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America the Illiterate

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Posted on Nov 10, 2008
AP photo / Tina Fineberg

By Chris Hedges

We live in two Americas. One America, now the minority, functions in a print-based, literate world. It can cope with complexity and has the intellectual tools to separate illusion from truth. The other America, which constitutes the majority, exists in a non-reality-based belief system. This America, dependent on skillfully manipulated images for information, has severed itself from the literate, print-based culture. It cannot differentiate between lies and truth. It is informed by simplistic, childish narratives and clichés. It is thrown into confusion by ambiguity, nuance and self-reflection. This divide, more than race, class or gender, more than rural or urban, believer or nonbeliever, red state or blue state, has split the country into radically distinct, unbridgeable and antagonistic entities. 

There are over 42 million American adults, 20 percent of whom hold high school diplomas, who cannot read, as well as the 50 million who read at a fourth- or fifth-grade level. Nearly a third of the nation’s population is illiterate or barely literate. And their numbers are growing by an estimated 2 million a year. But even those who are supposedly literate retreat in huge numbers into this image-based existence. A third of high school graduates, along with 42 percent of college graduates, never read a book after they finish school. Eighty percent of the families in the United States last year did not buy a book. 

  The illiterate rarely vote, and when they do vote they do so without the ability to make decisions based on textual information. American political campaigns, which have learned to speak in the comforting epistemology of images, eschew real ideas and policy for cheap slogans and reassuring personal narratives. Political propaganda now masquerades as ideology. Political campaigns have become an experience. They do not require cognitive or self-critical skills. They are designed to ignite pseudo-religious feelings of euphoria, empowerment and collective salvation. Campaigns that succeed are carefully constructed psychological instruments that manipulate fickle public moods, emotions and impulses, many of which are subliminal. They create a public ecstasy that annuls individuality and fosters a state of mindlessness. They thrust us into an eternal present. They cater to a nation that now lives in a state of permanent amnesia. It is style and story, not content or history or reality, which inform our politics and our lives. We prefer happy illusions. And it works because so much of the American electorate, including those who should know better, blindly cast ballots for slogans, smiles, the cheerful family tableaux, narratives and the perceived sincerity and the attractiveness of candidates. We confuse how we feel with knowledge. 

The illiterate and semi-literate, once the campaigns are over, remain powerless.  They still cannot protect their children from dysfunctional public schools. They still cannot understand predatory loan deals, the intricacies of mortgage papers, credit card agreements and equity lines of credit that drive them into foreclosures and bankruptcies. They still struggle with the most basic chores of daily life from reading instructions on medicine bottles to filling out bank forms, car loan documents and unemployment benefit and insurance papers. They watch helplessly and without comprehension as hundreds of thousands of jobs are shed. They are hostages to brands. Brands come with images and slogans. Images and slogans are all they understand. Many eat at fast food restaurants not only because it is cheap but because they can order from pictures rather than menus. And those who serve them, also semi-literate or illiterate, punch in orders on cash registers whose keys are marked with symbols and pictures. This is our brave new world.

Political leaders in our post-literate society no longer need to be competent, sincere or honest. They only need to appear to have these qualities. Most of all they need a story, a narrative. The reality of the narrative is irrelevant. It can be completely at odds with the facts. The consistency and emotional appeal of the story are paramount. The most essential skill in political theater and the consumer culture is artifice. Those who are best at artifice succeed. Those who have not mastered the art of artifice fail. In an age of images and entertainment, in an age of instant emotional gratification, we do not seek or want honesty. We ask to be indulged and entertained by clichés, stereotypes and mythic narratives that tell us we can be whomever we want to be, that we live in the greatest country on Earth, that we are endowed with superior moral and physical qualities and that our glorious future is preordained, either because of our attributes as Americans or because we are blessed by God or both. 


Square, Site wide
The ability to magnify these simple and childish lies, to repeat them and have surrogates repeat them in endless loops of news cycles, gives these lies the aura of an uncontested truth. We are repeatedly fed words or phrases like yes we can, maverick, change, pro-life, hope  or war on terror. It feels good not to think. All we have to do is visualize what we want, believe in ourselves and summon those hidden inner resources, whether divine or national, that make the world conform to our desires. Reality is never an impediment to our advancement.

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By garth, July 8, 2010 at 7:02 am Link to this comment

I think the term is functionally illiterate, which means you can read but you don’t.  That might be a big part of the problem in the US.

The war cry is, “We are free.” Especially, around the 4th of July.

Now the propaganda machine message is that we want to spread freedom.  What they don’t say is that we want to “free” the swarthies in Afganistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Iran, Korea and so on from this mortal coil.

I spoke with a woman recently who was married for years with a self-employed, Vietnam vet and they loved this country.  He died and now she looks around at what’s left of all they worked for and she said that she’d leave this country at the drop of a hat if she could.

The new American:  All dressed up with nowhere to go.

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By Mark E. Smith, July 6, 2010 at 11:14 pm Link to this comment

Cuba not only eradicated illiteracy almost completely, it also developed a program for eradicating illiteracy within a matter of weeks that has been used successfully in many other countries.

It cannot be done here because we have not had a successful revolution and are still dominated by an oligarchy that prefers an illiterate populace.

Unfortunately, our illiterate populace believes that this is a democracy and that Cuba and the countries of the Bolivarian Revolution are dictatorships.

Harriet Tubman said that she could have freed many more slave if only she’d been able to convince them that they were slaves. Illiterate Americans think they are free, and that people who can read and write are dangerous subversives.

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By chang22, May 10, 2010 at 8:51 am Link to this comment

I strongly believe that democracies *must* account for this phenomenon in organizing their votes.

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By photoshock, January 22, 2010 at 9:46 am Link to this comment

Mill, your prescience does not do you justice! For we are not living better but as of today, Jan. 23, 2010, the American people have been shafted by the Obama Administration.
They have bailed out the large institutions of finance, because, ‘they were too big to fail,’ they have disabused the people of any notion of universal health care, which every other civilized country in the world has. All because of the corporatocracy that exists to rule this country.
We, the people, the true government of the United States have handed over the keys to all of our lives to the Federal and State governments with alacrity.
We are now so much worse off than even the people in China, we cannot hardly purchase their goods. Sprawl-Mart eat your heart out!
I, for one, am saddened by the lack of campaign-promise keeping by the current administration, so much so that surely there will be a backlash effect on the Demo-cans, we need a viable and vital third party that can field a candidate, who speaking their ideas and ideals, can reach the people, not through the mass media, which is wholly owned and controlled by the corporate thieves that run this country, but face to face without shame and without doubt as to their motives for running for high office.
Education, the stimulation of young and old minds to learn to think critically, to think for oneself, is a paramount issue and needs to be at the forefront of any platform of a candidate who can successfully lead this country out of the miasma of malaise that is infecting this country even as we speak.

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By Anarcissie, June 23, 2009 at 10:30 am Link to this comment

I don’t think the Internet has done much, as yet, to change the ways people communicate and think.  What it has done is begin to depose the power of publishers, editors and programmers to determine what is published, that is, to control our culture.  We have seen a many-to-many medium partially replace some few-to-many media, primarily television and the newspapers.  Few-to-many media are governed by whoever has control of the printing press or the broadcasting station; the many-to-many medium thus far exhibits no central point of control.  Competition between these two kinds of media has revealed what percipient observers already knew: the old media were full of lies, propaganda, misinformation and ignorance and constituted a system of domination and exploitation.  At least now one gets to compare one set of lies and errors with another.  I can only regard this as a good thing, for while we may never be given the truth, the competition between liars should at least serve to bring us better lies.

Froomkin’s political naiveté, and that of many, lies in thinking that the heavy, massive state made possible by industrialism can simply be switched over to electronic control, a sort of factory-floor improvement.  I doubt that this can occur, for reasons I have already given.  I think it will rather disassemble the machine.  Unfortunately those with an interest in its preservation will fight savagely to preserve their privileges, so we might be in for a hard time.

As to the rather low quality of much of the discourse on the Internet, I take it that what has happened is that the sort of conversations which formerly occurred only in taverns, cocktail parties, kaffeeklatsches and dorm bull sessions has suddenly been elevated into public view; it’s just as published as The New York Times or War And Peace.  That is, we observe a lot of gossip, a lot of obscenity, a lot of prejudice, a lot of mythopoeia—the formerly hidden substratum of discourse which was always there but from which the elite pulled back their skirts.  I don’t know what’s going to happen with that.  My guess is that levels of discourse will proliferate rather than that one will dominate the others or that they will all rise and fall together.  But in any case, most of the people we’re talking about did not read then, and may at least be beginning to read and reflect now.

As for the discerning, they will continue to pluck the rubies from the mire—they already had to do this when the mire was better credentialized, because it was still mire.  On the whole, I’d say that the Internet and reading, far from being opposed, largely intersect.  It’s a very interesting development and I think it will continue to surprise us.

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By Stephen Smoliar, June 23, 2009 at 8:13 am Link to this comment

Anarcissie, bearing in mind that Laura, you, and I (along with probably much of the Truthdig community) are as capable of serious reading from screens as we are from marks on paper, there are still several ways to interpret the opposition that Laura postulated.  The most dominant probably has to do with all of those folks who use the Internet for “speaking their minds” (SIC) without bothering to “listen” (which includes reading) to what anyone else is saying.  This is the blogosphere-as-echo-chamber effect and is a major reason why the Internet undermines traditional journalism, rather than supplementing it:

Another reason for the opposition is that most Internet users are more interested in searching for “bottom-line answers” to questions than they are in whether or not those answers are supported by substantive reasoning:

That is why technology evangelists like Froomkin, who make all sorts of appealing claims without ever bothering to validate them, can win over so many followers.  (If you agree with this conclusion, the guy must be right!)  It also captures much of the reasoning behind Nick Carr’s “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” article for ATLANTIC MONTHLY.

Such preoccupations with speaking without listening and getting to the bottom line without any convincing argumentation tend to create a culture that sees no value in what Roland Barthes has called “the pleasure of the text.”  For that culture reading is no longer an enjoyable pastime, whether it involves being better informed or just experiencing a good tale.  Put another way, the sort of pastime I have in mind is primarily a REFLECTIVE one:

Unfortunately, the Age of “Internet Speed” has little time for such reflective pursuits:

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By Anarcissie, June 22, 2009 at 10:00 pm Link to this comment

I don’t understand reading as something opposed to the Internet.

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By Laura Schneider, June 21, 2009 at 9:23 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Martin S. said:
“Kids today donot have the cognitive ability to read books but can utilize the internet?  It has to do with their grey matter?”

Kids today may not be ACHIEVING and REALIZING their POTENTIAL, but ability is about what they can (potentially) do (if they apply themselves and we require it of them).

I have no problem with Individuals using all tools (and the Internet is only one of many) at their disposal (so long as they are age-appropriate).

