Thursday, 14 August 2014

Critical Thinking: an Art we traded for Agriculture.

This essay contains some references to neuroscience: Please click here to show/hide a short description about how neurones and neurone networks work.

A basic neurone basically resembles a cell with coral-like 'arms': its multiple 'receiver' arms, dendrites, project at all angles from most of its circumference, and a single slender 'sender' arm, the axon, usually much longer than dendrites, can extend to connect to another neurone's dendrites through axon terminal branches of its own. Most axons are very short, but even if one extends past another neurone it would like to connect to, it can sprout a terminal 'branch' anywhere along its length.

Basic structure of the human neurone

Most of our cortex neurones reside in an outer layer that we call grey matter, and they are immobile once 'placed' during brain development. Below this (in a layer towards the interior of the brain) is a layer devoted to carrying the longer axon arms carrying signals between neurones in different parts of the brain: these axons have a myelin sheath that is thin and almost transparent if the neurone is unused, but this grows thick to better protect and strengthen a neurone's signal when it is used often; the myelin's whitish colour gives this area of the brain its name, white matter.

fMRI scan of White Matter (axon connections) between distant neurones in the human brain

Only very recently was it discovered that these axon arms connecting different regions of the brain extend, in a pattern much resembling a map of Manhattan, to all extremities of the brain, allowing almost any cortex neurone the possibility of connecting to another even distant one (and other deeper centres of the brain).

Close Section


The brain is 'wired' for critical thought from birth. Thanks to recent (f)MRI and PET brain-scan technologies, we can see how different regions of the brain are linked together, meaning that any neurone in our cerebral cortex has the potential to connect, either directly or indirectly (through other neurones), to any other.

The question we have to ask ourselves is: Why are our brains that way? If we had never had use for the extensive neurone-connecting abilities of the human brain, why did evolution promote that model as 'successful'?

If we look back at our evolution, we'd see that we spent most of it, hundreds of thousands of years at least, as hunter-gatherers. Hunter-gatherers lived in small groups, moved with animal migration, and lived in caves and temporary shelters; they were practically one with nature. I'm straying into hypothesis here, but I would imagine that each individual would have to have a complete survival skill set; tasks don't seem to have been divided between community members as trades in those days. Perhaps they were divided between the sexes, but there is little proof supporting that idea, either.

Anyhow, these skills had to be taught to younger humans: Hunting and gathering for everyday survival, as well as the dangers that represented wild animals; I'm sure these lessons were quite strict, as any deviation from them would be a threat to tribe survival. Medicinal knowledge and theories about the origins of the elements and other natural phenomena were probably practiced and passed along by a select few tribe members. In all, the 'unexplainable' aside, the methods they passed through the generations were tried and true, almost a science in those times.

A human that must fend for itself against nature to provide sustenance for itself (and eventually its family) would at least have to be close to maturity in body, so we can assume that the time until then was spent on education. Yet this education would be worthless if the young human didn't break the bond with the rest of the tribe and forage out for himself for a first time; when in his group of 'trusted teacher' tribe members (and he probably, by instinct, feared anyone else), he depended on them for approval or disproval of his imitations of their methods, but eventually he would have to test them against nature with only his survival as a judge. The 'walkabout' is an example of this still existing in Australian aborigine tradition: take what you've learned (from your elders and ancestors), use it fend for yourself, or die. The switch to critical (independent) thinking was not a choice then, it was a matter of survival.

Yet before that initiation, if an information has only been tested through imitation against a trusted member's expression of approval or disproval, the human brain can only categorise it (with other similar information) with a link to the emotion generated when judgement was given (by trusted member, and most likely linked to (emotional) information connected to trusted tribe member themself); this is completely at odds with the context of a real-life situation.

Here's an exercise for the sake of example: consider a task that you repeat so often that it has even become mundane. Can you remember who taught it to you? Now consider another subject that you learned but have had little-to-no experience actually using. I'm sure you still remember its teacher quite well.

