Thursday, January 10, 2008


A Universal Basis for Science and Religion, Part 9

Universal Basis: Part 9

One of the quotations that stuck in my mind long before I understood its significance was one that, in several versions, is attributed to Albert Einstein. He explained his objection to quantum mechanics by saying: "God may be a rascal, but he is not a gambler". It can be taken to refer to the gedanken-experiment of Schrodinger's cat, where a radioactive source is set up to trigger a lethal experience for a cat in a closed container. Clearly the cat is either alive or dead when the container is opened, but what is its state while the container is closed? Quantum theory would say that the cat is both alive and dead but, of course, the human observer can only observe a dead cat or a live one.

But Schrodinger's cat is a paradox only because the postulated observer is human. To a Deus ex Machina of the kind we defined earlier, the cat is clearly alive on one branch of its lifeline, and dead on another. Since the DeM observes both, there is no paradox. The paradox only exists if we expect that the human experimenter has the same powers as the DeM, which is clearly false to fact.

In the case of Einstein's quip, the false assumption is reversed. Since "God" is not limited to human perceptions, and would have at least the perceptions of the DeM, which is merely a mathematical model, there is no necessity for God to gamble: if there are two possible outcomes, God observes both. (At least the DeM can observe both if it cares to.) The assumption that God is as limited in its perceptions as we are, which is at the implicit basis of most, if not all, quantum paradoxes, is entirely unnecessary. Einstein's God clearly had feet of clay.

This kind of theological assumption, that the qualities of God should be restricted to something that has already been imagined by some human being, is what makes historical theology inferior to science as a species of intellectual endeavor. There is no reason for this limitation.

If we consider the evolution of human beings from a theological standpoint, there is no reason that God should have created us (presumably through the process of evolution) with a facility for thought that stopped with some particular theologian or prophet. Just as in science we keep poking at the present accepted set of natural laws to see if we can find a glitch, I suspect that God would have created in us a facility for doing our best to understand our experiences. We have an obligation to God (if there is one) to do the best we can, and not get intellectually lazy just because somebody has had a particularly striking theological insight. Jesus, Gautama and Mohammed were great contributors to the relationship between us and the universe, but they weren't gods, no matter what some may believe. If we can do better, if we can incorporate the understanding of new experiences into their insights, then we have the obligation to do so.

This essay has illustrated how science, as the study of the natural world, and theology, as the study of the order in the universe that we call "God", can work hand in hand to point a way for the human species to live in accord with the workings of the planet we reside on. We can hope that other creative scientists and theologians will work together to make these notions deeper and more universal.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008


A Universal Basis for Science and Religion, Part 8, The Industrial Revolution (1500-1950)

A Universal Basis for Science and Religion, Part 8, The Industrial Revolution (1500-1950)

When Roman Civilization collapsed there was no longer a civil service to bring back status symbols from far places. Individual traders replaced them, and they got rich. This wasn't entirely satisfactory because the status symbols only worked for the descendants of the warlords of the middle ages, which left the traders and bankers rich but still common.

Calvin solved this problem. He invented a new kind of aristocracy, the Elect, who were directly appointed by God over the heads of the existing social and religious hierarchy. The sign of being elect was God-given prosperity, so Calvinism became a religion of upward-mobility for the middle-class through the acquisition of money. This process continued for the next few centuries.

The traders had taken advantage of the new technology of sailing ships and traded junk or cheap hardware for status symbols. The planters used the technology of slavery on big plantations to become the new establishment. In North America they fought a war to get out from under the old aristocracy.

Meanwhile, english mechanics like Sam Slater had brought over textile machinery and adapted it to New England's water power and, later, steam. These industrialists made machinery that could be operated by women and children and got very rich. In the American Civil War they broke the power of the southern planters and became the establishment.

By the turn of the century they were building mansions in Newport and marrying their daughters to impoverished european aristocrats and they left their factories to be run by the clerks and mechanics. By the World Wars they had been replaced by the corporate and government bureaucracy. They also used the G. I. Bill to turn a generation of potential workers into junior bureaucrats who aped their betters by conspicuously consuming imitation status symbols.