Reading is an important skill and a wonderful pleasure.  The trick is to inspire our children and help them discover that reading can be as much fun as movies, TV and the Internet.

The reason we have so much problem doing this is because our children are taught to be media-dependent practically from birth.  Whether it is due to a lazy mom who doesn’t want to work at entertaining her child or a conscientious mom that is fixated on immediate gratification, our media dependency has become an obstacle to learning rather than a learning tool.  Any tool can be dangerous if used improperly.

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By Marika, June 21, 2009 at 5:45 pm Link to this comment

Last week California has appeared in a desperate situation. At most economically powerful state of America does not remain money to pay taxes in treasury, and inhabitants of California on a referendum have rejected the offer of the governor to lift various indirect taxes, to patch more than twenty-milliard budgetary deficiency.

From the middle of the XX-th century from a gold fever California was for Americans the earth promised. California had the richest natural resources, fertile valleys, fish ocean, an ideal climate and legendary spirit of enterprise have transformed American state into the most occupied and succeeding district. In 70-80th years of the last century the computer revolution, added to local residents not only occasions to pride there has flashed, but also, that is more important, millions workplaces and superprofit for treasury.

However these successes has not sufficed to stretch year of economic recession. The real estate market in the United States has failed, unemployment has appeared the highest in the country - 11 percent. California has actually turned to the bankrupt: the district does not have money for budgetary expenses and to take them there is no place…

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By KDelphi, May 12, 2009 at 3:15 pm Link to this comment

Sounded really bourgeoisie until you said that you were at McDonald’s….

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By Thomas Bailey, May 12, 2009 at 2:25 pm Link to this comment
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When I was 7 years old, I was reading ingredients on food labels, a skill necessitated by food allergies. I learned that artificial colors made my hyperactive.
When I was in Kindergarten, I thought “see spot run” was boring. We now have people who could not understand credit card agreements, some of them difficult to understand even by someone who could read at a 12th grade level. Some have resorted to pictograms in instructions and on signs. Our textbooks are “dumbed down”, with high school textbooks written at 5th-6th grade level. When I was at McDonald’s the other day, I saw a sign between the indoor cash register and the drive-through that looks like it was written for kindergartners or first-graders.

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By Martin S., May 1, 2009 at 2:16 pm Link to this comment
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Some people think reading is a great mystery and something to be feared.  Perhaps direct experience with something should be totally valued over getting ideas thru mediation.  Yes, many stories in the human experience would be lost but then so what?  If people forget and than rediscover something repeatily then who is to say that is something bad?  Would one group, say the males, suppress the history of Womens’ strugles?  That would be bad because we have seen the males’ suppression of women historicaly.  Or perhaps there was a time when the Female suppressed the Male and we do not remember collectively.  Perhaps it is the Male who is being suppressed right now and they donot even know it.  Thru reading can we find out who is suppressing whom and in what time period? 

  Kids today donot have the cognitive ability to read books but can utilize the internet?  It has to do with their grey matter?

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By Shenonymous, April 28, 2009 at 11:44 pm Link to this comment

Concerning meaning’s post on April 24 at 8:32pm
Concerning Shenonymous’ posts on April 24 and April 14. I viewed your first statement toward me as possibly good, positive common ground between us. And I was happy.

It seemed you had a grasp of the machinations of logic and a sense of humor, two things that I appreciate so I stated that appreciation.

But now I feel I was being lured in to be burnt at the stake. And I don’t want to do that.

Your feeling of persecution is something that exists in your own mind.  Your understanding of my statements are obviously limited.  I am always clear in what I say and never have to resort to “luring” anyone to do anything.  If you have feelings of inadequacy, that is a problem entirely of your own abilities.  I hardly know you to make any judgment about your abilities except for what you write as your comments.

Right now, the effects of your approach seem to me to drive out certain people from this discussion group so that their ideas don’t get heard in the group.

Please state who has been driven out.

Your April 24-th statement, solely on the basis of the words in it, is sexist, racist, ageist, hate (“adult white males” 3rd line from bottom of your post, and the post is an attempt to strip away any defense that adult white males might present in terms of facts, before they are burnt at the stake).

I have never found any capable adult white males unable to defend themselves from anything I may have said.  You have twisted my comments to assuage any sting you feel from my observation of your comments at 6:22 am, and call my comments sexist, racist, ageist, hate(?), you mean hateful don’t you?  Your allusion to burning at the stake is a rather melodramatic metaphor.  It must have some personal significance since you used it twice in your comments. It would be better if you tried to put your anger in less covert words.  I would not want to be forced to interpret it since I might miss the mark of your meaning.

Also, I believe the words in your post are anti-truth and anti-logic because to me truth and logic contain the freedom for people to freely and easily state their viewpoint and to think through what they believe are facts and logic. 

anti-truth means what?  anti-logic means what?  Whatever they mean, please point out where my post fits whatever description.  Your belief about truth and logic seems idiosyncratic and have nothing to do with freedom.  Freedom is separate from either of those terms.  Here, let me help you out.  Truth is a state of fact wherein a belief conforms to reality, as in the truth of a statement.  Logic is a system of principles of reasoning and applies to any branch of knowledge.  Among the plethora of 17 definitions of freedom is the one that says it is a state of being at liberty, as opposed to being a slave; or perhaps you would like this one that is my favorite better: the power to exercise choice and make decisions without constraint from within or without known as self-determination.  You are certainly not being restrained to express yourself or state your view point and from all appearances you are thinking through what you believe are facts and logic, except for one fact: you have not presented any facts and you think you understand logic.  Other than that , you seem to be doing quite well.  I am pointing out a few discrepancies in your logic, however.

People may or may not agree with each other on what are facts and logic. And that is an issue in itself.

I quite agree with both of these sentences.  When people do not agree they may make statements that show that disagreement.  That is exactly what I did in response to your statements.  You may not like what I said but you are denigrating rather than dealing with them.

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By meaning, April 24, 2009 at 2:32 pm Link to this comment

Concerning Shenonymous’ posts on April 24 and April 14. I viewed your first statement toward me as possibly good, positive common ground between us. And I was happy. But now I feel I was being lured in to be burnt at the stake. And I don’t want to do that.
Right now, the effects of your approach seem to me to drive out certain people from this discusson group so that their ideas don’t get heard in the group.
Your April 24-th statement, solely on the basis of the words in it, is sexist, racist, ageist, hate (“adult white males” 3rd line from bottom of your post, and the post is an attempt to strip away any defense that adult white males might present in terms of facts, before they are burnt at the stake).
Also, I believe the words in your post are anti-truth and anti-logic because to me truth and logic contain the freedom for people to freely and easily state their viewpoint and to think through what they believe are facts and logic. People may or may not agree with each other on what are facts and logic. And that is an issue in itself.

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By Shenonymous, April 24, 2009 at 4:43 am Link to this comment

Yes, meaning, of course there are always ranges, shades of gray, and the illiterate to literate are not exempt. Only fools think in terms of black and white.  It might be difficult for those who don’t want to make distinctions to not make a division between those who can enjoy life more fully and participate in thinking about “important issues” because they have the educated ability to discriminate when they are being exploited and those who drudge their way though poverty of body as well as mind.  The ignorant don’t have the luxury of being able to make intelligent posts on the Internet as you are now doing.  Not only because they can’t afford the electronics, but because they don’t have the thinking skills or the time from their bottle-washer existence.  Due to their lack of education, they will only achieve less than the potential humans can, most of them that is, because there are those who accidentally get out of that strata of society and achieve some success, but certainly not among the upper thinking class who are able to do things they want not because they have to but because they can find gainful employment to provide for themselves.  There are sweat shops in the major cities in America where ignorant women, and men in some cases, where thousands upon thousands of them work inhuman hours and under the worst conditions, whose labor is capitalized on by those who care not for human beings.  Maybe you have never heard of “that class.”  This ignorant slave class will never attain full humanhood.

You attempt to weave a grim story about the kinds of books there are in chain book stores but you don’t name one of those “puppie/kitty cat books,” and you don’t name the stores because you already know if it is Barnes & Noble or some such other chain book store of that “class,” there are thousands of books that do offer books that engage the “classic” way to think. Oh, and they do carry bibles and korans or radical religious commentary books if that is what you were insinuating were missing, but again you are quite vague.  You are extraordinarily hazy and that makes me wonder if you need metaphorical glasses.  You seem to have the gift of logic but extending it to reality is different than playing the cute logical parlor game you demonstrated.  How many of the illiterate could write that way, or even understand what you wrote?  You play to a literate audience.  I too am concerned with ignorance.  I’ve spent my life and continue to do so professionally wiping it out.  The thing about having facts are that unless one can think critically they are of little use and can be misunderstood in various contexts.  Thinking critically is better facilitated by the educated and literate.

Oh that thing about ancient Greece, they did have a slave class and many of them were educated.  Why even women were educated!  White women that is.  One was even stoned to death and her flesh flayed from her bones, Hypatia, by ignorant rabble. But you do speak the truth when you say ‘adult white males’ were the judges and juries and giver of all things in that world and this one as well.  Are you among that class?

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By meaning, April 24, 2009 at 12:22 am Link to this comment

Thanks Shenonymous for your April 14-th post. Yes I feel more refreshed. I was going to make some more comments in line with my previous post, but some ideas in your post are more important.

I would definitely not call the illiterate a slave class. Further I am not gong to make the division at illiterate and literate. There are ranges of people going from those who are very competent in certain mental areas to those who are just the reverse. I believe it has likely always been that way. However, in places like ancient Athens, the adult male group was likely sharper in judging pro and con arguments - because they had to frequently vote yes or no on issues - the whole adult male group. And their vote decided what would happen, whether there would be war or not, or exile of someone or not, or a tax or not. 

But even in ancient Athens, there was a range of abilities in judging arguments, and even more, in coming up with statements and arguments that were relevant to the concerns of the voters. And statements and arguments that could be seen by the voters as relevant to their concerns. So success of the ancient Athenian city state was dependent on the overall mental ability of the adult males to judge the best possibility for their concerns.

When I look at what is in the big chain book stores, I get demoralized at the possibilities of success of our country. There are lots of what I call the puppie and kitty cat books and items, there are the too standard books on what is good and what is evil, with some of the most original and powerful books not being in the store, though there are also of knowledge about important issues, as long as the judgmental framework of the book fits into the standard accepted range - for instance there are books on military history, and you can get information out of those, and there are biographies and other histories, and you can get a lot out of those, although many facts and subjects will simply not be there. This is very demoralizing because if people don’t know the facts, how can they make the best decisions in line with their interests.

