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A Few Black Holes in Brian Greene’s Logic

I’ve been reading Brian Greene’s The Fabric of the Cosmos. For those of you who don’t know Brian Greene, he wrote The Elegant Universe about string theory. He is very good at breaking complex scientific concepts into understandable parts. He is like a modern-day Carl Sagan, taking on the challenges of explaining scientific concepts that were far more difficult than the ones in Sagan’s day.

The Fabric of the Cosmos has left me wondering about two concepts Greene brought up. One he mentioned in passing, never really pursuing its ramifications, while the other was a concept that was interwoven throughout the book. On the surface, my questions about these two concepts are unrelated. On a deeper level, I think there might be a relationship.

What Does The Universe Look Like?

The first statement that I wonder about comes from the Hubble Telescope’s findings. From the Hubble’s readings it seems as though the universe is expanding away from earth and that the earth is at the center of the Big Bang.

Greene says:
“By the same reasoning, since the view from earth—as attested to by Hubble’s and subsequent observations—shows that galaxies are rushing outward, you might think our position in space was the location of an ancient explosion that uniformly spewed out the raw material of stars and galaxies. The problem with this theory, though, is that it singles out one region of space—our region—as unique by making it the universe’s birthplace. And were that the case, it would entail a deep-seated asymmetry: the physical conditions in regions from the primordial explosion—far from us—would be very different from here. As there is no evidence for such asymmetry in astronomical data, and furthermore, as we are highly suspect of anthropocentric explanations laced with pre-Copernican thinking, a more sophisticated interpretation of Hubble’s discovery is called for, one in which our location does not occupy some special place in the cosmic order.”

I’ll try to explain this concept in more “for dummy” words. Scientific readings through the Hubble telescope, out in space orbiting the earth, show that everything in the universe is traveling away from the earth. The farther away stars and galaxies are, the faster they travel away from the earth, uniformly in every direction. Since we have discovered that the universe is expanding at an accelerating rate, this finding seems to be consistent with the earth’s being at the center of that expansion. In the above paragraph Greene says that no other scientific data suggests that the earth was at the center of the Big Bang. At one time the Christian religion had placed the earth at the center of the universe, and we certainly don’t want to go backwards into that anthropocentric thinking. “The earth does not occupy some special place in the cosmic order,” Greene says. What are the chances, anyway, that we would be at the very center of the universe’s expansion?

The way Brian Greene explains this phenomena is by using the analogy of a balloon. If the earth, as well as all other celestial bodies, were pennies pasted on a balloon, as the balloon was blown up and began to expand, from each penny’s perspective it would seem as though that penny was at the center of the expansion. In other words, there would be no center to the universe’s expansion; or to look at it another way, everywhere would be the center.

This is where I begin to wonder, because the balloon analogy employs a two-dimensional object (we are only considering the surface of the balloon in this analogy) representing a three-dimensional world. Greene shifts to another analogy to show the same concept in three spatial dimensions. He uses an expanding muffin with seeds in it. Each seed would see itself as the center of the expansion, with other seeds expanding away from it.

However, there is a problem with rectifying these two analogies. A scientist as smart as one of ours, sitting on a seed in the expanding muffin, would be able to figure out exactly where she or he was located within the muffin. If the seed that scientist was sitting on were on the edge of the muffin, with proper telescopes and other modern scientific tools, that scientist would be able to figure out that she or he were toward the edge of the expansion.

Although the balloon works as a two-dimensional analogy to explain how a particular position can appear to be at the center of the universe’s expansion, and the rising muffin expresses in a three-dimensional analogy how a particular seed will experience all the other seeds expanding away from it, neither explains how the earth or any other position in space can appear to be at the dead center of a three-dimensional expanding universe.

Why is this important? First of all, I don’t think our human minds are capable of pictorially conceiving of the shape of the universe. It eludes our thinking. What would an expanding universe look like in three dimensions where everywhere were its center? Where would the expansion be taking place? We normally think of expansion taking place on the periphery of something. And that is my next question: if everywhere in the universe is its center, where exactly is its periphery? An expanding muffin has a periphery, as does an inflating balloon, even though we’re only using its peripheral surface for our analogy.

In other parts of the book, Greene does talk about the universe as if it has a periphery. He explains that stars and galaxies on the edge of space are being dragged at an accelerating rate by expanding space. If other scientists were to be sitting on those stars and galaxies, would their equivalent of the Hubble Telescope make it appear to them as if they were at the center of the universe’s expansion? Would our Milky Way seem as though it were being dragged at an accelerating rate toward the edge of the universe? It would seem so, if everyplace in the universe saw itself as the center of the universe’s accelerating expansion.

As we explore the ramifications of that one statement, that the earth appears to be at the center of the universe’s expansion, the universe becomes a more and more difficult place to try to visualize. I think it is beyond the human mind to even begin to picture our universe, and it is best not to even try. That allows us to be free to follow logical ramifications without having to try to “imagine” them.

I would like to think about the concept of the center of the universe and the periphery of the universe a bit more. If everyplace in the universe is the center, as it was on Brian Greene’s inflating balloon, is everyplace also the periphery? Are these concepts relative, and if so, to what? If we were to shoot a rocket ship to the moon, would it be heading in a peripheral direction in relation to the earth? Yet in that case, wouldn’t everything that is moving be moving in a peripheral direction, in relation to the place it came from, since everyplace it came from could be considered the center of the universe? Or would the rocket ship be traveling toward the center of the universe, as well as toward the periphery?

For me it is much easier to imagine all these distant stars and galaxies, and in fact the earth itself, residing in peripheral positions in the universe. It is difficult to imagine what traveling toward the center of the universe would even entail. Let’s assume for a moment that the earth is at the center of the universe’s expansion. In order to travel toward that center we would have to travel to the center of the earth and keep going until we found its central atom, and then keep traveling into that atom down to its quark level and if you believe in strings as Brian Greene does, down to the string level, perhaps even into the central vibration of that string: Om!

This would be true of anywhere in the universe, since everywhere is at the center of the universe. In other words, to approach the center of the universe, we would have to get down to the quantum level. Perhaps these extra dimensions that string theory has discovered, “folded up” and “hidden,” are really at the center of the universe? If that were true, I would immediately get rid of the concept of “folded up,” since it appeals to our “imaginative” minds that try to picture things, and I would guess that those dimensions would be as far beyond our mind’s grasp as the three spatial dimensions we can actually see.
I have elsewhere explored this same topic, discussing the possibility of an anti-universe, which perhaps could be equated to string theories folded up dimensions. If you are interested in reading it: The Shape of the Universe @ http://www.daviddelbourgo.com/blog/?p=27.

What Is Oder and Disorder?

Throughout the Fabric of the Cosmos, Green talks about entropy and the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which basically states that all matter and energy throughout the entire universe will evolve from an ordered state to a disordered state. In other words, the universe, following the arrow of time from past to future, will always have less order from future moment to future moment.

One very good analogy he uses is a bottle of carbonated soda. When you open the top, gas escapes into the atmosphere. It was in a more ordered state capped inside the bottle and it moved into a less ordered state when it escaped and spread out into the atmosphere. He also used the analogy of the book War and Peace, probably because it’s such a large book. If you were to take the loose manuscript with each of its pages in numbered order and throw it into the air, each time you did so, the pages would become more out of numbered order when reassembled.

Yet there is an obstacle in Greene’s way. How does he explain all of the order in today’s universe? The galaxies, planets, and life on the planet earth? The only explanation that makes sense, given the Second Law of Thermodynamics, is that the universe began in a more ordered state than it is now. I will fast forward through his whole section on universal inflation, and merely state his conclusion. During something called hyper-inflation, the universe expanded exceedingly fast, like a balloon being blown up with air, and like the rubber on a balloon, the fabric of the universe became entirely uniform, with wrinkles in its fabric so minor they were statistically off the charts. To Greene, this smooth state of the universe’s fabric was in a higher state of order than the universe we see around us with galaxies, suns, planets and life on earth.

He does not explain exactly how he comes to this conclusion, except that the Second Law of Thermodynamics cannot be contradicted. Yet in my mind if the entire universe became utterly wrinkled like a deflated balloon, but contained one snail’s shell, it would be in a higher state of order than a smoothly spread out universe. There is no question in my mind that our universe with all of its galaxies, stars, planets and especially with life on earth, is in a higher state of order than a smoothly spread out universe with no shapes or forms of any kind. I would have appreciated seeing the scale with which Greene weighed his states of order and disorder.

In short, from my point of view, the universe has gone from disorder to order. Now I am sure that some physicist and/or mathematician has proved this to be untrue, and proved that the universe when it was first inflated was in a higher state of order than it is today. They could write formulas up one side of the Empire State building and down the other and I still wouldn’t believe them. (And that’s not simply because I can’t read math.) I think here is where the two issues of the Second Law of Thermodynamics and the earth being the center of the universe are related.

Scientists were controlled by the church for so many hundreds of years, and since it is only relatively recently that they have gotten out from under the yoke of the church (although now they have industrialists to contend with), they are gun-shy of anything that smacks of deism. The earth being the center of the universe, as Aquinas and other Christian philosophers argued, was of course concocted by a religion that believed we needed a special place in God’s plan. If one were to assert that the universe is more ordered today than it was when it was created, the elephant in the room would be the question: where did that order come from? We have no natural phenomenon to explain it. And anything in regards to order that scientists can’t explain suggests a scientifically seditious hidden force that plans and orders things.
Therefore, it is my belief, that even though Descartes supposedly began a blank slate with the premise I think therefore I am, because Descartes was a certain kind of person with basic deistic beliefs, that premise had to lead to the proof of God’s existence. Because Brian Greene is a physicist in today’s world, he could no more leave a dangling string that might lead to a proof of god’s existence, then Descartes could do the opposite. As far as I can see, without having any math skills (which, however, clearly leads many astray as they use complex math to prove things that are later disproved by somebody else using other complex math, or by another scientist discovering some untoward particle, etc.), it seems to me that the Second Law of Thermodynamics works on a local scale, but is far too complex a concept to prove on a universal scale. And if that means that the possibility is left open for some sort of plan or program or hidden ontological force, so be it.

