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Gnomes do exist (as well as Osiris and Batman)

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(Read it in Spanish)

The key of our success as species is not as much our material culture as our ability to imagine things. Historian Yuval Harari argues that thanks to fictitious entities such as gods or nations we have been able to cooperate on a large scale, produce a formidable material culture and become the kings of the earth.

But if we can imagine such things is because they are in some way out there (out of space-time) or inside (within our mind). In any case, to imagine them amounts to instantiate them and get them to yield effects. This leads us to accept that, in addition to God (in fact, of all gods and demons), there are also fairies, gnomes, and pajaritos preñados, though obviously not in the realm of our physical world. Is there anyone who denies the existence of financial economy or madridism sticking to its apparent immateriality?…

This is Patrick Harpur’s approach in his book Daimonic Reality: A Field Guide to the Otherworld. Half a century ago, on the same line, Carl Jung already pointed out in Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Skies that the stories of flying saucers were not false but true though not literally: UFOS would be projections of the collective unconscious which lies in the depths of the human psyche, as well as dreams. And how many dreams or hallucinations (for example, those of Joan of Arc) will not have driven to act and decisively mark the evolution of the world!

Such an expanded vision of reality (because, I repeat, unicorns, green antenna martians, Thor and Marian apparitions would be real in its realm, in the same way as Miss Scarlet O’Hara, Professor Walter White, The Toxic Avenger, and Mario Bros) we should not rule out the possibility that our physical world, that seems so tangible to us, could be the result of some unimaginable (at least for our rudimentary minds) higher order imagination.

As Spanish physicist Pseudópodo writes in a magnificent entry in his blog, “nobody lives in the whole reality. The problem is when someone thinks that his subspace is the only reality and insists on denying dimensions to the world. (…) The lesson that teaches me science is that there are more things in heaven and earth than our philosophy can dream”.

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Blessed (and also damned) order

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Angels and Devils (M. C. Escher)

(Read it here in Spanish)

Disorder is much more common than order. That’s why there are many more forms of noise than of music, that’s why texts lacking information -including random combinations of letters- are much more abundant than informational or consistent ones (applying Cantor method, the infinite number of the former would be higher than the infinite number of the latter). For the very same reason, messing up is easier than tidying up, destroying than building, damaging than curing, dirtying than cleaning, erring than hitting, making a botch than performing a good job, doing evil than doing good… Mediocrity is more likely than brilliance, ugliness than beauty, stupidity than intelligence, inert state than vital one.

Order, which is the result of physical laws (product of an eternal platonic reality?), is what allows life, individual consciousness, and intelligence to exist. There is neither will nor rationality without order, without a certain neural or brain organization either to caress or to torture (diabolical orders do exist, such as those of the extermination camp and the municipal slaughterhouse). Without order there is neither complexity nor evolution nor emergencies. Nor any possibility of interaction and communication. The world would be a huge unshaped hotchpotch in which you and I, dinosaurs and supercomputers, Villarrobledo and Vladivostok, large and small, up and down, in and out, before and after, would be all confused in an indescribable totum revolutum.

Maybe that maremagnum is the state of the world between each tick of Planck, between every collapse of the wave function that governs the evolution of the Universe or Multiverse. Only through a biased and consistent filtering of every possible thing, through a destruction ab toto as represented by the collapse of the wave function, it would be possible to take individualized consciousness -necessarily partial- of a cosmic order where everything happens simultaneously and at once. Only in that way, Brahman can be Atman and the sea can be wave. Only in that way, it would make sense to learn and even live.

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Left, nationalism, and religion

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(Read it here in Spanish)

On top of being crude and simplistic, nationalism is a toxic ideology for its very exclusionary nature that inevitably leads peoples to confront one another. The same can be said of religion, with which it is often twinned (in turn, this is a deformer of the child’s mind, a creator of phobias, fears and traumas, an executioner of knowledge and own and others’ happiness). It’s not then surprising the nationalcatolicism (official ideology of Franco’s regime) of some of our bishops, which except for the flag raised does not differ too much from that cultivated in the churches of Catalonia (where prelates and priests advocate the raising of new frontiers, embracing independence movement as an extension of the fourth commandment), the Basque Country (where quite a few religious people sympathize with nationalists and even with ETA), Ireland (idem, but substituting ETA for IRA), and Croatia (where some monks devoted themselves to cold blood slaughter of Serbs, Jews, and Gypsies during the Second World War). And let’s not forget Russia, Christian but not Catholic, where Orthodox hierarchy has become a firm ally of the autocrat Putin for defending the great Slavic nation from homosexuals, freethinkers, and bitches.

