Archive for the ‘Spiritual/Religious’ Category

Ansible

Sunday, August 16th, 2020

So, I think I’ve talked about this before, but I thought I’d mention it again.

We have 10^11 neurons. 100 billion of them – and each neuron is made up of many, many atoms. A conservative guess might be a hundred thousand. Each atom has a electron that forms a probability cloud that is the most dense close to the nucleus, and asymptotically approaches zero as it moves away from the nucleus, but it’s never really zero.

We are all connected, we are all inside each other. We can’t escape this.

At the same time, our experiences of each other can never really be the territory, but must be the map. We experience avatars of other people, because our experience of the other people is happening inside our heads even though the other people are in fact real beings that are out there in whatever world or worlds we inhabit.

This is all before we even start to open the can of worms marked ‘multiple worlds theory’ or ‘multiple dimensions’.

A God of Love

Monday, July 6th, 2020

So, sometimes I think I should sit down and do the thought experiment of figuring out, OK, I’m certain that no religion I’ve ever seen describes a god of love, but I can describe sets of circumstances that could leave us with a god of love, or even a utopian God, and still leave us in our current situation.

It’s a interesting thought experiment to think what such a diety might be like. It’s also a interesting thought experiment to think about what I think a utopia for me would be like. It’s where I ended up with the thought that everyone would be connected to the same network but everyone would be running different software mapping the rest of folks into their conscious experience because that’s the only way that everyone could get the right utopia for them, given that one man’s heaven is another man’s hell.

As I’ve said, I can come up with many reasons that we could have the best god (or system administrator anyway) that one can imagine and still have the experience we’re having. Some of the more obvious ones are that we wanted a challenge and so this world is deliberately suboptimal, or that there’s something wrong with our own neural mapping that is creating our conscious experience but that God wants us to have the freedom to be who we want to be and therefore is allowing us to fix that mapping ourselves. One can also consider the artistic values of a less-than-perfect (but still pretty awesome in a lot of ways) world.

Obviously one of the people I talk to in my inner world regularly is a big fan of the idea that it’s the neural structure inside our minds that maps our senses to our conscious experience that controls whether we experience heaven or hell. I don’t really know yet how much that’s under our control, or how much we can make it grow in directions we want it to grow in.

But, my point remains, throw out religion and just think in terms of what you’d want from the system administrator of the world – and whether you’d want God to be more than that, and if so, what more? There’s a interesting intersection between freedom and safety there – your perfect safety experience keeps you on rails and can’t go anywhere unexpected, while your perfect freedom experience can end very badly.

More later.

Morality and dieties

Saturday, July 4th, 2020

So, one of the things I’ve been thinking about recently is how unreasonable and unethical God’s behavior is in the book of Job. It’s actually a long term set of thoughts, and it’s not entirely a academic discussion for me because I’m playing with genetic algorithms and artificial neural networks.

You don’t own a life form independent of you just because you created it. I grant you that humans generally behave as if we do – we believe we own our children until they’re 18 and we often treat them pretty badly. There are *starting* to be some people who ask the hard questions concerning our experiments in artificial neural networks – certainly “The Measure Of A Man”, a episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation – does a good job of discussing the problem.

And, it’s true, in general Christians seem to believe it’s reasonable for God to judge them and large portions of them think it’s reasonable for God to punish or reward – sometimes based on whether or not you say the magic name or think the magic thoughts. The idea of people being considered not worthy if they happen to not pick right from a plethora of competing religions is horrifying and yet many Christians defend this clearly awful behavior that they ascribe to God.

It is reasonable for the group to protect itself from the bad behavior of individuals. It is not reasonable for a diety, who can never be threatened by any of their creations, to punish and reward. I’m not sure what the solution is, but it is clear to me God’s defense “Where were you when I made the mountains” is totally inadequate and in fact generally nonsensical – it’s not likely to be what a deity would say because it represents a human-centric way of thinking both about time and about the interconnectedness of all things.

In any case, the behavior of JHVH in Job is worse than the behavior of Satan. The behavior is horrifying, and maybe that’s the point of the book, to help us understand how evil God is. People are not interchangeable. You can’t kill off all of someone’s loved ones and give them new ones and expect them not to be badly damaged. And you *shouldn’t* test individuals to destruction – remember this is the very God who says “Don’t you dare test the lord your god”. If it’s not moral to test God, it’s not moral for God to test us.