Or, I would challenge Brian Greene to explain to us exactly what scale he uses to prove that a smooth, empty universe has more order than one with people who can argue the topic of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. And while he’s at it, I would appreciate it if he would also explain why a flat three-brane universe evolves until it is entirely smooth and then bumps into its three-brane universal partner, they explode and start the three-braned partnership cycle all over again. How is it that the Second Law of Thermodynamic seems to work differently in a three-brane universe? If Greene insists that a smooth universe is a higher order (called lower entropy) than a lumpy one with our universe’s planets and people, how did the three-brane universe go from higher entropy to lower entropy?

I truly think that scientists, especially physicists, are more than a bit flummoxed by all the order in the universe that cannot be explained and whose explanation isn’t even on their radar. It leaves too big an opening for some sort of god. And I’m not particularly arguing that there is a god. I just think that scientists shouldn’t twist themselves in pretzel logic to avoid the possibility that there might be mysterious ordering forces we don’t have a clue about.

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James O’Keefe & the Britney/Mao Syndrome

In my last blog, I forgot to mention the kind of true believer whose agenda is not religious. They existed en masse in Stalin’s Soviet Union, Hitler’s Third Reich, and Mao’s People’s Republic. During the Chinese cultural revolution, true believers ferreted out neighbors for the slightest infraction. A violin hidden in the back of a closet was enough to accuse its owner of western sentiments, and send the offender off to the People’s Court.
Here in the United States we are faced with true believers who are so convinced of their agenda that they have no qualms about ferreting out offenders and sending them to our peoples’ court, which is the mindless media hungry to denounce anybody for the stupidest “offense.” Oddly, though, the slime that is equivalent to the watchers in totalitarian societies are never called to task for their shameful behavior here in the U.S.

James O’Keefe calls himself a journalist who wants to bring down liberals. That’s pretty much what the watchers in the People’s’ Republic wanted to do, too. And he is just as dogged about breaking the privacy of his neighbors to attain his goals, and just as convinced that his agenda is as absolute as God in order to excuse himself of any low behavior to bring down as many liberal organizations as possible.
O’Keefe is apparently not intelligent enough of a journalist, though, to put together a coherent argument denouncing these liberal groups. He does not go through the civilized work the rest of us have to, doing research and presenting convincing arguments against his targets. Like a weasel he ferrets in the dirt until he finds the forbidden violin in the closet of some unsuspecting schmuck.

He I am sure would not feel an ounce of shame if he read what I am saying about him. He would feel superior to me; after all, he won, didn’t he? But what does that say about the rest of us who buy into this kind of watcher’s mentality? Anybody who tries hard enough can find somebody within any organization who is going to say something stupid. And the media is just waiting to magnify anything that sells, except the work of the weasels who hand them the muddy crap they’re peddling.

Is this how our society should work? Should we be proud of a society in which everybody with an agenda is trying to pull a sting on anybody who disagrees with them? How low can we go? Should we plant prostitutes in bed with politicians we don’t like and photograph them? Should we sneak scumbags into Republican organizations, get them drunk and record what they say? Or maybe plant the photos of hot-looking babes on dating websites to get a vulnerable male to go out with her and make a gaff?

O’Keefe is as low as you can get. He would have thrived in the People’s Republic, the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany. He would have been one of the true believers who could excuse himself of any despicable behavior. For me, he is the real story; he, and how we allow ourselves to buy into his Britney sightings. Somebody in the media should denounce this creep, and the rest of us should support anybody he goes after, just to show the world that we can’t be manipulated by totalitarian-style watchers like him.

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Why Is Israel So Difficult To Talk About?

Think about the topics that are impossible to constructively argue about: race, feminism, abortion, religion, and for some strange reason Israel. What do all of these topics have in common? People on each side of the argument are beginning from different premises, and for this reason our common language itself takes on different meanings. We talk past one another, assuming our premises are universal without ever stating them outright; or worse yet, these premises are subconsciously held, and the people holding them are not aware of their basic assumptions.

Let me give you an example we can all relate to, of people of the same tongue speaking different languages. At work a group of women is standing in the coffee room, laughing, expressing shared views. A man approaches the group and suddenly the tone of the conversation is altered. The man speaks the same language as the women on a logical and intellectual level, but not on an emotional level. The same might be said of a group of black co-workers approached by a white person.

The premises that are not shared between men and women, or people of various races, are too complicated to go into here. Abortion, though, might have fairly distinctive divergent premises: does a fetus have a soul? Is it endowed with the spirit of God? If one person believes this and another does not, they will never be able to come to a logical agreement on the topic of abortion.

How about Israel? I believe that one basic premise underlying discussions of Israel has to do with the status of Jews on the planet earth. At one point in history this might have had religious implications, but even before Hitler’s rule, a Jew was a Jew was a Jew, no matter what that Jew’s religious beliefs. Today, very Orthodox Jews don’t recognize secular Jews as Jews. Stranger yet, secular Jews like myself do recognize ourselves as Jews, even though we might not believe in God or Moses or the basic rites of our religion. My point is that the premise that ties Jews together on the topic of Israel has nothing to do with religion.

I think most Jews, whether religious or not, have been taught that we’ve had a fairly precarious history and have been capriciously kicked around from country to country. That’s what the secular Theodor Herzl believed, despite the fact that he lived in a fairly stable Europe where Jews seemed safer than ever before. Yet he came up with the idea of a homeland where persecuted Jewish people could go for safety. In other words, he assumed that although things might have been all right for Jews during his lifetime, they would undoubtedly get bad again.

Israel was a place of refuge for Russian Jews during the pogroms at the turn of the 20th Century and after the fall of the Iron Curtain toward the end of the 20th Century. It was the only place many Jews could go to escape Hitler’s death camps. The 1950′s and 1960′s were too close to the Holocaust for Western Europeans to criticize Israel. Today it is a very different story, though. Israel is criticized by many people in the West, and I think it deserves some criticism. I also think the United States deserves very similar kinds of criticism, but I am not considering abandoning my country because I don’t agree with everything it does.

I read in one article that when Israel invaded Gaza it was like a fight between Mike Tyson and a grammar school kid. In other words, Israel’s military is so mighty, its critics are not concerned about it losing a war. Or at least that’s the understood premise underlying their criticism. Israel is such a strong country, why can’t it cut the Arabs a break? Israel can afford to give in a little, in order to get a peace deal done. This point of view is understandable; Americans like to root for the underdog.

I think the subconscious premise that is rarely spoken about in the U.S. (Israelis talk about it more than we do) is this: why do the Jews need a place of refuge in this day and age? After all, couldn’t America be considered a place of refuge? Or almost any Western European country? Is it still necessary for the Jews to dominate this piece of Arab soil, using force to make sure that they will remain in the majority so they do not have to share control with the Arabs? Aren’t the Jews a little paranoid when they argue that Israel cannot be too strong because it is surrounded by enemies? What Arab power really has a chance anymore of bringing down Israel? And if the Jews did some day have to give up their control of Israel, what would really be lost for them? We know that peace would be gained. So the positive result of the Jews giving up Israel is clear and the negative result is ambiguous.

As I said, there are Israelis who argue for a fully integrated Jewish/Muslim Israel, where the Arabs are no longer treated as second-class citizens. More hawkish Jews and Israelis argue that once the Arabs gained majority control of Israel they would somehow get rid of the Jews, and Israel would become an Arab state. Let’s assume for a second that they’re right. It could also be argued that there are not that many Jews in Israel that the pluralistic democracies in the west could absorb them.

Now we get down to premises: can the western democracies guarantee that there will not be another virulent wave of anti-Semitism in the future? Most modern people of good faith would say that Hitler’s brand of anti-Semitism is a thing of the past. Of course there will always be anti-Semites, but they won’t control a Western European country again. Nobody could imagine that the Islamic countries would be a welcome place for Jews in the near future, but the Western European countries—that’s as sure as the stock market… uh, or maybe there’s a better example… say, our banks… or if that’s a bit flawed, how about the fact that we have a pluralistic democracy that does not favor Christianity over Judaism?

See my point? How guaranteed is any brand of future America, which is generally considered as the bedrock of Western European democracies. I have Jewish friends who have recently left France because they say it is becoming an uncomfortable place for Jews. Yes, I think we are a bit paranoid, but as the old joke goes, just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean that nobody’s following me.

Now, the Arabs don’t even try to hide their hatred of the Jews. Granted, it is rather a recent phenomenon, and it is generally tied to Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. Many Arabs say that they are not anti-Jewish, but they are against Israel and Zionism. Yet I don’t hear about many Jews taking vacation trips to Syria or Lebanon or Saudi Arabia. These are not places you’d want to parade around in a yarmulke. The list of countries Jews had best stay away from, or at least not loudly announce the fact that they are Jews, is long. The list of countries that do not have Jewish residents is also long.

When we argue about Israel, it must be remembered that Jews are never totally sure that they will be welcome forever anywhere. Thus, no matter what Jews think of Israel’s politics or treatment of the Palestinians, there is still a familial bond; family is the one thing you can always count on. Most modern, intelligent, liberal non-Jews cannot quite grasp this Jewish irrationality about Israel. We are arguing from different emotional premises, just like blacks who are not thoroughly convinced by whites that just because we have a black president, people of color are now seen as equals. The Jews are never thoroughly convinced that we are truly accepted in any country except for Israel, and this is bound to color the way we discuss the topic of the Middle East.

