Archive for the ‘Spiritual/Religious’ Category


Sunday, October 30th, 2016

So, I got into a argument on facebook with some anti-deists about whether it takes more faith to believe in intelligent design or evolution. The point I was trying to make is that initially, from the perspective of a child or someone from a pre-scientific era, it takes more faith to believe in evolution. Believing that you can get things like a high resolution eye out of randomly flipping bits, then seeing which collection of bits lasts longer does take some faith. You have to have enough faith to continue learning about the process beyond what they will teach you in school. Evolution does stand up as a valid theory after deeper research – but it takes a leap of faith to believe that a process so random and blind could lead to something as advanced as we are.

What takes even more faith is believing that the universe isn’t the product of intelligent design. The number of things that you can do inside it make it seem much more like a sandbox game than anything else. Electricity. Radioactivity. Semiconductors. Photons. At some point it starts to look like it was designed to make it possible to build cool things here.

On the other paw.. Conway’s Game Of Life demonstrates that you can get extremely complex behavior out of extremely simple systems. And we have no assurance that the experience our senses are delivering to us is *directly* from the metal of the universe, so it’s possible that all those nifty things are in fact coming from just a few very simple rules. If you had a really big Game Of Life system that was turing-complete, all the rest of the neat behaviors could be coming from code. Potentially code we created.

Anyway, I wanted to talk for a minute about Christianity, and for once I won’t be ripping it to shreds. I wanted to comment about a somewhat odd subject – Noah’s Ark and Young Earth Creationism

Now, it’s obvious on the face of it that the literal story of the ark is completely impossible under the current rules. That does not in fact mean it didn’t happen.

Why? Well, it’s easy to extrapolate from our current technology and say that in 50 years or so we could create a experience of a universe like this one. It’s *not* a far leap to say that someone already has, and that we’re inside some sort of simulation. Said simulation would not even have to be running on a conventional digital computer – it could be running on the neural network of a life form much more advanced than we are. Hypothesize a world where it’s practical for a whale to have a 10^20 neuron brain, and then have us be the imagination of said whale, and there ya go. Or hypothesize a species that has telepathy, and minds the size of ours, but uses their spare capacity to run alternate personalities behind a hypervisor wall. Again, there you go. There’s a ton of different ways that this story can have gone down that leaves us inside a virtualized environment.

At that point, there is absolutely *nothing* to prevent the people *outside* the hypervisor from messing with the reality *inside* it. So, Noah’s Ark is impossible on the face of it, for a whole host of reasons – goes into a lot of detail about all the various flaws, of which there are *many*, in the idea of Noah’s voyage being a real historical event, so I won’t reproduce their excellent work or detract from it by attempting to do a less-well-researched version. This doesn’t mean it didn’t happen – obviously for the flood to have happened at all, we either would have had to have massively different topology, or a lot more water, so it’s clearly something that required some reality bending. Once you start accepting that a operator from outside the virtualized environment was messing with reality, the sky is the limit as to how much messing about could have occurred.

Do I think it actually happened? No. And my biggest reason for this is there isn’t a clear candidate for a deity communicating with us. Aside from voices in our minds, which might be mental illness, might just be us talking to ourselves, and might be any number of other things, there’s no God speaking. Nor is there one religion – despite God having to have the ability to edit reality in order to make things like the flood occur, we’ve got a plethera of religions, all insisting they are the One True Religion. So I don’t believe, because if there is a God, said being seems to be walking me down the path of not believing. But I understand the choice *to* believe, because I recognize that it’s not impossible that those events occurred.

Continued, sort of, in the next article

On the impossibility of omniscience

Friday, October 21st, 2016

One of the ideas that I find interesting is that it is basically impossible for anyone or anything to *know*, without a shadow of a doubt, that they are omniscient.

Now, I understand that in the context of the Bible, there was no way that God was going to be able to explain this to people with the level of understanding that the authors of the bible had. (If indeed the bible involves any divine inspiration at all, a subject I leave up to another discussion at another time)

However, from where we sit today, it’s easy to give a mental model for knowing why you can’t know – the virtual machine inside a hypervisor.