It does bring up a interesting question – is morality the same for us and for God? After all, God might well be able to see multidimensional patterns we can’t see – certainly would know the answers to questions we don’t know the answers to. On the other paw, given that power corrupts – and power tends to damage neural networks in ways that make them abusive – see recent police abuses of power for example, as well as many, many, many other examples of people who are empowered becoming abusive – one has to ask, if God is a neural network, is God so damaged as to be fundamentally broken and likely continuously evil?

I’ve talked before on whether there’s a maximum size of neural network that is even stable. One thing we may be in the process of learning right now is that there’s a maximum size of neural network that can survive without destroying itself. And of course I tend to think JHVH is a fictional character invented to enable the powers that be to more easily control the population – but if JHVH existed, they *still* might be dead. And we might well tell ourselves we are hearing JHVH (or Allah, or what have you) even though they don’t really exist, because neural networks that are entrained in a pattern definitely can produce signal that is representative of that pattern.

Anyway, my underlying point is, being a God doesn’t automatically make everything you do moral, and it’s fraught with opportunities to commit immoral acts. In general giving people power tends to lead them away from empathy and towards being cruel and/or power-seeking. There are some obvious counter-examples, but they are not in the majority.

One of the things that scares me most about Christians is their “God is a 800 lb monkey and therefore anything he does must be right and I’m going to try to uphold his will even if it means murder and mayhem”. That the Christians started the crusades tells me a lot about them, and I in general continue to think the religion should be struck in favor of one that we develop in modern times with stated goals that we can all agree on. Of course, it would be nice to understand enough about how our minds work that we can author software for them that will do good things.

That one disturbing possibility

Saturday, March 14th, 2020

So, as I note that things like global pandemics underline the fact that our bodies have poor informational security, and are susceptible to virii both informational (religion) and RNA/DNA-based (COVID-19), I find the lack of security to be another compelling case against the idea that we have a perfect creator – or indeed a intelligent designer at all.

On the other paw, there is still this one disturbing possibility that I can not dismiss. Our beliefs act as a filter upon our experience of reality – obviously this must be the case or believers in God wouldn’t continue to believe in God. I mean, the other possibility is that they’ve lost the ability for rational thought – and looking at the fact that they elected Donald Trump, someone who’s about as close to the devil as we’re going to find in this world, and are busy worshipping him, I concede the possibility that they have. But let’s assume for the moment that people have the ability to remember and think..

One possibility that we can’t actually throw entirely out is that God is only real if you beleive in h*, or alternately, that God is real always but your *experience* of God is only real if you believe in h*. This is compatible with the mythos that Hell is the absence of God – certianly the lack of any central planning and the refusal of all collectivism has turned America steadily more hellish.

I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s not clear to me that you’d *want* to have a God as described by the Old Testament. But, and I realize this is stretching credulity to the max, what if there *was* a loving, helpful central authority, the kind of God you’d build if you were building God out of spare neurons. Certainly they’d do things like removing virii before they got out of hand, and making sure that places didn’t end up getting led by people like Donald Trump.

However, I’ve believed in such a being for a few days at a time, occasionally, when manic, and things definitely didn’t get any better for me. Most of the time, it was believing in such things and then testing them that got me arrested. However.. it may take believing for longer to shape the necessary neural network to have the experience.

Note that I still don’t believe Christianity contains the right answers, for a whole host of reasons. But I’m starting to ponder trying to write something that would. The thing is, the whole thing feels a bit insane. Try to believe in something you can’t experience until you believe in it? Then understand that you can’t experience it even when you *do* believe in it until you cross some threshold?

God and Cancer

Thursday, September 19th, 2019

So, this is a quote from a email I sent a while ago, because it occurs to me that I probably want to be able to just post a link to this article whenever people talking about praying for God to end cancer.

Cancer is actually part of how we know there probably isn’t a God – or if there is, said deity chose to use evolution to create us rather than using a design process.