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By Shenonymous, April 14, 2009 at 5:36 pm Link to this comment

Don’t worry so much KDelphi, maybe the educated could send apples from the tree of knowledge to all the illiterates?  But think of this, it seems like they all are simply obeying the Abrahamic gods (Yahweh, God, and Allah in historic order):  Their Demandment:  (Don’t go near that Tree!)  Maybe they will all go ignorantly to that strange place in the sky?  There has to be the submissives.  My goodness if we make sure everyone gets educated, why I don’t know what heaven or as some call it, Paradise, would do without its docile illiterate population.  Now our dear friend (I know I am walking on Easter eggs, since I doubt he would ever write my name and the word ‘friend’ in the same sentence), Folktruther we know celebrates the ignorant in America and wants to keep them that way.  Maybe I misunderstand him?  My apologies if I do.  Now we all know illiterates are affected by American Idols, which in effect is quite sacriligious and against the first four Commandments.  Sigh.  I’m afraid hell is going to be overcrowded and da debble dancing the mambo with glee.  Don’t you agree that there will be more in that ‘bad’ place than in the ‘good’ place?  Kind of lopsided, no?  Don’t you also agree that says a lot about the effectiveness of omnipotence?  And don’t you agree that America needs an illiterate slave class? 

meaning – what an enjoyable mind you have!  You gave us an impeccable and logical argument!  I hope you are refreshed by now.

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By Gustavo Keener, April 14, 2009 at 2:20 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Thank you so much, KDelphi.  I did a fruitless search for about 1/2 hour before deciding to ask for help. 

Regardless of Chris Hedges’ status, I really appreciate the article.

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By KDelphi, April 14, 2009 at 2:09 pm Link to this comment

Gustavo—Not exactly Hedges stats, but, close…

“Earlier this month, the U.S. Education Department released statistics stating that more than 32 million, or about 14 percent of Americans, are illiterate.”


“The latest study found that in the years between 1992 and 2003 about 23 millions of people were added to the population of the United States, and among them almost 3.6 million were illiterate adults. The figures are not kind at all. 75 per cent of unemployed adults have difficulty to read and write on a basic level. 7 in ten 10 adults sentenced to prison perform at the lowest literacy levels. Studies show that 24 per cent of patients with low reading skills even fail to read and understand the instructions or a medication’s side effects printed on a pill bottle, not to talk about reading a newspaper. One of the researchers at the U.S. Education Department said that these people often cannot read paragraphs or sentences that are connected together”

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By Gustavo Keener, April 11, 2009 at 9:12 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I’m not seeing any references for those statistics…  Is there anyone (ATTN: Chris Hedges) who could shed some light on a reference for any or all of those percentages in the second paragraph?


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By meaning, March 7, 2009 at 10:40 am Link to this comment

Great article and readers’ posts. But I will focus on one,  By fuzzywzhe, January 31 at 2:05 am # .
His item is something like this:
About 1 percent of persons in America know a substantial number of the facts that are relevant to their own interests.
He backs this up by asking how many people:
- can name 3 people in the Democrat and in the Republican party who ran for president. I can’t.
- can you name the senator in your state and how they voted on the patriot act. I can name both senators, but that is only because I got involved online in some political issues. But I don’t know how they voted on the patriot act, though I can surmise.
All the other questions that fuzzywzhe asks, I cannot answer!
Let’s make fuzzyszhe’s main point more precise, which I will take to be S, where S is:
For all P NumP, there exists X NumX: X is relevant to P’s genuine interests and P does not know X.
(where NumP is *something* like “1 percent of Americans” and NumX is “there are a substantial number of X’s”)
and I improvise on notation, and the “for all” and “there exists” is not literally identical to what is currently in the study of formal logic.
The point is, where to go with S. In almost all situations, when we are given a statement, say St, we look around for relevant statements about St that might guide us regarding St.
So what are relevant statements about S?
Fuzzywzhe says NumP is not 50% like the article says, but 1% like his example questions suggest. As for myself, there was only one question I could partly answer - I know the names of the two senators from my state. (btw I am still not sure who my Congressional representative is in the House, since I am in a district that has very wiggly boundaries (I think it is called gerrymandering) ).
1. So when fuzzywzhe says 1%, I am sure he is wrong. It must be more like 1 /100—.01%  -  or even less.
2. we’re never going to change that number .01% - there’s just way too much for most people to know.
3. In fact, given that even the placement, in time and space, of almost anything whatsoever *might* now or in the future be relevant to the issues that are of genuine interest to P, the number is not .01%. The number is more like incredibly close to total absolute numerical 0 (though not 0).
4. However, in spite of the number being so close to 0, all of us, within a huge range among us of varying amounts of knowledge, make our way through the world and life. Indeed, we have no choice but to make our way.
5. Still, there are all kinds of statements T that characterize some part of reality, to some degree of validity, and are valuable to know. Some of these statements T are known to some people, some are known to many, some are known to none now but will be deduced/realized by one or two people and then spread to other brains in other bodies, and so on with all kinds of permutations. Ignoring who knows what and when, the big point is that some statements T can sometimes be very helpful in giving a whole group of people much benefit in analyzing their genuine interests, not only in understanding their interests but also in how to act in order to better achieve them (and also how not to act in order not to cause the opposite of their interests).
6. I stop at this point, because both my brain thinking, and fingers typing, are tired.
In summary, in spite of all of us knowing extremely little of all the statements that could be known, nevertheless, we know some statements, and we search for more, the knowing of which are helpful to our genuine interests.  Well, a little more. 7. we all should learn a little more than we know. 8. We need people in our groups of like-minded interests, who know more and who are trustworthy to our interests. And those people in turn need people who know even more (and of course are trustworthy).

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By Dave T., March 7, 2009 at 7:38 am Link to this comment
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To get back to Chris’s report, I agree entirely with the author’s views and believe regrettably, that the situation is as bad, if not worse in the United Kingdom.

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By betterway, February 5, 2009 at 1:48 pm Link to this comment

When a thought or idea is confusing or considered ‘deep’ it welcomes being manipulated.  Or at least it gives room for it to be. Those living on the edge have a distrust of ‘deep thoughts’ because at some point they have probably been victimized by situations they did not fully comprehend.  Have you ever had someone try to convince you with 1000 words that something is right but you can’t see what they see?  My belief is that if any investment takes 1000 words to describe then it is not for me.

And yet ‘one-words’ convey all you need to know about them.  Honesty, love, truth.  Do they need 1000 words to describe? Politicians today use 1000 words instead of yes or no. When they finish you can’t remember what the question was.

The illiterati hope and it seems, pray.  Both of which are going to be used in overdrive.

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By Rick A. Geise, February 5, 2009 at 8:56 am Link to this comment
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It is not the influence of the “Christian right” which has led to our demise.  Consider the results achieved by the true church through their cultural separation into home shcols.

It was through the lens of scripture that the first Americans were able achieve the highest literacy in the history of human civilization enabling them to separate the wheat from the chaff and resist the propaganda and of the foreign powers that be (PTB).

It was through the influence of that one book on the hearts, souls and minds of the “Christian right” in this country at that time that America and the future blessings of its liberty and prosperity were born.

Indeed there is little difference between contemporary mainstream Christians and the “Jaywalkers” interviewed on late noght TV. That is because the mainstream church is apostate.

As the light of the Holy scriptures is extinguished and their influence systematically exorcised from our society, we descend back into the bondage with the rest of the world.

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By fuzzywzhe, January 30, 2009 at 10:05 pm Link to this comment
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I thought it was funny when the author brought up voting by the illiterate and that they can’t make an informed decision.

Tell me, literate people, who are here now.

* Can you name 5 bills that Obama and McCain voted on differently ?
* Can you name name 3 people in the Democratic platform and the Republican platform who were running for president?
* Can you name your senator of your state and how they voted on the Patriot Act and the 840 billion dollar bailout?

I got news for you, there’s a lot less than 50% of the country that is competent to vote.  It’s more like 1%.

Hey, you want to know more about what you don’t know?

Associated Press (AP) and Reuters delivers more than 90% of the news you see on television and read in the newspapers.  Name where either of these organizations are based, and who runs them.

There might be 1 person out of 100 here that knows, and guess who won’t be in that list?

The author of this article.  The person whose job it is to know.  The person whose job it is to report all these data.

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By Arius, January 30, 2009 at 2:25 pm Link to this comment
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I became more and more impressed with the article until near its end when he degenerates into a dogmatic attack on the so called (Christian) Right. It seems that the authors’ objectivity came under increasing strain until his need to project evil overwhelmed him. This is why generally nothing will come of most attempts to pull the opposites together. Therein is the tragedy - until and unless we can pull the opposites together we will not see the world as it is and will continue to chase shadows.

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By Shenonymous, January 15, 2009 at 4:44 am Link to this comment

Hello optipessi mist – thank you for the splendid link.  I very much enjoy reading Kundera but I do not have that particular book.  I had seen the movie with Daniel Day Lewis a long time ago and the only thing left is the sense that it was a beautiful movie.  I will watch it again and I have just ordered a copy of the book from amazon.  I have one of his other books The Book of Laughter and Forgetting which I read several years ago.  It was a most interesting story as I perfectly understand her desire to not forget someone she loved who died.  I come from a very large family (Italian generated) and from childhood onward to my maturity many of them have died.  They were beautiful people and I loved all of them very much and remember them vividly.  So every once in a while, I have an odd practice of spending a special time just remembering all of them, their names, picturing their faces and any characteristic that was special to them.  Now I know that once we are gone we are gone but until I am gone I want to remember them. 

In looking over the last few comments I couldn’t help but think about the distinction between memory or virtual experience and direct experience, as direct as it can be that is.  Seems that memory pales in contrast to the vividness of the actual experience.  Also having practiced meditation for many years, I came to the conclusion that Buddhist true emptiness of mind is nothing less than death.  The Buddhist perspective always reminds me of the duality of order and chaos (entropy) and the notion that total entropy is a total decay of the situation.  Within a confined space, one cannot help but notice that total entropy winds up as total order.  And total order, where nothing is in motion, which would interrupt the order by some movement, and time does not existand time does not exist is really also a death.  These thoughts always accompany me whenever I read Parmenides’ Poem “On Nature” and occasional other times.

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By optipessi mist, January 14, 2009 at 7:02 pm Link to this comment


You are marvelous.  Thank you so much.

In return

I have read this wonderful novel several times.  It has a theme that I am pretty sure you will like.  But, I don’t want to spoil the surprise.

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By Shenonymous, January 1, 2009 at 3:40 pm Link to this comment

A New New Year 2009 gift for optipessi mist:

The Edge Annual Question—2009

FRANK WILCZEK_Physicist, MIT; Recipient, 2004 Nobel Prize in Physics; Author, The Lightness of Being

What do you suppose the world, the universe, would be like if it happened as Wilczek describes?  What kind of humans do you think will exist, and will it even be worthwhile to exist in such a world?  What place would, could, music and art have in such a world?

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By Anarcissie, December 26, 2008 at 6:24 pm Link to this comment

No doubt memory in a literal sense is involved in all cognitive functions.  I think Optipessi was talking about what I called reminiscence, which is a specific activity one can choose to engage in, or not.  And that’s what I was referring to.

