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Comment Re:Genesis 6:3 NIV (Score 1) 290

Legend vs Myth vs History. However, remember that the OT was basically written, or rewritten, after the Babylonian captivity, and that (being a living document) it was rewritten every single time it was copied in manuscript. It is chock full of anachronisms, and actually, a lot of its "history" does NOT line up with archeology. There is considerable doubt that Moses was a real person, for example, and if he was, there is no record of him on the Egyptian side (where they kept good records). Here is one account that points to the utter lack of historical evidence for ANY "Exodus", and establishes the made-up conclusion that Moses was a conflation of two different people with completely different stories (made up because there isn't any real evidence outside of the contradictions of the Biblical accounts for either one).

A better summary is here: (see "historicity"). Moses was basically unmentioned until after the exile, and at that point appears to be a rewrite of an ancient Sumerian mythic figure, like (for that matter) the flood. But then, the Canaanites were basically Sumerians.

Comment Re:Genesis 6:3 NIV (Score 2) 290

Tough on you that you got a tiny bit annoyed for pissing away 40 years in the desert...

The desert that a man on a crutch could cross in a couple of weeks, and that a healthy man could cross in a week on foot. God must have created a dimensional warp mid-desert that stretched its size out to, lessee, suppose we assume only ONE mile a day -- the distance one can crawl on hands and knees and still have time to spare to collect the morning manna and pitch the tents and all. 40 x 365 x 6 / 7 (can't crawl on the Sabbath) = 12514 miles, which is roughly half the circumference of the world at the equator. The distance from Cairo to Israel is what, 200 miles, and the "desert" in between is more like 100 of that (so 1 mph for a man on a crutch in two weeks with manna breaks is about right). Even if they came up from Khartoum and wandered Saudi Arabia north it is only maybe 500 miles.

But hey, the Bible also has Noah preserving all of the several million species that would be killed in a saltwater/freshwater flood that covered the top of Mt Everest in 40 days -- around 5 or 6 inches of rain A MINUTE, on every square meter of the Earth's surface pole to pole -- in a wooden boat the size of a Wal Mart, ventilated by a single window one square meter in size. Since that includes all of the ocean species that would be killed in the freshwater dilution AND all of the land species that would be killed in the saltwater irrigation, it pretty much means every species on Earth, animals and plants alike, and a lot of the microfauna as well. Then there is the thermodynamics involved, and the problem of where the water came from and where it all went since we can presume that God did NOT pour it through the holes in the solid sky from which he hung the little lights over the flat ground beneath or lose it by letting it run over the side of the world into the deep below (past the elephants).

Or maybe he did. After all, if you can dimensionally warp 100 miles into 100,000 miles and twist the night sky up so that tracking the sun East moves you in a drunkard's walk, performing an impossible toplogical trick of warping a spherical manifold into a flat plane with edges should be a piece of cake. I feel sorry for all of the people in the Americas, though, being all stretched out like that...


Comment Re:This simply means we're succeeding. (Score 1) 235

Yeah, I looked at the arithmetic and yeah, the arithmetic is sketchy (if 22% cells aren't already sketchy for that price). But yes, they do cover the doors, the rear, basically all non-transparent surfaces with cells. Other neglected things are what happens if you park under trees, in a forest of tall buildings, in parking garages. It's never going to be 7.5 m^2 x 0.22 x whatever you want to claim for mean daily integrated flux through a perpendicular surface (200 to 300 W/m^2 if I recall correctly).

It's also not clear how much of a "real car" they have in mind. Is it an ELF with solar cells on all surfaces? The ELF now looks more like a car with glossy hard sides than it used to, and they now seem to come with a 100W solar panel on the roof, allowing one to accumulate as much as a KW-H over a whole day. Since it comes with a 500+ W-H battery, it actually could fully recharge over a day in the sun. This gives it a range of around 15 to 18 miles no pedalling on flat ground. Obviously if you add battery, you can add range, but you probably can't fully recharge with only sun unless you add more panels.

The ELF is not vaporware -- I live in Durham and see these all the time on the roads (they cost $6000 to $9000 depending on how tricked out you get them). Adding solar capacity is actually pretty easy, as is adding battery capacity. One could probably accessorize to 30 miles a day and still manage a full recharge on its rated mileage of 34 mpkwh (add another 500 W-H battery and another 100 W panel with some sort of hinge that you can tilt up to horizontal-ish when you park). Actually, this isn't bad at all, and would probably do me just fine on my commute, leaves the money in my home town, and gives me the option of pedalling to get SOME exercise on the run without having to pedal up all the hills on muscle alone (hot and sweaty, at least, during the summer). Pedalling also extends the range, obviously.

The catch is that it isn't technically a car, and cannot go 45 to 50 mph on the one road I would HAVE to drive on that is 45 to 50 mph if you want to go WITH the traffic, and it is even more of a road obstacle than a bike if you are traveling under road speed. Which makes it still quite dangerous, although maybe a hair less so than a bike (at least one person I know of has been killed on the road I have to ride in on in the last year on a bike).

So, can one imagine taking the working ELF design, bumping its internal energy storage to 14.5 KW-H, bumping its solar capacity to (say) 400 to 600 W, (say, 2400 KW-H/day) increasing its top speed to street legal (say 55 mph for mostly in town driving), sticking with polycarbonate sides but increasing seating to four in more of a car-like configuration, and still maintaining at least 12 m/KWH, needed to get 30 m in a day's charge (with no pedals)?