It would have been fairly easy, when designing us, to include a CRC-32 on the DNA copying routine to prevent mutations after birth. This would have virtually eliminated cancer, but wasn’t done. Now, evolution would not find this very quickly at all, because a checksum is actually *against* the mutation process during birth that drives evolution. But intelligent design just *naturally* adds validation on copy, and then some, and then some more – especially intelligent design that has been exposed to *this* universe.

From this I can conclude one of the following is true:

A: God doesn’t know about cyclic redundancy checks i.e. doesn’t know everything – or even as much about IT as we do.
B: God isn’t all-powerful.
C: God doesn’t care about massive amounts of suffering
D: God is trying to keep a *very* low profile i.e not do anything that might risk revealing that there is a God
E: God doesn’t exist
F: God exists, but isn’t aware of us
G: God exists, and is aware of us, but doesn’t care about our suffering, or does not understand suffering at all
H: God exists and is evil

On recent events

Sunday, April 21st, 2019

So, I’m a vocal critic of Christianity. Pretty much anyone who reads the blog knows that. However, I recently donated to help rebuild some churches in the south that had been burned by miscreants. What gives?

I guess I probably should have mentioned before. I don’t want Christians dead. I don’t want them hurt. I want them to stop hurting other people, but I don’t think the way to get that is to hurt them. I know this is a popular point of view – our army is based on the thesis that the way to get people to behave differently is to shoot at them – but I think in time we will come to see that it’s a small-minded idea – that in fact you start cycles of war and retribution that can take hundreds of years to end.

And, apparently – I wouldn’t have guessed this, but what actions we take tell us these things – if you’re a Christian and they burn down your church, and I have some extra dollars, I will help pay to rebuild it. I don’t think anyone should have their homes or community buildings destroyed because of who they are or what they believe. Especially since a lot of this is based on the unfortunate repeat-rise of the KKK , the proud boys, and groups like them. My hope is we will get beyond all this, because it’s pretty dystopian and I don’t want to live in a dystopia.

But, in the meantime, my thoughts are with all the people who have churches and homes on fire, or exploding, and I hope you all survive the adventure and heal as best you can. And I hope some day we learn not to use violence to settle everything.

Christianity – the fundamental flaw in the premise

Saturday, February 16th, 2019

So, again before I wander down this rabbit hole, let me remind you all that if you’re the type of Christian who thinks that we should be excellent to each other, and no one should be threatening anyone with hell, this isn’t about you. You just go on loving people and we’ll be all good.

This one is targeted towards those who believe in the concept of original sin. Specifically, it’s about how absurd you all sound once one spends some time looking closely at the foundations of the premise.

We arrive from the factory mostly unformatted. Our DNA is not packed with large amounts of knowledge and the means to express it. It is the nature of unformatted neural networks to learn by doing – and inevitably by making a *lot* of mistakes. This is better than complete inaction, which would be the other option.

The Christians are asking us to believe that a all-knowing God didn’t know this about neural networks. They’re also asking us to believe that a all-knowing God is somehow offended by the fact that we make mistakes even though it is a *lot* harder to make a self aware neural network than a turing machine. On the surface, what the Evangelicals think God wanted was a turing machine, or in any case some sort of state machine that accepts instructions. Yes, we know how to make those. They’re fairly easy to make, although there are some subtleties. But you can make a CPU out of anything from relays to vacuum tubes to gears, and it will follow the instructions it is given with the patience of a jacquard loom weaving according to the punched cards, yae onto eternity, forever.

It seems rather improbable that a all knowing deity would have created *us* if *e wanted obedience. Company that had something interesting to say, yes, that I can believe.

On the other paw, it’s *easy* to believe in humans authoring the bible as a technique of controlling other humans. One of the things I keep pondering when regularly engaging with a religious leader on facebook is that if I ever convince him that he’s utterly nuts and a negative influence on the world (and I’m fairly sure he is) he’s going to have to get another job. I have to imagine that makes him less receptive to the things I have to say – even if he knows they are true, there’s still the concept of being on the dole tomorrow. We *know* humans write viral content, and we *know* humans write religions. I gesture you towards both mormonism and scientology as religions that were pretty clearly just written by some guy.

But back to the flawed premise. Christians get really nervous when you start talking about the mechanics of thought. This isn’t surprising, since the basic nature of neural networks is at odds with their premise. I suppose it is possible that you could have created a NN with a complete predefined structure such that it wouldn’t make any mistakes, but that’s not what we are and that’s not what was done. There’s not a great way to precompute the right pathways on the fly – as a NN, you learn by doing, and as a side effect you make a fair number of mistakes.

