Monday, September 26, 2016

What is "nothing?" No one knows

What Is The Physics Of Nothing?

When we want to talk about nothing, our conceptions take us outside of space and before the Universe began, yet does that even make sense? How can you talk about “outside” when you don’t have space? How can you talk about “before” anything if you don’t have time?

And yet, whatever “nothingness” truly is, it contains the entire Universe. (Philosophically, this is a longstanding tenet of Buddhism.)
 Many physicists claim that there’s no way to understand anything, fundamentally, until we understand nothing. And although our understanding of it is partial — which is to say, we understand the fundamental, basic laws of nature that govern empty spacetime — we don’t understand from whence those fundamental laws arise, and whether they themselves are a “thing.”
Here's the problem. The universe began with the Big Bang, but this term is misleading. The Big Bang was not an explosion of the universe coming into being as we usually think of explosions. Because of the uniformity of cosmic background radiation across all the observed universe, physicists say that everything that exists started off together. But the origin was only a point and this point was not in space (since space didn't exist yet) and not in time (since time time didn't exist yet). Hence, they call it a "singularity," but all that means is "we don't know." They may as well call it a huffelump or farfsnegoplin.

The problem with this theory is the problem of inflation. No, not what we await happening to our currency, but the unimaginably small time that began the universe. Most people know that the universe is expanding, but not many non-astronomers are familiar with the theory of inflation, which reveals that the term "Big Bang" is misleading, Instead, says NASA's "Universe 101" web site, the universe's creation "is better thought of as the simultaneous appearance" of the universe everywhere there is the universe.

Inflation theory holds that the universe went from nothing at all to more than 99 percent of its present size in less than one-billionth of a billionth of a second – which is to say, instantly. So while empirical data, especially the uniformity of cosmic background radiation, support the conclusion that the universe began from a single point, from any reasonable human perspective there was no explosion. The universe simply appeared everywhere at once, instantaneously.

While no illustration can really represent the very technical theories here, the "nothing" problem can be thought of as, "What is outside the cone?" That is, if you go to the farthest point of the universe, what is one meter beyond that?

The Einsteinian answer is that because matter, the universe, curves space, there is no such thing as the "farthest point" of the universe except in a relative way, and that there is no "one meter" beyond that because there is no beyond at all. But this answer does not satisfy present-day physicists.
A few things are certain: we have not always existed; we will not always exist; we exist right now. Whatever nothingness truly is, we are all something right now. And whatever exists right now, it did, at some level, come from nothing, no matter how you define nothing. And as best as we understand the Universe, it will return to a state approaching an infinite, physical nothingness as well. But as to just what the nature of the ultimate “nothingness” truly is? That’s still, perhaps, the secret we’re all fundamentally searching for.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

How we perish in Paradise

From Wrath of Gnon:

Richard Fernandez:

... words and history have surprisingly little force. They convince people headed for the cliff not in the least. People only believe in consequences when it happens to them. Then remorse kicks in piteously and it is "Oh God save me and I will never do it again." ...

That's why the stories in the Bible have a depressing sameness. They always involve idiots who mess up and persecute every prophet sent to warn them until disaster strikes and then it's "help! Help!" We honor the prophets only after we bury them. Before that they're too busy making a getaway from us.

The story of mankind is the tale of someone who wakes up in Paradise and decides to burn it down. Happens every time. It doesn't matter that the survivors wrote it all down for our edification, because we'll just stop reading the Bible and watch some 'reality' TV show. ...

Each time mankind gets up from catastrophe it says "mebbe this time, maybe next time." Maybe never.
George Bernard Shaw once observed, ""We learn from history that we learn nothing from history." This is true, but incomplete. Why do we not learn from history? Perhaps this passage from A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter Miller is a clue:
The closer men came to perfecting themselves a paradise, the more impatient they seemed to become with it, and with themselves as well. They made a garden of pleasure, and became progressively more miserable with it as it grew in richness and power and beauty; for then, perhaps, it was easier for them to see that something was missing in the garden, some tree or shrub that would not grow. When the world was in darkness and wretchedness, it could believe in perfection and yearn for it. But when the world became bright with reason and riches, it began to sense the narrowness of the needle's eye, and that rankled for a world no longer willing to believe or yearn.
We burn down paradise over and over because we cannot tolerate it in fact, only in wishing. But now I am not confident that we even yearn for it. I see the state of the 2016, North American church and I realize that we have not moved a tick on the chart closer to embodying the Kingdom of God than our ancestors of 1916. Or 1816. Or 1416. And the record of the ancient Jews shows that they never did, either.