As a omniscient being, you have no way of knowing if you’re hypervised. It is entirely possible that it *appears* to you that you are all knowing but your knowledge is limited in scope by a hypervisor. If you’re anything close to really being all-knowing, you know this. The VM running under a hypervisor certainly *thinks* it’s in control of the hardware, and entirely aware of the state of same, but it’s clearly not *actually* in control of the hardware or aware of it’s state.

I see no reason to think that individuals, or even deities, can’t be hypervised – in fact I think it’s likely that we *are* hypervised. I think elsewhere I argued why both intelligent design and evolution would quickly land on hypervision as a way to get more done with less resources very quickly.

I get this is probably too subtle a argument for most people who haven’t studied computer science to grasp, and I’m trying to figure out how to put it into words that don’t require a understanding of virtualization. But I do think it’s one of those things that once you see it, you see it. You can never *know* you’re omniscient. It’s not possible.

Voting for God

Monday, September 12th, 2016

So, one of the things I have to accept is that I’m not in the middle of the bell curve on anything. So things that are intuitively obvious to me (and of course I could be completely wrong about) are things that many people are never even able to see.

One of the possibilities I consider often for God is that everyone who believes in God assigns a certain amount of neurons to the task of imagining God. If we are all connected via some sort of network we don’t understand, then these may all aggregate together to form God.

However, one thing that seems likely based on the things I see and read and hear and experience is that you get to vote for what type of God you want to believe in. It seems like your beliefs form filters that then validate the experiences you’re having. So, in essence, what you believe about God forms a basis for what sort of God you’re going to experience.

And there don’t seem to be a lot of restrictions placed on what sort of God you choose to believe in. If you want to believe it’s holy for you to shoot a bunch of people, make nuclear weapons, destroy the planet you live on.. whatever, really.. you can do that. If there’s one thing ISIS demonstrates to me – not that I needed further demonstrations – it’s that you can sell yourself just about any story you want about what $diety might be like and might want. Our neural networks are extremely programmable, and if there’s a outside force insisting your beliefs about God fit a certain pattern, I haven’t seen signs of it.

Well, I should stop there and add a few side thoughts. Any information about anyone else’s experience but mine must necessarily be treated as somewhat of a unknown. I haven’t *personally* experienced proof in a horrific God, I’ve just *heard* about it. I don’t really have any way of knowing how much of the data coming at me is from where. I need to expand upon this thought further in some future article – I’ve probably talked about it before, but it’s something I’m still exploring – but for now let’s just say, everyone’s reality might be a custom mix and I might have signed up to experience what I’m currently experiencing.

But, back to the main thread here. I don’t have any reason to think the people who wrote the various religious documents circulating were any wiser or better informed than I am. But, those of you who choose to believe in them, please consider carefully whether you’re voting for a suboptimal God by doing so. If God does exist implemented in a shared or mesh network of our neurons, then you may be degrading the experience of all of us.

When I choose to believe in a diety, generally I prefer to believe in one better than I could possibly imagine. This acknowledges that I’m in no position to get into the mind of a creature who may have many orders of magnitude more neurons than I have, while at the same time recognizing that morality doesn’t change just because you get more neurons. (Or does it? This is probably how we justify eating cows.. ) In general, the logic I’ve been using is kind of the modified golden rule here – if our roles were reversed, would our respective behaviors still seem reasonable?

good things about Christians

Monday, August 29th, 2016

To balance out the post in which I roundly criticize Christianity, I thought I’d list a few of the things that I see in Christians that I think are *good*. Obviously, as with the other list, Christians are such a large and diverse group that it’s difficult to say anything which would be true of all of them, so let’s go with things that I think you’d find in, say, 70%.

1) Belief in forgiveness, and that forgiveness is a positive trait

2) Belief in charity, and supporting and loving your fellow man

3) Belief in working together to solve problems

4) The idea that there might be something bigger than us, and that we might have been engineered

5) Encouraging the hope that the future will be better than the past

6) Encouraging empathy with your fellow man

7) Encouraging gratitude, which has certain neurological benefits I discuss elsewhere in this blog

It’s my intention that this be somewhat a dynamic and collaborative document, so feel free to comment with your own list entries.

Do I believe in God?