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Israel and the Arab Freedom Protests

This new peace and freedom movement sweeping through the Middle East might bode badly for Israel. No matter what the outcome, whether democracy is adopted quickly or slowly by the Arab countries, I can easily see the arrow of change going against Israel. If the divide between the Arab countries and Israel widens, it won’t be good for anyone who desires peace and freedom.

Yet if the pluralistic spirit that is sweeping through the Arab streets can include a change toward the way the Israeli Arab conflict is viewed, not necessarily among the Arabs, but throughout the world, then there might be hope for the Israelis and Arabs to live in peace and harmony. After all, the Arab peace and freedom movement has been inspired by political notions from outside of the Islamic world; perhaps their views on Israel could also be shaped by ideas coming from outside the Islamic world. But the polarized views held today by most people in the world on the Arab Israeli conflict will not be helpful to any youth.

It has become increasingly difficult for the Arabs and Israelis to understand one another’s problems, and to have empathy for one another. It’s as if they’re speaking different languages. And in a way they are. The same phenomenon regarding the Arab Israeli conflict is happening all around the world. As a friend of mine, who teaches the subject, said, “The Israeli Arab conflict is one of those tainted subjects that can no longer be discussed.” Those who are against Israel see the Israelis as imperialist bullies who are using their power to victimize a weaker people that has just as much right, if not more, to Israeli lands. People who are pro Israel think that the Palestinians have passive-aggressively made themselves into victims, refused every decent opportunity for independence and self-determination, and have a hidden agenda to drive the Jews off Arab lands.

The truth is that the vast majority of Israelis and Palestinians want to live in a peaceful, stable environment, but critics of both sides are concentrating on the 15% to 20% who are extremists, Islamic and Jewish fundamentalists, and allowing that minority to overwhelm the discussion. The Jewish fundamentalists want to build settlements on what is considered Palestinian lands. The Islamic fundamentalists use missiles and bombs to achieve their ends. Neither group of fundamentalists wants the peace process to work; they think that they have god-given rights to the land.

I don’t, however, get the sense that the youth demonstrating in the streets of Arab countries believe in the hocus-pocus of god-given lands. Yet they don’t like Israel, and they especially don’t like the fact that the autocrats whom they want to overthrow were more-or-less bribed by the west to be friendly to Israel. In other words, Israel is associated not just with the western powers who propped up these corrupt autocratic regimes, but with the whole notion of western imperialism and colonialism.

The problem for Israel, however, is that the longer this conflict goes on, the wider and deeper Arab resentment against Israel will become. As the older generation of Arabs who lived through wars and political shifts, and who witnessed mistakes on both sides, die off, their place will be taken by a youth that only knows Israel as the oppressor. Because of this, on the Arab side, at least, the 15% to 20% of extremists will be increasing with the passing of their more moderate older generation. And although the Arab youth might become more open with each other, mending Sunni and Shiite rifts, right now they are not likely to become more open toward Israel. In the eyes of these young Arabs, Israel is one of the most blatant examples of western imperialism and colonialism: they are European occupiers.

To return to my earlier point about the Israelis and Arabs speaking two different languages, it is pretty much impossible for the Israelis to see themselves as colonialists, imperialists or occupiers. We must keep in mind that Israel has only been a state for about sixty years and their tragic beginnings are still fresh in Israelite’ minds. If it were not for Hitler, there would be no Israel. It would not be populated by the millions of Jews escaping European death camps, and the United Nations would not have carved out a part of Palestine as a Jewish state. Jews did not go to Israel to colonize land or abscond with Palestinian wealth; they went there literally to save their lives. How could they possibly see themselves as colonialists, imperialists or occupiers? In their minds they are victims who held on by the skin of their teeth.

Although the Arab leaders who fought against the formation of a Jewish state on Arab lands considered Israel an enemy, they were at least aware of the tragic circumstances of the Jews fighting against them. When Sadat and Begin sat down to sign the Camp David Peace Accord, I believe they faced one another with the respect of old warriors. In the back of their minds they both realized they could be killed by their own people for their “betrayal” of their respective nations, and that act of bravery made them all the more noble.

The Camp David Peace Accord was signed as a result of the Yom Kippur War in 1973. By that time Israel had a clear military advantage over their Arab neighbors, and it was obvious to all parties concerned that the Arabs would not be able to “drive the Jews into the sea,” as their leaders had promised. Yet I think that the Peace Accord was also a turning point in how the world would perceive Israel. Because Israel had become so strong and seemingly invincible, ever so slowly the Israelis were no longer seen as victims but as victimizers. Today, virtually all of the Muslim world, and a fair percentage of the western world, sees Israel as occupiers who victimize their neighbors. Yet the Israelis still see themselves as an imperiled people living on a sliver of land that could be overrun by their enemies in a matter of days.

Still Israel’s “occupation” does seem to be the focal point of complaint against the Israelis. Technically, when people speak of the Israelis as occupiers, they are referring to settlements in Jerusalem that the Palestinians consider to be their territory. Although, today the borders between Israel and the Palestinians are defined by the United Nations and based on the outcome of the 1967 war, in a way the boundary lines are hazy. If you were to look at the 1948 map created by the United Nations of what lands were supposed to be Israeli and what lands were supposed to be Palestinian, you would quickly realize that that crazy quilt never came into existence. War has carved out Israel’s borders. In 1948, the United Nations had planned on Jerusalem being an open city, belonging to neither side. Jordan won Jerusalem in the first rounds of the Arab wars against Israel and then lost Jerusalem in the 1967 War. In any settlement between the Arabs and Israelis, the fate of Jerusalem has always been up in the air.  For this reason the Jewish settlers do not see themselves as occupiers as they build housing developments in Eastern Jerusalem.  Yet the fact that most of the world does see them as occupiers adds to Israel’s bad press, which is one of the last things the Jewish state needs right now. 

To many Israelis the term occupier also has resonances beyond physical Israeli settlements in what are considered Palestinian lands; resonances that are often unspoken. Despite the fact that the Arabs are resigned to living with an Israeli nation too powerful to overthrow, Israelis are suspicious that most Arabs (which to all intents and purposes refers to the youth on the street) don’t really believe that a Jewish country belongs on Arab lands. In other words, in a pluralistic, democratic Arab nation, anti-Israeli sentiment might very possibly become stronger.

We must remember that the Arab youth running these peace and freedom movements are mostly under thirty. They were born after the last war between Israel and the Arabs in 1973. Most of them know very little about the tragedy surrounding Israel’s birth, nor care. I have often heard Arab youth compare what the Israelis are doing to the Palestinians with the Holocaust. Perhaps in their minds the immediacy of their Arab neighbors’ plight compares with that sketchy, distant historical event, (even more distant to them because it occurred long before they were born). Israelis, however, cannot relate their actions against the Palestinians with the Holocaust, and are very likely to marginalize anyone who would dare to say such a thing.

As Arab and the Israeli perceptions toward the conflict become more divergent, they almost literally have no language with which to discuss resolutions to the situation. That’s why the United States and other brokers have had to step in to help. The hope is that if the Israelis and Arabs could at least agree on a tactical separation, borders, water rights, etc., that eventually they would learn to become good neighbors. Yet now, with a the peace and freedom movement sweeping over the Arab countries, the formula might have to change. One of the sentiments of the Arab youth is that Mubarak was a western stooge who blindly supported the peace treaty with Israel. If autocrats like him are overthrown, there is a good likelihood that the stability between the Arab countries and Israel will be on shakier ground.

Is there an answer to this dilemma? I think it would be a bad answer for all of us, even if we are sympathetic to Israel, not to support the peace and freedom movements in the Middle East. The suppression of populist thought by western-backed autocratic regimes has only served to aggravate the resentment of the Arab populist toward Israel. I am not sure that in the present climate, in which the Israelis and Arabs cannot begin to fathom one another’s reality, that those parties will be able to come together and understand one another’s suffering and make peace; let alone make friends.

The Arab populist movement has been highly influenced by ideas and political concepts from outside of the Arab world. Although they resent the U.S. for propping up autocratic regimes in the area, they still look to us as a model of democratic values. In regards to the Arab Israeli conflict, however, they get the same message from the western world that they get at home. Either they get Israeli supporters who parrot the Israeli line or pro-Arab supporters who reinforce their own thoughts. I don’t think that any of this kind of thinking is going to help the Arabs or Israelis change their view of the situation. And until they can find a common reality and a shared language, I am very skeptical that they will be able to work things out.

For that reason, I am going to try to put forward a different, hopefully objective (if such a thing is possible) view of the Arab Israeli conflict. If my view can change the views of others outside of the Middle East, if I am one of many people who begin to view this conflict without taking sides, then perhaps in our new open world, this view will begin to influence how the Arabs and Israelis see themselves.

If anyone is to blame for the Israel Arab conflict, it is western Europe. Although blame is not a very useful or relevant concept at this point. Yet taking responsibility for the historical events that caused the Israeli Arab conflict might be helpful, especially if the European powers would convey to the Middle East that they regret what they have done there.

Let me explain. Much of Europe was complicit in the killing of the Jews. Many countries quite willingly rounded up their Jews and handed them over the to Nazi killing machine. They might claim ignorance and say they had no idea what was going to happen to those Jews; yet, after the war, when everybody knew about the Nazi genocide of the Jews, the western nations turned away millions of refugees, washing their hands of the situation, as if it had nothing to do with them.
There was only one place for these Jews to go: Palestine, which had been declared a Jewish homeland by the British after their conquest of the Ottoman Empire in World War I. Thus Jewish refugees came to the Arab lands, first fighting the British who were trying to restrict the numbers of refugees and then the Arabs who felt that Europe was dumping its “Jewish problem” on them. In fact, from one point of view, it can be looked upon that way. Europe had been dominating and controlling Arab countries since World War I. Why shouldn’t this new European Jewish state on Arab soil be looked upon as further European disrespect for Arab nationalism?