If civilizations are never murdered but commit suicide, we are well underway. I would call upon the North American Church to re-fulfill its calling, but this assumes that it ever did fulfill it to begin with and that our failures are of recent vintage. Of the former I cannot recite much evidence and of the latter I cite the 1963 “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” by Martin Luther King, Jr. in which he lamented,

The contemporary church is often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It is so often the arch-supporter of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent, or often vocal, sanction of things as they are.
But I am trying to discern an historical time when this was not the case and I cannot.

Plato and Moses alike would be stunned (or maybe not) that the human race has learned nothing in the last few thousand years. Neither the ancient Jews nor Christians of the last 2,000 years have been reliably faithful to their Covenants. Our  histories are of occasional faithfulness to our Covenants and then usually-prolonged abandonment of them. The main difference is that the Jews understood themselves better than we Christians have. Over and over we have had to learn what St. Paul wrote to the church in Galatia: "God can't be disregarded. You will harvest what you plant."

Brothers and sisters, the harvest is coming in. It is coming in good and hard. And this is why:

Update: Near the end of his life, John Wesley, principal founder of the Methodist movement, understood that the "people called Methodist" would not disappear after his death, but he nonetheless was filled with some foreboding:

1. I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid, lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case, unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out.

2. What was their fundamental doctrine? That the Bible is the whole and sole rule both of Christian faith and practice.
But he foretold what would happen only a few paragraphs later:
9. It nearly concerns us to understand how the case stands with us at present. I fear, wherever riches have increased, (exceeding few are the exceptions,) the essence of religion, the mind that was in Christ, has decreased in the same proportion. Therefore do I not see how it is possible, in the nature of things, for any revival of true religion to continue long. For religion must necessarily produce both industry and frugality; and these cannot but produce riches. But as riches increase, so will pride, anger, and love of the world in all its branches.

10. How, then, is it possible that Methodism, that is, the religion of the heart, though it flourishes now as a green bay-tree, should continue in this state? For the Methodists in every place grow diligent and frugal; consequently, they increase in goods. Hence they proportionably increase in pride, in anger, in the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, and the pride of life. So, although the form of religion remains, the spirit is swiftly vanishing away.
And what is the UMC today? Only formally the United Methodist Church, for in habit and thinking more and more Upper Middle Class (of whom I include myself, so I throw no darts that do not boomerang back to me).

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The ruins of the Meathead Generation

There was a hugely popular TV series in the 1970s called All in the Family, starring Carroll O'Connor as Archie Bunker, a blue-collar northeasterner of very outspoken traditional values. Rob Reiner played his son-in-law, Michael, very liberal, unemployed (a permanent student), who lived in Archie's house along with his wife, Archie's daughter (of course).

Archie called his son in law "Meathead," and viewing only one episode convinced you why. Reiner's character was a snooty, self-impressed, never-wrong, empty-headed jerk.

Very recently, Reiner, whose intellect and personality show that he was perfectly cast as Michael, disparaged people with political views unlike his as uneducated, ignorant, racist know nothings, etc. What Reiner's smug tirade shows is what has happened with what some commentators have called the "Meathead Generation," which makes sense:
Meathead was a loudmouth know-it-all boomer, who enjoyed lecturing his father-in-law about the terribleness of America and the men that had made the country. The irony was that Meathead lived off the people he ridiculed. Archie, the patriarch, worked and paid the bills while his daughter and son-in-law lived in his house. It was a perfect metaphor for what was happening in the country. The parasites were determined to kill the host, but in the mean time they were perfectly willing to enjoy the fruits the host had accumulated.

Years ago, the great Paul Gottfried remarked that the country had long been taken over by the Meathead generation and their ethics. The Archie Bunkers were all gone. By that he meant traditional working and middle class America had been lost and the country was now run by fashionable liberals, who occupied the first ruling elite in history to be actively working to destroy the foundation on which it rests. Look around the culture and all the high ground is occupied by degenerate boomers, who carry on as if it is still 1968. [HT: American Digest]
Which is pretty interesting because I am a early mid-term Boomer. Having lived a year into my seventh decade now, I want to avoid sounding like one of those old geezers who says, "Back in my day . . ." But I will say, well, that back in my day my peers and I were actually taught Truth existed that was not mere opinion and was still true whether it made you happy, sad, angry or contented. We did believe, and I still do, that there was (and is) such a thing as absolute truth, like it or not.

