective; understand their point of view. Both views alone are incomplete and problematic. Both require different skills.

Here’s my suggestion, primarily for the creationist since they do believe that people can change: Try to understand why it is important to include scientific data in your evaluation of the world. Try to understand why the scientist thinks that natural laws, in place from the beginning of time, do not change with every whim of God and lack of foresight. He created the world and called it good. So study the world, and add the lens of empiricism and logic to the tools of biblical interpretation. Try seeing the Book of God called Nature as compelling data for inclusion in your worldview. Open the other eye to the world itself and see the wonders of God unfold in a new fashion, not as the utilitarian groundwork of God’s exaltation of people, but as a living artifact of God’s desire, passion, and grace.