When a young human sees an animal in a 'real-life' hunting situation for the first time, it becomes an actual goal (and means for survival), everything about his lessons changes. Place yourself in the same situation as the young hunter: you're about to embark on your first one-on-one with an animal, and your lessons have to relate to ~it~ (not dear teacher), so thoughts about your education process are not the first thing on your mind. What you are experiencing now is ~yours~ (and you may at first feel afraid at this, which will only heighten your senses and accelerate your processing): see how the animal parts the bushes as he runs into the forest; your brain will make a direct link from that observation to the size and direction of that animal (amongst other conditions), and when you enter the forest in the right direction to actually see the animal again, that earlier connection will be labelled 'success' and the 'teacher approval' filter will be needed no more. Did you lose the animal again when you entered a clearing? Notice that smell, note the wind direction, and follow it, and again, if successful, your connection will be rewarded and 'confirmed'.

That night when you dream, you will re-enact those events, making the new connections that 'worked' even stronger (added axon terminal arms, dendrite arms, and myelination), and should you encounter the same situation the next day (using those neurones again), the connection will become stronger still. Any slight variation to those circumstances will add additional information to the established links, making a 'hunting' neurone network that is your very own creation, your tested experience alone. One can imagine that with a lifetime of experiences such as these (in all methods of survival), the complexity of our neural networks must have grown great indeed.


Enter agriculture. This invention, only 12,000 years ago, flew in the face of over ~200,000 years of evolution and tradition. No longer was a human at odds with nature, as it needed stray no further than the boundaries of its habitat to collect its needed nourishment; many 'old' lessons about nature and survival were no longer needed, no longer given, and no longer tested.  Community size grew, and the work required by agriculture was divided between its members; it was no longer required to have a full survival skill-set to earn one's sustenance. Repeated tool-use skills in a sedentary environment requires much less critical thinking than the ever-changing circumstances of nature.

So, even though agriculture reduced the skill requirements for survival, the human brain was still 'wired' to handle them. And even though the human brain was wired to make direct inter-neurone 'conclusion' connections of its own (as a requirement for survival), it no longer encountered the circumstances nor the motivation to do so.

Yet because of our evolution and instincts, even in village (agricultural community) life, central leader role models remained, and were promoted to important places in society. Fewer were trained to brave the dangers of 'outside the village' (and these often became leaders), and even fewer had the occasion to test those skills. So from then, rumoured dangers, because untested, remained in the 'feared unknown' category, and directly linked in the brain to the 'authoritative' person who spoke of them. I imagine that over the years those stories, because they were untested/untestable, grew increasingly fanciful, and that the person telling them became an increasingly central village figure. This is probably how religion began.

So let's fast-forward to today, a mere 12,000 years later. This time period is next to nothing in the scale of our evolution, so our modern brains are practically unchanged from the hunter-gatherer model evolution favoured, yet with our cities protecting us from both the elements and nature, we are even ~less~ required and motivated to make the transition to the independent critical thinking that 200,000 years of evolution prepared our brains for.

The timing of that transition can change, too. In pre-agriculture days we had no other choice but to remain in a protective environment with our untested learnings until we were physically strong enough to affront nature on our own, but today, thanks to information technology and the (non-dangerous) nature of the things we learn, we can test any idea or information anytime we want in our lives... if we want to.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Understanding the Theist Mindset.

This is perhaps already obvious to many of you, but I had a bit of a 'release' revelation a few days ago; I'm much less daunted by theist discussion thanks to it. Sorry if this sounds pompous, but I'd like to share.

'Pigeon Chess' is the best analogy I've heard so far to describe an atheist/theist discussion, but I kept wondering about ~how~ a theist manages to deny/dismiss fact/evidence even when it's right in front of them.

If you think to our education, we spend the first part of our lives building our minds by mimicking a few trusted 'authority figures' who are supposed to show us what's good and dangerous in the world (and being doubtful/in fear of anyone/anything else), but eventually we gain enough experience to start making conclusions of our own from what we experience around us.

Religious people are just people who have never left the first stage. Just as children, they focus on their 'authority figures' for (emotional) reward and punishment; they just 'blank' any information from any other source as 'wrong' or 'bad'.