It's not completely insane. Doubling speed increases power required by around a factor of 8 but takes only 1/2 the time to go the distance, so it needs 4 times as much energy IF one assumes energy is dominated at that point by quadratic drag. Well, we've quadrupled incoming power (relative to 30 miles/day), increased stored power by a much larger factor than necessary, so in principle if we haven't added TOO much weight or MUCH less efficient motors, we are at least in the ballpark. Can we do this by no more than doubling the high end cost? Again, maybe, hard to say. We'd save some by not having pedals and all the dual power source gearing, we'd spend it and more on the extra batteries, solar capacity, and the 4+x more powerful motor. But it might be doable. ELF might make it there on its own as it has the substantial advantage of building and selling actual vehicles right now that already work pretty well as in-town commuters, better/safer where the speed limit is 35 mph and under, not so well where it is 35 mph and over. If they are and remain profitable as they grow, they could end up bringing out higher end, closer to car vehicles within a year or two even without any competitive incentive, and in Europe the cost profile may or may not be advantageous for a local competitor to develop.

ANY real improvement in several critical components -- motor efficiency, energy recovery while braking, active solar charging, energy storage -- could make this general approach into a COST efficient alternative to auto-based in-town or in-city commuting. Cheaper than a car, check. Self-solar-fueling or nearly so for the expected daily driving range, check. Low maintenance (compared to a car!), probably check. Made of materials that will last without rusting out or getting brittle (and cheap to replace), maybe check, dunno. Insurance? Dunno. Safe? Probably not as safe as a car, conceivably safer than a bike (if they build them truly street-legal at 55 mph). Quite aside from "saving the planet for the whales", I've thought about them as ways of saving the $100-150 I have to spend per week on fuel, maintenance, insurance, and depreciation to do my daily commute in a car whose capital cost was over $16K used. Spend less than $16K new, save (say) $1200/year, and be insulated from fuel supply chain interruptions and price hikes? Sounds like a good bet to me, if it is safe enough to drive without quadrupling the risk of an accident during rush hour.


Comment Re:This simply means we're succeeding. (Score 1) 235

For windmills, you can use vertical axis windmills to avoid slaughtering birds.

Or, you can put cats in hamster-wheel cages that generate electricity. After all, cats kill somewhere between several hundred million and a billion birds a year, almost as many as transparent glass windows kill by enticing birds to bash in their own brains flying into them. According to at least one of the efforts to put names to causes of human-linked bird mortality. Turbines aren't really in the top ten causes. Windows is number one, with cats at number 2, high tension power lines, pesticides, cars, communication towers, and hunting all much higher in total mortality than wind turbines. So if you want to save birds, put some of those ugly little butterfly decals on your windows and don't wash them so often that they are perfectly transparent. Use your neighborhood cats for target practice. Avoid using electricity, don't use chlorinated hydrocarbons and anticholinesterases on your lawn and garden, try not to drive, and go hunting for the human hunters as well as the cat (and even dog) hunters. As many birds are killed every year as fishing by-catch (in nets and with hook and line) as are killed by turbines.

Just to get a little perspective. I have other reasons to dislike turbines as energy sources, one of them being that they are large and ugly and have a poor duty cycle in many locations and have high maintenance costs and take up a lot of room and... but there is no need to throw birds in as a good reason to be hatin'.

Outside of that, I agree. But see the article on New Atlas today -- it alleges that a car that at least charges itself on a daily basis with no external power supply at all is possible and should be commercially available next year, maybe, if the article isn't bullshit. I rather think that it is, but will reserve judgement for the time being.

Comment Re:This simply means we're succeeding. (Score 2) 235

I don't disagree with your math, but an article on NewAtlas TODAY extols a claim from a German company that they are going to build a car with 7.5 m^2 of 22% efficient polycrystalline solar cells covering its flattish surfaces, with a 14.5 kW-H internal battery, that will get at least 30 km/day from normal ambient (unobstructed, sure) sun. Their so-far rendered image of a car looks like a smallish four seater commuter car. They also CLAIM that they will sell this for $14 to $16K USD.

I'm skeptical -- but if the DO manage this, it would make a hell of a car for my in-town driving. Basically buy it and then use it without fuel for the rest of its useful life, because I don't drive 30 km/day on average, even including runs to stores as well as work. I'm not sure it would be a good "only car", but it would sure take the pressure off of my 4Runner (needed to pull a boat and for trips but overkill for daily commuting).

The point being that there may be "specialty cars" that can actually function as solar cars for limited length commutes. The ELF (made in Durham NOW, as opposed to dreaming-ware like the car in the new atlas article) could almost do it, if you could hook it up to a few square meters of panel this efficient, but it isn't really a "car", it is more of an electric enhanced tricycle with a tarp-like cover and a bit of storage. But for $6000, one could add the solar panels and a system to accumulate enough charge at home in a day to keep it charged for standard commutes, if it were really road safe (IMO it's not, quite).


Comment Re:the enemy (Score 1) 129

You are an idiot or an ignorant.

Possibly both at the same time! Let's see:

Hmmm, 1/5th the cost already affordable by nearly any "kitchen pot" dictatorship around the world. And this isn't new technology -- rumor in the physics world has it that this is how Israel has been making its bombs for decades. So right, not quite in my kitchen with my pots, but in a small warehouse somewhere? Maybe, if I have a few million and access to uranium 238 (which is, one profoundly hopes, not THAT easy to arrange, actually). In a small production facility in (pick a place loosely controlled by your favorite world group that you really don't want to have nuclear devices)? Without question. It's just a matter of time, although frankly centrifuges are already more than sufficient to build uranium bombs with or to enrich fuel-grade uranium to where you can cook out plutonium. Plutonium is, no argument, hard to squeeze off in a bomb, but enriched Uranium is laughably easy.