Unless, of course, you were a Jew whose life was in peril. Then you wouldn’t have cared if you were going to Arab lands or African lands or South American lands. These Jewish refugees had found a place to stand and fight, and fight they would; they defeated the Arabs in four wars, much to the surprise of the Arabs and the rest of the world. If one believed in God and destiny, the Jewish victories might have seemed like a real miracle. In retrospect, however, I call it a tragic confluence of history with an ironically bitter twist: a group of European refugees running for their lives from their European brethren were attacked by their Arab hosts because they were Europeans, and the Arabs had had enough of European colonialism, imperialism and occupation.

Tragic is what I call the strange historical trajectory that brought the Jews onto lands surrounded by hostile neighbors. The Arabs didn’t object to having Jewish refugees per se (although it has evolved in that direction) in their midst, they objected to a western-controlled United Nations, which unilaterally set up a European nation in the middle of the Arab sub-continent.

All the events that have taken place subsequently, all the actions and reactions from one side or the other, have only deepened the tragedy. It really doesn’t matter what Arabs or Israelis say about each other. Neither trusts the other and their mutual vitriol is so deeply ingrained, it is nearly impossible to get a clear picture of events from either side. They took our land. They attacked us and forced us out. They are terrorists. They are Nazis. They are Nazis. Everybody is a Nazi. Everybody is a terrorist. The two sides are like embittered Montagues and Capulets forced to live next door to one another. Yet the hatred between the Jews and Arabs is not nearly as long as most clan rivalries. Prior to 1948, there was no great animosity between Jews and Arabs. How deep can it really have gotten in such a short period of time?

What makes the tragedy worse is that the rest of the world has gotten caught up in the bitterness of the squabble. Try getting into a discussion about Israel and the Arabs at a party and you will very soon regret it. It’s as if the entire world has become either Arabs or Israelis. How can the bereaved parties settle their differences surrounded by rabid spectators goading each side on?

My different and hopefully objective view of the Arab Israeli conflict is first that the rest of us extricate ourselves from the vitriol. The whole thing is a damned tragedy, that is what it is. It’s a bad joke of history. If there is a God, he is either testing us like Job, or laughing in our faces. But for now let’s leave God out of this, because we’d have to deal with two of them, Yahweh and Allah, and that would take us even further down the rat hole of fuzzy quantum politics, in which it is impossible to know what happened where.

Getting back to the Arab youth’s peace and freedom movement, youth from all around the world seems to be in contact through new digital media sources like Twitter and Facebook. They seem to soak up currents of thought. If everybody not directly involved in the Arab Israeli conflict would back up and begin to see the whole thing as a tragedy, as opposed to self-righteously picking a right side and a wrong side, perhaps that current of thought would begin to permeate the media and the Arabs and Israelis could eventually begin to see the situation for what it is. They are two fighting cocks put into a fighting ring by amoral historical forces that have shaped the world. If the Arab youth can reject those amoral forces now in charge of their own countries, perhaps they can reject their situation with the Israelis as being a product of those same blind forces.

To my brother and sister Jews in Israel I have this to say: Israel was founded because of the Shoah. Although Shoah means destruction or obliteration, for me it has always had the overtone of “shame.” Out of the shame of the European death camps rose a proud people that founded Israel and refused to feel shame for any of their actions for self-preservation. However, I say it will be one very big, bad, damn shame if Israel loses its identity because of being blind to the tragic situation it has found itself in. I think that from the wisdom of the Bible to the wisdom of the Greeks, we are taught that tragedy is a terrible thing, but not to recognize tragedy is the greatest shame man can experience.

There are two ways that Israel can lose its identity: first, by not recognizing and adjusting to ongoing political realities, the country can literally cease to exist; second, in a bid to exist at any cost, the tragic cost might be that Israel loses her identity as a democratic refuge for people in peril.

For the rest of us, we must not judge Israel or the Arabs. We must recognize the tragic circumstances in which they find themselves and communicate the fact of this tragedy to one another and hope that eventually both parties get the message and begin to see themselves embroiled in an impossible situation. If we can get out this message, perhaps someday in the near future we will see Israeli and Arab youth out on the streets twittering to one another to join in a demonstration against their aging leaders who are entrenched in bitter fight that can only be won by looking up at the sky to whatever God they believe in and laughing and shaking their fingers and saying, “We’re on to you, you old devil!”

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Book Review of “The Evolution of God” by Robert Wright

First off, I would like to say that I think The Evolution of God is an exceptionally written book.  Wright is able to give plausible explanations for how the Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, slowly developed from more primitive religious beliefs.  He does this in a remarkably easy to read way, by breaking down his larger, more complex concepts into simple concepts everyone can relate to.

Wright is a bold thinker who is not afraid to tackle sacrosanct religious beliefs head on, debunking myths with equal aplomb in all three religions.  Amazingly, as he traces the origins of western religions he seems to have no agenda at all.  In other words, an author who was invested in Judaism, Christianity or Islam, would have had extreme difficulty achieving Wright’s level of objectivity.  And, needless to say, the book was well researched

I believe The Evolution of God is a valuable study for people of all religions, as well as those like myself who have had trouble buying into the myths upon which religions have been founded.  For those who identify themselves as Jews, Christians, or Moslems, the book will help to open their minds not only to their own religion, but how their religion relates to the other western religions.  If read with an open mind, it should help Jews, Christians and Moslems become more tolerant of their brethren Abrahamic faiths.

The Evolution of God is also enlightening to those like myself who have questioned whether religion has had a positive effect on the development of man.  By dealing with the scriptures scientifically, using up-to-date historical, archeological and religious studies, he was able to win my trust.  Using this same information, he developed a theory about the moral development of mankind and explained how as religions evolved they were the underpinnings of this moral development.

However, I do have a few quibbles with Wright: I think he did not go far enough with his theories.  My guess is that he was trying to be all inclusive, writing for the very religious as well as “atheist scientists,” and he felt that if he carried his theories to their logical conclusion he would lose the buy-in of these readers.

First of all, Wright suggests that the basic structure of the universe (its DNA if you will) contains algorithms that have promoted man’s moral development.  I think this is an interesting theory and that Wright did as good a job as anyone could proving that this is at least a possibility.  A theory that should be further explored.

Yet, in order not to lose scientific credibility, he said he believes in natural selection.  I think he should have amended this thought.  Natural selection per se states that organisms go through random changes and those changes that work best for the survival of a species are passed along.  An algorithm, however, is not random.  It is directional.  Therefore, I think he should have said that a directional form of natural selection promoted the development of humankind.

As I have said in another blog, this directionality is in conflict with the word “random.”  In other words, natural selection could have been working over the last however many billions of years, just not totally randomly.  One could not credibly argue that natural selection is absolutely directional, otherwise so many species would not have gone extinct.  One successful species would have evolved into the next successful species.  But algorithms inherently are not that specific.  They are patterns, which would only point in a direction and help lead successful species in that direction.  In other words, certain aspects of evolution could have been the result of a “design” that required experimentation to develop in the programmed direction.

Very few, if any, scientists will accept this notion without scientific proof.  Wright made a good logical case, but did not venture into scientific proofs, either because he thought he was not qualified or he did not think of ways to propose these proofs.

There are basically two scientific avenues that can be taken to prove that life algorithms are built into the universe, and neither have been tackled by scientists as far as I know.  This is either because we do not yet have the technology, or those who possess the technology are not yet interested in trying to prove or disprove that the universe has a built in design leading to the evolution of life.  (And, to take it one step further as Wright did, a design for “moral” life.)

The first proof would be mathematical.  Someone would have to model the earth as life was emerging, and calculate exactly how many accidents would have to occur for life to develop randomly, and also calculate the probabilities that those accidents might have occurred.  From everything I have read, I believe that the chances are astronomically, ridiculously small.  And if life is discovered on other planets, then the chances that it developed randomly becomes even smaller.  If the chances of life randomly developing once are astronomically small, you can do the math for twice, three times, etc.

Then there was one place in the book where I think Wright used pretzel logic.  After suggesting that if God did exist (and he seems to believe, as I do, that God exists in the design of the universe), Wright tried to explain how one can make that divine algorithm into a personal god.  Certainly if a life-giving design is embedded in the physical universe, that design would also be embedded in us, since we are made of the same stuff as the universe.  Thus, Wright’s argument that god is within us would have merit, if one were to follow his logic.

A personal god, though, I think is quite a different matter.  A personal god would be a divine being to whom people pray for support or intervention in their everyday lives.  An algorithm that was set in motion with the Big Bang, a directional force that imbues the universe with the ingredients for life (and possibly even a humanity that tends toward a moral direction) would not be a force that could be called upon to solve individual problems.

In a way Wright admits to this, but he says that if it makes people feel better to call upon a personal god, there is some basis for a belief in a personal god: i.e. god is within all of us.  In my opinion this logic is nothing more than a palliative for religious people to accept his theories.  I don’t think he should have gone there because it weakens the strength of his previous arguments, which seemed to be based on fairly firm ground.

Finally, Wright suggested that by understanding the purpose of religion as a force to move humanity in a moral direction, that understanding will make us more moral.  That is to say, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, all with their concepts of a personal god, will function in a future context despite the fact that the mythologies upon which they were built will have been proven false.  I, on the other hand, believe that we are at the beginning  of the end for the usefulness of the Abrahamic religions.  This is not to say that we cannot glean wisdom from these religions, but it is my belief that Wright is laying the foundation for the religion of the future.  And perhaps he is too humble or too concerned with rejection to state this outright.

