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Science and religion: water and oil

aguayaceite

(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?

complejidad

(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”