By 1950 it was clear that there weren't enough resources to waste the way the bureaucrats of Western Civilization were wasting them, so there was a concerted effort to prevent the external proletariat and the internal proletariat of women and people of color from being upwardly mobile. Western Civilization became more and more closed to immigrants (now stigmatized as "illegal"), and wars and dictatorships were encouraged among undeveloped countries. In the mideast the rebellion against this repression stimulated fundamental Islam, and in Latin America it stimulated revolutionary movements. In both areas certain groups were able to use oil resources to become difficult to exterminate.

It is not clear whether the U. S. elections of 2008, which will probably end with a president who is female or a person of color, will serve to provide a solution to the world crisis in class conflict and waste of resources, which are closely connected. There is a significant chance that there will be no solution short of the decline and fall of Western Civilization. The decadence of the existing establishment, and the resurgence of religious fundamentalism among the internal proletariat are certainly symptoms of a collapse; but it is possible that the enthusiasm of young entrants into politics who recognize the potential for disaster of the status quo will provide time to find a future that will be based on global egalitarianism and ecological responsibility. That may not be possible without first experiencing a complete collapse of Western Civilization, but there is no theoretical reason for it to be impossible.

Right now it seems unlikely because there is no religion, or even political ideology, which advocates global egalitarianism and ecological responsibility. Even the "Green" parties that advocate environmental conservation do so within a context that maintains the status difference between the western establishment and the external proletariat. There are no parties or religions that advocate egalitarianism except in symbolic terms (e.g., elections) and in giving the internal and external proletariats equal opportunity to be exploited. Again, it is possible for egalitarian ideologies or religions to be invented, but there isn't enough motivation for that to happen.

So it may well be that an ideology or religion of global egalitarianism and global ecological responsibility will not be invented until it is necessary, for instance as a rallying cry for the next "Creative Minority" to meet the challenge of rebuilding a civilization on the ruins of the present one. Only when the cooperative effort of all the talent and resources of the world is necessary for our species to survive will it be likely for that kind of religion/ideology to become popular.


A Universal Basis For Science And Religion, Part 7

Universal Basis, Part 7- Neolithic

About ten thousand years ago we discovered that we could eat the grains of some grassy plants. This had some advantages that we couldn't say "no" to. A farmer could (in the right environment) produce more grain than he, or even his family, could eat. Even more important, grain could be stored in a dry environment so that the tribe could survive through a season of bad crops.

But this created a problem. The more farmers the more surplus, which created a strong motivation for an increased population. If we continued to govern ourselves by mutual conformity this would result in an unstable society. In addition we could not move our crops easily, so that the traditional method of fission and migration was not available.

The method of stabilization we chose still remains active. Our shaman said that we all had to worship his muse, who was a supershaman like Hermes or Odin. That
put us in a Bose-Einstein distribution in behavior space so that our society was stable as long as we had a central religion. The shaman, who represented the tribe to the muse, became a priest who represented the god to the tribe and partook of the god's authority.

This allowed him to take the surplus grain and store it for bad years and also use some of it to support technical specialists like potters and metalsmiths.
Eventually the village had to hire barbarians to guard the reserve grain and their leader became the king. The King's muse took over and became the top god.

Although we retain aspects of the post-Neolithic civilizations such as community religions with a Superking as the top god and authoritarian priests, in recent years priests have to share authority with secular bureaucrats.

According to Wikipedia, "Arnold Joseph Toynbee CH (April 14, 1889 – October 22, 1975) was a British historian whose twelve-volume analysis of the rise and fall of civilizations, A Study of History, 1934-1961, was a synthesis of world history, a metahistory based on universal rhythms of rise, flowering and decline, which examined history from a global perspective." It contained a description of the life-cycle of a [post-Neolithic] civilization in five steps:

(1) The creation of the civilization by a "Creative Minority" meeting a challenge.

(2) When the challenge is met the civilization is taken over by the "Dominant Minority".

(3) The "External Proletariat", affected by the civilization but not in it, maintain pressure at the boundaries.

(4) The External Proletariat provides mercenaries to the Dominant Minority. The Palace Guard takes over the civilization and runs it into the ground.