I believe that this century will be spent exploring algorithms of all types that are built into the universal design, which include the human fabric, and that these algorithms will point to a grand design.  Nobody has pursued this line of investigation thus far, because there has been no incentive for those who have the tools to do so.  Scientists studying evolution are concerned with the various steps and connections in evolutionary development.  They simply accept that evolutionary change is random and questioning that would most likely be a career-ending move.  (Especially given that this line of thinking is associated with religious people who believe in “Intelligent Design” based on reading the Bible literally, which should end any serious scientists career.)  Mathematicians are busy with other pursuits, and strictly speaking this is not an inquiry for pure math.

A more eclectic type of academic who is not afraid to be an iconoclast, and who bridges disciplines, will probably follow this line of inquiry.  Right now it seems that the questions of ontological algorithms will be explored by those involved with the studies of chaos and complexity.  Academics who are interested in fractals would fall into this category.  The universe itself and the results of its physical laws (both known and unknown) has got to be the holy grail for those studying chaos and complexity.  Yet that pursuit will most likely develop slowly, beginning perhaps with a relationship between genetics and fractals and drilling down to pattern similarities on finer and finer scales.  I predict that by the end of this century god will be seen in those patterns.  Whether god is considered to be the designer (prime mover) or simply the design itself is anyone’s guess.

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Abstract Art

It has been said that with existential plays like Hamlet Shakespeare was expressing the chaos of thought in his times.  Contemporaneous with Galileo, like the rest of humanity he was rocked by the notion that the earth was not the center of the universe.  And therefore man might not be the central focus of God’s attention.

In the 19th Century Nietzsche proclaimed God’s death.  That may not have been totally true, but certainly any thinking man could no longer believe in a God who created an ordered universe with Him at the top, angels in the middle and man ruling over the beasts of the earth.  Darwin suggested that we shared non-divine origins with those beasts, and despite the protests of religious people clamoring for that old order, all further scientific inquiry has proved Darwin essentially correct.  Freud discovered the Id teeming with irrational, non-orderly, taboo thoughts.  Einstein probably dealt the final blow when he proved that fundamental concepts of order like time and space were relative to perception.

All art began to unravel at the seams after such world-shattering discoveries.  Poetry lost its rhyme and meter.  With writers like James Joyce and William Falkner prose became a stream of seemingly disordered thoughts.  Melodies and harmonies that had been so soothing to the ear were stripped from modern music.  And painting no longer seemed to represent anything at all.

Until I reached my forties, I had no more of an appreciation of abstract art than the average person who has been told that artists like Picasso and de Kooning were great, but really didn’t “get it.”  It was when I began to travel to Europe on vacations that I got my first taste for abstract art.  My wife and I went to all the obligatory museums and after a while I found myself drawn back to the ones that showed modern art.  Now I have much more interest in 20th Century abstract artists than I do in earlier artists, including the Impressionists whom I like a lot.  This appreciation preceded my own efforts at painting, which have drifted into doing “non-representational” art.

Strangely, I have been writing since I was in my early teens, and although I have written some fairly abstract poetry, my prose is fairly traditional.  I use the same tools as novelists of the 19th Century, seeking for an orderly story that moves forward through time.  I don’t think I do anything much more radical than Jane Austen.  As a painter, though, traditional thinking bores me.  I still study representational art, painting models and outdoor scenes, partly so that I and others will know I’m not just painting abstract art because I don’t have the chops for representational art.  I don’t really, though, because plotting out a representational scene feels as stilted to me as making blueprints in school.

Abstract art, on the other hand, is like getting out on the dance floor when you don’t know what you’re doing and just letting the music carry you along.  Trick number two, of course, is getting it not to look too embarrassing to others.  Real dance requires some feeling for the thing and study.  We’re talking about a bit of Twyla Tharp.

So, to get back to a more objective discussion of abstract art: why do I and others appreciate art that seemingly has no “content,” as a representational artist I know said.  I think that for those of us who are real enthusiasts, it speaks to our modern sensibilities.  If we take the long view of all the arts, the greatest artists expressed the sentiment of their times.  And the sentiment of our times is the loss of all the order that succored our ancestors.

Now some might argue that if we have lost that order in our thinking (because of Einstein et al), wouldn’t we want our art to restore some of that lost order?  That might be true if art were simply a matter of the expression of thought, but it isn’t.  Essays, scientific treatises and college text books express thought.  Art expresses emotion, collaterally using thought processes to find some sort of form suitable for that expression.  And I think that the art enthusiasts’ reaction to art goes far deeper than logic—to places that are inexplicable except through the art they are appreciating.

Let me try to give you an example of what I am talking about.  Say you are young and full of passion and have fallen madly in love with someone who is “all wrong for you.”  Someone it makes no sense for you to be with.  Your parents tell you so, as do your friends.  “Here,” they say, “here is the person it makes sense for you to be with, not the one you think you’re in love with.”  Well, this is a plot that great stories are made of.  If you don’t believe me, just ask Ms. Austen’s ghost, or watch any two-bit love story.

But it’s not the conflict of the story that I’m interested in.  It’s the ridiculousness of speaking of love and sense (or logic) in the same sentence.  So now, why do I find myself getting more easily bored by older, traditional art, but I can’t seem to get enough of abstract art?  It speaks to me on that same deep level of attraction as falling madly in love.

Oddly enough, despite the fact that I see throngs of people in museums that show abstract art, I rarely see it in people’s homes.  Most “cool” people seem to have stopped their artistic appreciation with the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists.  I see Matisse a lot and figurative works of Picasso.  Sometimes I might even see one of Picasso’s colorful “abstract” studies of a very recognizable woman.  I don’t see any paintings or even prints of the abstract expressionists, though.  In other words, I think most people need some sort of recognizable figure or image to relate to.  Perhaps that’s why young artists who work like Warhol are coming into recognition.  A lot of people need that thing they relate to in the “real,” outside world (despite the fact that modern physicists continue to prove it less real) to hang on to.

Yet I think that for me and others who appreciate abstract art without any recognizable forms, modern disorder has not only affected our thoughts, it’s affected us on a much deeper emotive level.  And I’m convinced by the art I see in people’s homes that there are not really that many of us around.  It’s the same with modern, abstract serious music.  People go to the symphony to hear it, but how many listen to it on their stereos at home?  (As I write this I’m listening to Pandora Radio set to play songs like those of Coldplay.  I guess I’m not as advanced with music as I am with painting.)

I’d like to try to talk about what I see in an abstract painting, what I hang on to.  First of all, I like the fact that abstract painters have totally dispensed with the ruse that a painting is something more than color and texture on some sort of surface, usually canvas.  Monet studied how light reflects off nature; Rothko studied how light reflects off his canvas.  And that’s it—light reflecting off colors applied to a canvas.

But I’m being a bit glib.  There’s more to it than that.  There is form, but not the form of recognizable figures arranged in a pleasing scene, or even an agonizing scene (which is still secretly pleasing in its artistic arrangement).   Art has always had a deeper form than the things it has depicted.  Artists learn it the way that singers learn how to hit the note, and then it becomes so natural they almost forget about it.

Let’s think about this for a minute.  Exactly what are we talking about?  Well, with music, there is a mathematical order (interestingly, adjusted a bit for some quirk in human perception) that we instinctively respond to.  That order preceded music.  Musicians searched it out and found what pleased human desires.  So, desire comes first, then art is constructed to please our desires.  The same with story.  The mind expects a certain structure to a story and becomes sorely disappointed when that structure is broken.  (For some reason I am very attracted to films that break that structure, but not particularly to books that do.)  Painting also has an order that preceded the art, and artists have learned to cater to the human desire for that order.  (I sometimes like to play with the thought that that artistic order might have preceded humanity, and might even be built into the structure of the universe, but that is another topic.)

Abstract artists who are no longer constrained by figurative, recognizable images, are free to deal directly with that artistic order.  Their entire expression consists simply of color and form.  This could seem limiting, especially to people who don’t respond to art that lacks recognizable images.  For example, that person could argue, “Look at the Mona Lisa smile!  Could anyone express such subtlety of human expression without depicting a human being?”  My answer would be that in da Vinci’s Mona Lisa I can see that subtlety of human expression, but with certain abstract art, although I may not be able to see it, I can feel it very deeply.

Before I go on to talk about an example of abstract art that I thinks does work, let me tell you what I think does not work in abstract art.  Like all art, most of what is produced does not work all that well.  That’s just the way the cards were dealt.  We’re not all great geniuses.  Bad abstract art usually suffers from too much logic—geometry overwhelming emotion.  You see it everywhere.  Most of you probably think of it when you think of abstract art—basically as some sort of design, that is.  Design pleases the eye and head, but does little for the heart and soul.

Rothko, on the other hand, is a perfect example of abstract art that works on the very deepest human level.  His paintings are amazingly deceptive.  They look extremely simple, with a few hazy boxes of color breaking up an equally hazy background.  They are not at all simple, though.  If you want to see for yourself, just try to do one.  You won’t come close.  First of all, his colors are perfectly matched to elicit emotion, as are their proportions on the canvass.  When you look closely you will see that he has built those colors with agonizing effort, laying one color over another so that the background colors peek through.  The way he constructs his canvases, it seems that one color floats above another like a tenuous emotional state.  I have seen Rothko’s that make me smile and make me want to cry.

I am certain that artists from past centuries have had the same affect on their audiences.  Goya probably made his contemporaries want to tear their hair out.  I can see that and appreciate it, but I cannot feel it the way somebody who shared his time would have. 