Monday, August 29th, 2016

So, with the recent post on religion, the question might come up whether I believe in God.

And the answer is, I don’t have a absolute, I am certain I am right, religious faith on the subject, but I tend to lean towards there being something larger than us, possibly many orders of somethings larger than us. I don’t believe in the God described in the bible – something that powerful and capable, which nonetheless is so insecure that *e has to refer to his name in all caps and has to have a throne with angels singing about how great *e is flying above it. I tend to think it’s very difficult for us to imagine beings smarter and more capable than us, something Larry Niven has talked about when discussing the challenges of writing aliens smarter than humans.

To the extent that I do believe in a God, it’s a God far better than the Christian one. Remember, I tend to think we are experiencing suffering for artistic purposes, not because we’re being punished – or possibly because of stupidity or technological foul-up. Despite what it says on the label (all-loving, all-knowing, all-powerful) the diety described in the bible is fairly reprehensible and not at all all-powerful. (I could cite verses, but this isn’t that type of post)

I would like to see a better religion authored, but I don’t feel like I’m yet in a place of knowledge to be able to author such a thing myself – although I would refer people to a number of books which are really good tries, books like The Four Agreements and Conversations With God. I also think that The Great Divorce, even though ostensibly by a Christian, is a great book on the subject, proof that sometimes we transcend our religions or possibly that there’s a good way to load Christianity.

It’s also true that whether or not there is a explicitly defined diety, God must exist insofar as the concept has a number of reserved neurons in a number of neural networks – everyone who imagines that God exists helps God exist. This is part of the problem with Christianity – by imagining a inferior and undesirable God, they are degrading the potential God if God exists as the sum of the neurons that all of us assign to imagining God.

I do also think that insofar as our neural networks form filters which selectively inhance and inhibit data coming at us from our senses, if you have a religious-level belief in God, you will experience God even if God doesn’t exist. See earlier posts about the amount of computing power our minds represent. If this is going to happen to me, I want to make sure the God I exist is not the God of the bible.

Christians in the process of making Hell

Monday, August 29th, 2016

So, one of the things that I think I’ve gone on about a few times before is how Christians, who ostensibly want Heaven, are busy making the world Hell.

I thought I’d list a few things that Christians – not all Christians, mind you, but enough of them – do which make the world less like heaven and more like hell. Whenever someone engages in one of these behaviors, I feel they are doing the work of the devil

1) Encouraging people to believe that if they are members of any other religion, they are wrong and are going to hell

2) Encouraging people to believe that $SUPERUSER is in the business of torturing people *e doesn’t agree with – or in general, that you should fear God. We’ve got enough to fear in the world we’re actually in.

3) Slut-shaming. Sex is one of the most positive experiences on earth, but Christians have this disturbing idea that you should only have it under certain circumstances, and if you do otherwise, you’re a bad person.

4) Encouraging people with alternate sexualities to think that they are less-than, sinners, incomplete

5) Encouraging everyone to believe that they are so flawed that someone “had to die for their sins”

6) Starting or promoting wars which are primarily over resource allocation (i.e. not sharing) or religion

7) In general encouraging people to think that they are less than, often for things which have no direct bearing on the Christian doing the less-than-ing at all. “If you’re not a member of my religion, you’re not as worthy of a person” “If you don’t do well on standardized tests you’re not as worthy of a person” “If you’re not interested in learning what *I* think are the important things to learn, you’re not as worthy of a person” “If you enjoy playing with your body chemistry, you’re not as worthy of a person”.

8) Promoting monogamy as the only true way, even though we seem to be neurologically and biologically wired to fall in love more than once. The bible even alludes to the fact that in heaven things would work differently (Luke 20:34-36). Why exactly are we not doing the optimal path now?

9) Making and promoting laws against freedom, even when the freedom doesn’t harm another person. Blue laws, laws against nudity, laws against flag-burning, things of that nature. Even worse, laws against people who like to have sex with members of the same gender, even though if we were really engineered, clearly said being had to put in a fair amount of neurological work in order to make things like being on the receiving end of anal sex feel good.

10) Encouraging people to believe that they should be required to have children if they conceive, even though it’s inconceivable that a omnipotent being would connect a soul to a body that wasn’t going to be extant and, if one is of a more scientific bent, highly unlikely that bodies that don’t have a large, functional neural network are self-aware.