If it wants to be faithful to its progressive label, twenty-first century’s democratic left should not be ever aligned -or flirt- with nationalists. Nor, of course, with enemies of secularism (this is compatible with tolerating them within the limits of a civilized democracy), be from our own native religion or from any other allegedly religion of peace. Left-wing nationalism is an oxymoron, as well as confessional leftism. A populist caudillo such as Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega, who prohibits abortion to raped girls even when their lives are in risk in order to ingratiate himself with the rancid Catholic hierarchy of his country, is not a leftist. Neither are political parties such as ERC -by the way, its leader Oriol Junqueras is a practicing Catholic- or Bildu, that put alleged sacred rights of territories above the rights of the people (it wasn’t long ago that Bildu’s followers would cheer those who shot political enemies in the neck and made car-bombs explode). And if at all they were considered so, and even if an extremist party -in the worst sense of the word- as the CUP could fit the definition, then maybe we should try and look for another suitable tag for the democratic, tolerant, secular, sensible, and internationalist left in the third millennium.

Notes for foreigners:

Leftist ERC, conservative PDeCAT and anti-system CUP make up the independentist front in Catalonia.

Leftist Bildu is the new brand of the former ETA’s political wing (remember: ETA was a terrorist organization).

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How nature makes a brain?

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(Read it here in Spanish)

It is practically impossible for a complex phenomenon such as life or intelligence to arise without evolution and the consequent natural selection. The only way to dispense with evolution (by definition, a slow and gradual process) to obtain brains, cities, symphonies, or moral codes would be resorting to randomness, as Ludwig Boltzmann (the formula of entropy, S = k x log w, is written on his tombstone in a Vienna cemetery) hypothesised more than a century ago. According to the Austrian physicist, the universe will witness the spontaneous creation of brains, as a result of random fluctuations (after all, brains are only combinations of a large number of particles), if there is an infinite amount of time ahead of it: they are called Boltzmann’s brains, devoid of body but with all the information and memories of any human brain at some moment of its existence, that would be floating in the immensity of cosmos after his sudden and extremely improbable appearance out of the chaos.

To achieve life and intelligence without evolution would be much more improbable than to get Don Quixote written by entrusting an immortal monkey with the task of uninterruptedly touching at random the keys of a computer. Or by making correspond each letter of Cervantes’ novel, from the first to the last in a perfect order, to what is arranged by a gigantic roll of a non-biased 27 sided dice (one for each character). Since the Big Bang there has not been enough time in the universe for such things to happen… but they end up happening if time is not limited!

For evolution-selection to happen, time is also needed, though much less thanks to the self-organizing power of order (i.e., negative entropy or negentropy). I don’t remember who once said that time is what makes consciousness not instantly perceive – like sort of an omniscient mind- all the events of the universe. We would be God if we were omniscient, but our life as individuals would be devoid of any meaning or purpose: concepts that are not alien to anyone in a carnal suit like goodness, evil, beauty, art, love, learning, pleasure, suffering, hope, or happiness (all of them, of course, lodged in the brain) would completely vanish.

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Science and religion: water and oil

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(Read it here in Spanish)

Some dudes in Vatican City (Pontifical Academy of Sciences) have been trying for decades to square the circle: reconciling science with Catholic religion (just as absurd as to try with any other). The argument of these experts, well financed by Vatican’s coffers (and indirectly by those in Spain who put the x on the box for the Church in their income tax return), is that there is no conflict between science and religion because the former cannot provide all the answers. Those who burnt Giordano Bruno at the stake, who forced Galileo to retract (“Eppur si muove!”) and also reduced Miguel Servet to ashes (this was not to blame on Catholics but on fanatical Calvin in his Protestant Taliban canton of Geneva), must not have been very convinced of this alleged compatibility. They were the very same people that in 19th century made fun of Charles Darwin, when Christianity in Europe began to lose its influence and to become something merely folklorical (the main unresolved matter in the Islamic world). Continue reading “Science and religion: water and oil”

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A fundamentally comprehensible universe… but unattainable due to its complexity?