Yes, the idea of absolute truth was closely linked to religious belief and that just what absolute truth was differed between religions and often between even denominations of a religion. My point here is not what declarations are or are not absolute truth, but that across the great majority of Americans there was conceptual agreement that there was such a thing as absolute truth, even if we did not all agree on the particulars.

That conceptual agreement is gone today.

  • In 1997, 50% of Christians and 25% of non-Christians said that there are moral truths which are unchanging, and that truth is absolute, not relative to the circumstances.
  • In 2000-JAN, they found that 38% of adult Americans believed that absolute true exists. 
  • Later in 2000, 40% of individuals involved in a Christian disciplining process believed that there is no such thing as absolute moral truth. 
  • In 2001-NOV, another Barna poll showed that adults believing in absolute truth had dropped almost in half -- to 22%. 
In short order, the idea of absolute truth was replaced by relative truth, that declarations could be true based on their circumstances, or that a statement might be true for Thelma but not for Louise. The problem is not that this idea of truth has no validity; the conceptual affirmation of absolute truth never meant that nothing was true unless it was absolutely true. The problem is that relative truth has come to be affirmed as the only kind of truth there is.

That means that truth is nothing more than opinion. And if there is no Truth, there is no falsehood, either. Yet something must serve as the basis for making decisions, especially moral decisions. Hence the rapid downhill slide to this: "Americans Are Most Likely to Base Truth on Feelings."

Truth Is Relative, Say Americans 
In two national surveys conducted by Barna Research, one among adults and one among teenagers, people were asked if they believe that there are moral absolutes that are unchanging or that moral truth is relative to the circumstances. By a 3-to-1 margin (64% vs. 22%) adults said truth is always relative to the person and their situation. The perspective was even more lopsided among teenagers, 83% of whom said moral truth depends on the circumstances, and only 6% of whom said moral truth is absolute.

The gap between teen and adult views was not surprising, however, when the adult views are considered by generation. While six out of ten people 36 and older embraced moral relativism, 75% of the adults 18 to 35 did so. Thus, it appears that relativism is gaining ground, largely because relativism appears to have taken root with the generation that preceded today’s teens. ...

The surveys also asked people to indicate the basis on which they make their moral and ethical decisions. Six different approaches were listed by at least 5% of the teenagers interviewed, and eight approaches were listed by at least 5% of adults. In spite of the variety communicated, there was a clear pattern within both groups. By far the most common basis for moral decision-making was doing whatever feels right or comfortable in a situation. Nearly four out of ten teens (38%) and three out of ten adults (31%) described that as their primary consideration.
That article was published in 2002. Since then, the trend has only intensified. Note that sentence, "... relativism is gaining ground, largely because relativism appears to have taken root with the generation that preceded today’s teens." In the intervening 14 years, we have begun our third generation of truthlessness. I am a Boomer so the move to relativism began in my generation, the Boomers born after me, I am guessing, which would be the majority of them. At the time this article was published, Boomers' kids were barely in their teens at the young end and 50-plus at the old.

From the idea that all truth is relative (which is a self-contradictory statement when you think about it) is a short slide to three highly dysfunctional beliefs and practices, about which more another time:

1. With no idea of transcendent authority, human relationships become merely contests of power.

2. Religion is suppressed but the inherent religious nature of humanity simply finds other outlets.

3. Human life is meaningless and serves no higher purpose because there is no higher purpose to serve. 

Friday, September 9, 2016

When I drove an Indy Race car

I cashed in my gift certificate yesterday to the Mario Andretti Racing Experience. It was at Kentucky Speedway. The weather was perfect, sunny and temps in the high 70s for my slot with the 10 a.m. group. I had eight minutes of driving time. Details after the video; the camera was a GoPro (model unknown) mounted just aft the top of my head:

Okay, here is some information you will want to know before you decide to buy. They will tell you all this in your pre-drive class, but it's good to know ahead of time:
  1. This is, just as advertised, a real race car. It had slight mods for use by the non-professionals who will be driving it, but otherwise, it's the same as the cars you see every Memorial Sunday at the Brickyard. 
    1. One of the mods is that you do not shift gears. The instructor explained that the transmissions are four-speed but they have fixed them in fourth gear because they got tired of repairing transmissions. So when they start your car they push you from the rear with a large ATV while you push the clutch pedal to the floor. When your driving controller, speaking to you by radio, tells you to let off the clutch and give it some gas, the motor engages and off you go. 
    2. There is an RPM limiter that kicks in at 5,000 RPM. I think this is track specific, though. The instructor explained that maximum power and speed will be achieved just below that. I am pretty sure the reason for it is so that the car won't spin out in the curves. The instructor said several times, "Do not back off the throttle when you enter a curve. You cannot drive fast enough on this track to make the car spin on a curve, so maintain speed." I found this to be true.
    3. You do not have either a speedometer or a tachometer, although for all I know neither do the racing versions. The controller is always telling you (and race drivers) info about speed anyway, so there really is no need for either.
  2. There are three cars on the track at one time plus a dual-cockpit car for people who just want the speed sensation without driving. These are driven by professional drivers and will stay and the outside of the track. Trust me, they will also pass everyone else. 
  3. You paid-for time includes all the time your car is in motion, which includes the time you spend on the apron exiting pit row, which takes a half lap, and the time you spend returning there at the end, which is another half lap. Altogether, this will come to 1.5-2.0 minutes so frankly, if you do only the five-minute event, you won't do much driving at speed. 
  4. While driving, your controller will tell you when to merge onto the track when starting off and when to exit back to the apron to wrap it up. He will also tell you what pace to drive starting out, which will not be fast because he will not turn you loose until he knows you're not going to do something stupid and will follow directions. This is important: with other cars entering the track or exiting all the time, you may pass other cars only (a) on a straightaway and (b) when the controller says so. Screw this up and he may kill your engine remotely. 
  5. Speaking of the radio-connected controller, they really need to consider what in my military career were called "pro-words," or procedure words. I learned that the controller used the same terms to say that I was about to be passed or could pass (or not) someone else. This was very confusing and they seriously need to have different phrases for one and the other. Another example is how air traffic controllers and pilots talk; their phrasing is very exact and terms are very specific. When I was flying I was taught that I would be "cleared" only for takeoffs, never for landings or taxiing or anything else. So, as once happened to me, when you are short final to land and you hear the controller say, "static you are cleared for static" you know he's not talking to you and you'd better start looking for an airplane trying to take off on the same runway you have already been given permission to land! At the race track, audio you get in your headphones is not crystal clear anyway, so single-meaning words and short phrases would be a big help.
  6. These cars steering response is very sensitive. There is no need to turn the wheel more than a little bit. The faster you go, the more the car sticks to the track; it's actually more secure to go through the curves faster than slower. Also, the track's banking and leveling work very well to keep the car on course. 
  7. When they say, repeatedly, to stay at least five feet above the solid yellow line marking the beginning of the apron, they mean it. No driver in my group failed to do this, but the instructors were very clear: in an Indy car, if your wheel touches that line, you will wreck. The Indy car is very rigid and unforgiving of such. 
  8. When the controller tells you that you can open it up, go right ahead. The car is very powerful (duh) and will burst forward. Because you are siting so close to the track's surface, you will think you are going faster than you are, so if you feel confident, push it. Remember, the car is stabler faster. (This is my one regret, that I didn't push it as much as I retrospectively wish I had.) 
All this being said, it was a great experience, one like I've never had before, even when driving about that fast on the Autobahn in Germany.

I can also understand why there were so many repeat drivers in my group. One time does not give you enough familiarity with the car to really get up to high speed. So maybe there's another drive coming sometime in the future.

It was definitely fun, although not a passive kind of fun. This is not a passive experience at all! It's kind of like going on an extreme roller coaster, and discovering that you're not merely riding you're also having to drive it and you don't know which curves may throw you off the track if you take them at the wrong speed or wrong angle.

But yes, I would do it again in a heartbeat! Here are a few photos:

Pit row
Waiting to go.

I am in the red car, center. The cockpit is pretty tight to get into since the top opening is smaller than the interior. You don't have any spare room once positioned, but you do have enough. You are actually mostly lying down; legs straight in front and back angle well off vertical. 

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