All considered, the appreciation of art is very personal.  In some ways I consider myself to be avant garde, and in others, pretty traditional.  I think it’s very rare to find somebody with absolutely modern sensibilities in regards to every artistic form.  I’m fairly modern when it comes to films and paintings.  I appreciate contemporary serious music, but don’t play it much at home.  And I read pretty run-of-the mill literature.   I also watch a lot of junk TV.

I say this so that you will know that I am not trying to be highbrow or pretentious when I talk about abstract painting.  I am not saying that somebody who does not appreciate it is lacking in intelligence or sophistication.  I think that people ought to enjoy what they enjoy.  I guess, in the end, I am simply trying to convey why I enjoy abstract painting.  And perhaps encourage a few of you to take a look at some of the better examples when you visit a museum that shows the better abstract artists.

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Who Are The Nazis?

I think most of us saw on the news protestors against the healthcare initiative carrying posters with a Hitler moustache on President Obama’s face.  Today calling somebody a Nazi or even comparing them to Hitler is all too common.  In this case I believe the implication was that Obama was trying to ram governmental controls down our throats and that is similar to what Hitler did in Germany.  I do not know if Hitler’s Third Reich offered government controled healthcare, nor do I think the protestors with those signs know.  Their point is more general: they believe Obama equals big government taking away their freedom of choice and they equate that to Hitler.  For the purposes of what I intend to write in this blog, I won’t go into all the differences between Obama and Hitler nor the United States and the German Third Reich.  I don’t want to talk about governments and power.  I want to talk about enablers.  Hitler and other dictators like him would not be able to control governments without the support of the people who are governed.  It has been said, and I believe it to be true, that the most dangerous people are those who stand by and say nothing about the abuse of power.

So, from the above statement, one might assume that the protestors carrying signs with Obama wearing a Hitler moustache are not among those who say nothing.  Yet we need to consider the second part of that statement: what constitutes the abuse of power?  Life today is confusing and ambiguous and it is difficult to know who is abusing power and who is using power justly, or in fact if there is such a thing as absolute justice.  One could make the assertion that justice (as well as guilt and innocence) is relative: one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.  If, for example, we believe that people who protest wars like the war in Vietnam or Iraq are supporting a noble cause, how can we assert that those angrily opposing President Obama’s health plan are not also supporting a noble cause?  Or at least, why can’t we assume that their speaking out is a noble thing to do?

This is a question I have been asking myself for a long time and these protestors have helped me clarify the answer, which I believe has to do with truth.  Some truths might be relative, but others are not.  The sun and the rest of the universe do not rotate around the earth, even if the entire world believes that to be true.  The earth is not flat.  I am sure that most of us believe things that will some day be proven to be untrue.  The fact that we all believe these things, does not make them true.  However, believing in an untruth that has not yet been exposed to be untrue does not make the believers delusional.  For example, if one were to believe in the 12th Century that the sun and universe rotated around the earth, that person could very possibly have had a normal character and an intelligent, inquiring mind.  If one were to believe that today, though, the chances are extremely high that that believer is susceptible to be swayed by patently obvious untruths.   My first question is what kind of people are these?

I think the answer is this: they are people who want to be swayed by untruths.  And what would be some of the reasons that a certain group of people would want to be swayed by untruths?  I think one of the most common reasons is to be different from others and to feel superior to them.  Also people can have a certain set of beliefs they do not want to change.  Racial bigotry is a good example.  No matter what facts are thrown at bigots, they will not listen to or believe those facts.  Then, some lies are quite seductive.  When some people (such as white supremisists) are told they are special and superior, they want to believe it so much they will believe the lies that prove it. 

One of the most most distinguishing characteristics of Hitler’s Third Reich was the control of the dissemination of information.  Lies were told everywhere, in posters, in Nazi meetings and in the government controlled media, and these lies were repeated over and over again.  Oddly enough, I think that a lot of the people angrily opposing the healthcare initiative believe that the government is telling lies and controling the media.  And these people believe that all of the arguments against the fact that government is lying and controling the media are also lies.  They believe that we are living under a Nazi-like government.

So, here we are in two parallel universes.  Where is the truth and who are the Nazis?  The truth is the truth.  Our media is often stupid and vapid, but it is not controlled by any central authority.  Anyone who doesn’t believe this to be true cannot be convinced otherwise, no matter how many facts are held up to prove the point.  So I won’t bother arguing with them.  Some truths are simply too obvious.  For example, anyone with a logical mind can deduce from the few facts we know that there was not a government conspiracy to bring down the Twin Towers.  Nobody has been able to come up with any shred of evidence that there was a governement conspiracy, or worse yet, a Jewish conspiracy.

I have long believed that the Germans who supported Hitler were more or less normal people like ourselves.   Many of them, probably the majority of them, supported Hitler because they were terrorized into doing so.  But there was that core of true believers who initiated the reign of terror.  And those true believers were people who for any number of reasons (some of which I might have covered above) were capable of believing lies.  I sometimes play a game with myself and ask myself who would have been an ardent Nazi if they had lived under Hitler.  The answer is those who will willingly swallow lies.  So, the next time you see people calling Obama a Fascist and Hitler, you might think twice about where the real Nazis are.

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Passing Judgment on the Nokim (Israeli Assassins)

I first began researching the Nokim over ten years ago for a mystery/thriller I was writing called Prague Spring (Mystére Press, 2009).  At the time, very little information was available on this group of Jewish assassins.  To this day, when most people think about Jewish assassins, the film Munich comes to mind, with highly trained Mossad Kidon targeting Arab terrorists.  However, before the Mossad was created as Israel’s security service in 1951, the Haganah fulfilled that function.  And for a period of about six years following World War II, the Haganah employed the Nokim, a secret band of assassins who killed only Nazis.    

The Nokim probably would have remained relatively unknown if two of its former members, Leipe Distel and Joseph Harmatz hadn’t appeared on Israeli TV and confessed to having poisoned thousands of loaves of bread shipped to a D.P. camp in Nuremberg, Germany.  This disclosure sparked an investigation by the Germans that threatened to include the former Prime Minister, Yitzak Shamir, and Rafi Eitan, the former director of the Mossad, both alleged Nokim members.  Once the Nokim had become front-page news, the question of whether they were reprehensible terrorists or heroic justice seekers became a hot topic on the internet and in the press.

This was exactly the question I wrestled with in Prague Spring.  I made the hero, Inspector Simon Wolfe, an ex-Nokim member and assigned him a murder to solve that resonated with his past, so that I could explore moral shades of gray.  Yet as a fiction writer I could create morally ambiguous characters without having to pass judgment on their guilt or innocence.  In Simon Wolfe’s case, I dealt with him as a tragic figure, just as if he were a Greek protagonist tangled in the inexorable web of history woven by the Fates.

Although the Nokim was not a fictional group, I believe that viewing its members through the lens of tragedy is the only way to judge them fairly.  They were caught up in an historical cataclysm of Biblical proportions, and their actions cannot be extrapolated from that historical context.  It is also important to realize that as history progressed, so did the Nokim; it was a very different organization when it was disbanded by the Mossad in 1952 than when it formed in 1946.       

The most notorious act by the Nokim was the aforementioned poisoning of three thousand loaves of bread that were shipped to a D.P. camp holding 36,000 German SS.  This was also one of the earliest acts of the Nokim.  According to Michael Bar-Zohar, who wrote The Avengers (Vintage Books, 1970), it occurred on April 13, 1946. 

The men who planned and carried it out had belonged to the Jewish Brigade, a group of partisans who met in Lublin, Poland and marched west across Europe.  At the time of their escape from Eastern Europe, it was an utterly lawless place.  Russian soldiers were raping and pillaging, retreating SS were murdering indiscriminately, anti-Semites were killing Jews and there was virtually no governmental control.  The only protection someone could count on were partisan groups like the Jewish Brigade.

On every level, post-war Europe lacked law and morality.  Even so-called civilized countries like the U.S. and Britain traded off defeated countries like chips at a poker table, without any regard for the fate of their populations.  U.S. troops sat outside of Prague (much to the consternation of the Czech people) waiting for Russian troops to march in as liberators.  I don’t have to explain the ramifications of that deal, which was made behind closed doors between Roosevelt and Stalin. 

Still, I believe that the poisoning of the bread by the Nokim was a crime, chiefly because the act was indiscriminate.  Although the camp held SS, not all SS were war criminals.  Yet I also believe that during that period the world had gone insane; crimes were happening everywhere, from the highest levels of government down to soldiers and individuals on the streets. 

Except for a double standard of morality that often seems to be applied to Jews, I do not see why the Nokim should be judged before anyone else who committed crimes at the end of World War II.  And since none of these others are likely to be judged, I think the crimes of this handful of Jews should be forgotten like the thousands of German war criminals who escaped justice under the (extra-legal) protection of everybody from the U.S. government to the Vatican.

After the poisoning of the loaves of bread, the Nokim evolved.  Order was being restored in Europe, and the Nokim followed suit.  They no longer attempted to kill indiscriminately, and for this reason I think they should be judged under a different set of criteria than when they committed that first desperate act of revenge.

The Nuremberg trials were held from November 21, 1945 to October 1, 1946.  For the Nokim, the trial of only 22 leaders from Nazi Germany meant that thousands upon thousands of war criminals would go free without any trial.  Despite all of the important legal precedent it established, Nuremberg was a show to assuage the guilty consciences of the U.S. and Western European governments who did nothing to help the Jews escape Hitler’s death machine.  As far as the overwhelming numbers of war crimes were concerned, there would be no justice; in other words, the system was irreparably broken. 