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(Read it here in Spanish)

British physicist Stephen Wolfram suggests that we might soon know how the universe works at its most basic level (even why it works that way and not any other). Physics will have discovered, that day not so far away, all the elementary particles and forces operating in the cosmos. Wolfram and many other colleagues speculate that the rules will certainly be very simple, so much so that the basic laws of the universe could be written on a t-shirt. It would be the culmination of the so-called Theory of Everything, which Einstein chased in vain at the end of his life and led so many people -from Democritus to Stephen Hawking passing through Leibniz, Newton, or Maxwell- to wrack their brains. Would we have read the mind of God, as suggested by Hawking at the end of A brief history of time? Would science give the baton to technology, having reached the end of its theoretical way?… Continue reading “A fundamentally comprehensible universe… but unattainable due to its complexity?”

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“A dangerous idea”, a crude negationist pamphlet

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(Read it here in Spanish)

A few days ago, La 2 of Televisión Española (TVE) aired the documentary “A dangerous idea”, dubbed in Spanish under the title “Cuestión de genes” (you can see it here in Spanish until 24th May). This is a pamphlet intended to convince us that genes neither determine our traits nor have too much importance. And also to discredit scientists of the standing of James Watson (Nobel Prize in 1953, co-discoverer of the double helix structure of DNA), Edward O. Wilson (father of Sociobiology), Richard Dawkins (author of The Selfish Gene) and even indirectly the very same Charles Darwin, establishing links between their findings and repugnant things such as racial supremacism, forced sterilizations or eugenic delusions. As if the Nazis had invented natural selection and genes! The documentary aims to sell the idea that heritability of intelligence or differences between men and women are “ridiculous”, that gender is a social construct without a biological basis (penises, testicles, and vaginas would have little to say about it), that molecular biology has become a dangerous religion with prophets who are blindly followed… Continue reading ““A dangerous idea”, a crude negationist pamphlet”

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Stupidity and cultures

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Brightdrops.com

(Read it here in Spanish)

Evolutionary biologist David Krakauer, researcher and president of Santa Fe Institute (multidisciplinary center devoted to the study of complexity), gives us a definition of stupidity related to resolution of tasks or problems: a stupid solution would make us reach a goal or result – if at all!- at least as long as if we entrusted ourselves to pure chance. Let’s take the example of a Rubik’s Cube. Smart solutions would lead us to solve the cube in a relatively short time, which could be minutes or hours, following rational rules or guidelines. It’s true that if we had an infinite amount of time we would end up solving the cube sooner or later (perhaps in two million or in thirty thousand million years’ time), manipulating it at our will without any reasoning or pattern. But a manifestly stupid solution, such as simply rotating the cube without altering the layout of its 27 components, wouldn’t be effective even throughout eternity. A stupid person tends to do stupid things like that, but not all stupidity is committed by strictly stupid individuals (deprived of the use of reason): there are also blinded, ignorant, ill-informed and fanatics (who place their poisonous ideology before reason). Continue reading “Stupidity and cultures”

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Good, evil and natural selection

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Lion in Namibia (Kevin Pluck)

(Read it here in Spanish)

Charles K. Fink discusses in his interesting article The predation argument the controversial thesis of philosopher Steve Sapontzis that a lion does wrong when killing its prey for food. Although, according to Sapontzis (whom Fink agrees with), not being a moral agent would exempt the fearsome felid and any other non-human predator from blame: it would be a case comparable to that of a 2-year-old child, who can do bad things – for example, torturing a kitten to death- but that doesn’t mean he is bad; instead, he is unconscious of the malignity of his acts. Continue reading “Good, evil and natural selection”

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A journey toward perfection (maybe from nothing) thanks to natural selection

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Camellia flower, by trishhartmann

(Read it here in Spanish)

Everything that exists in the kingdom of living things has survived the sieve of natural selection, or it’s a maladjustment doomed to disappear in the short term. Good and evil, beautiful and ugly, adorable and hateful, compassionate and cruel, are all around us because they have been functional for the survival of their carriers (except in the case of maladjustments, ephemeral by their very nature, such as pointed before). That is, because they have made living organisms adapt to the evolution of the Universe, in turn determined by its initial state and laws. Emergent phenomena such as intelligence, consciousness, and morality are among the great works of a blind, unconscious and amoral natural selection that works simply by elimination: non-adaptive mutations are pruned without mercy. Continue reading “A journey toward perfection (maybe from nothing) thanks to natural selection”

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Artificial Intelligence (AI): A non-intelligent intelligence?