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By Martin P. Serna, December 26, 2008 at 6:18 pm Link to this comment
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People do not want to think because they think they are powerless and they are generally fearfull to begin to learn how to live.  The author of this article does not mention excremental culture or if he believes that there is such a thing as psychosis.  Did our culture ever come out of the “dark ages”?  Americas’ space program was sold to us when they told us the entire world would benefit from this new knowledge- but it did not trickle down!  Now we are very much at the mercy of the loudest in society because we are largely illiterate.

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By Shenonymous, December 26, 2008 at 1:15 pm Link to this comment

Because of the incontrovertible, impalpable amount of time it takes for an organism to sense experience the world, and taking even a longer though still imperceptible amount of time for the mind to intellectually cognize the world, then (I emphasize the word ‘then’) for a thinking organism to think about anything, I would take the even more radical position that all experience, pleasures, pains, or neutrals*, exists only through memory.

*for neutral experience, see Kahneman and Tversky, Choices, Values, and Frames.

While I would argue to the contrary that the body knows first then the mind, but agree that to know (anything) is to remember, in his dialogue the “Meno”, Plato rather elegantly defends the thesis that TO KNOW is TO REMEMBER: we do not have a genuine knowledge experience (of the universal being): when we say a mathematical proposition is true, it is not because we have just learned it, but rather because we remember the relations between the Ideas our soul (for me, mind) knew in the world of the Ideas before incarnating in our body. The perception of the sensible world cannot serve as foundation for strict knowledge but, since we have such knowledge, it must come from a previous experience. Therefore: to know is to update a knowledge already experienced, to know is to remember (this thesis is called THEORY OF the REMINISCENCE).  I would argue that the body’s experiences provide the material for the mind to synthesize into understanding truths rather than a body being provided knowledge by a separate entity called a soul ‘knowing’ prior to incarnation in a body.

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By Stephen Smoliar, December 26, 2008 at 12:00 pm Link to this comment

Anarcissie, I might even take the radical position that pleasure (like dreams) only exists through memory!

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By Anarcissie, December 26, 2008 at 8:34 am Link to this comment

Stephen—It seems, then, you would find Optipessi’s “A pleasure is full grown only when it is remembered” (to which my comparison of memory, immediate experience and anticipation responded) not something you might disagree with, but not even meaningful?

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By Stephen Smoliar, December 26, 2008 at 8:05 am Link to this comment

Anarcissie, “mental state” is, at best, a “fiction of convenience,” which we invoke for the sake of continuity with past studies of mind.  (Think of it as a necessary move in the language game we play.)  In bringing up Nader’s results in terms of reconsolidation, Shenonymous hit on a fortuitous pun in our language, since reconsolidation is essential re-membering.  Edelman carries Nader’s results further down the road to the point where this reconsolidation is the fundamental process of consciousness itself, sort of like the “operating system of mind.”

The reminiscence you had in mind is just one instance of that reconsolidation.  However, it is so tightly coupled to other instances, including anticipation and “processing sensation,” that I still shy away from any rank ordering.  It’s a bit more like Shenonymous’ analogy of grain and weed.  You do not know what the grain is until you are ready to draw upon it.  Prior to that moment, it is all one undifferentiated organic process.

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By Shenonymous, December 26, 2008 at 3:43 am Link to this comment

What is a yellow arrow?  How far can a train go that has no beginning or end?  Aren’t we really stuck in this life?  Possibly a simile for time, the train does not stop.  A fascinating quote, optipessi mist.  Yes it was enjoyable to read, once more.  Somewhat remindful of Italo Calvino, Pelevin’s stories are more than worthwhile for contemplation.

In return, here is something you might enjoy about remembrance of a place, a sense of dé·jà vu.

  “If I say this moment I am living through is not being lived for the first time by me, it’s because the sensation I have of it is one of a slight doubling of images, as if at the same time I were seeing not one lion or one arrow but two or more lions and two or more arrows superimposed with a barely perceptible overlapping, so the sinuous outlines of the lion’s form and the segment of the arrow seem underlined or rather haloed by finer lines and a more delicate color. The doubling, however, could be only an illusion through which I depict to myself an otherwise indefinable sense of thickness, whereby lion arrow bush are something more than this lion this arrow this bush, namely, the interminable repetition of lion arrow bush arranged in this specific relationship with an interminable repetition of myself in the moment when I have just slackened the string of my bow.

  I wouldn’t want this sensation as I have described it, however, to resemble too much the recognition of something already seen, arrow in that position, lion in that other and reciprocal relation between the positions of arrow and of lion and of me rooted here with the bow in my hand; I would prefer to say that what I have recognized is only the space, the point of space where the arrow is which would be empty if the arrow weren’t there, the empty space which now contains the lion and the space which now contains me, as if in the void of the space we occupy or rather cross – that is, which the world occupies or rather crosses – certain points had become recognizable to me in the midst of all the other points equally empty and equally crossed by the world. And bear this in mind: it isn’t that this recognition occurs in relation, for example, to the configuration of the terrain, the distance of the river or the forest: the space that surrounds us is a space that is always different, I know this quite well, I know the Earth is a heavenly body that moves in the midst of other moving heavenly bodies, I know that no sign, on the Earth or in the sky, can serve me as an absolute point of reference, I also remember that the stars turn the wheel of the galaxy and the galaxies move away from one another at speeds proportional to the distance. But the suspicion that has gripped me is precisely this: that I have come to find myself in a space not new to me, that I have returned to a point where we had already passed by. And since it isn’t merely a question of me but also of an arrow and a lion, it’s no good thinking this is just chance: here time is involved, which continues to cover a trail it has already followed. I could then define as time and not as space that void I felt I recognized as I crossed it.”

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By Anarcissie, December 25, 2008 at 10:15 pm Link to this comment

Stephen Smoliar:
‘Anarcissie, given how closely you have been following these Comments, you probably knew that you could expect disagreement from me on your “ranking” of anticipation, direct experience, and memory. ...’

Actually, most mental states we know about require memory of some sort.  I was talking more about mental activities, “memory” being “reminiscing” perhaps.  Reminiscing about a love affair or a visit to a great work of art seems weaker than either the ongoing experience of one, or its anticipation.  No doubt tastes differ, however.  To the Buddhist who has achieved true emptiness of mind, it’s all dukkha.  Or so they say.

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By optipessi mist, December 25, 2008 at 8:14 pm Link to this comment


I will answer your question(s) in a bit.  But, first a tidbit I hope you will enjoy.

“...What does it matter to me? There is something else far more important.  I am closest of all to happiness-although I won’t attempt to define just what it is-when I turn away from the window and am aware, with the edge of my consciousness, that a moment ago I was not here, there was simply the world outside the window, and something beautiful and incomprehensible, something which there is absolutely no need to ‘comprehend’, existed for a few seconds instead of the usual swarm of thoughts of which one, like a locomotive, pulls all the others after it, absorbs them all and calls itself ‘I’.

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By Shenonymous, December 25, 2008 at 5:50 pm Link to this comment

optipessi mist, you offer a tasty tidbit where a banquet is in order.  If I may offer a three course meal then maybe the journey on recollection will, truthfully, also have been a pleasure?  (ah, killing three birds with one stone and its happy contemplation.)  A memory about something is only as good as the last memory about it.  Researcher on memory, Karim Nader, did a convincing experiment that showed the usual way of thinking about memory was wrong. Each time a memory is used, it has to be re-stored as a new memory in order to be accessible later. The old memory is either not there or is inaccessible. Then it has to be reconsolidated.  Collected together, which act as reinforcement.  Reconsolidation, then, is the process of re-consolidating, that is, consolidating, or combining, again the memories being recalled that have already been consolidated before. According to research, it involves neural processes that are similar to those involved in an original consolidation. In laboratory animals, recall puts memories into an unstable reactive state.  However, after recall, the memory must be reconsolidated or it will be forgotten. Memory reconsolidation occurs upon review or repetition of the learned material. 

A small riddling analogy on truth and fantasy:
A sower went to sow,
he sowed good seed but there were weeds in the field as well
and the grain and the weeds grew together
and while the grain was still unripe, the weeds couldn’t be distinguished from the grain
but at the time of harvest when the grain ripened they could easily be distinguished
then the grain was kept and the weeds burnt up.

The sower is mankind,
the field is the world,
the good seed is the truth,
the bad seed is the fantasy of the world,
the truth endures,
but the fantasy of the world is temporary.

Pleasure and its effects in the mind: research is confirming pleasure has a direct biological involvement and may actually be a neural system serving different biologically-given functions and goals.  Affective phenomena in the brain we call pleasure is something biological, psychological, and experiential but what it is precisely is not yet known.  Does pleasure express successful unimpeded and perfect functioning of human capacity-fulfilling natural activities, as Harry Stotle would say, or is pleasure a whole menu of Platonic “improvement” indicators, that is “good” state indicators?  To what degree is dopamine reward involved, biological facts of mood, energy, circadian rhythms, body temperature, and nutrition have to do with how much pleasure can be experienced, not to mention the effects of too much, not enough, or just right amount of sleep?

I am trying to see into the metaphor you used to connect memory and truth as distantly related?  Because they each may be complicated how does that drive a relationship between memory, a physical phenomenon, and truth a non-physical phenomenon?  I am not saying there can’t be, I’m asking how being complicated makes them related?  They are different existentials. The physical process of making beef roulades is complicated, as PTSD is a complicated mental condition as well, but it would be a stretch to see them as related.

And the idea that memories of a pleasure one had through one’s lifetime up to the moment of death exist as the “real” experience, rather than at the moment the pleasure occurred is obscure.  How is the memory of something, even a collection of memories, more real than the real experience itself?

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By Stephen Smoliar, December 25, 2008 at 2:18 pm Link to this comment

Anarcissie, given how closely you have been following these Comments, you probably knew that you could expect disagreement from me on your “ranking” of anticipation, direct experience, and memory.  It is one thing to talk about “direct sensation;”  but I would situate “experience” in the cortex, rather than the sensory neurons.  This means that, in the spirit of Edelman’s “remembered present,” “direct experience” requires memory!  I would further suggest that those memory processes that enable experience are playing off of both sensation and anticipation.  We thus have a tightly-connected graph that does not lend itself readily to rank ordering!

For my next trick, I shall turn to optipessi mist’s little aphorism about memory and truth.  It just so happens that my current library reading is KNOWING AND THE KNOWN, a compilation of papers by John Dewey and Arthur F. Bentley (most of which were written jointly).  Anyone who enjoys polemic will take great delight in the thorough drubbing they give to the terminology of formal logic (including, of course, “truth,” not to mention “fact”).  I had so much fun with this that I wrote a post about it at:

I also remember that, when we were reading LORD OF THE FLIES in high school, my teacher read to us an essay by Golding that had just appeared in some popular magazine.  Referring to Pontius Pilate, Golding wrote that the fool uses the question “What is truth?” to end a discussion, while the wise man uses it to begin one!  As I see it, the real problem is that we are seduced by the mechanical quality of formal logic to mistake consistency within a formal system for truth, thus assuming that no further discussion is necessary.  I went on to blame computer science education for this mistake in:

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By Anarcissie, December 25, 2008 at 12:36 pm Link to this comment

Of anticipation, direct experience, and memory, I think memory is the least, at least in the realms of the senses and the emotions.