(5) The "Internal Proletariat", the alienated non-elite of the civilization, seek escape through new religious cults.

The post-Neolithic civilizations were replaced by Western (i.e., euro-american) Civilization whose terminal period we are experiencing.


a Universal Basis For Science And Religion, Part 6

A Universal Basis, Part 6; Specialists

In ordinary times when there are no crises the normal social structure, a discussion leading to a consensus, works quite nicely. Sometimes, however, it isn't fast enough.

If the tribe, or a sub-group like a hunting party, has to act in a cooperative way in a rapid timescale; the most effective method is to have one person in charge and the others simply obey his tactical commands. This is particularly the case when the prey (or predator) is a "barbarian"; an animal that looks pretty much like us but doesn't speak a human (i.e., our) language. (The greeks thought barbarians only said "".) This hunting chief (or war chief) has executive power only during the crisis, but it is still a role that is strongly nonconformist. The hunting chief has to act in a way that compensates for the nonconformity or his actions will destabilize the mutually conformist tribe.

In a similar way a crisis may occur that does not respond to action and creates anxiety in the tribe. If someone gets sick, or a grove of trees doesn't bear like it used to, or a storm keeps the gatherers home till the stores are used up, someone needs to respond to the situation. Nowadays we use the siberian word "shaman" for such a person. The shaman tells everyone what to do. The person gets well or dies, the grove bears late or we switch to another nut or fruit, the storm eventually ends. But the shaman has to act in a magical way that restores the tribe's confidence without being nonconformist in a way that destabilizes the tribe.

The shaman and the hunting chief have two tricks that allow them to live in equilibrium with the conformity of the rest of the tribe. First they are "equal-on-the-average" in that they take actions that the rest of the tribe considers very risky. That risky behavior assures that 'on the average' they are not better off than everyone else. Typically the hunting chief takes actions in the hunt (or in combat) that are more dangerous or "heroic" than ordinary hunters (or warriors). Typically the shaman goes through a trying apprenticeship and often goes into a deathlike trance that is heroic on the spiritual level.

If the hunting chief or shaman does not act so that the tribe believes that he or she is not "equal on the average", the tribespeople become alienated and the social structure falls apart.

This takes care of the public relations part of the actions of the chief and shaman, it makes them right with the tribe. There is also a psychological action that they take to make them right with themselves. They typically have a "spirit helper" or "muse" that is superhuman and gives them permission to be nonconformist. These muses are personal, however, and the ordinary members of the tribe, who don't break any major taboos, have no need to relate to a muse.

Agriculture changes the whole picture.


A Universal Basis For Science And Religion, Part 5

A Universal Basis for Science and Religion, Part 5, The Paleolithic

We cannot observe the first humans, but there are things we can use as reasonable assumptions: they lived in Africa by gathering fruits, nuts, roots and tubers, scavenging carrion and, when their technology was up to it, hunting and fishing. They took care of their children because human children need care for a few years before they can do useful things. We know about these kinds of things because we do them ourselves and are aware of them.

There were people in the 16th to 19th century who were still in a relatively primitive state because they had been pushed to the fringes by others and had to spend all their energy on survival. From what we know about them we can assume that they shared their resources and made their decisions by consensus most of the time. They didn't have an authority to regulate behavior, but used teasing and nagging to control those who did not behave properly.

This is all characteristic of people whose behavior is based on mutual conformity. And there is a very good reason for that.

The characteristic that distinguishes homo sapiens sapiens from the other still extant primates is that we communicate by using abstract mouth-noises. Other species use mouth-noises to communicate emotions, but homo sapiens alone can communicate abstractions.

That kind of communication has one strong requirement: everyone in the communication group must use the same noises to mean the same thing. This is the significance of the parable of the Tower of Babel--if we don't all use the same mouth-noises for the same thing we can't take advantage of the sophisticated cooperation that mouth-noise communication makes possible.

Thus is is extremely important that we be mutually conformist in order to survive as human beings.