I can almost compare a 'follower' education to training a lab rat: the reward is food if he does the 'good thing', and punishment is an electric shock if he does the 'bad'. Eventually the rat will grow to fear certain things and appreciate others, even without an actual reward being given. When released into the world, he will regard with incomprehension (and perhaps fear) anything different from the environment he was trained in, and run to his 'education environment' for safety if he can. Trained rats together will behave the same way, but as a pack.

The key here is emotion: the 'reward' for a theist comes directly from a leader approving a followed behavioural pattern, whereas the 'reward' for a thinker comes (first) from ~himself~ when he achieves understanding and uses it to a successful result/conclusion.

So, for a theist, any information not from certain sources or outside their programmed behavioural pattern ~doesn't even register~ if they are not approved by their leader/fellow followers, much in the same way 'god' doesn't register for atheists.

For religious leaders, all that matters is that their followers continue to focus on them for education, reward and punishment; one could even argue that the content of the doctrine used to establish/maintain this dependancy system... isn't even important.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Everything is light and time - what about the 'other side' ?

If my earlier idea was true, that would mean that every 'up' quark would exist as a 'down' quark in the spacetime-construct direction opposite to ours (or 'opposite dimension'). This really bothered me, as it would mean that, in the dimension opposite to ours, our world would be perfectly mirrored in antimatter.

Until I considered that the 'zero point' between the two dimensions. It's a 'zero point', right? It may be possible that anything originating from that in our dimension could be a complete somwhere else in the other :

I also doubt that the 'zero points' axes are 'aligned' between them... imagine a cloud of striped billiard balls rotating in all directions with no synchronisation at all. All that matters is that the dimension 'sides' are directly opposed to each other.

Antimatter exists and has been produced, and it has been demonstrated that antimatter annihilates matter... but if the above were true, a fermion annihilated in our dimension would also be annihilated in the other. Once the time-space rip maintaining energy is gone, the opposing time-construct will annihilate each other as well. 

The above idea is two dimensions that will 'zero out' in all its aspects if all its matter/energy is destroyed, meaning a return to a 'perfect state' nothing, but it is... disturbing, to say the least.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Religion vs. Rationality - a simple exercise to demonstrate why we can't communicate.

Theist/rationalist debates have always been a source of frustration.  The reason for this: our value systems are completely different, and the 'horizons' we use to orient ourselves are not even comparable. Consider the following two diagrams: try to take one item from one diagram and place it in another. It's a difficult task... more than likely a theist would group all the 'science items' at the same level, whereas a rationalist would group all of the 'faith-dependant' items at the same level on his graph.

Perhaps my bias shows in the choice of items on each chart, but all I wanted to do is show the 'horizon' of our respective value systems. It would be an interesting exercise to take all items from both charts and place them in a box, then ask an interviewee to place them all on one chart, then another. I'm sure that a theist will place things like 'bible veracity' on 'demonstrable' even if it isn't - but that would only highlight more our value differences, wouldn't it?

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Everything is light... and time?

Around one in the morning last night I watched around ten minutes of a (rather stupid) time-travel movie, and went to bed with that in my head... spending around an hour mulling 'brain-only' things usually helps my sleep. Anyway, I was thinking about the conditions that would have to be met for time travel to be possible... either somehow being able to re-create the entire universe at the desired point in time (not), somehow 'reversing' the action-reaction of particles (not) that in any case would 'travel' no faster in the opposite direction than our present sense of time (not not) and that again for the entire universe (not ∞ )... so then thought about manipulating a limited area of space-time.

If I was to 'reverse' a certain number of particles (I had tossed the 'speed' factor for the time being), I would have to not only reverse the particles themselves, but reverse the very essence of each particle, meaning down to quarks themselves. But this would make them... antimatter. Isolating that... more plausible, but again 'not'.

But then I got to thinking about 'particle reversal' and particle-antiparticle annihilation, and asked myself... do antiparticles travel backwards in time? The draw between a particle and an antiparticle is enormous, so much so that it is near impossible for us (today) to isolate an antiparticle from any particle (I digress), but anyways, in a collision between the two, imagine that their impact point is also a 'zero point' between two different 'directions' of energy AND time . This 'zero point', or 'perfect state' as I called it in an entry here three years ago (but in another context), could be what all matter in the universe is trying to attain.