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By optipessi mist, December 25, 2008 at 11:15 am Link to this comment


And traveling just a bit further,

A pleasure is full grown only when it is remembered.  The pleasure is not the one thing and the memory another.

What it will be when I remember it as I lie down to die, what it makes in me all my days till then-
that is the real experience.  The other is only the beginning of it.

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By optipessi mist, December 25, 2008 at 10:51 am Link to this comment


You asked several posts ago what I meant by,

“Memory is a distant relative of truth”

What I meant is that memory is a complicated thing, a relative to truth but not its twin.

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By optipessi mist, December 15, 2008 at 5:55 am Link to this comment

Shenonymous and Stephen Smoliar-  The excerpts below are from the following:

Using the Socratic method with highly intelligent persons like yourselves is very effective.  The tantilizing tidbits below go a long way toward bridging the math gap for particle physics amateurs like ourselves.

“...Maxwell’s theory, in which light is an
oscillation of the electromagnetic field…”

“...Von Neumann proposed the following mathematical formulation of quantum mechanics. The observables of a given physical system are the self-adjoint (possibly unbounded) linear operators a on a Hilbert space H. The pure states of the system are the unit vectors in H. The expectation value of an observable a in a state ψ is given by (ψ, aψ). The transition probability between two states ψ and ϕ is |(ψ, ϕ)|2. As we see from (I.3), this number is just (cos θ)2, where θ is the angle between the unit vectors ψ and ϕ. Thus the geometry of Hilbert space has a direct physical interpretation in quantum mechanics, surely one of von Neumann’s most brilliant insights…”

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By Shenonymous, December 14, 2008 at 2:06 pm Link to this comment

It is so funny I was just using the very terms gestures and grunt in talking to a friend about the limitations of prehistoric man, and now Stephen Smoliar you give Mead as one who may shed some light on when and how and maybe even why humans became the kind of talking animal it is.  Doubtless this is the eventual source of contemplative thought, critical thought as well.  I am not able to find any data on when humankind developed the ability to think analytically.  If accounts of human evolution are true and hominids appeared on earth maybe as far back as 5 millions years ago but probably didn’t developed into recognizable humans until about 100,000 years ago, then it took a long time for analytical skills to show up.  As food for a metaphysics and a theory of self as practical necessity is something I definitely will study Mead’s work and have already ordered one of his books. 

I can only see a human mind developing as a result of survival need to negotiate its world (yes, there is that word negotiate again).  Why other animals did not evolve that way is still unexplainable by science unless the Darwinian perspective is taken and the random generation of species from environmental effects.  Darwin never gets involved in why the universe exists so I do not attribute any cosmology to him as I would with Plato, Heidegger, and other philosophers, and theologians, even though anti-atheists claim Darwin did publish such sentiments. 

All very interesting, and dearly loving George Balanchine’s choreography, I particularly loved his Jewels Ballet, nevertheless, no one has yet saved us from nonexistence from there being no time in which we would exist having done away with pastpresentfuture (spelled that way on purpose).  I am confounded as to why we can even be here discussing anything.  Is it all perception?  Is there no other proof?  And I guess it does matter if we only experience frames since the problem of existence only having being in that intersection of breathing in and breathing out arises. As to what is happening between the time one frame ends and the next one begins.  And I realize the redundancy of existence having being but there doesn’t seem to be any other way of putting it.  There are too many questions left begging in the psychophysics explanation and the lovely dance of the universe theory, or the interactive conversational one as well.

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By Stephen Smoliar, December 14, 2008 at 1:16 pm Link to this comment

optipessi mist, my graduate studies in mathematics concentrated on combinatorial theory.  I learned about Hilbert spaces through a required course in advanced analysis.  I claim no qualifications for reading current documents in experimental physics.  Thus, while I have an abstract appreciation for the descriptive power of Hilbert spaces, I cannot intelligently comment on the impact that descriptive power has on the practice of research in particle physics.

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By optipessi mist, December 14, 2008 at 11:50 am Link to this comment

Stephen Smoliar,

Being more specific.  Please give me your opinion of Hilbert Spaces regarding documented experimentation in physics, specifically particle physics.

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By Stephen Smoliar, December 13, 2008 at 3:27 pm Link to this comment

If what you seek “are non-religious reliable explanations of signification,” then G. H. Mead would be a good place to start.  He develops some interesting hypotheses on how man progressed from “conversations of gestures” (which can be found in many life forms) to conversations of SIGNIFICANT (“signifying,” if you prefer) gestures, which are unique to the human species.  Since he was writing at the beginning of the twentieth century, Mead lacks many of the retrospective insights we now enjoy;  but he was definitely on the right track.  Note, also, how nicely the foundation of gestures fits with any dance-based metaphors!

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By Shenonymous, December 13, 2008 at 10:22 am Link to this comment

Okay, Herr Professor Smoliar, since our brains are composed of electrons swirling around as fast as the speed of light, we could say we have a lot of electricity up there.  Then we can stick a metaphorical finger into the outlet of our brain, that might be signified by our gestures and language expressions and those results would be experiential reality.  But that does not seem quite to complete the picture (reality).  And you are right, Maxwell’s elegance on the nature of electricity and magnetism isn’t needed at all but we might need somebody else to explain the significance.  Does “Wovon man [or at least “ich”] nicht sprechen kann!” mean “About which I cannot speak!”?  There are many ways to do this I guess, religion being one way to explain, but surely there are non-religious reliable explanations of significaton.

The social world construction can be thought of as the interaction of the objective world that continuously involves the subjective when the subjective is paying attention to it.  I am comfortable with your last explanation.  I love the dance metaphor, merci.  I have to think on it for a bit (purposely using the metaphor of on as a description of what kind of strenuous thinking it will take to overcome puzzlement to see what questions may be leftover.

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By Stephen Smoliar, December 13, 2008 at 10:08 am Link to this comment

Shenonymous, I like to think that “our perception of our existence” is a product of a rather elegant dance (think of the choreography of Balanchine) through which the objective, subjective, and social worlds engage with each other.  The metaphor of still photographs raises the question of whether or not the (objective) “physical hardware” of the nervous system is continuous or discrete.  At a chemical level it is continuous;  but, if everything ultimately depends on how the cells fire, then we can view it as discrete.  Indeed, the literature of (subjective) psychophysics now reports on experiments that try to determine the “sampling rate” associated with both auditory and visual perception.  Thus, where vision is concerned, we would be talking more about the evenly-spaced frames of a film, rather than individual still photographs!  The “continuum of reality” is then constructed “in the mind,” just as it is when we watch movies.  Indeed, the very concept of a continuum is, once again, a mathematical abstraction that facilitates our powers of description, such as explaining why Achilles really does overtake the tortoise.

The social world enters this dance in a variety of ways, one of the most important being the emergence of language itself.  As Wittgenstein would have put it, the rules of the language game are a product of the social world and are thus independent of both the objective and subjective worlds.  Mead’s social behaviorism can be read as an early inquiry into how those rules are formed and probably pre-dates Wittgenstein’s initial thoughts about language games.  Alas, it appears that their paths never crossed, either physically or in the virtual forum of their writings.

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By Stephen Smoliar, December 13, 2008 at 9:50 am Link to this comment

Shenonymous, I suppose one answer to your question is that the concept of the Hilbert space facilitated description in quantum mechanics in a manner analogous to that in which vector calculus facilitated the description of electromagnetic phenomena.  I am not sure how either of these would rate on your scale of “experiential reality.”  There is, of course, the experiential reality of sticking your fingers into an open electrical outlet;  but you do not need Maxwell’s equations to explain it!  When it comes to the “experiential reality” of quantum mechanics, that, for me, constitutes an example of Wittgenstein’s “Wovon man [or at least “ich”] nicht sprechen kann!”

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By Shenonymous, December 13, 2008 at 9:40 am Link to this comment

From Smoliar’s website:  “ might say that the world is that which emerges through our conversations.”  Or in Descartes’ case, his soliloquy, the conversations with himself.  If we can rightly say that Edleman was a solipsist kicking a stone in the street, we have to think we are part of his self-consciousness and that the stone is one of his own creativity.  If in his theory our consciousness is a matter of chemical interaction, may I ask so what does that mean?  It reminds me to take a look again at Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene which goes a bit further and implicates a community for survival. 

I would submit that there cannot even be “an instant of time” and we are left with the reductio ad absurdum.  Is our perception of our existence really like a series of still photographs?  It seems we cannot select a frame at any one time, but as they occur they fly away just as swiftly as they came in for a landing.  Furthermore, it seems we have to construct an existential moment and hang onto it for dear life, literally.  Thus the notion that the world is a construction of the mind.  But that is over the edge into solipsism and that leads to the absurdity as well.  I think the analogy with the phenomenon of sound is excellent and gives as sharp a “picture” to understand the problem as there is.  I shall read Husserl.  It also seems that we only exist in a world of seeming.  Isn’t that akin to the Maya of Buddhism and Hinduism?  The world of illusion?  The one that Plato also discusses so eloquently in the Allegory of the Cave.

Difficulties are built into the language through the definitions we construct for our making ‘sense’ of the world through sense perception and subsequent figuring out what it all means then what it means to have the Other in the world with whom we interact.  Wittgenstein was the one who let us in on those inherent problems.  Knowing all of this, or at least a part of it, now what do we do with it?  How do we account for a constructed coherent existence that contains both me and thee?

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By Shenonymous, December 13, 2008 at 9:05 am Link to this comment

Being completely ignorant, and looking up Hilbert space online, from what I’ve read, if Hilbert’s theory of space depends on cauchy sequencing for construction, then it seems it will fall into Zeno’s paradox of infinite space (time) or an infinite regress of repetition and we get caught up in rational and irrational numbers even if there is a convergence of vectors.  But saying this doesn’t even qualify as a cursory overview and may not be even within the vicinity of the ballpark.  For all I know I could be sipping MaiTais on the beach at Waikiki or roaming in the labyrinth at Knossos (the latter does not exist in the physical realm), at the same time.  The infinitesimal knowledge I have of mathematics won’t let me get beyond amusement.  I would say I don’t even have a ticket to get in the gate.  I would welcome any insights offered for consideration.