Thorium is arguably more of a challenge. For one thing, making U233 involves the Pa chain and a breeder reactor that makes lots of gamma rays and neutrons, so it probably isn't a good candidate for basements unless one's basement has thick lead and concrete walls and one has a degree in nuclear engineering. OTOH, separating out U233 is just chemistry once you get there. So far, it has been easier and cheaper to stick to U235 and plutonium for reasons that are well described and discussed elsewhere:

but there is little doubt that one can make bombs from Thorium, and further, that the bombs you make are the nice, easy to manage Uranium bombs and not the nasty, prematurely detonating fizzling fissioning (unless you build them just right) plutonium bombs. You can store the bomb grade material without any particular precautions other than keeping it subcritical and our borders are totally porous (a nation's worth of heroin addicts agree!) so again, a terror group in any country that has access to e.g. Monazite sands -- India, Australia, Madagascar, Western North Carolina... can if they wish follow this alternative route to a Uranium bomb that doesn't even require a laser OR a centrifuge (although it does require building a breeder with a chemical separation step, plus some fuel grade material to get it started). Basement stuff? I was kidding -- or being sarcastic if you prefer -- because while no, one cannot do it in a literal garage, it is still a technology well within the reach of middle-tier proliferation risks who might have a comparatively hard time getting their hands on Uranium.

Best of all, nowadays they could trumpet to the world that they were fixing Global Warming by building thorium based nuclear self-sufficiency and all it takes in a MSR is to divert the breeder-enriched salts into a chemical extraction step and siphon off a steady supply of bomb-grade material. Material that you can even show that you NEED (in at least some capacity) to restart your reactor after fuelling or start a new one...

The point is -- to repeat myself -- that killing large numbers of people is easy enough to be nearly impossible to prevent if:

    a) You don't care if you die yourself in the process;
    b) You don't care who you kill, and are perfectly happy to take the lowest hanging fruit you can find if people take steps to protect one possible target (say, the super bowl). Are people going to be able to provide the same protection to every football, soccer, basketball game, forever? How about airports, train stations? How about high-profile, expensive, human filled skyscrapers in every city?
    c) You have at least some money to put towards the project. To kill more than 100 people at a time will likely require some investment and a comparatively high risk of premature discovery BECAUSE there are people out there looking for signatures in at least some of the predictable pathways. I'm guessing if I ordered a bunch of 16 micron lasers it might trigger SOME sort of alarm SOMEWHERE. At least, I hope so. But how hard would it be to develop a cover? The technology is old:

and tunable lasers have many uses, some quite innocuous. But there are LOTS of potential WMDs out there, some dating back a full century and no more difficult to make than meth, and we all know how hard THAT is to make, even by people who are a few cards short of a full deck.

In the end, our best defense is excellent, public, free mental health care, plus solving the problem of inequity on a global scale so that entire populations don't grow up with PTSD and anger at the level of suicidal rage. Having a viable, rational, shared human global ethos wouldn't hurt a bit as well, but that ain't happening anytime soon, is it?

Sorry you missed the bit about tongue in cheek. For what it's worth, my house doesn't even have a basement, and I don't have the money to buy either a bank of 16 micron lasers or the tons of unprocessed uranium needed as base stock, or to build the chemical plant needed in my back yard, which might not be able to hold it and enough shielding to keep neighborhood animals from mutating down the road into giant squirrels with an attitude and cockroaches large enough to start in MIB IV. But nine countries are known to have nuclear devices. Three of them are basically nuclear wars waiting to happen, with North Korea getting special mention in the Hey We're Batshit Crazy and Plan To Nuke You category, and with Pakistan not far behind and a disaffected general away from delivering them into the hands of Islamic terrorist groups.

Then there is the list of countries that HAD nukes for at least a little while and who supposedly disassembled them or gave them (back) to Russia. Then there is the list of countries with active nuclear energy programs, any one of which COULD build a bomb in a matter of weeks if they really wanted to, whether or not they have signed the NPT. Then there is the list of countries that would LIKE to build or buy a bomb, with or without a functioning nuclear program. And sadly, it has never been simpler, or cheaper, to build a bomb. If your country has a nuclear physics group at its national University or some expatriate nationals employed in nuclear engineering in countries that have functioning reactors, chances are pretty good that you could build a bomb in a remarkably short time if you could keep your efforts secret and have access to Uranium or Thorium ores (where the latter are also the source of rare earth elements of great industrial importance, making it easy to produce thorium as a byproduct of something entirely legitimate).

Personally, I think all of this is worth worrying about, but hey, I grew up in the cold war living for a while just outside of the beltway in Northern Virginia, and would lie in bed at night wondering if the thing that would wake me would be an unholy sun rising over the Pentagon right before the shock wave arrived. Back then the risk was 1 to 5 megaton MIRV'd ICBMs in sufficient quantity to give "civilization" a serious set-back. Now it is whether North Korea will manage to self-destruct with or without delivering a handful of 10 kt devices to a handful of countries first, and how much restraint we will use bombing it back to the stone age in response.

Honestly, that's an improvement.


Comment Re:the enemy (Score 2) 129

Yeah, now if WE were nefarious Dr. Evil types, WE would be able to fill full sized buses with the name of your favorite rental car company on the side right up to the pickup area of any major metropolitan area, loaded not with a single drum of witchbrew nitro but with dozens of them, with walls lined with preformed shrapnel on the terminal side and with a concrete wall on the other to direct the explosion (and likely with heavy heavy duty shocks:-). Then sure, we could remote pilot it into place in any terminal in the country with an Airplane-style inflatable driver on the front seat and detonate it on Thanksgiving weekend at peak travel hours. Even if there IS somebody literally sitting on a camera watching, they'd have to be monitoring EVERY large vehicle that EVER enters the main airport, and the only monitoring that would work worth a damn is something fully automated (transponders on every permitted vehicle?) and then you have to defend the automation!