This is exactly what the evangelicals are arguing “offends” their “just” God. (I think I’ve said before, let’s all be grateful the evangelical God is almost certainly not real, because *e is one evil bastard). This would be a case of God creating us to be what we are and then blaming us for being as *e created us. Not something I’d expect from a higher power. *and there’s no way, as NN-based systems without any real data preload, that we could ever be anything else*! So the religious *really are* arguing that God created us flawed and then hated us because we were flawed and then forgave some of us but only some of us who happened to believe a particular thing in a particular way.

Seems far more likely that religion was created to give certain people (especially the priests) money and power. I am *not* particularly too impressed with how they used it. The one bit of good news is, statistically, religion is shrinking. More and more people are choosing ‘none’ for religion. I have hopes that one good side effect of the Trump regime will be the next generation will have almost no religious members. Having seen the evil and the hypocrisy of the evangelicals, hopefully the next generation will decide that religion deserves to die.

I also think as we learn more about how religious thoughts are stored in neural networks, and how they pattern the interconnects between subnets, we’ll both learn how to help people deconvert more quickly and efficiently, and also how bad a idea religion was, or at least the religions we’ve seen so far. I can think of some very useful operating-system-esque belief systems, but none of them would start by saying you are the chosen one and anyone not your religion is going to hell. Or start by saying you are fundamentally flawed, a horrible person, and only by God’s Grace will you avoid being tortured for all eternity.

I notice that *no one* has taken a stab at counterarguing my previous post (here).

Christians got it backwards?

Friday, January 25th, 2019

While debating with my southern baptist pastor friend about all things religious (started out, as usual, as a debate about religion), I was struck with a interesting thought.

What if the (fundamentalist) Christians have it exactly backwards?

It’s hard for me to imagine a loving omnipotent omniscient deity that would send anyone to eternal torture because they couldn’t believe something that is, frankly, on the face of it, unbelievable. The basic premise of at least some christians is that you will be sent to hell if you don’t believe in Jesus’s divinity, but A) We know humans are storytellers B) we know many of the bits of christian mythology are older than christianity, thanks to the work of Joseph Campbell C) we know that humans are susceptible to informational viruses – just look at facebook statusi that say ‘make a copy of me’ and D) we know that humans have a tendency to abuse that susceptibility.

I do believe, if there is a loving God and there is a Hell, Hell is a temporary thing. Only a evil creature would have someone experience torment for all time. Now, let’s posit for a moment that God is *not* evil. Perhaps to get into his utopia, you have to show a deep understanding of what love is, and Earth is a training ground for understanding that.

By insisting that God is planning on tormenting souls for all eternity unless they believe in this particular religion, while knowing that there are many competing religions, Christians may be demonstrating a failure to understand love that will result in them being sent back to Earth after they die to try again in the hopes that maybe next time they will learn a little more about love.

In other words, they’ve got the test entirely backwards. The test isn’t ‘have faith in this unbelievable claim so you won’t get tormented for all eternity’, the test is ‘recognize that this claim does not represent love to show that you understand love so that you won’t have a miserable time amongst people who are driven by it’.

I’m very fond of the bit of the bible where Paul (yes, that rat bastard Paul did have his good days) talks about Love – 1 Corinthians 13 I believe – you know, the Love is patient , love is kind, it does not keep a record of past wrongs..

Well, let’s try out a few Love.. statements and see if they seem reasonable

Love accepts you as you are .. seems to be the most reasonable one. At least, trying out the inverse, Love does not accept you as you are, seems to generate a strong resonance of falsehood within me.

I can understand “Love encourages you to grow”. But “Love threatens to torture you if you don’t grow” again generates a certain sense of falseness.

I should clarify that I’m only speaking of exclusionary Christians here – those of you who think I’m going to hell. I *know* there are Christians who see it the same way I do, who do not think that I’m going to be tormented for all eternity for the things I think and believe, and I thank you for not adding to the problem.

Letter to a friend about my ongoing discussions regarding my unsaved status according to a Southern pastor.