11) Encouraging people to embrace a system of beliefs that contains unresolvable logic failures, which damage their ability to think rationally

12) Encouraging parents to try and encourage their children not to be sexually active, promoting a inevitable neurological war

13) This may be kind of a repeat, but thinking that they are “God’s Chosen People”, and by extension, everyone else isn’t. This is again the kind of ‘I’m better than you’ thinking that I feel like is at the root of a lot of the evils of the world. In the old testament, this “I’m better than you” goes as far as “It’s okay for me to slaughter you like cattle even though a you’re thinking, feeling, self aware creature just like me because God Said So”

14) Encouraging children to imagine a being of pure evil – children have a lot of unassigned neurons, and imagining the devil literally brings him to life in their mind. (Of course, as my friend Jeremy points out, it is far from clear that the devil is evil – if he was against the being described in the old testament, he was at least sometimes for humanity, although clearly from the story of Job he wasn’t all good either)

15) Encouraging people to wait for heaven, instead of building it here now.

16) Encouraging people to believe in a $DIETY that builds traps into the world – Just one of many examples is that the bible says “Suffer not a witch to live” (Ex 22:18) but if witchcraft works, it’s clearly because the universe has a built in API for modifying reality which $DIETY would have had to have created – and if it doesn’t, then it’s pretty harmless.

17) Promoting the idea that the bible is a book we should be using as a yardstick to measure our lives. It was written by people thousands of years ago wandering around in a desert, people who knew far less than we know now, people who mistook their prejudices for natural laws. It contains numerous irresolvable logic failures, one of which I discuss above. Yes, it’s got some beautiful ideas and some beautiful poetry in it, but it’s far from a perfect book that you should make the center of your universe, in my opinion. I’m not the only person to have doubts on this subject, see this and this.

18) Attempting to slow down medical technology – in particular I’m thinking of things like Stem Cell research but I suspect this is going to come up with cloning, artificial neural networks, and all sorts of other things of that nature. Look, there’s supposed to be a all powerful diety, why exactly do you need to be the moral guardian of things which don’t hurt self-aware beings in any way and could alleviate suffering

19) Encouraging people to spend time in prayer that they could otherwise spend actually figuring out how to fix the problems that they’re praying about

20) Encouraging people to ‘trust the $SUPERUSER’ for things that in fact there might not be a superuser watching – I’d use global warming as a example of this, but I’m sure there are numerous examples

21) Encouraging the idea that if $DIETY does it, it must be moral – the “Where does a 900 pound gorilla sit? Anywhere he wants to..” theory of reality.

22) Promoting the idea that women are “less than” men and should be silent (1 Corinth 14:34) or submissive. This is abusive to both women and men.

23) Giving a group of people temporal power who probably should not have it – I’m thinking of the catholic church here, and the pope in particular – although I like the current pope, I’ll like him a lot more when and if he comes out and says that birth control is not immoral.

24) Encouraging parents to brainwash / indoctrinate their children while they are still too young to understand the isuses and questions involved, which seems to have a very bad effect on neuroplasticity.

Christians, it’s not that I hate you – I hate the software you’re running. I love you and want you to stop making the world a worse place, because among other things you have to live here too, so you’re not just hurting me, you’re also hurting yourself.

I also recognise that it’s possible that the religion is perfect and it’s being degraded inside my neural network or that the problem has more to do with the fact that different people want different things. However, what do you do when the things you want are getting in the way of the things I want?

(See also a list of good things about Christianity)

It’s my intention that this be somewhat a dynamic and collaborative document, so feel free to comment with your own list entries.

Bible fails debug asserts

Sunday, August 14th, 2016

So, I wanted to talk a little more about part of what I’m trying to say in

What I’m trying to say is that the bible contains a failed if-then ladder.

Let’s write it out in psuedocode, shall we?

ASSERT(God == Love) (1 John 4:8)
ASSERT(Love == Keeps no record of wrongs) (1 Corinth 13:5)
ASSERT(God == Keeping a record of wrongs and will punish you for changing this book) (Rev 22:18)

See the problem?