OR, we could do pretty much the same thing with any of a number of small planes -- turn them into de facto cruise missiles and direct them straight at the containment vessel of a nuclear power plant, or better yet, at its spent fuel dump. Or turn a 21 foot power boat into an enormous remote control "torpedo" and take out a cruise ship. The most nefarious of WE could probably figure out the laser enrichment trick, beg borrow buy steal a few dozen tons of Uranium, enrich our own U235 in our basement, and build a REAL bomb and simply drop it in the middle of any random city, anywhere. Or, if Uranium is all locked down maybe we could buy up less-controlled Thorium and cook it down into bomb grade U233. Yes, these require a really big basement, but plenty of countries, all drug lords, and lots of billionaires all have "big basements". The drug lords already have fully debugged means of delivery that don't even require electronics!

All of these things are why Homeland Security people get ulcers. They aren't stupid, or at least some of them aren't stupid, and they probably have whole spreadsheets of identified pathways for bad people to do bad things (and activities that "might" serve as a signal for these bad things in preparation). And they know that all of this is really pissing into the wind -- just as 9/11 came out of the blue, the next attack will come out of the blue, and EVEN if it follows one of the identified scenarios, they ultimately rely as much on luck as anything else to detect it and successfully intervene. They just haven't been too lucky, recently. Too much dike -- a UNIVERSE of dike, all rotten and crumbling in the storm -- and not enough fingers.

Ultimately, one has to hope that smart people are too smart, usually, to want to mass-murder their neighbors. Admittedly, history doesn't provide a whole lot of support for this hope, but in the end, anybody who really IS smart, and patient, and who has the resources to invest in it (big tour bus sized buses aren't all that cheap, and it isn't that easy to buy the materials to make good explosives or to make GOOD chemical explosives, defined to be ones that blow up when you want them to instead of when you are halfway through making them and get crystallization of unstable nitrates on the lips of your reaction vessels) can probably figure out a bunch of ways to kill people hundreds to thousands at a time, especially if they don't care WHO they kill or WHEN it happens and can just target any old event where large numbers of people are concentrated in a comparatively small space.

There was a science fiction short story I remember reading (but I cannot remember who wrote it, or when) where somebody discovered a way of basically destroying the world using the moral equivalent of household cleaners from under the sink. The "recipe" was widely disbursed so suddenly everybody -- everybody -- knew how to kill every other person in the world (and themselves). The story explored whether suddenly every human alive would instantly become moral and treat everybody else as if they could end the world if they were pissed off and suicidal. Personally, I think that if you put a magic button that would destroy the entire world in front of every person on Earth, the button would be pressed almost instantly by millions of people worldwide. It isn't a story that would end well.

And that's the rub. Technology makes the world better. It provides us with the hope that one day we really will bring about world peace, feed the hungry, heal amputees and the blind, all of the stuff Jesus promised to do with magic we can and are doing with science. But the dark side is that the same techno-magic can be turned to evil, and the crazy and disaffected among us can do far more damage in a rampage than a medieval peasant armed with a repurposed farm tool. In the 21st century, it won't just be nations that have the power and resources to cook up e.g. Sarin or Mustard Gas or even binary nerve gases, or build nukes, or do recombinant DNA to weaponize a hypervirulent strain of E Coli. Quite small groups, even individuals, will be able to do the same thing.

And it doesn't even require this to hurt a lot of people very quickly. An over-the-counter semi-automatic weapon with a few 3D printed replacement parts works just fine, as recent events prove. And they also prove that there are people out there crazy enough to use it.


Comment Re:Thelema (Score 1) 539

Jesus is called good master by a supplicant and rounds on them and says (paraphrased) "Why do you call me good? There is no one that is good but God." admitting on one sentence that he is neither God nor Good.

Perhaps you are misinterpreting those verses. Here's a hint: the rhetorical question is a concept that preexists Jesus's presence on earth.

Jesus wouldn't go around saying things like, "Before Abraham was, I AM" and then contradict himself.

Or, I could just be quoting Mark:

10:17 And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?
10:18 And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God.

But hey, maybe Jesus was just being Modest, as in "Silly beanie, why are you calling me good master? Ain't nobody good but God. Oh, snap! I AM God, I AM I AM."

Oh, wait! This is consistent with that other bit where he admits that he preaches in parables so that many of his listeners will be deceived (and hence damned, if we are to believe what is written elsewhere). So maybe he's just being deceptive, trying to fake the guy out and convince him that he isn't God so he will end up being damned.

The only thing that puzzles me then is that (if we assume that this is reported correctly, which is itself an absurd proposition given the history of the New Testament as laid out by e.g. Bart Ehrman in "Misquoting Jesus") the guy asking the question didn't call him God, did he? Unless "good master" is a secret code or something. Jesus brought up the fact that he isn't God all by himself. Sort of as if you said, "Hey friend, how can I get to Fifth and Main?" and I replied "Who you calling `friend'? Ain't nobody YOUR friend but God, and God won't be your friend unless you cover your head in public and avoid eating cheeseburgers".

Which does not, in fact sound very godly, does it...

If you look into the history of Mark (the narrative, not the person since we really have no idea who "Mark" is and it is almost certain that no single person wrote the book that most scholars think was the first of the synoptics written, from which the other two are loosely derived) it ended with the empty tomb, no explanation, no eyewitnessed resurrection. Those verses were added later. So perhaps what Mark is saying here is that Jesus really was just a "Good Master" -- like Buddha, like the current Dalai Lama, like many other before and since -- and was no more divine than you and I are. Maybe we are catching a glimpse of the true Jesus. If Jesus actually existed, of course, which is by no means certain.