Mutual conformity is not uncommon in animal species. Ants and bees, for instance, are highly conformist because it is a genetic trait. But humans can't be conformist to that degree. Ants, bees, schooling fish, and other conformist animals are born as clones and are conformists from birth. Humans take a long time to be a contributing member of the tribe, so they represent a large community investment. They have to learn to survive independently between the time when they move by themselves and they contribute to the tribe. The species can't tolerate the possibility that a mistake will take several children who made the same mistake.

So we have an inherent problem. We have the advantage of mouth-noise communication, but it requires us to be bivalent: individualistic and conformist at the same time. This can be represented by a Fermi-Dirac distribution in behavior space; we want to conform to the centroid of the group, but the need for individuality keeps us from all being in the same cell.

Immediately it sets a limit on local group population. If there are too many individuals there will be two who are so different that there is a lot of tension. The tribe tends to fission to preserve tranquility.

When we are surrounded by other tribes and can't fission we have to control population by infanticide of those infants who don't look like us.

The result of a series of fissions, migrations and infanticide is that, as a species:

(a) we will be found more widely distributed than other related species who don't use mouth-noise communication,

(b) we will have a strong local resemblance which will probably be correlated with dialect. We call the local resemblance "race".

(c) Although there will be a variety of appearance in our distribution we remain one species.

That characterization is unique to homo sapiens sapiens.

We lived for 50- to 100,000 years in such a small group governed by mutual conformity, with no hierarchy. If anything, that is the most "natural" form of human society. As we will see, the other systems we have tried are not stable. What we need to do is invent a social infrastructure compatible with technology and as democratic and stable as a
paleolithic tribe.

Monday, January 07, 2008


Universal Basis for Science and Religion: Part 4, Mathematical Interlude

Universal Basis for Science and Religion: Part 4, Mathematical Interlude

We have used geometric arguments to show that the Darwinian Model (Survival of the Just-Barely-Fit-and-fitter) makes the Intelligent Design model unnecessary because it provides a mechanism for evolving complexity; and it is better at explaining observed evolutionary phenomena than the Spencerian Model (Survival of the Fittest). It is also possible to use algebraic arguments but that is too complicated for this format. It is given on [].

We will, in the next part, apply the Darwinian model to homo sapiens sapiens (i.e., us), but we will be implicitly using a mathematical description of behavior. The full argument is given in [] and it, too, is too complicated for this format; so I will just give a description of the argument without showing the mathematical and physical details. "Physical", because some parts are deliberate analogies to quantum physics.

We start with the representation of behavior. As we noted earlier it is possible to represent the life experienced by an entity as a sequence of events observed by a Deus ex Machina or "DeM". Each of the decision points has a number of possible inputs and a number of possible outputs. We can represent these as vectors whose elements constitute the repertoire of events observeable by the DeM. We can make this in terms of events we can observe if we divide the decision point into two steps: a stimulus to the entity results in a response; and then that response acts as a stmulus to the entity's environment, whose response acts as the next stumulus to the entity. The life-sequence is thus a sequence of vectors that are related to one another by two transformation matrices: the P-matrix describes the behavior of the entity and the N-matrix describes the behavior of its environment.

We can define a space in which the P-matrix is a point, so that a change in the pattern of behavior represented by the P-matrix is represented by motion in that space. We note that since observations are finite, the elements of the P-matrix will be "fuzzy" and it makes sense to represent the fuzziness by quantizing the P-space and define the dynamics of the entities by occupation rules for the quantum "boxes". This will provide two situations analogous to the rules for particles: the Fermi-Dirac rule which says that one, and only one, particle can occupy a box; and the Bose-Einstein rule which says that any number of particles can occupy a box.

Aside from the occupation rule, the other factor that will cause (or prevent) a change in behavior pattern is the attractve force between two occupied points in P-space; where the force is observed as a pattern of conformity. The Fermi-Dirac rule would apply where there was a tendency for mutual conformity and also a tendency for individuality. The Bose-Einstein rule would hold where the force toward conformity with a reference point was much stronger than the tendency toward individuality.

We can expect, therefore, that with some adjustment for the effects of the environment, we would expect human behavior to be characterized by Fermi-Dirac or Bose-Einstein rules; depending on what environmental factors strongly affect survival.

The first situation is where the humans have a relatively primitive economy, i.e., are primarily dependent on gathering and

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