You can’t have all three be true at once.

Estimating God

Monday, July 25th, 2016

So, I’ve been meaning to write this article for a while, partially because I think it’s a fun set of thoughts to bounce around on. I’m waiting for a big file to download and a even bigger database to copy, so I might as well engage in a little bit of woolgathering.

Forgetting any particular religious text, the question that I’m pondering is, based on reality testing, what could we reasonably guess about the nature of God?

Alderin suggested that if there were gods, we would probably want to stay far away from them, because they would be inclined to squish us like bugs, or at least care about us as little as we care about cattle. If there were Gods that were external to us, I would tend to agree. But I tend to think that if there are Gods, we’re as a row to their table, a neuron to their brain. And you generally don’t want to squish your own brain cells.

Anyway, obviously this fits into the category of intellectual wanking, because we can’t even know if the reality we’re experiencing has that much to do with the reality that is – there’s so many layers of neurons between our senses and the part of our mind that’s on the ride that it’s really pretty hopeless. Nonetheless, let’s see what we can figure out.

First of all, it seems clear that whoever they are, they want to have some distance between groups of intelligent life. The whole design of the universe, at least via the perspective that I see it, seems inclined to put ridiculous amounts of space between groups of people. The nature of relativity makes even communication with anyone that’s not in our immediate neighborhood very difficult, and as far as going there, forget about it, at least until we learn some things that we don’t yet know.

Second of all, it seems clear that the intention is for us to have bountiful amounts of energy to play with. The sun delivers unbelievable amounts of power every day, there’s enormous amounts of power stored in thorium and uranium, there’s a bunch of power stored in oil. They’re even arranged in stages, so you can figure out first how to build internal combustion, then fission, then fusion. Almost like we’ve got a little puzzle going on here.

Third of all, it seems likely that there is some sort of state machine at work here. A lot of physical laws can be described with mathematical relationships – most of them are even relationships that are not particularly difficult to calculate. Also, DNA, in it’s rather binary way, looks suspiciously like it might be the output of a compiler. God uses computers. Probably much more advanced ones than we do.

Fourth of all, we can safely say whoever they were, they did in fact like to play dice with the universe. The quantum world we’re discovering.. and building lots of neat stuff based on our discoveries of.. is full of probabilistic behavior.

Fifth of all, they did not want lasting records to be easy to make within the universe container we are in. This world is incredibly hostile to data storage. Our best storage methodology so far is *paper*, and it’s only good for a few hundred years. The only data that gets kept is the data that future generations choose to make copies of.

Sixth of all, it seems clear there’s no one ‘true religion’. I’ve been through the reasons we can know this enough in the rest of this blog to not need to iterate them here. On the other hand, if we assume that they’re actively a part of the current dance, as opposed to just being a agent that started the whole thing in motion and walked away, they *want* there to be a lot of variety in religions. God might well think that religions are orthogonal to God, or even antithetical. There are a few ways this could work. It might well be that different neural subnets in each of our minds would have to have radically different data loaded on them – different religions, if you will – for the system as a whole to operate. It’s also possible that if you could go in and talk to the individual hemispheres of our minds you’d find that they hold radically different beliefs. I’m not sure how you would experiment with this, although the people experimenting with cutting the corpus collossem would probably have some interesting ideas on the subject. Anyway, it might be that if we *are* all individual neurons to God’s brain, then if we all had the same religion, the results would be *very* bad. Imagine what happens to the lion/no lion subnet if it only believes in lions and not tigers, for example.

Seventh of all, I’m fairly sure we’re here with at least one species that is smarter than we are, and probably a number of them. My guess is when we start playing with ANNs and using them as mediators between us and dolphins and whales we’re going to discover that the joke really has been on us for a very long time. My guess is A: we’re hypervised – that is, we’re inside a virtualization container “in the real world”, as well as being hypervised in a second virtualization container inside our own minds and B: some other species here has access to the hypervisor console and we don’t because we’re not yet evolved enough to be able to use it responsibly.