But I'm guessing that you are quoting John, who of course was NOT one of the synoptics. Yes, John -- IIRC one of the last Gospels written -- absolutely does hold that Jesus went around claiming to be God. Sadly, that isn't consistent with the others or with e.g. the Gospel of Thomas. But why bring up the politicking and violence of Nicaea and its post-Constantine aftermath, where Chrisitianity was forced by Constantine to decide once and for all if it was going to be trinitarian or arian and the arians lost. Following which all of the non-trinitarian scriptures were purged, and might have been lost for all time, until the accident at Nag Hammadi brought them to light.

If you want to play the game of Christian Apologia, Hermeneutics, and Exegesis, I'm ready. Bring some twenty sided dice and a bunch of cold beer, though. Because I actually have read the Bible. More than once. Some of it a rather lot of times. Made it through the Quran (much shorter) a few times too. Lots of it is rather forgettable, all of it (even the "historical" bits) are actually historically rather dubious, but I slogged through. Can you say the same?


Comment Re:Thelema (Score 1) 539

LGW, we don't agree on much, but we agree on this. Some of the best people I've known in life have been believers, and by "best", I mean, really walked the best meaning of their faith. I'm talking about Christians, Hindus, Muslims, Jews. The whole lot. People whose first response to others was, "What can I do to help?" Now, I've also known some really wonderful non-believers, but it almost seems as if they are more susceptible to the worst impulses of humanity: Objectivism, neoliberalism, and the faux-Libertarianism that is infecting current discourse. If you should encounter a really horrible person online, say on a forum or Twitter or something, chances are very good that they're atheists. Not because atheism made them that way, but because being horrible almost requires non-belief. While there are horrible people of faith (Family Research Council and Westboro Baptist Jackoffs, for example), they tend to stick out because they tend to make a spectacle of themselves.

This is anecdotal evidence at best. All of us have met good people who are religious, and good people who are not, and good people who are in between. Since, by your own admission, good people are often those who do not proselytize and since you would have to know lots of good people very well indeed to know what really goes on in their head, your feeling that there is a difference in the probability distribution of good vs evil actions across faiths and between faiths and the lack of any faith is just that -- a feeling. It is also one that would be very difficult to turn into valid statistics (as people lie about their religious belief pretty regularly and will do so as long as our society maintains its "atheism penalty". Talk to me the day they take "In God We Trust" off of our currency and we elect a president who openly ADMITS to being an atheist (we've had a number who were deist or atheist in the past -- Jefferson was the former, Abraham Lincoln comes to mind as the latter -- but they had to hide it and lie in order to be elected).

Humans can be "good" or "bad", according to some standard establishing goodness and badness -- a thing, by the way, that Plato/Socrates wouldn't touch with a ten foot stick and something that NOBODY seems to quite be able to agree on, because the scriptures -- of all religions -- are full of direct ethical contradictions and because belief obstructs the development of a common rational ethos for human society. In the Abrahamic faiths, God is a Dick. In the old testament, God legalizes beating slaves ALMOST to death (and slavery which goes without saying), marriage by rape plus 30 shekels, beating almost anyone to death who breaks any of a good sized pile of silly rules -- including your own children. God commands one of the earliest semi-legendary acts of genocide, compelling Moses to slaughter the entire Midianite population, men, women and children down to babies in arms, but gives the young virgin females among the Midianite captives to his troop to rape and enslave. Then there are several pages describing the looting of the Midianites and how much of it Moses and his priesthood ended up with. Thanks, God!

But nobody ever reads the Bible, or (it seems) the Quran, or the Book of Mormon. At best they listen to a few carefully selected passages read out loud to them by their preacher on Sunday, who cherrypicks them and then explains them to conform to their own personal vision of good versus evil. And this goes for the new testament as well. There is a lovely scene where Jesus, feeling expansive in his Godhood, is in a tavern with his cronies and a Gentile woman comes up to ask for a miracle. Jesus calls her a dog, looking for scraps from a table set for the Jews, but then humors her and grants her a miracle anyway. Jesus is called good master by a supplicant and rounds on them and says (paraphrased) "Why do you call me good? There is no one that is good but God." admitting on one sentence that he is neither God nor Good. He curses a fig tree for not bearing fruit out of season. And he confesses to his disciples that he preaches in parables so that most of those listening will not understand and will end up in hell. Thanks, Jesus! And we do not want to even touch the Quran -- a horrible, violent book IF you ever read it that starts up where the Old Testament leaves off, or The Book of Mormon, also known as the first completely American work of Science Fiction in the genre of "let's invent a religion" also favored by L. Ron Hubbard and R. A. Heinlein.

Abrahamic religious people are good IN SPITE of the scriptures, not because of them.

But this is in some sense irrelevant to the most important point, which you completely avoid.

There is no good reason to think that any of these religions are true.

Forget ethical ambiguity and the ability to twist scriptures to support any end. Forget the fact that the mythologies they lay out, far from "supporting" science, has been directly contradicted by nearly everything we've learned from science. Forget the simple fact that there are so MANY religions, most of which literally extort belief and compliance with the priesthood, loaded with some good reward if you are compliant and some horrendous punishment if you aren't (where "compliance" to the wishes of the priesthood is more important than actually being GOOD if one wishes to establish a religious hegemony, and religious hegemonies are by far the superorganisms capable of surviving in competition with the other religious superorganisms, with a handful of exceptions such as the Quakers).

The fundamental problem with religion is that there is no evidence that God exists. There is substantially less evidence that God exists and is correctly captured in any specific religion. It is literally extremely improbable that God exists (in the absence of evidence) and if God DOES exist, It exists in a relationship with the Universe that makes God invisible, indistinguishable from the Universe's apparently normal functioning. There absolutely is no evidence of divine perfect justice, posthumous heavenly reward or hellish retribution, or evidence of miracles worth of being called evidence. God never heals amputees (although humans just for the first time healed a long term amputee at Duke Hospital, just as humans are non-miraculously restoring sight to the blind, feeding the hungry, and doing all of the things Jesus supposedly did with magic, only without magic, reproducibly, and in a delivery system that can actually reach everybody whether or not they "believe"). You say atheists are differentially less ethical than believers, where most believers are just N-1 atheists compared to N atheists. N atheists reject all N proposed religious systems and portrayals of an invisible superentity that created the Universe and cares deeply about whether or not a woman exposes a nipple in public. N-1 atheists reject all of those religions but one, and guess what! It is almost always the one they are raised in, usually with a mix of threats and rewards.