Talking about vector space or linear algebra found in mathematical concepts such as Hilbert space are terms in a language with which I am a foreigner and about which I cannot speak coherently.  Hilbert space and Banach space as well discuss theoretical constructions that are devised to be able to speak about abstractons.  From this layperson’s perspective, I want to know how they are applicable and understandable from an experiential reality?  In any case, I find the language in the description of Hilbert space most fascinating.  It is like listening to Sanskrit without knowing what is being said.  The sound (bowing to Smoliar’s obvious penchant for it) is beautiful from the relationships of the verbal word and phonemic constructions. 

I agree that Plato’s insights expressed in his Theaetetus are one of the best doorways to the problem of what exists.  His Meno demonstrations also unlocks the door a crack.  Both worth revisiting from time to time (oh my gosh, we cannot do that until our existence is verifiable).  We’ve no help yet on that problem.  Yet I am here and wonder if you are?  Maybe a visit to The Rehearsal Studio will give a clue?

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By Stephen Smoliar, December 13, 2008 at 8:47 am Link to this comment

optipessi mist, I have not studied Hilbert Spaces since I was a graduate student.  I am afraid I have followed Bertrand Russell’s path in trading mathematics for philosophy.  (Will I live long enough to end up writing short stories?)  I certainly think that philosophy will do more to rescue Shenonymous from her paradoxical non-existence than physics will!

The agent for this rescue will be Plato, specifically in “Theaetetus.”  This is the one where Socrates prompts Theaetetus to define knowledge and shoots down each of his four attempts.  We thus end without a definition but with a lot more knowledge!  Most interesting is the way in which Socrates’ reasoning keeps interleaving the nature of knowledge with being itself (Can knowledge be?), memory (to which the question of being also applies), and description (to the extent that anything can only “be” to the extent to which it can “be described”).  This should take us back to some familiar ground:

Plato’s journey leads us up to Ringo Starr’s immortal punch line in HELP!:  “It’s all in yer mind!”

With due respect to Samuel Johnson, we may best view Edelman as a solipsist who figured out how to kick the stone in the street.  In more contemporary language he subscribes to the premise that reality is constructed through the processes of consciousness.  (The extent to which reality is “shared,” so to speak, can be accommodated through George Herbert Mead’s social behaviorism, which posits that those formative processes have a social dimension, as well as physical and psychological ones.)  In other words past, present, and future (along with knowledge and memory) all exist by virtue of those processes;  but, because they emerge from processes, none of them “exist” at any “frozen instant of time.”  (For me the conclusion about memory is the most profound one, since it posits the speciousness of the concept of a “memory state.”  In other words, Virginia, our memory is NOT like some enormous server for Google!)

By way of a post script, optipessi mist, you may turn to philosophy for a Platonist view on Hilbert Spaces, but only as an instance of a more general premise.  One way to view the abstractions of mathematics is as a means of simplifying descriptions of the complex.  The best example is probably how the language of vector calculus served to simplify the original expressions of Maxwell’s equations.  From that point of view, we can view the concept of the Hilbert Space as providing means to describe phenomena that are not easily (if at all) described in Euclidean Space.  Once the apparatus is in place, it can then be studied in its own right (as many have done with vector calculus).

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By optipessi mist, December 13, 2008 at 7:53 am Link to this comment

Shenonymous and Stephen Smoliar-  Each of your last posts are more or less correct.  Individually your post describes one aspect of reality in physics.

To keep things simple for now please give me your opinion of Hilbert Spaces.  I will give you mine with my next post.

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By Shenonymous, December 13, 2008 at 12:13 am Link to this comment

What you, Edleman, and Husserl say seems so true Stephen Smoliar.  But I see a very small problem.  It does seem so true that the present never arrives and is a mathematical abstraction, as much as past and future are for that matter.  For as you say, as it arrives it simultaneously leaves and there is never a moment, the moment, when it is Here.  But now let’s think for a moment, if thinking is possible under the circumstances.  We will try anyway:  The past does not exist as it has slipped away as fast as it arrived and slips away as fast as it arrived from the future as Time (shall we say unidirectionally) moves on.  And the future does not exist as it has not yet arrived but lays in wait to happen, kind of stalking the present, so to speak, and as it tries to arrive in the present there is always that kind of Zeno-problem of the present slipping away captured by that bandit, The Past.  So if the past does not exist nor the future, and you, Stephpen Smoliar, et al, have rightly taken the present away, then the small problem I see is that there is never any Time when we exist. 

I certainly hope someone can save us, we who do not exist.  optipessi mist or Ozark!  Sodium could be good for it!  How about our resident triumvirate:  Anarcissie, Folktruther, Paracelsus?  I cannot do it!  I wouldn’t know where to begin, She exclaims.  Maybe the ladies leilah or Lisa?  Maybe FENWICK?

Thank you Stephen, that was a fun metaphorical playground event:  In the manner of the Zen Buddhists who propose that existence is at the juncture of breathing in and breathing out.

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By Stephen Smoliar, December 12, 2008 at 8:56 am Link to this comment

Shenonymnous, let me elaborate on your “bottom line” (actually, final paragraph) about presentism and consciousness.  If we pursue the Edelman model of consciousness, then, as I have previously discussed regarding sound, consciousness CANNOT EXIST in an instant of time (an abstract “now,” so to speak) any more than sound can.  This is because consciousness is not a state but a property that emerges from a vast complex of neuronal activity.  No “snapshot” of that activity, taken on its own, can tell you anything about that emergent consciousness.

The title of Edelman’s book THE REMEMBERED PRESENT reflects the proposition that the present only exists to the extent that we are conscious of it;  and our consciousness of the present only exists (is formed, actually) through neural processing (which takes time, however brief the duration may be).  Thus, whatever it is that we perceive in the present is being installed in the dynamic processes of our memory at the same time;  and our capacity to reflect on the present actually takes place through those memory processes.  Edelman thus emerges (so to speak) as a “real-world” champion for Husserl:  The present only exists in conjunction with two horizons, once facing the past and the other facing the future.  (Husserl called these “retentions” and “protentions.”)

From this point of view, the “instant of the present” can never be anything other than a mathematical abstraction, no different from a point in space (which should not be any big surprise to anyone who has been following this discussion).

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By Shenonymous, December 11, 2008 at 5:03 pm Link to this comment

Sorry for the delay (a time constraint) in getting back due to my obvious lack of speed, work interrupts.  Often there are two interesting roads to take.

Since we have been on the topic of time, and to try to etch away a bit at the notion of the malaise of illiteracy, a summary of Neil McKinnon’s view of Presentism is offered without the bogeyman light and its speed, although it is agreed that understanding the phenomenon of light might help clarify the idea of time.  And a bit more on Lorentz’s Transformatons (LTs) with the help of Gabriel LaFreniere.  But let’s just accept the assessment of understanding light as a given,  Rest assure it would be welcomed that Shenonymous’ mass might increase as She increases Her speed (in hot pursuit of some truth), and She might need untold amounts more of energy to keep increasing Her speed.  She could use the extra energy since She is increasing Her speed and time has almost become nonexistent.  She really is slender, if not thin, and probably could use more mass anyway.  Except She would appear (contract) to be only half Her size.  Yikes.  The Lorentz transformations are puzzling it is true.  It seems to be very important to note that they are like doppler effects that apply to waves, nothing less and nothing more, according to one explanation.  Apparently LTs really occur and they are absolute.  The only problem for the observer is that he cannot know for any certainty whether he is truly at rest from is own point of view.  What pray tell could be the implications of that?

Matter really transforms according to the LTs because matter waves are involved.  It turns out apparently that Lorentz was right in 1904.  This is of the utmost importance. Lorentz was not aware of the wave nature of matter, so he could not explain why such a contraction should occur. But today we know that matter exhibits wave properties. So we should reconsider Lorentz’s theory. Our knowledge about the true nature of matter and forces, such as magnetic fields, is quite uncertain. Today’s unexplainable, actually inadmissible certitude about the non-existence of aether is a serious obstacle to finding the truth.

To say it shortly, the LTs are still relevant but they have a simpler and more important cause: the electron frequency slows down according to g. So let me introduce the “formula of the century”:  f ’ =  g f where the electron frequency slows down according to Lorentz’s factor.

From its own point of view, any material entity seems at rest, and other entities only act, react and seem to undergo the Lorentz transformations in accordance with their apparent speed.

The law of Relativity.  Relativity is all about appearances and illusion.  It is not what is really going on, it is just what any moving observer will record.

On the other hand, it is said that Lorentz’s discovery is much more important than Relativity because it is how matter really acts and reacts. Scientists will finally realize that the LTs are a mechanical law of nature, probably the most important of all. So it should be called Lorentz’s first law.

Lorentz’s first law.  It is not an illusion. It is what is really going on.  It should include the mass gain, which is kinetic energy, and was also discovered by Lorentz.

However, I found this idea intriguing from an Apeiron article by Robert J. Buenker on GP system, that In order to remove some contradictions from relativity theory, it becomes necessary to discard the LT and take account of the fact that the units of all physical quantities vary with the state of motion of the observer.  The laws of physics remain the same in all inertial systems,

Matter axial contraction is caused by the Doppler effect, which transforms its standing waves according to its absolute velocity. Its mechanics work slower and in different times in accordance with the unequal relative wave velocity, and the wave compression causes higher mass, force and energy.

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By Shenonymous, December 11, 2008 at 5:02 pm Link to this comment

All that notwithstanding, becoming acquainted with the presentist view of time it seems not to be too difficult not to agree that this how time necessarily is. What is it about their arguments that makes the presentist theory of time so forceful?  Perhaps its attraction resides in the way that it illuminates that aspect of human experience we call time. Psychologically, it seems the present is all there is (exists).  All of human thoughts, feelings and actions happens in the present.  Or so it seems.  Joys and hurts we have had become less palpable and seems to recede into oblivion as they fall deeper and deeper into distant memory, while past visions and sounds become only dulled echoes and without much color. The future is more elusive and even less tangible than the distant past.  We often attempt to divine it, desiring to grasp it.  We cannot appreciate it what it is since it does not yet exist, we can only excitedly anticipate what it will be. But the Present knowing it, it is fresh, immediate, lustrous, more exciting in the way that remembering the past never is.

Given the psychological uniqueness of The Present, it is therefore most tempting to pervade, permeate this specialness with essential importance and make this psychological current circumstance a focus of our metaphysics, a description of what we perceive reality to be.

The presentist emphatically does this.  He does not do this just by raising the metaphysical status of The Present occurrences above all other temporal states of concerns.. What the presentist does is to exclude all other temporal states of affairs as nonexistent.

There are arguments about certain difficulties for the theory of presentism. Contrary to appearances, a central feature of our psychology, that is, our conscious experience, embodies a major obstacle to presentism. This obstacle can be surmounted if and only if the presentist is willing to accept some form of mind/body dualism.  And insofar as mind/body dualism is unattractive, so too is presentism.  If interested see the article at Presentism and Consciousness at

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By Anarcissie, December 11, 2008 at 6:29 am Link to this comment

Lisa, the Fundamental Christian: ’... Did you read recently about the gays, in the wake of Prop 8’s failure, who violently disrupted church services in retaliation? Is that reprehensible to you, or laudable? ...’