I discarded my 'light bending' (into quarks) idea months ago, but I retained the persuasion that something happened to EMV energy above gamma level... what if it tore a hole in that 'zero state' (meaning penetrated slightly into the 'opposite of our' side) and became locked into running rings around its lip?

What if things happened the other way around? That is to say, with super-gamma-level energies being the ~source~ closest to the 'zero point' and all EMW's below were a residue, projectiles and smoke if you will, left over from the explosion that contained energies great enough to be 'rip maintainers' (mass-creators)? EMW's were probably (at their origin) energies emanating from that 'zero point' into 'our side'.

Anyhow, getting back to the 'energy/spacetime rip' struggle, it would probably take an enormous amount of energy to 'dislodge' that energy from its struggle between our two... dimensions (but why only two dimensions (why not dimensions between every direction possible?), and must the struggle be diametrically opposed?).

To continue this line of thought, if any EMW energy greater than gamma levels is enough to create a rip in spacetime, this would mean that every point in our spacetime can be a 'potential rip'. Is this dark energy/matter?

****** intermission music ******

Now let's play with this spacetime-rip idea a bit. If we imagine that an initial explosion in all directions in space and time managed to create rips in all directions... for simplicity's sake, let's just take two diametrically-opposed dimensions.

An explosion towards our 'construct direction' in spacetime (called 'dimension' hereon for simplicity's sake) would create a rip-ring (again, 'quark' for simplicity) whose energy field is more towards our dimension, and an explosion in the opposite would create the opposite (and in fact, the exact opposite could be true (an explosion into our dimension leaving the majority of its energy on the 'other side'), but the result would be the same). A 'positive' quark would be a rip whose energy amplitude extends in its majority into our dimension (let's say by 2/3 for simplicity) and a negative quark, the opposite.

These rips, without any 'energy controller' maintaining them open, would just close. A rip-energy combination, or quark, would remain stable as long as it wasn't approached by another, but when two positively-charged quarks approach each other, their respective 'rip' cores would be drawn to each other (much like two whirlpools), but probably not at a very high rate/strength (could this be the 'weak force'?), and they would be kept apart by their similar energy amplitudes extending into our/our opposite dimension (their charges would not 'draw across' or 'zero out' across the spacetime rip). Yet should two oppositely-charged quarks approach each other, their charges ~would~ zero out across the spacetime rip, and they would annihilate each other. The process of this happening is probably much like the effect as two magnets approaching each other; the closer they are, the stronger their pull towards each other, and this probably exponentially.

If it were this simple, the universe would appear and annihilate itself in an immeasurable length of time. Perhaps most of it did. But Hadrons are composed of ~three~ quarks, two of one kind and one of the opposite: two positive ('up') quarks eternally trying to annihilate a negative ('down') quark make a Proton, and two negative ('down') quarks and one positive ('up') quark make a Neutron. Did I even have to outline this?

Okay, to represent an 'up' quark, let's draw a symbolic horizontal EMW wave, and a horizontal line across it leaving 1/3 its amplitude below, 2/3 above. The line is the 'zero point', and everything above 'our dimension'.

There are two things to notice here: although most of the wave amplitude (energy) is in our universe, the 'draw' from the other side is lesser. If we look at the present Standard Model of Elementary particles, we see that 'up' quarks have more charge and less mass. If we move the line up 1/3 to represent a 'down' quark, we see less of the wave in our dimension but more on the 'other side'; the same table will show you that 'down' quarks have less charge but have more mass.

My earlier 'the oscillation of a looping EMW = gravity' idea makes more sense when it is placed as a ring around/inside/outside a spacetime rip, because part of that lateral action is taking place in a spacetime direction opposite to ours.

So, in summary, the idea I describe above is an 'extreme-frequency-between-spacetimes-oscillating ring of energy', an elementary particle that has charge, mass, gravity and the weak force.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Discussing religion: Context is everything.