Here's the catch. Believing in things that are not true warps human judgement. This is why jury selection is so difficult. It is why building a fair system of justice and courts is so difficult. It is what makes science so difficult -- there are ERRORS in our scientific beliefs. We know they are there, but WHILE they are there they distort our ability to further develop scientific theory and it isn't until we find definitive evidence that they are incorrect (ideally in the company with a new belief/theory that better explains the evidence and makes predictions that are confirmed in new evidence) that we make progress.

In science, we have an imperfect but fairly functional procedure for subjecting ALL of our beliefs -- which are never more than PROVISIONAL truths in properly done science -- to eternal skepticism and re-proof. We are continually taking it apart and rebuilding it so that it works anywhere from just a bit better to explain "everything" to a whole lot better all at once, especially when a new principle is discovered or a major error is rectified.

There is no such process in most religions. Quakers are again a notable exception -- quakers are actually comfortable with atheists as members of their meetings because they DO value individual judgement and openly acknowledge that their moral/ethical belief is better guided by individual natural goodness than by scripture per se. But MOST religions have an anti-tampering meme, one that openly prohibits tinkering with its scriptural guts by establishing them as perfect truth. They literally command people not to think about them too hard, to accept them the way a child accepts Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy (on far better evidence, BTW, even though the evidence is faked by the parents -- at least to the CHILD presents or coins "magically" appear). The Apostles (apparently) used to HATE preaching in Greece, because the Greeks had this silly tendency to believe mostly in things that make sense instead of believing any wild thing that they were told about opening tombs and magically healing blindness by rubbing spit and mud into somebody's eye. Not that they too didn't have religion, but their religion was (like Hinduism, to a large extent) a mythology that they RECOGNIZED was a mythology whose primary purpose was to make a society hang together and provide a moral reference frame for the young and stupid who otherwise would be easily turned to antisocial activities like seeking social and economic advancement.

Which, incidentally, is precisely the demographic targeted by the Christian cult in Rome, although it only made the big time after the corrupt deal with Constantine that made it the state religion (on pain of death and suffering if you refused to accept it).

That's the scary thing about the top article. It's still the de facto state religion for roughly half of the Earth including (especially) the United States. There are (at least) 1.2 trillion dollars of the US economy caught up in vigorously promoting a proposition that any child can see is almost certainly false (or could if they weren't being vigorously brainwashed into believing in magical invisible perfect justice and miracles that happen but only if you pray just right, never mind all of the bad things that happen to people that's just evidence that they didn't really believe with all of their hearts because that's what Jesus said if we have enough faith we can move mountains). Christianity appealed to the slaves of Rome because it promised paradise when you die, making them compliant in life. Christianity was taught to black slaves in the US some 1500 years later, where it accomplished almost exactly the same thing.

We worry (rightly) about the political power being wielded by the super-wealthy and super-corporations. However, it is DWARFED by the political power of religious believers, who routinely ignore the constitutional amendment that is supposed to rein it in. That's why elected officials have to pretend piety (or really be pious, giving them the benefit of a backhanded doubt) -- otherwise they have nearly zero chance of being elected, and once elected they are OBLIGATED to pass non-constitutional laws pandering to the religion they either believe in or pretended to believe in to get elected. Democracy is often the tyranny of the majority, held weakly in check by the bill of rights, and when those rights are ignored we are all forced to be "Christians" whether we like it or not.

The consequence? In God We Trust on our currency, in spite of an amendment that specifically prohibits this. No alcohol sold on Sunday Morning in NC in spite of the fact that Sunday is just another day to anybody but a Christian, and the state is not supposed to pass laws supporting religions at all, let alone specific religions. The entire debate about abortion. But it isn't just about the US. What about ISIS? What about Christian Zionists? What about the eternal debate on homosexuality, which is PURELY religious as there is no rational reason to give a damn otherwise? What about Muslims vs Muslims, Sunni vs Shia wars in perpetuity. Hindus vs Muslims. Muslims vs Jews. Christians vs Jews. Christians vs Muslims (for most of the last 1400 years). Christians vs the entire indigenous population of the Americas, but most horrendously the Catholics vs the Central and South American natives (with honorable mention on the atrocity scale for Protestants vs the North American variety in the 18th and 19th and part of the 20th century). The assertion that the evil done by religion is more than balanced by the good is, historically, more than a bit dubious. The best one can say is that it has been a major historical force for good AND evil, but that whatever it has been, there is no evidence for God's existence and believing in something -- especially something so important, so influential on our life choices and political choices -- without evidence is absurd.

As Voltaire pointed out, it is a small step from believing an absurdity to committing an atrocity.

So sure, there are non-rabid, non-violent, lovely Muslims, Muslims who might be offended if you wear a tee shirt with Mohammed portrayed on it but who wouldn't beat you to death in the street or blow themselves up in front of your house to kill you and all of your family too. There are Christians who really do walk the walk not of the Christ portrayed inconsistently in the New Testament, but of a Christ they make up in their own minds by taking their INTUITIVE idea of good and anthropomorphizing it while eliding all the bits of the NT that don't conform with this independent vision. There are male Hindus who are lovely people and who treat women as equals and non-Hindus with respect. And I'm sure there are bad atheists, atheists who are perceived as being butts because they actually speak out and point out that the Emperor Has No Clothes. Who likes being told that something they were raised to believe without question is questionable? Who doesn't remember almost to the day when they learned that Santa and the Tooth Fairy were make-believe and that people you trusted played you for a (very young) fool and thereby embarrassed you in front of your peers who figured it out a bit earlier than you did? Maybe the atheist who actively opposes world religions is trying to save the world, you never know, at the EXPENSE of being thought a butt for pointing out the implicit harm in false belief, as I am doing now.

