Soul Craft

Exploring the I in 'I am'

I remembered (10/25/2005)

Posted in Unspecified

In the car reading but not paying attention I remembered. I remembered that there were things I have heard though not with my ears and things that I have seen but not with my eyes. There were things that I knew but not with my mind and things that I felt but not with my heart. I had forgotten all these things and now that I remembered they were not the same things and I was not the same I and if perhaps the world was the same world I cannot say how.

So I thought I should write, though it is not writing but translating that is needed and there is no language to write it in that has meaning. If I should try to write it as a poem the words and ink would find no place upon the paper, and if I should try to shout and fill the air with vibrations the air itself would find no place for my voice. So I find myself mute though I can hear for the first time and my hands are useless though they can touch for the first time and my heart does not beat though it loves for the first time.

Only my tears are left and as they fall upon the page I hope that in drinking them you too might remember what your ears have not heard and your eyes have not seen and your mind has not known and your heart has not felt.

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Yes Virginia there is a watchmaker (10/23/2005)


A very popular "proof" of the existence of God is the watchmaker analogy. The basic idea is that if you were walking along a beach and encountered a watch you would look at it and presume that since it was carefully crafted it was a product of intelligence rather than random chance or some strange interaction of physical forces. Thus, by analogy when we look at the beautiful order in creation we can infer that it is the product of intelligent thought and not random chance. Of course this isn't a proof in the logical philosophy sense or in the mathematical sense or even in the scientific empiricist sense. It is a proof by analogy or perhaps a better word would be an evidence. It asks the question, "is the universe an ordered place and if so how did it come to be ordered." I do not claim to have a complete answer to this question, but here is what I have observed and the conclusions that I currently draw from those observations.

First, the universe does in fact appear to be a result of carefully crafted and precise order and in a very strange way. Life is an amazingly beautiful and profoundly impressive phenomenon. It is a tapestry of diversity and magnificence. But is it a result of random processes? It appears that life is the result of a system in which random changes over time result in self-sustaining systems with increasingly well ordered and complex forms. Simple chemical processes created chemical cycles and out of these chemical cycles increasingly complex cycles emerged that replaced the original cycles until cells were formed. These changed and altered according to the laws of chemistry and as the results of randomness and over time increasingly complex forms emerged that ultimately ended up producing you and me. This is a trivial oversimplification of the actual process as currently understood, and no doubt there are pieces that are not presently described correctly, especially steps that took place billions of years in the past, and it is a virtual certainty that we will make changes and extend our understanding of this process over time. But I for one do not entertain serious doubts about the basic process of evolution itself.

So from this one may be tempted to conclude that no watch maker is needed the watch may have simply wound itself up. As a programmer one of the things I've discovered is that randomness is a great tool for use in algorithms but its use does not make the algorithm itself random. For example, Genetic Algorithms are a kind of analogous process to the real genetic evolution that has taken place on our planet (and probably others). While these algorithms employ a random component, describing them as random is to ignore the careful work it takes to write one. Similarly I've written systems that employ various classes of randomness to create beautiful images and a variety of other things, but such systems do not emerge from random code generation, they emerge from systems that are carefully designed. In a similar way it appears to me that the system of chemistry and the presence of the correct kinds of matter and the entire environmental schema in which evolution takes place is itself a kind of algorithm in which random change is merely a component.

To demonstrate the improbability of this particular arrangement note that on this planet there is basically only one core chemical approach that life seems to have taken. On the chemical level it appears that all life has an almost uncanny commonality (even including viruses and bacteriophages). In other words, unlike macro-level evolution where life takes a diversity of paths, chemically it appears that it has taken... well, just one. People have suggested other paths it could take, but none very convincingly. So at the chemical level it appears that there are certainly at least a very few answers to the question "how do you make life?" Which suggests that the mechanism itself has a bias towards these solutions or at least is well enough organized to produce them against a proper background.

If one takes this view then the question is, do different systems likewise produce such a progression towards complexity at the macro level or is this one of some improbably small number of systems in which evolution can take place. I'm certainly not the first person to ask this question and the answers generally fall into a few classifications. Either they deny the importance of the question simply pointing out that this is the only universe we have observational evidence for so naturally this universe must appear to be created to produce us (the anthropic answer discussed later), or they suggest that many systems could potentially exist that would produce similar results. I find these answers generally very weak.

We are smart enough to envision universes that do not exist and in fact we do it all the time, but people seem incapable of finding any other consistent sets of laws that could potentially produce complexity and beauty on the scale we see in nature. While this may suggest that we just aren't very good at envisioning such universes it also suggests they don't just jump out at you as likely possibilities. Simple things do give rise to complexity, but even amongst simpler systems (mathematical formula for example) what we see is that you have to carefully choose the simple system before beauty and complexity emerges. Make any relatively small change to our universe as we see it (at any level of abstraction from the Newtonian to the chemical to the quantum) and use your best modeling to figure out what would happen and you will generally find either inconsistency or utter collapse. For me this suggests that this universe is a highly improbable place, and I am not alone in that observation.

The other explanation is to use the anthropic principle to answer the question. The anthropic principle basically says that since we do exist the only option is that we will see a universe "improbably" constructed to create us. It's like looking at your license place and saying, "WOW, what are the odds the number would be (whatever your license plate number happens to be)." The implication is that the reason we don't see any other random configuration is that the others exist but we can't be there to see them. In the end, this answer feels no different than simply saying that God created everything. Throwing infinities at problems to make them go away is the worst violation of Occam's razor (in its original construction) whether that infinity is God or simply the existence of every possible universe does not appear to make any difference. In a sense, positing everything is worse but at the end of the day either answer is far enough beyond our understanding as to be unattainably far.

There is of course another possibility (other than God), the possibility that the system will eventually explain itself in a round and wholly consistent way. Given our history of science to the present and considering Godelian incompleteness, my feeling is that this is unlikely in the extreme, but I am open to that possibility. In the mean time my answer is that the watchmaker analogy fits and is the best explanation for this very improbable universe we see. What does it tell me about God? In truth, very little. Anything I go on to say about such a creator sounds like a solipsist projection. I'm OK with that. For me God as understood in this way remains unknowable and what we learn about the universe every day is a little more about what God is not and so our approach towards understanding moves us forward another inch and still leaves us just as far from our goal.

I'm OK with that too.

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Lemon Saree (10/15/2005)

Posted in Poems

The girl in the lemon saree washes her face
Chocolate skin and black-black hair
Through tinted glass she sees no trace
Of eyes that watch as they pass there

In the morning dew she preparse for work
Cleaning with dirty water amid a sea of tarp tents
And I wonder what wisdom or quirk
Has her working hard only for a few cents

And if I stop and sit a time
And sip some tea with her
Will I find her life so different from mine
Has it nothing that I should care for

But with thoughts alone it ends
And as the car drives past
I turn away and to her task she tends
My mind leaves her and her caste

Urgent tasks fill my head
But inside a part of me is sorry
That my time could not have been spent instead
Having tea with the girl in the lemon saree

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Kevin Barnes

Soul Craft is a place for my thought, arguments, stories, poems and epiphanies about what it means to be an I, a We and an Us.

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