I've become quite tired of discussing religion, because most conversations these days use modern teachings (or 'talking points') that themselves often contradict the very scripture they are supposedly based upon. If one wants to discuss religion effectively, he or she must understand the origin and purpose of that religion, or forever be stuck in an endless tail-chasing argument of lawyerly manipulation around unprovable claims. Without fact, the only conclusive end to any religious discussion can only be a declaration of the religion 'does' for an arguer: one might as well discuss the positive and negative effects of different drugs, or promote the positive effects of 'your' drug (with someone else who has never taken it - mission impossible!).

Not only is modern christianity corrupt beyond recognition, it purposely avoids discussing its origins, because comparing modern teachings to these (especially through scripture) would be a danger to the very religion itself. Rather than go into a pages-long rant, I've just made a list of facts, in chronological order, that never seem to make it into most Christian religious discussions. Here goes...

1) Jesus was a Jew, and died a Jew without any thought to creating a new religion. He was (one of many) claiming to be the messiah prophesized in the Jewish teachings of the time (the Torah).
2) Judaism was still evolving in Jesus' time. The Talmud (Jewish laws) had not yet been written, and it was still uncertain whether Judaism would be exclusive to the 'sons of Israel', or open to the Gentiles as well.
3) Judaism was the (apparently) only monotheist religion at the time: the rest of the world was into their own localised multi-god paganism. The choice of 'one god to group them all' must have been enticing to many then.
4) The 'lingua franca' of the time was Greek, and even Jewish teachings of the time were translated into this language for the benefit of those not familiar with Hebrew.
5) The apostle Paul (who never knew Jesus, for those who don't know already) was of the greek-speaking faction that a) believed that Jesus was indeed the messiah and b) wanted to open Judaism to everyone. In spite of his difference of opinion, Paul was still a Jew. yet it was Paul who began the divergence between the teachings of Judaism and what was to become Christianity, in creating his own brand of Judaism which he intended to spread to the entire world. It is for this that most of the new testament is concocted from Paul's 'epistles' (or his correspondence with the 'new' religious communities he created). Christianity's definite origin can probably be placed at Paul's orders to his following to reject the teachings of anyone who did not accept Christ as the true messiah.

That is where the corruption began.

6) The only thing really known about Jesus in the time of Paul was his trip between his hometown and Jerusalem to his crucifixion. Everything in the bible outside of that (birth, miracles, etc) was written well after his lifetime.
7) Hell, marriage, and celibacy were inventions that appeared well after the origins of Christianism. All of these were creations to serve political or propagandist ends: Celibacy in particular, a rule inexistent before until the 13th century, was imposed on Christian teachers only to remove the 'threat' certain communities felt by evangelist missionaries (most of them single males) moving into their midst. Confession and marriage were invented as a means to better integrate and control communities. The saints, statues and the richness of many supposedly Christian institutions exist in direct defiance of scripture.

I could go on and on about wanton Christian destruction of 'other religion' temples (and replacement with their own), the effacement of pagan holidays (solstice, harvest, etc) by Christian ones (Christmas, All-Saints day), the Crusades and the inquisition, but the only real fact to retain in all this is that none of these later additions to Christianity appear in scripture. Protestantism can be credited with trying to remedy the situation through the 16th-century reformation, but only a few of its branches remain true to the original Christian form.

In short, the Christianity we see today is long, many-layered conclusion to a highly profitable institution designed to draw the fearful illiterate and ignorant, and such institutions should have no power, or even place, in our supposedly literate and well-informed society.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Comparative particle 'cycles' - back to Time Dilation?

Just a short entry here. In earlier posts I described my idea that E=m=A/C (or mass = wave amplitude / Constant C (speed of light)), but only examined that model relative to itself. What if we took two moving particles with this model? Not only would their 'speed' differ (in fact, for two particles relative to each other, their speed would be exactly the same), but so would their mass - two particles travelling towards each other would have a higher relative mass/Energy content (shorter wavelength), and two particles travelling away from each other would have the opposite. This means that one particle travelling towards another would go through more wavelength cycles than it would were it travelling at the same speed as the other particle, and the opposite for particles travelling away - but if one particle was to distance itself from the first, return and 'stop' next to it, wouldn't the 'age' (wave cycles vs. time) of both particles be the same?