Maybe as the 20th century was historically the end of the reign of kings, perhaps the 21st century will bring about the historical end of religious mythology as a dominant force in human society so that all of the violent religious conflicts listed above can evaporate into a world of compassion and tolerance. One can only hope.

But either way, these good PEOPLE or bad PEOPLE -- by whatever standard of goodness or badness you are prepared to lay out and defend -- are not proof that any of these religions are CORRECT, and believing something that is false will ALWAYS make one susceptible to irrational action, vulnerable to manipulation, one small step from committing an atrocity in the name of an imaginary God.


Comment Re:False Idol. (Score 1) 284

This entire discussion is rubbish. The Matrix is just recent bad Science Fiction. It has no Scientific, Philosophical or Theological foundation. Anybody who takes any of it the least bit seriously needs psychological... adjustments.
A good start would be the Ethics of Aristotle. Once one _gets_ the difference between man-made Ethics, and dispensed Morality, one can see that the last is always fictional, and thus The Matrix, or any variation thereof that invokes some kind of Predestination by a higher or greater Force, is Balderdash.

Or, one could actually read the works of Aristotle's teacher, Plato, specifically The Allegory of the Cave:

which fortunately has its own wikipedia page and is freely available online, being a bit out of even the DMCA copyright range at this point. The Matrix is clearly (and correctly) listed as being one of several works derivative from some very serious philosophical foundation -- very nearly all of Idealism:

is also fundamental to The Matrix, noting that in the final Matrix movie, they discover that the "reality" they broke out into is itself a supersimulation at a still higher order. The Matrix isn't even the first, or the best, SciFi work to explore the theme of the Cave. James Gunn wrote a triplet of novellas released as "The Joy Makers":

which would have been an even better prequel to The Matrix than the half-baked idea that one can generate more "power" by feeding people IV nutrients than one can get directly from those nutrients used as a power source. That's the really stupid thing about The Matrix that makes it bad SF -- the physics is laughably wrong on the very first page, so to speak. Gunn's Hedonic principle -- straight out of Aristotle and Utilitarianism, BTW -- makes a much better foundation and even corresponds to having a computational overlord whose responsibility it is to keep those in the simulation "happy", as opposed to "alive".

Or, if you prefer, there is Descartes:

or the entire contemporary range of:

argumentation. Note well that the philosophical underpinnings of this aren't even exclusively western:

In both Hinduism and Buddhism, the Maya principle is that this world we appear to see with our eyes and smell with our nose and hear with our ears and taste with our tongue and feel with our skin is not the real world. The real world is Atman joined with Brahman, and is the master of the illusions presented by the senses: From the Kena Upanishad:

        Not that which the eye can see, but that whereby the eye can see: know that to be Brahman the eternal, and not what people here adore;

        Not that which the ear can hear, but that whereby the ear can hear: know that to be Brahman the eternal, and not what people here adore;

        Not that which speech can illuminate, but that by which speech can be illuminated: know that to be Brahman the eternal, and not what people here adore;

        Not that which the mind can think, but that whereby the mind can think: know that to be Brahman the eternal, and not what people here adore.

Idealism is truly ancient, and The Matrix and the idea that we are all some sort of immaterial/informational simulation has similarly ancient roots in both philosophy and religion. According to both Hinduism and Buddhism, we are trapped in just such a simulation, where most of the apparently living beings you seem to see are really just Non-Player Characters that we (as Brahman) have generated to amuse our Self (as Atman) and hence pass the time (which I/We invented along with the Universe) until all selves are reunited in the Self of Brahman. Buddhism less so, as Buddha was more of an atheist but still was trapped by the prevailing serial immortality mythology of his day and did not completely transcend it to arrive at what I'd call modern day clarity on the issue.

In the end, though, it isn't about whether or not The Matrix has philosophical roots -- it does, but so what -- it is about evidence . Even in The Matrix, Neo has no good reason to think that he is trapped in a bizarre simulation until he sees glitches -- things that cannot be consistently explained within the prevailing physics and ontology of the Matrix programming. One needs evidence to take the hypothesis at all seriously, and computing probabilities without even clearly stating one's prior premises and assigning some sort of Bayesian prior probability to how likely those assumptions are to be true is just plain bad statistics. BOA statisticians had damn well better know better.

As others have pointed out, believing it to be true without this evidence can provide infinite excuses for evil. It actually solves the dilemma of theodicy -- if I am Atman, and also (an non-Unified fragment of) Brahman, and the people I see around me are nothing but my greater Self or an illusion I made up for my own entertainment, then they do not really experience pain when I hurt them, or die when I kill them. If we are all a part of Krishna's Vishvarupa:

then it suddenly becomes OK to slaughter one's own cousins on the battlefield because hey, you are them, they are you, all of you together are simply more or less self-aware avatars of Mahavishnu (Brahman) playing out a game in a vast simulation of reality created just for self-entertainment, because simply Being the One (in monist pandeist Hinduism) is eternally boring if nothing else. Buddha's compassionate recognition of suffering as real even when it is not our own beats the hell out of Aristotle, and is valid even if one completely eliminates the notion of serial immortality (it is even more valid, as the excuse that you are both the sufferer and the one inflicting the suffering so it is all OK goes away).