One argument against the Nokim is that the alleged war criminals they killed were never put on trial.  But there was no judicial system to try them.  Quite the contrary, most of the world’s governments were rigged to help these war criminals escape.  Under classified programs like “Bloodstone” and “Paperclip,” the U.S. imported useful war criminals.  The Germans did their best to obfuscate the crimes of their moguls and aristocracy, trying to “put the past in the past.”  And then there were openly sympathetic places like Spain and the Vatican who were actively helping ex-Nazis escape along the “ratline.”  None held trials to establish the innocence of those they helped.  Obviously they assumed their guilt or they wouldn’t have hidden them, helped them escape, or, as in the case of the U.S., secretly appropriated the German brain trust.

So the Nokim became an unsanctioned arm of the justice system to fill the void left by collaborating countries.  Their job was to exact justice on ex-Nazis that had been identified as war criminals.  The Haganah did the research to establish their guilt.  The Nokim carried out justice under a code of conduct set up by the Haganah: the accused could not be tortured; their families could not be hurt; and their property could not be stolen.  The Haganah wanted their justice clearly distinguished from the brand the Nazis handed out. 

Unspeakable crimes had been committed against the European Jewry while governments around the world stood by and refused to help.  When the war was over, these same governments did nothing to prosecute the vast majority of war criminals who had tried to destroy the Jews.  Would I consider a group of victims who carried out justice in the name of the Jews guilty of a crime?  Would you?

 If you would like more information, you can go to my website at daviddelbourgo.com and download the first chapter of Prague Spring, which talks about the Nokim.

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Terrorist or Freedom Fighter?

A very popular aphorism today is “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter,” and this is at the heart of a kind of moral relativism.  In other words, one can make the case that evil is in the eye of the beholder.  We in the United States can point at Al qaeda as terrorists for their bombing of the Twin Towers as well as other acts of what we would call “indiscriminate” killing.  Others can point at the United States and call us terrorists for what we have done in Iraq, Vietnam and even the fire bombing of Tokyo during World War II.  These back and forth finger pointings are so numerous and could apply to so many countries and political groups that it would be virtually impossible to enumerate them all.  My question is whether evil exists and if it does how do we recognize and define it.

One of the most clear-cut cases of a country that nearly everybody would call evil is Hitler’s Germany.  Yet we cannot dismiss the fact that they lost World War II and that affects how they are viewed.  During Hitler’s reign, many millions of people thought of the Third Reich as a noble, progressive state.  Presumably if they had won the war, Hitler would still be thought of as a great man and a hero.  His slaughter of many millions of people (only a portion of which died in the infamous death camps) would be viewed in much the same way that we view American atrocities during our various wars, as an unfortunate but necessary implimentation of force in the name of “freedom.”

An interesting and very volatile current example of opposing points of view is the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.  Many progressive and educated Americans see Israel as an aggressor on a par with South Africa’s apartheid regime.  Israel has even been compared to Nazi Germany and accused of genocide.  Those on the other side of the issue belief just as passionately that Israel is the victim, a tragic victim of circumstances.

What I would like to attempt in this blog is to define what is moral and immoral as applied to political groups and countries.  I think it is impossible to do this without some degree of subjectivity, but I will attempt to be as objective as I can.

First of all, I believe that what is moral and immoral can only be judged in the light of prevailing social norms during historical periods.  For example, we think it is not right to exclude women from participating in government.  Yet women have only had the right to vote in the U.S. for about a hundred years.  Prior to that should we say that the U.S. was an immoral state?  For hundreds of years Western European nations and the United States pursued an aggressive policy of colonization and imperialsm.  In a more limited way, this still goes on today, although it is generally looked upon with disfavor.  Were imperialist states of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, including France, Holland, Britain and the United States evil empires?  This is something I would also like to explore.

Just fifty years ago, capital punishment was an acceptable practice in most first-world countries.  Today the United States is the last advanced country to practice it, along with countries that we look upon as backward.  Does this make the United States an immoral country, or do we simply lag behind European democracies, the way we did when we were late to abolish slavery?  This is what I mean by prevailing norms.  If the United States still practiced slavery today, it would be so far behind prevailing norms that we would be an immoral country.  State by state capital punishment will be abolished until it no longer exists in the U.S., or the federal courts will eventually ban it.  That is the direction of the prevailing norms, and no matter how much Americans protest that we are different from Europeans, we cannot get so far behind the prevailing norms that we are considered barbaric.

Several hundred years ago it was common for men to take child brides of thirteen.  Now it is considered perverted simply to think about it.  Countries that still accept this practice are considered outside the norm and there is tremendous outside pressure for them to change.  If we were to think about this rationally, one of the reasons that child brides used to be acceptable was that people died so young.  Also the rate of women dying in childbirth was extremely high.  Women’s main function in life was having and raising children, and often a man needed several succssive wives in order to develop a family.  It’s a very different story today.  Societies that look upon their women as subservient child producers are backward in many ways.  I think the most important way is that they have suppressed and wasted a very important resource in female intelligence. 

Along with the notion of women staying in the background and having children is men going to war.  I find it very interesting that seemingly gentle, religious people, who believe in traditional male-female roles, people who are extremely bothered by abortion, seem to have no problem with war (or capital punishment).  I think that is because they believe that wars protect the traditions that they consider so precious.  In fact, wars are part of that tradtion that they want to maintain and protect–a very old tradtion that I believe is dying fast.  If we don’t kill off all human life on the planet within the next century or two, I think war will go the way of slavery.  It will seem antiquated, like two stock brokers having a Colt .45 duel in the middle of Wall Street.

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The Shape of the Universe

Unfortunately, because I am not an academic, when I read things that are important to me, although I file them away in my memory, I do not jot them down so that I can remember the source and author.  Thus I must work from a lot of unquoted sources and I apologize to the cited authors and to readers who are skeptical of such sources.

At any rate, many years ago I remember reading an article in the newspaper (I believe the L.A. Times) that said some scientists had observed that the earth seemed to be the center of the universe.  By using dopler shifts in light waves from distant stars they could see how fast these stars were traveling away from the earth, and it appeared that all the stars of similar ages were traveling at the same speed away from the earth.  Of course there are stars that we cannot see, but even within the visible universe this observation is quite puzzling and in my mind has a lot of ramifications.

First of all, what are the chances that the earth or any given point inthe universe would be the center of the universe?  It would be much more rational to assume that if one were to peer out into the universe from any given point, one would see the same thing: it would appear that given point was the center of the universe and all stars equadistant would be traveling away from that point at the same speed.  Actually this is not surprising for anyone who is acquainted with simple explanations of Einstein’s conception of the universe.  I think most of us have seen the inflated balloon metaphor in which the surface of the balloon represents a simplistic concept of Einstein’s curved universe, and as the balloon inflates, any point on its periphery would appear (if one were only viewing the balloon’s periphery–think Flatland) to be the center of expansion.

As I thought about this conception of the universe further, however, I began to wonder where exactly the periphery of the universe was.  It seemed logical to me to assume that if all points were the center then if the universe were to have any periphery at all, it must also be at all points.  As difficult as it is to conceive of all points in the universe being both the center and the periphery, it is not at all difficult to think of these two assumptions separately.  The balloon metaphor gives us a good example of all points appearing to be the center of an expanding universe.  And it is also an almost childish and hardwired conception that the way the universe creates space is by matter flying away from the center of the universe and that the outward-traveling matter at the periphery of the universe is expanding the envelope of space. 

So we can just imagine that all of the matter we see traveling around us, let’s take the solar system for example, is at the periphery of the universe creating space.  In other words, matter in motion creates space.  That’s a little more difficult, but not impossible to imagine.  It requires some mathematical equations that I’m not sure have been calculated before and are definitely beyond my abilities to calculate.  But conceptually it is within the grasp of most of our imaginations.  When you think about it, most of us have assumed that matter traveling outward at the periphery of the universe was expanding the envelope of space, so we’ve kind of assumed that matter in motion created space.  Only we’ve thought about it way out there, not here in our own backyard, so to speak.

Now this next notion I will throw out, however, is a bit more difficult to conceive of.  Above, I more or less logically came to the conclusion that all points in the universe are both at the center and the periphery the universe.  That means that matter in motion must not only be traveing outward creating space, but also traveling inward!  In other words, if all points are both the center and the periphery of space, then all motion must also be toward the center as well as the periphery.  I must admit that this notion raises a few questions which are far more difficult to conceive of and deal with than the notion of matter traveling outward and creating outer space.  The only conclusion I can come to is that matter in motion creates both outer and inner space. 

Before I get to inner space, however, I’d like to talk a bit more about the expanding universe.  As far as I know, everyone assumes the universe is expanding.  Complex theories and mathematical proofs talk about the universe expanding at various rates at different times in the universe’s history.  How the universe got to be the size and shape it is in the 15 or so billion years since the Big Bang is still a mystery.  Yet the universe that we can perceive seems to be expanding at a constant rate.  The doppler shifts from more distant stars indicate that they are traveling away from us faster than closer stars. 

Where exactly is the expansion of the universe taking place?  Out there at the outer edges (wherever they are) or everywhere?  If it is supposed to be expanding like a loaf of bread that is being baked, then the expansion should be taking place everywhere.  I have never heard of calculations that include the expansion of space as a variable.  Is it so minute that it does not matter when we calculate the trajectory of space ships or comets or the orbits of the planets around the solar system?  Or is it factored in some other way?  By gravitational forces, for example?  Einstein said that gravity is the result of curved space.  Does the curvature of space also somehow include its expansion? 

Before I return to inner space, which I know seems more like science fiction than the outer expansion of space, I’d first like to talk a little more about the movement of matter creating space.  If the movement of matter does not create space, why exaclty is the universe expanding?  If the envelope of space is not being expanded by outwardly traveling matter, does space then exist independent of matter?  Or is the periphery of the universe expanding into space that is already there?  Does space exist independent of energy and matter?  Or is the existence of space tied to the existence of matter and energy?  I am going to assume that the existence of space is one with the existence of matter and energy.  In other words, prior to the Big Bang, space did not exist.