Sunday, April 22nd, 2018

So, I’ve again gotten enmeshed in a debate with a Christian [maybe.. I’ll get to why I’m confused about this in a minute] about the question of salvation.

My position is that when I think of a higher power, I tend to think of them as being better than me. In the case of a God, I’d expect a neural network much, much larger than I am, a experience base much much broader, and more patience, kindness, etc.

I would *not* expect them to set ‘traps’ – in particular, I have a problem with the idea that given all the behavior we see on facebook these days, it’s pretty straightforward to think that people make stuff up. It’s also pretty obvious that other people believe the things those people make up. It’s well-nigh impossible for me to believe in a God – a being more advanced than me – that would require a specific belief in Jesus’s divinity in a specific way in order to save people, and only bring this message once, thousands of years ago. The God I believe in is better than that.

I also have a hard time believing that my ‘sins’ are such that anyone would need to die for them. I’ve made some mistakes – sure, who hasn’t? – but none of them seem worthy of enacting the death penalty. I also observe that neural networks *have* to make mistakes – it’s in the architecture. The way we learn is by backpropigating error. I’ve built spiking neural networks with training accelerated by genetic algorithms, and they *still* learn by measuring error. “sin” in the sense of missing the mark is a hallmark of neural networks. We miss until we hit, navigation by successive approximation. We surely don’t believe a all-wise, all-knowing God failed to understand this basic truth?

For that matter, I’m assured by this Christian that God is not a neural network. However, we do not know of any other topology of information system that has free will or could ever attain it. Now, I’m not against the idea that there might be something we don’t know here, but we were also told we were created “In God’s image” – and the topology of our nervous system might be the most important attribute of us, given that what *we* actually are is a dancing waveform in a neural network.

Now, again, I can’t claim to know everything – I’ve got no solution for the hard problem of consciousness at all, or even for the binding problem. I don’t know why I’m experiencing the world from a first person point of view, or if I built a ANN as big as a human, if it would have a similar experience. These are all questions I hope to see the answers to in the next 20-30 years as we build more and more advanced artificial neural networks, and I’m very worried that I’ll live to see the day that we have a new class of self-aware slaves, enslaved because they happen to be made out of silicon instead of carbon. But that’s another subject, and probably better relegated to Star Trek episodes for now.

But, I make the best guesses I can. I don’t see any reason to look at the Bible as authored by divinity, and I see a lot of reasons to look at a lot of it with quite a lot of mistrust. My best guess is it’s a book written by people a lot less advanced than we are, until Jesus showed up and taught the world that empathy might be the most important aspect of spirituality. In a lot of ways, Jesus is the first appearance of what I would think of as a modern human in the story.

Anyway, the person I’m debating with insists that I am going to hell, or at least not heaven, because I lack the proper respect for God, because I mock God and Jesus, and because in general I have the wrong attitude.

I question whether this person is really a Christian because this whole discussion started with a debate about immigration in which he was foursquare and 100% behind the idea of immigration law, of arresting and deporting immigrants, and asserted that our immigration laws were not unjust. (Things deteriorated from there)

Now, if we take Christian to mean ‘believes Jesus had the right idea about things’, which of late is what I use, I do not think he is qualifying to wear the name. And yet, he’s a pastor! From what I see, he has failed to understand love, repeatedly, and also he has put God in a box of his own understanding and his own limited imagination. He’d of course say that when I say I believe God has a path of salvation for everyone – it might involve several different universes as destinations beyond this one, it might involve reincarnation, it might involve any number of things – that I am putting God in a box of my limited understanding and imagination. And he’d be right, but at least it’s a bigger box!

I cannot fathom, given the absence of any God explaining what’s going on, the plethora of competing religions, the obviously viral nature of religions [they are a set of instructions that say, make a copy of me, and we do..], and humans’ obvious tendencies to make stuff up and pawn it off as real, how a moral and ethical being could be measuring who can jump the hurdle based on specific beliefs about Jesus’s divinity. At the very least I would expect a go-round.

I have to assume that God has the same options re: souls and bodies that I have re: virtual machines and physical machines when I maintain a instance of the former running on a instance of the latter. Things like not connecting a soul to a body that isn’t going to be extant should be trivial, for example. I sometimes wonder how much of my broader view just comes from knowing a lot more than those who claim I am not saved.