Don't get me wrong -- I'm a physicist and a pragmatic materialist too, because that is what the evidence supports, pure and simple. But that doesn't mean that I can erase the several thousand years of mistaken philosophy and dismiss it as nonexistent, only point out that it is wrong in the specific sense that however pretty it might appear, unless it is backed up by evidence in some meaningful way it is bullshit. Physical materialism talks, and at the moment at least, all flavors of Idealism including the new-fangled versions of brain in a vat walk.


Comment Re:Heathens! Pagans! This is the devil's work! (Score 1) 87

And how did they know this, eh? Oh, wait! Sure, there was this really old collection of legends and myths, and they could see it was obviously true, because it correlated so very well with experience.

Boole's own algebra, axiomatically derived by Richard Cox and converted into a sound basis for epistemology by a number of people especially E. T. Jaynes, can be used to show that their views, unsupported by anything like reliable evidence, were extremely unlikely to be true given the evidence.

But hey, these guys were, oh, a thousand times smarter than you (whatever that means) and could prove that their views were not superstitions. Mostly because they were a way of separating provisional knowledge into probably true and probably false categories using Bayesian reasoning incorporated into the axiomatically derived probability algebra of Laplace and Boole, justifying probability theory as both "The Logic of Science" (Jaynes) and incidentally, the basis for human knowledge all the way down at the level of "how the brain works".


Comment Re:Need to rethink some treaty, soon (Score 3, Informative) 36

Gold is currently just under $2000/oz, $32,000/pound, $64,000,000/english ton. With a specific gravity of around 20, one cubic meter of gold in space has a mass of around 20 metric tons, or 24 english tons, so it would be worth ballpark $1,500,000,000. Dropped from orbit to the Earth, it would arrive with (roughly) 32,000,000 Joules/kg of kinetic energy -- 6.4 e11 J total, or around 0.15 kt (360 pounds) of "TNT equivalent" explosive power -- energy that would have to be non-destructively dispersed without melting or vaporizing the metal. To get TO an asteroid to mine it is the big problem. OSIRIS-Rex is costing very close to $1,000,000,000 to launch, and it isn't even CLOSE to complex enough to actually mine it. At this time, the cost per gram of returning with a 60 gram load makes the recovery cost many, many times the cost of gold. That has been true of every single gram of material brought back from space so far. And this does not include the cost of altering the energy and orbit of the asteroid in question which requires fuel at FOB prices at the same location at the asteroid to accomplish or technology that we can imagine but that has yet to be built capable of altering orbits without fuel lifted from the Earth. Finally, if we make the not-too-extreme assumption that meteorites are at least approximately representative of the mineral composition of asteroids, finding a pure gold asteroid is enormously unlikely. Finding an asteroid with a minable gold content bound up the way gold frequently is on Earth is at least somewhat unlikely, although certain kinds of meteors have gold concentrations much higher than normal Earth crustal material in some of their mineral complexes. And finally, gold (or other trace metal) extraction on Earth from anything but raw gold nuggets is chemically toxic and extremely difficult, WITHOUT all of the problems attendant on trying to make it work in the absence of humans (adding human asteroid miners makes the cost increase by a factor of hundreds or more). So -- space opera SciFi aside -- I don't think that there is any real risk of a "space race" even if an asteroid made of (a substantial fraction of) pure gold or platinum in native metal form is found, and it is really rather improbable that one will be found.

But this isn't the real problem. The real problem is that nobody sane is going to let ANYBODY manipulate masses of tens to hundreds of metric tons overheat. 130 metric tons in orbit is 1 kiloton of TNT hitting the ground. It doesn't take a lot of mass up there before one has a "project thor" style weapon, and you KNOW that some Dr. Evil out there would be ensuring a way to make it so. This too has been foreseen by the same SciFi authors of yesteryear, with Heinlein bombarding the Earth with rocks from the Moon using the same launcher that was intended to ship wheat, or Niven and Pournelle's snouts dropping asteroids into the Indian Ocean. Same reason I am very skeptical of proposals to put solar arrays in orbit and beam energy down to the ground via e.g. microwaves. Your multi-gigawatt orbital maser is too easy to repurpose into your multi-gigawatt death ray from space.

I love SF. I've read a really significant fraction of it, although it is difficult to keep up with the recent explosion of e-publishing. But with anything LIKE our existing technology and knowledge of physics, it is just plain difficult to see anything in space that we can afford to reach at a cost that makes it profitable. Anything you can find in space or on the nearby planets can be found, or made, on Earth for a whole lot less, at least so far.

Is this a permanent condition, a fundamental physical reality, of the human species? Hard to say. We are a long, long way away from being able to go into space cheaply, and most of the limitations we had fifty years ago are with us today. If/when fusion becomes a viable energy source with something smaller than warehouse-sized generators, we might see some change, but with chemical rockets and current energy prices and generation methods, there simply are no serious changes possible in the equations that make it expensive to get there and expensive to stay once you are there. Robotics and AI have some good chance of being advanced to the point where robotic miners could conceivably be developed that eat asteroids and excrete precious metal turds (while conserving whatever internal chemistry used to do the smelting? not so clear). But how long would they last? How would one get those precious nuggets back to Earth orbit, and down to the ground, without some risk of them becoming a weapon or a deadly accident? And just what IS their relative value once they arrive -- the very abundance one hopes that they will create will drop the price (which is, in some sense, the whole point)?

So I'm not seeing it. It really does seem unlikely that we're going to find that asteroids are in general much more auriferous than the range of meteorites we've been able to sample, and the most auriferous of those still don't have an average gold concentration THAT much higher than earthly ores, as in one is still talking a few hundred PPM at the outside, so that you have to process thousands to tens of thousands of tons of ore to end up with a ton of whatever.


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