One of the problems for religious organizations taking a political position which others believe is strongly detrimental to their interests is that the targets are likely to retaliate in any way they can simply as a matter of self-defense, just as they might against a secular organization.  A religious organization which has promoted state laws or policies which deprive a section of the population of equal rights can’t reasonably then claim it is only practicing religion and should be left alone.  Bringing religion into politics inevitably brings politics into religion.

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By OzarkMichael, December 10, 2008 at 9:15 pm Link to this comment

I have looked it up and I correct myself:

The mass of shenonymous as she runs so fast would increase, not the length of her. I guess the mass increases because she cannot continually go faster and faster and faster without needing an exponentially increasing amount of energy put into her. In my example she was not moving at the speed of light.

As far as length, as she measured the speed of light from her rapid frame of reference her yardstick would need to seem SHORTER to me, so that when she measures the same light beam as i do, its moving just as fast for her as it is to me. These strange changes are called Lorentz transformations

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By Shenonymous, December 10, 2008 at 5:30 pm Link to this comment

Are you sure of your flashlight experiment Ozark?  What makes you think if Shenonymous were running at the speed of light any distinction of a flashlight being turned on or any additional beam of light would be emitted would be detectable.  It is not even remote, it would not happen since Shenonymous and Her flashlight traveling at that speed is the speed of light and hence all would be traveling at the same speed.  Your experiment is hypothetical so to entertain it, you yourself would be, as you rightly surmised, too slow to detect the light beam known as Shenonymous and Her switched on flashlight, and also any yardstick She might have in Her hand.  You erroneously think that anything traveling at the speed of light could in fact be identifiable separately such as Her extended hand with a yardstick in it.  If, say, She started out with the yardstick extended already, the distinction between it and Her would not exist once they achieved the speed of light.  You would only perceive a streak or beam of light.  Horray for Shenonymous!  Tell us why, Ozark, why something has to give in any case (you stated that but did not elucidate).  While I do not argue that time and distance are not absolutes, but are relative, in the same way truths are relative, I would argue that in your stationary position, nothing that She does will be perceptible to you except Her along with the lighted flashlight as the beam of light.  I would submit that what is an inch to Shenonymous would be 1 inch over the denominator of the number of miles light travels in the time you are watching the beam of light.  BTW She would not actually detect your existence either.  I doubt She would have any consciousness at all.

If there were a God, then if we let God be true and if that makes every man a liar, then if any man says there is a god, then that man is lying even though god may be true in any event.  No man would be able to “know” it as truth.

What is the consequence of stopwatches and yardsticks being made liars with respect to constant light?  Would it be they simply cannot be used to measure time or distance?

We both await the resident physicists who may read these comments and wish to add, correct, or agree with what has been written.

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By Shenonymous, December 10, 2008 at 5:29 pm Link to this comment

While Rev. Wright might be at large for criticism, using him as a foil for criticism levied at the Christian Right is an ad hominem fallacy among a couple others, in other words, the basis of your argument about Rev. Wright is completely irrelevant.  If you want to criticize Rev. Wright attack him for whatever reason you wish but not to hide legitimate criticism of Fundamentalist Christians.

To open the pedagogical can of Enough Education will take the intellgence of using a didactic can opener.  The fallacy of omission is what you actually present to this forum, and whether or not Timothy Leary is to whom you were referring Lisa, was not clear at all from your earlier post.  It is your limited knowledge of history and fatal mistake to think that the drug guru Leary represented everybody of the 60s.  It is just like your prejudiced crowd to make that error to try to give some semblance of validity to your empty arguments.  It is the fallacy of inclusion.  No one is usurping your rights Lisa the FC.  Not quite sure what you mean by “real” education at any rate as if the classroom is some kind of vacuum and real people don’t attend classes.  Let us hope that you do speak out against intolerance, particularly the intolerance expressed by the Fundamentalist Right Wing Republican Christians.  Fanatical intolerant Islamists are not really the issue here but if you wish to throw them in with all intolerant ones in the world, be my guest.  If those gays disrupted the Mormon Church then bravo for them for being brave enough to protest since the attack against them came from that radical Christian denomination hiding behind their religious cloaks.  As a former Christian myself, I am interested in what you define a “real” Christian as since I have a doubt there really is such a definition.

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By OzarkMichael, December 10, 2008 at 12:33 pm Link to this comment

Shenonymous says: Some have pimped atheism for the sake of power but I have never heard any say “In the Name of Atheism” as has been done by Christians throughout history In the Name of God I kill thee.

If a person, even an unbalanced one, killed in the name of ‘nothing’ that would be odd. Yet that seems to be the test that an atheist measures her kind against. “Since we never killed in the name of ‘nothing’, then we atheists are safe compared to the dangerous religious ones, who kill in the name of their God”

But i think the claim of ‘nothing’ as the only motivation for an atheist is pretty weak. Because atheists are tempted to create ‘something’ to put in place of the ‘nothing’. Something positive, something that provides hope and kindles passion. Something which might be worth dying for. And killing for.

If we looked for that something, we might find it. Or the atheist doesnt have to look at all, opting to do as a Christian might do and say, “But I have not killed anyone, therefore what I believe(or disbelieve) is harmless.”

In that case the lessons of history have nothing to say to us. In that case the possibility of drifting into the same old pitfalls is higher than we suspect. Which is not so bad. It is the usual state of affairs for us all, believers and nonbelievers, east, west, north and south, past and present, and also, unfortunately… the future.

As for my statement about absolute time and distance… the tests and theories of 100 years ago suggest these are not absolutes.

If shenonymous ran by me at nearly the speed of light, and while doing so, she turned on a flashlight, she would measure the speed of that light as traveling ahead of her in a perfectly normal way. she would measure it with yardstick and stopwatch to be travelling away from her at the speed of light.  How is that possible? Cant light go faster since she is so fast? Or slower because i am so slow?

No. Lightspeed is constant.

To keep lightspeed the same, something else has to give. And that something is time and distance, which are not absolutes, but relative. To me, standing still… her time and her yardstick are distorted. What to her appears to be a second would seem to me to be a minute. What to her was an inch would seem to me to be a mile. We would as usual argue about who was giving an inch and who was taking a mile. But we both measure the speed of the same light to be exactly the same.

There is a saying: “Let God be true, even if that makes every man a liar”

which i suppose has a twin in the realm of physics: “Let the speed of light be constant, even if it makes both stopwatch and yardstick into liars.”

This was suggested by experiments and mathematics before Einstein’s work. I hope a physicist here would kindly correct or improve my example.

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By Lisa, the Fundamental Christian, December 10, 2008 at 11:04 am Link to this comment
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Anarcissie, thank you. And there’s a percentage who feel the way I do. I do not want to come across as those who protest that Islam is a religion of peace. Christianity is divided into factions, as are all religions. I’m only responsible for me. Period. Again, thank you.

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By Lisa, the Fundamental Christian, December 10, 2008 at 10:46 am Link to this comment
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My comments were in response to Mr. Hedge’s remarks concerning Christianity in this article, and his allusion to the lack of education. It naturally beggars the question as to how much education is necessary to see the light.

I utterly detest the atrocities done in the name of God. I’ve never understood, for example, the alleged reasoning of taking lives in the bombing of abortion clinics to save lives. Nor do I understand why someone would plant a bomb to protest a war or other government actions. I was appalled to read that Kansas Baptists protest at gay funerals; that is overtly wrong! But to blame these actions on RWC is to “fallaciously dump everyone into one big criticism”. If you think white bias is a one of the roots of RWC fanaticism, I refer you to Jeremiah Wright. Your white bias remark is blatantly racist and ignorantly presumptious. 

I would never presume to force my beliefs on others; I don’t have that power. I didn’t write the Bible so I cannot enforce it. I am responsible only for myself. I certainly don’t wear my mantra on a t-shirt; that’s naive, narrow-minded and ingratiating. My beliefs do shape how I vote, and as an American I have that right, and that right is protected by law. I didn’t write the Constitution either, so I can’t force people to vote “my truth”. Again, your bigotry rises to the surface with no substance.

There’s a canned product called “Enough Education”? What do you do, huff it?

“Lisa the FC is like so many…” Thank you, but you don’t speak for me; I speak for myself.

Any student of history knows exactly what the philosophy and who the philosphers of the ‘60s were. Timothy Leary and others questioned truth, authority, advocated drugs to open the mind. History forms where and why we are today politically, morally, socially. It’s alarming that some are trying to rewrite history to make it PC palatable (Holocaust denial, for example, in case you’re compelled to ask). 

Of course people never stop learning (if they want to learn), and the real education begins outside the classroom.

Yes, our society is composed of a variety of races, cultures, languages, straights, gays, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, Marxists, et. al, and yes, even Christians. I have the right to speak out against that intolerance as much as anyone else speaks out against the intolerance they suffer. Did you read recently about the gays, in the wake of Prop 8’s failure, who violently disrupted church services in retaliation? Is that reprehensible to you, or laudable? 

It is impossible to anticipate and articulate the questions that may be asked after a posting, and responses are more effective when asked without the pseudo-intellectualism and sooo Valley Girl speak.
Bandy Timothy Leary and Abby Hoffman in your search engine. Throw in William Ayers and The Chicago Seven.

Find out what real Christianity is instead of letting the actions of a few form your intolerance of the whole. You need to understand the difference between integrity and conviction as opposed to activism. Educate yourself in these matters before taking the helm.

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By Anarcissie, December 10, 2008 at 9:17 am Link to this comment

Lisa, the Fundamental Christian: ’... especially when I’ve never bashed or bombed or acted violently once in my life toward those who label me and others of my ilk as such. ...’

About 70% of fundamentalist Christians, and almost all of their prominent leadership, supported George W. Bush, who did a great deal of bashing and bombing, to the tune of killing about 100,000 innocent bystanders.  There is also the matter of voting for domestic repression through state force of harmless persons like homosexuals and drug users.  You, yourself, may have opposed all of these things, but as a group, fundamentalist Christians are not innocent.  On the contrary, they are accomplices with Bush, Cheney and so forth in the furthering of war, imperialism and other massive crimes.