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(Read it here in Spanish)

Every time someone gets a computer or a robot to play or solve a new task or problem, a lot of people come out to remind us that the activity of the machine is not a genuine intelligence (that is, supposedly like ours): it would be a simple computation carried out thanks to the human capacity to program something that does not cease to be a piece of silicon, sheet metal, and wires. This is called “Artificial Intelligence effect” and is widely extended. No matter the feat achieved by the machine: if it defeats the chess world champion, it is taken as a mere computation (remarkable, yes, but nothing to do with real intelligence). We do not accept that there is a genuine intelligence as far as we can understand how the machine works to do something or give an answer to a problem. Not to talk about attributing consciousness to a supercomputer or assuming that it could suffer from mental illnesses (this would be the case if having a mind). Continue reading “Artificial Intelligence (AI): A non-intelligent intelligence?”

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Humans are to blame, not Europeans

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Slave prison in Alexandria, Virginia, ca. 1836 (from Wikipedia)

(in response to Robbie Shilliam. You can read complete interaction with him)

I agree with you, Robbie, that there is a kind of European citizen “ensconced in his/her own culture, taking his/her particulars for mystical universals, and unable to look at him/herself in the mirror”. Indeed, I do know quiet a few! But change “a kind of European” for “a kind of African”, “a kind of Asian” or “a kind of American” and you would also be right. What I mean is that this is a human (not a European) feature. All humans are basically the same: exactly the same hardware, with only cultural software making the difference (and not that big!).

You seem to put the blame only on Europe. Take into account that European or Western cultural stance must somehow be different because since 1492 Europe (namely, the West) has been calling the shots in the world and, obviously, views and collective imageries cannot be the same: it’s absurd to expect slave owners/colonialists (and their descendants) and slaves/colonized (and their descendants) to share the same ideological and cultural imagery. Those narratives from both sides have been passing on through generations (memory of slavery and colonization is not that old: southern USA was an apartheid regime until mid sixties!). Indeed, there is a dominant, conceited and dismissive Western cultural “sensibility” (nurtured by its very own “success” and hegemony, not very different –I suppose- to that of old Incas, Romans, Persians or Arabs), but at the same time there is a strong self-critical one (born in the political left, out of a feeling of guilt for the crimes comitted by forefathers). Continue reading “Humans are to blame, not Europeans”

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European Union: Yes, please!

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(Read it here in Spanish)

The European Union (EU) has come under fire from the less informed citizens in the old continent, manipulated by demagogues and populists of various kinds committed to convincing them that their problems (unemployment, economic stagnation, loss of social rights, etc.) are attributable to the Community institutions. When the truth is that the EU is not the problem but the way to the solution: to face the current crisis and try to reformulate our model of life with intelligence and wisdom – for the sake of environmental and territorial balance, social welfare and peace – it is necessary to act at Community level. We must make a leap in the European construction to move towards a full political union, a federation with legislative and executive powers comparable to those of any democratic state. Then, the Union will be what its dwellers want it to be, expressing themselves not only at the polls but also at the time of consuming or protesting: we cannot pretend that its quality, like in any other human institution, be better than that of the citizens from which is composed. Continue reading “European Union: Yes, please!”

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Warning: Singularity is formatting

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(You can read it here in Spanish)

“If you dislike anything massive, you are a boring, arrogant, and cheesy person”, Elvira Lindo writes against mass culture in his timely article “The cobra of the people” published in El País. Debate on this subject is not new: it’s been revived in recent years by intellectuals such as Mario Vargas Llosa or Antonio Muñoz Molina. The fact is that much of what we now consider culture, including art, music, literature and cinema, is pure commercial junk with no more value than its market one (say, that determined by the simple concurrence of suppliers and demanders put on the same ground regardless of their sensitivity, talent and knowledge). Continue reading “Warning: Singularity is formatting”