Eighth of all, nothing is forever here. Most noticeably are the laws of entropy, but also difficult to miss is the fact that we have a TTL engineered into our DNA – DRM, in fact. You get this many copies and no more. My guess is this is to protect us from our own stupidity. No matter what, you can’t get stuck in a situation for more than about a hundred years. Mixing this with the quality of the human body’s design (good, but with significant flaws), I would guess we are in a beta test version of the universe we’re currently experiencing.

Children of a imperfect God

Friday, July 1st, 2016

So, one of my long-standing criticisms of Christianity is that it repeatedly makes the claim that God is perfect and we humans are inherently flawed, so much so that someone had to die for our sins.

Well, now, hold on a minute. Anyone who can argue there aren’t bugs in the human genome with a straight face is so delusional that I don’t think having a conversation with them would be useful. And we *know* the bible received a patch at one point – that’s why we’ve got the old and new testaments. One of my biggest criticisms of the bible is that revelations contains a place (Rev 22:18) where it says, in essence, “Do not patch this again” even though it’s still obviously a very flawed text.

Is it so hard to consider the possibility that there might be a God, but said God might be imperfect? Anyone who’s ever written software knows that only the very simple things work on the first pass. The human genome is *gigabytes* in size – is it at all surprising that it contains bugs? The bible is 4.13 megabytes – again, is it surprising that it contains bugs?

I think one of the big issues here is that humans are easily brainwashed / convinced of things that aren’t necessarily true. And once convinced, we tend to be very tenacious about holding onto our beliefs. I think it would be a very good thing, however, if we could acknowledge the clear, reality-testable concept that if there is a God, said entity is not a perfect being.

For that matter, the bible contains some very interesting contradictions. 1 Corinth 13:5 makes the assertion that ‘Love holds no record of wrongdoings’, which does in fact sound like a definition of perfect unconditional love. The Bible asserts God is love (1 John 4:8). Yet the bible is full of places where it claims God is going to send you to hell for actions you’ve taken in the past – this in fact is exactly what Rev 22:18 is saying – if you add to this book, we’ll send you to hell. This is a obvious and major contradiction.

I can’t speak with the same level of authority for Islam, because I haven’t read the whole book, nor have I been immersed in the culture which would help me understand it, but from a surface level view it appears to contain the same sorts of contradictions and improvements. The impression one is under is that our religions are being evolved – by human programmers in my view. I think these books are inspired by our imagination of what is divine, but I can say with great confidence that there is little chance they are inspired by a monolithic, unchanging being.

And, really, there’s nothing wrong with the idea that God might be imperfect. Certainly it takes human developers many thousands of tries to build complex software (and really, both religions and our genome have a lot to do with software insofar as they’re both strings of data that are interpreted and lead to results)

In fact, it’s a lot easier for me to live peacefully with the idea of a imperfect God than a perfect, never makes a mistake one given the reality I experience. The idea of God I was sold as a child is incompatible with the reality I experience, which as a result puts a noticeable size strain on my neural network any time I attempt to reconcile the two.

If the world could recognize the idea of religion as a memetically evolving thing – recognize that we’ve been wrong in the past and we’re slowly converging on right – it would undoubtedly make the world a better place. I see a lot of signs of this in the current catholic pope, which is encouraging, although he still hasn’t come out and said birth control is a good idea. (I do think it’s possible that he will at some point)

In fact most of my hatred of organized religion comes from the assertions it makes and the people who think that they should be controlling other people’s behavior based on what their religion says. In the worst form, you have shooting, raping, mutilating, and torturing others based on your religion, and then you have threatening, shaming, guilting, and inducing fear in others based on your religion. I’ve certainly read about the first, and experienced the second firsthand. None of these strike me as good things and it would be a good idea if all of them stopped.


Sunday, April 17th, 2016

So, watching Human has me thinking.. the general prevailing wisdom of religions is that we were engineered by a perfect being. But we’re clearly full of bugs, which people usually call a fatal flaw. If we were engineered, isn’t it more likely we were engineered by a previous version of ourselves?

I’ve talked about the bottom-up rather than top-down model a fair amount in various bits of this blog. I don’t see any advocates for it – people either believe we were created by flipping bits at random and testing the result against the environment, or they believe that we were created by a diety, which for the moment I assume to be a much, much larger and more advanced NNN.

But the bottom-up model makes the most sense to me.