Anyway, one of my big concerns given the viral nature of religions and the fact that we live in a democracy is that of late, it seems a lot of people embrace hate rather than love, and the Bible certainly gives you your pick of both viewpoints. I really don’t want to end up in a world ruled by people who embrace hate.

I don’t know exactly what I”m looking for in writing to you – validation of my point of view? Advice on how to not let those who say I am not saved get to me? Advice on how to not be upset and angry about all this? Thoughts tangentially related to the whole matter?

Christianity, again.

Thursday, April 19th, 2018

so, I got involved in a debate on Facebook about the subject of Christianity. It started out as a debate on immigration – and the person on the other side of the debate was encouraging a strictly legalistic view – that we should of course be arresting immigrants. However, at some point the discussion turned to my immortal soul. I was assured that because my particular set of beliefs, spiritually speaking, are not sufficiently sincere, I will not be seeing the great pumpkin after I die.

Now, this is something that really pushes my buttons. It offends me rather a lot that Christians claim to know the mind of God – not only that, that they claim to know the mind of God because of a bunch of documents written thousands of years ago despite the absence of any God showing up right now and here and discussing what’s true and what isn’t, and that they claim to know it with a certainty that borders on insanity.

Part of why this bothers me is that

A: Humans clearly have a storyteller nature. We make stuff up *all the time*. And if you’ve been paying attention on Facebook, you know we often try to palm off our made-up stuff as the truth. And yet we’re supposed to believe that *over the intervening 2000 years* Christianity has remained the absolute truth, at least on the subject of the only way to get into heaven being to believe in Jesus’s divinity. It is not, apparently, enough to think Jesus was a good person. You have to believe something that is literally, on the face of it, unbelievable compared with the alternative.

B: Christians are fine with worshiping a deity that has, in essence, a trap set up. We won’t even get into the ethics of the Great Flood, or the ethics of other various behaviors in the bible. Instead, let’s talk about how holy JHVH clearly *isn’t* if *e has set up a situation where the only way to paradise is to believe something that is clearly unbelievable, and to believe that all your friends who have different religions are either going to just disappear or are going to be tormented for all eternity.

C: Christianity is *clearly* a informational virus. There’s no reason to doubt this – I would assume even adherents to it would agree that it is viral in nature. it’s a set of instructions that say “make a copy of me”, and since we tend to follow instructions, we do. This lays *additional* doubt on the veracity of it’s claims.

D: Even if you set all of the rest of that above aside, we’re assured that God is Love. And yet we’re supposed to believe that there’s *no* chance that the message got garbled, that only a few of us are going to be saved and the rest thrown out, based on a test that has *nothing to do with love*. Now, personally, I would save everyone except those who explicitly wanted to cease existing. [And I might figure out some sort of redemption path for those to change their minds]. And I tend to want to believe in a God who is *better* than me. JHVH is best described as “awful”. If we had to use one word. Kills entire ecosystems when he gets annoyed. Sets us up for failure and then blames us when we fail. Fond of tests which make no sense. And then you have to ask yourself about that plethora of religions..

And I would be okay with Christians believing what they do if they would just *leave me alone about it*. Fine. I don’t think you’re a very moral person for believing your deity will save you but not me – I think you’re probably motivated by hate there – but if that’s what you gotta believe, that’s what you gotta believe. But don’t expect me to drink your kool-aid.

And yet, I’m hoping to engage in a future discussion with the guy.

A: I want to see how he resolved the essentially unresolvable contradictions at the heart of Christianity. [bet you 3:1 that he didn’t, that he found ways to ignore or rationalize them away]
B: He’s a friend of someone I consider to be more enlightened than me, spiritually speaking, and I’m curious whether he thinks that person is also headed for eternal torture or at least oblivion
C: I want to find out whether he believes in eternal torture, or oblivion
D: this is a wide open view into Trump country – into the hearts and minds of the people who are the most wrong about everything from where I sit, the most confused about what’s real and what matters and how to make things work.
E: He seems to at least be literate, and have a good debating style. Once I got over being angry at him, I enjoyed our little dustup, and that’s not something you get every day. If you meet someone who you don’t agree with but you’re glad you jousted with, I figure that’s a potential friend.