Monday, May 12, 2014

Death demystified.

"…life does not consist mainly—or even largely—of facts and happenings. It consists mainly of the storm of thoughts that is forever blowing through one’s head."  
—Mark Twain 

Update: I just found this great post over at Math With Bad Drawings, as well as the great little cartoon above which seem to be at odds with what I've said on the topic of death and transferring consciousness. Both use the Star Trek transporter, or something just like it. I wonder if I can convince them that there's nothing to be afraid of about these kinds of transporters? So here is a cleaned up version of my argument on the topic, presented as a thought experiment. Enjoy!

Think for a moment about what it's like to die.

Don't worry about how you got that way; there's no need to be gruesome! Just think about what it would be like to experience the moment or process of death, absent all of the messy, external confusions. If you think there is an experience of being dead that comes afterward, try and imagine that experience. Consider what you could imagine others coming up with in response to such a question. Imagine what your friends might think of death. Picture the death experience of anyone else—a psychic medium, a skeptic, a clergyman, an atheist, a neurologist, a suicide bomber—and just come to a conclusion about which one you think is most likely to be the actual experience for you before you read any further, OK?

Good. Now think of your favorite animal with a silly hat on. You just died. How was it?

Obviously you're not dead and you didn't just die insofar as we understand those words at the moment, but what I'm going to try and convince you of over the course of this blog post is that death (the root experience, not all the moaning and groaning leading up to it) is not really any different from the moment between two thoughts.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Cosmos "Lost Worlds of Planet Earth": Nitpicks, Nods, and News

Perhaps all of our great^N-grandmother. (
This episode was a fantastic look at the amazing story of the skin of our home planet, how we came to understand the Earth's history and how it literally set the stage for us all, from the first human to spark a chunk of flint to Shakespeare to you. We learned about mass extinctions and how they gave rise to new eras dominated by different groups of living things, we saw how an overabundance of indigestible plant matter in one epoch became the coal that burned millions of years later to fuel the chain of events that resulted in the Great Dying, and we saw how a tiny isthmus halfway across the globe forced tree-dwelling apes onto the Savannah, eventually forcing them to evolve into you, me, and everybody else.

Unfortunately, the FOX station in New Orleans is apparently run by a producer or two who have yet to make the ape-human transition and didn't want us to hear about it. A friend of mine claims to have seen a similar event to that which made meager headlines in Oklahoma, where the local FOX station cut to a nightly news promo to cover up Neil deGrasse Tyson's mentioning of human descent from the trees. Creationists like this are beyond reproach for their actions, because they obviously haven't even considered the value of viewpoints other than their own, but that doesn't stop me from feeling very, very sorry for them and their myopic little cage in which they lock their intellects.

But that shouldn't stop us from having all the fun they're missing, so let's move on and talk about something interesting!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Cosmos "Sisters of the Sun": Nitpicks, Nods, and News

The Carina Nebula is a bustling stellar recycling plant. (
The last two episodes have been wonderful. Both have been able to be much more focused on their respective topics and this episode even delved into a bit more depth than we ever usually see on popular science shows with the short segment on stellar spectral classification. Further, we got to see a second example of scientific growing pains, those first few moments in the life of a profound discovery where it is vulnerable to being quashed and forgotten. Last week's debate over the use of lead in gasoline was due to profit, but this week's rejection of the discovery of the dominance of hydrogen and helium in stellar spectra was due to prestige; scientists can be just as vulnerable to closed-mindedness as the rest of society and must constantly check our biases when examining the data. The importance of keeping an open mind must be constantly balanced against the filtering power of skepticism. Too much of the latter and you'll miss new ideas and discoveries that will advance human knowledge. Too much of the former and you'll... well... do you guys ever watch the History Channel?

But let's move on. There was a lot of mind-blowing science in this episode, so let's get started!