So energetic matter (or perhaps simply energy itself, if energy can exist in a universe without the existence of matter) creates space.  Now if all matter is both at the center and the periphery of the universe, when matter becomes energetic and travels through space it is traveling outward, away from the center, but isn’t it also traveling inward toward the center?  Very difficult to imagine, I know, but it seems logically true.  So when energetic matter creates outer space, might we not also assume it creates inner space? 

Let’s imagine the Big Bang.  Very compressed matter becomes energetic and travels outward, away from the center of the universe.  But if the universe has no center, is all one big center, like an expanded singularity, couldn’t matter also implode, creating inner space?  What would that be?  A parallel universe?  An anti-universe?  That would also make sense.  If at the Big Bang space, energy and matter were created in an “outer” dimension, and anti-space, anti-energy and anti-matter in an “inner” dimension, then the sum of both universes would equal nothing.  And that is how many scientists describe the Big Bang, something coming out of nothing.

Einstein gave us the formula E = MC sqaured… (can’t do sqaured short hand on this blog), which gives us the concept of energy being created out of matter.  I, however, have never seen a formula for the creation of space.  Is it not considered a “thing?”  Is it simply an adjunct, an ether in which the heavenly bodies play?  Einstein did not seem to think so.  Space accounted for gravity.  Matter curves space and this causes other matter to be attracted.  So space is a “thing” to Einstein.  It can move worlds. 

I wonder, though, if Einstein ever thought about whether his gravitational theory of curved space applied to matter not in motion?  As far as we know, all matter is in motion, so that could only be a thought problem.  Yet, since I opened up the can of worms about matter in motion creating space, and there seems to be no evidence of space being created in our celestial neighborhood, I threw out the thought that perhaps newly created space was tied into the concept of gravity.  And since matter not in motion (whatever that might be) would not create space, perhaps it would neither have a gravitational field.

However, Einstein also said that space (and time) are relative to conscious perception.  On earth, we would perceive a distant rocket ship going very fast (near the speed of light) to be traveling through more space (and taking more time for the journey) than those on the spaceship would perceive themselves to be.  Thus the twin theory, where a twin aboard the spaceship would return to earth younger than his other twin.  Thus, not only does the velocity of matter have to do with the creation of space, but consciousness does too.

If we were to fashion some sort of crude (very crude) formula for the creation of space it would include: Matter, Velocity (or energy) and Conscious Perception.  Something like Matter (times) Velocity (divided by) Conscious Perception = Space.  What I find most fascinating about the question of space (besides the fact that it seems to be overlooked by most physicists) is that it is subject to consciousness.  As if the universe requires consciousness to inflate space.

Metaphysically, the requirement of consciousness to inflate the universe is not a new or unusual concept.  God created the universe in a thought and if he stops thinking that thought the universe will disappear.  So metaphysically speaking, the universe (and space) are dependant on God’s consciousness.  I sometimes imagine the universe as a point (which has no dimension and in fact is nothing) being inflated by God’s thought the way a cartoon bubble blows up due to a cartoon character’s thoughts.

But if like me you do not believe in that old Biblical God, then we can substitute attributes of man for God.  And it seems to be accepted science that man’s consciousness can affect spatial measurments.  What happens then when a man stops thinking about space?  Let’s say, for example, someone dies.  At least for them wouldn’t space and time disappear?  This is fairly easy to imagine, because when we go to sleep time definitely disappears for us.  We fall asleep one moment and wake the next, as far as we’re concerned.  True, time did affect our body as we slept, we aged and various other bodily processes can be proven to have taken place.  Still, from a consciousness viewpoint, time did not exist.

The question about time and space is whether man’s conscious perception seems to be a real factor or just an imagined one.  In the theory of the twin experiment it is real.  Man’s relative perception (dependant upon where one is in the universe) affects time and space.  So if one were to die, wouldn’t time and space also be affected from a relativistic point of view?  Basically, space and time would collapse.   If that dead person were to come to life again, say in a parallel universe, after a few rounds of the univere’s collapse and a few Big Bangs, it would seem to that person as if no time had passed. 

This harkens back to that old question of Descarte’s, what is real?  If I die and the universe, space and time, collapse to nothing, does it still exist for others?  Or is that question old thinking?  Do we need a new way to look at conscious perception in regards to the universe?

I have been watching on TV Robert Lawernce Kuhn’s “Closer to Truth.”  He gets into the question of physics vs. metaphysics, and how the boundaries are now beginning to blur.  The subject has been brought up numerous times on whether the universe has a plan or purpose, which of course harkens back hundreds of years to writers like St. Thomas Acquinas.  In my other blog on “Intelligent Design,’ I suggest that the universe might follow certain patterns.  Kuhn and a number of the scientists and philosophers he interviewed agreed that the universe seems fine tuned (to find out how fine tuned, it is necessary to read physics books, but the tuning is so miraculous that the odds against it are astronomical) for life. 

If the universe does have some grand design, perhaps the human species will die out before it is completed, if it even includes the notion of completion, which might be a human concept, not a universal one.  Yet our consciousness might be an integral part of the universe’s existence.  To get away from existential complications–if I cease to exist, does the entire creation cease to exist?–let us simply accept the possibility that multiple consciousnesses exist.  If I die the universe will die from my point-of-view (which might have more of a universal affect than we now think), but it will continue to exist in the consciousnesses of others.  If all consciousness died, however, (and perhaps there are more consciousnesses than those on our planet earth), then then all “subjective” aspects of the universe, which include at least time and space, would also die, and in effect, the universe would cease to exist.

In other words, until consciousness was created, time and space did not exist.  It would be interesting if God were not the consciousness “behind” the universe, the “Grand Mover,” but we are part of the inherint consciousness within the universe that needed to be activitated and it was activiated by the creation of consciousness on earth.  In other words, when they say that God created the earth (or universe) in a Word (which implies consciousness), that means that God was not complete until the consciousness that was inherint in the patterning of the universe came to fruition.  We are not simply a creation of God’s plan, we help to create God’s plan and make it possible.  The moral and ethical ramifications make the mind spin!

If we were to return to Descartes, “I think therefore I am,” he proves that at least he exists.  In other words, we can all prove our own existences, but proving someone else’s is more problematic.  For Descartes, the point of this exercise was to prove that if he existed therefore God exists, and that God is good.  I won’t go into his logic; beyond the point of “I think therefore I am,” I never quite got it.  For me, Descartes seemed to have a preconceived outcome.  There was no way the man was going to prove that God did not exist or that he was a bad God.

I am proposing something a bit different: I exist (via Descartes’ logic) therefore I am in some sense, or to some degree, God.  In other words, without consciousness of some sort, the universe would collapse.  How can I explain this so that it seems more understandable, even to myself, who can barely grasp it from a logical context?  Let’s consider that each of us possess the only consciousness in the universe; this at least is all we can prove.  If that consciousness were to die, then time and space would become inconsequential without any consciousness to grasp it.  For example, let’s say that you were the only consciousness and you fell asleep for 100 billion years and woke up after, say, another Big Bang/Big Crunch cycle.  Since there was no consciousness to perceive the passage of time, would it not be as if it happened in an instant?

So, if consciousness “informs” the universe (with a large emphasis on “informs”), and each of us can only prove that our own consciousness exists, are we not, logically and philosophically, responsible for the shape of the universe?  True, the universe has shaped us, but we have been shaped to perceive and judge.  Call it a reflexive or symbiotic relationship.  If we are twisted is not the universe also twisted?

What is the meaning of “twisted” in this context, though, you might ask, as well I might ask myself.  Certainly feeling “twisted,” anxiety ridden, guilty would qualify.  We could argue, as many have, that it is those around us that cause us to be twisted.  But if we are each individually responsible for the universe, as far as we know all of those others are also our own creations.  And even if they are not, we all share in the harmonious informing of the universe; without our consciousnesses, it will die in an instant.  This is pretty much a cosmological-existential definition of morality.  Really, pretty much the definition we all go by, whether we know we’ve been influenced by the existentialists or not.  Sartre’s big question was: “What would the world be like if everybody acted the way I am acting?”  (Paraphrased)

However, it might be interesting to consider a wider cosmologically induced definition of morality.  Let’s say that the universe is pre-programmed, prepped, hardwired, whatever term you might like to use here yourself, to create consciousness.  I think a strong argument could be made in that favor.  (Please refer to my blog on “Intelligent Design.”)  Consciousness is either the end goal, or one of the goals toward the final end goal (if in fact it exists) of a purposeful universe.  Whose purpose?  Let’s just say that I don’t think anybody in history has been conscious enough to intelligently answer that question.  I don’t know that I see the need to answer it in order to continue on this inquiry.

It is a symbiotic relationship, though, the universe has created conscious beings for it to be fulfilled or informed or inflated or whatever term you want to put here.  So what is its responsibility to us and our responsibility to its gift of possessing consciousness, if in fact any responsibility at all?  If it is true, then we conscious beings possess one of the attributes that has always been associated with God, Divine Grace: the universe was created by God’s thought and if he did not continue to think it, the universe would vanish.  And yet, if we consider our consciousness as a creation of the universe and we’ve always thought of God as the creator, well then, the whole question of responsibility and morality gets much more complex.  

I’ll have to think on all of this for a while and try to see what sort of morality I come up with.   However, I would hate to be like Descartes and simply prove that the morality I already possess is the true morality… simply prove the existential version that most of us in the so-called Western World believe is true.   However, I wouldn’t be very happy about proving the opposite, either.  Until later…

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