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By Shenonymous, December 10, 2008 at 5:42 am Link to this comment

Had it not been for their corrosive assault on society, the Christian Right would not have had such vitriolic reaction to their narrow view of existence.  The question of “how much education is [enough]?” is naive to put it mildly.  Most intelligent people say one never stops learning.  Formal education is available in this country until one drops dead.  As a matter of fact I knew at least three such geriatric individuals who died while being students at the university where I taught.  They were among the best of students and had the most engaging minds in class.  The response to education that CRs take is the frightening one.  Funny how the ignorant always complain about the educated.  Closed minds is what I call the basis for such tripe as the “Army of God” manuals and the 65 ways on how to destroy abortion clinics and recipes for making homemade bombs to kill people and destroy property. That is sooooo RW Christian it makes me sick and should disgust any human that is awake to the horror that can be festered in the human mind then acted out in society.  Get a grip.  The problem is the aggravating factor of the set of beliefs that one’s own ideology represents the only form of truth and negative beliefs about individuals who are not members of one’s own group is the kind of intolerant and bigoted thinking that gave rise to Christian fundamentalism.  The reality is that in this country of mixed races, ethnic groups, and sexual preferences, an aggregate plenitude of attitudes exist.  White washing prejudicial values is a figment since the demographics of this country shows minorities are gaining and will actually become the majority within a few decades.  White biases will be a thing of the past and all we are hearing now are echoes of irrational phobias that will die out as homogeneity or total mixture of races takes place.  A kind of social entropy, if you will.  My new T-says Let’s hear it for gray people!

Lisa, the FC is like so many who accuses without giving any actual examples.  The mouth goeth before real.  For instance, which great thinkers taught “truth is relevant?”  Precisely what “new philosophy” could she be talking about?  It is one thing to bandy slogans and another to properly criticize.  Maybe some of us already know but she obviously doesn’t think so as she fallaciously lumps everybody in one big criticism.  Perhaps she is ignorant of those great thinkers herself and hides that ignorance in a common device called hearsay.

Problem is Lisa, we on our lofty perches do know a lot about the likes of you and Christian fundamentalism and the odor is almost overwhelming.  I say almost for we always have the hope things can get better with the invention of an aerosol air freshener of the mind.  Oh, shucks, I think there already is such a canned product called “Enough Education.”

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By Lisa, the Fundamental Christian, December 9, 2008 at 7:59 pm Link to this comment
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I read last week that the reason determined for the failure of Prop 8 to pass in California was the lack of education among the voters. I was wondering: how much education? Must one graduate from Harvard or Yale, or simply have a high school diploma? Will a community college suffice? The guidelines weren’t given, which was rather disappointing. One would think that such judgmental intellectuals would further explain and document this assessment and condemnation.

I well remember a time when the great thinkers of our prestigious universities taught that “truth is relevant.” Such profound thinking was monumental, astounding, “deep”. A whole generation’s ideals were turned upside down by this new philosophy. Now, it seems, the problem is with the Christian Right. Conservative thinking is due to “brainwashing” and “ignorance”. I find that kind of narrow-mindedness deeply offensive, especially when I’ve never bashed or bombed or acted violently once in my life toward those who label me and others of my ilk as such. I fully believe I have the right to embrace my ideals as freely as an atheist has the right to reject them, and I also should enjoy the right to be respected and treated decently as a fellow human being. I’m tired of labels and slurs from the elitist enlightened left. It is the height of ignorance to sit on your lofty perch and judge those of us about which you know nothing.

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By optipessi mist, December 9, 2008 at 3:41 am Link to this comment

Personally I need humor as a break.  It breathes fresh air into my thinking.

If we can conceive of terraforming entire planets why not uniforming the entire cosmos.

“We are Homo Sapiens. You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile.”

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By Shenonymous, December 9, 2008 at 12:57 am Link to this comment

I thank you Sodium that you have explained further what we have been playing with for a few days here, Time, Light, Space, and the Universe.  What a lofty set of topics!  I’m glad you did not unplug your computer and that we have the benefit of your explication.  I have read optipessi mist’s comment on the latest theory as well.  I’ve copied as much of our forum as I was able before TD dissolves it into oblivion.  I want to reread all of our posts. 

Yes I think I noted that while the blind do not see a lighted universe they could in fact get vitamin D from the sun, so they are still affected by a light adorned universe.  More interesting is Stephen Smoliar’s intrigue.  Can there be a universe without electromagnetic radiation?  Imagine a lightless universe next door to ours, I doubt it could be connected in anyway since light from ours would seep in, or so it would seem.  There are shadows of doubts being chased here.  But wait a minute optipessi mist,  even though it might be off the beaten path, please explain your metaphor about Memory and Truth.  Oh, pardon, I noticed a typing mistake when I meant to say earlier “the destiny of dense water.”

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By Shenonymous, December 9, 2008 at 12:26 am Link to this comment

Hello Ozark…so nice you and your piety have joined us.  As I’ve said before, I like your backwards then-to-forward approach.  So I will give a micro history of the study of light and its speed.

Actually experiments with light began longer than 100 years ago.  Empedocles had an idea, then Harry Stotle did too, course he had ideas about everything.  He was quite wrong about light though.  One ancient theory thought vision was light emitted form the eye.  Then Heron of Alexandria thought that the speed of light must be infinite because distant objects such as stars appear instantaneously when one opens one’s closed eyes.

The two famous Islamic philosphers also had a theory that light had a finite speed.  I guess they were right: 299,792,458 metres per second (1,079,252,848.8 km/h, which is approximately 186,282.4 miles per second, or 670,616,629.38 miles per hour, at least in a vacuum) 

Far as I can determine, until Galileo’s lantern experiments, the speed of light was thought to move instantaneously in some direction through the ether, a hypothetical massless medium thought to be distributed throughout the universe (I think of it as space, I would guess everybody else does too).  Given that Galileo in the late 1600s was one of the very first to wonder about the velocity of light and from then onward until now each scientific experiment improved the accuracy of lets call the velocity of light c.  In present history, there is 100% accuracy of the speed of c. 

But would you clarify a little bit of what you are saying, Ozark with respect to absolute time and absolute distance? 

True to Her contentious nature as you so noted, Shenonymous observes that you take issue with the opinion that Christian fundamentalists have forced their influence on the politics of society that manifested in violence at some abortion clinics and sets aside their belief of truth of finite time and eternity as irrelevant.  Are you a militant Fundamentalist Christian who would strike violence at abortion clinics and abortion practitioners?  Well we do take note, that your allusions are vague and only polemic at best.  A kind of whining innuendo, or so it seems.  Would you name an atheist who engages in violence for the sake of his/her non-belief.  Now be sure it is for the sake of his/her non-belief, in the name of atheism that they do violence.  Some have pimped atheism for the sake of power but I have never heard any say “In the Name of Atheism” as has been done by Christians throughout history In the Name of God I kill thee.  This is not just by the godful Christians, but the godful Islamists as well. Just to set the record straight.  But this is a slight diversion from our ongoing dialogue.

So let’s ask a few questions of our stellar colleagues on this forum, as they graciously have been providing a most enjoyable fascinating and critical explanation on the subject of time, light, and the destiny of dense of water. 

Why would so many scientists throughout the last four hundred or so years spend so much of their careers to make an accurate measurement of the speed of light?  Why is it important anyway?  We have been here on this forum marveling, and having fun, at what has been discovered at finding its speed, but we haven’t mentioned its significance.

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By OzarkMichael, December 8, 2008 at 8:36 pm Link to this comment

Why time is shortened as you increase rate I don’t know.

Its a great thing to wonder about. The way i come at these problems is to go way back to when the concept wasnt understood yet, and ask, “What simple problems were people working on?” And then I keep coming forward from there. Not enough to become an expert, but enough so the theory makes a little sense.

Simple, elegant experiments over 100 years ago suggested that the speed of light is always the same no matter how fast you are moving. Then someone figured out that the speed of light will be measured by you to be the same as it is by me who is standing still and watching you zoom past.

But if the speed of light is always the same, then time and even distances have to be variable between you and me.

So if I was watching you move really fast, strange as it seems to say…your yardstick would look longer to me and your time would be slower to me, your body and everything moving with you would ‘flatten out’... all for the sake of keeping lightspeed as a constant… so that we both measure that light beam as moving at the same speed.

In other words, we insist that the speed of light is constant, even at the expense of our concept of absolute time and absolute distance.

I would appreciate a better (yet simple) explanation by one of the experts here. Likely I have gotten some details wrong.

violence is manifested in Christian fundamentalism in its insistence on the truth of their beliefs about the finite time and eternity, and therefore their forced influence on the politics of society, such as erupts occasionally at abortion clinics

As a fundamentalist Christian, i do not have any mental qualms about the theory of Relativity. Nor does the contemplation of the time theory trigger a desire to commit acts of violence. But then I dont understand Relativity very well, or maybe I havent thought through the implications. Is there something I should be upset about? Maybe in the interest of public safety you should not explain it to me.

A serious thought now: all Christians should take note of ‘forced influence’ that has been done by ourselves or others of our kind throughout history. Understanding would be a good thing. Much is writen about it. Christians are rightfully confronted with it.

But I wonder how far we go in describing “influence” as being “forced”? For while it is true that one does not need to use violence to generate an ugly amount of ‘force’, it is also true that Christians participating in a democracy through the act of casting a vote has been described by some these days as an interference in democracy, or even fascism.

Is the ‘forced influence’ on society only a religious phenomena? There are some atheist authors who seem to be proccupied with pushing the faults of human nature over into the religious corner. Are there no examples of atheists manifesting violence for the sake of their beliefs?   

I have chatted with you before Shenonymous, so I know you will be intelligent and honest. That is a reliable quality you have. Like the speed of light, it is the constant in the equation. In order to keep her honesty constant, Shenonymous sometimes has to get a little rough. Thats ok. The constant is what I look for, but the variable is what makes keeps life interesting.

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By optipessi mist, December 8, 2008 at 8:27 pm Link to this comment


“Since I seem to be the “token phenomenologist” in your club (  ),...”

Token is such an ugly word.  Shall we say, the “R. Dangerfield phenomenologists” of our club.

In case you don’t remember Rodney Dangerfield’s famous line was, “Uh I tellya I don’t get no respect.”

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By optipessi mist, December 8, 2008 at 7:49 pm Link to this comment

“...Ought not also to be considered why organisms developed eyes in the first place and that there are different places on an organism’s body where the vision sense organs occur…”

When this question was being discussed is when I came into the conversation.

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By optipessi mist, December 8, 2008 at 2:14 pm Link to this comment

Stephen Smoliar- “...I am more intrigued by what premise those students were actually discussing.  Were they assuming a universe without ANY electromagnetic radiation?  Were they assuming one that filtered out those high frequencies at which wave and particle properties start to get confused?  Enquiring minds wnat to know!...”

That is precisely one of the first questions that came up in our conversation.
If it is agreeable, for purposes of further discussion in this forum and to keep matters simple our first premise will be that only light as a form of energy is the only one not allowed in this hypothetical universe.  In our process of experimentation if we confront impossibilities then we will deal with them one by one.  In other words, we will create alternative models of the universe changing only one factor to see where that leads us.  Always keeping in mind our main goal which is to determine the nature of time in our universe.

Hopefully we will traverse similar ground as we did in the original conversation but, with a fresh perspective.  Who knows? The shadow knows.  It has been 2 years since that conversation.  My memory isn’t what it used to be.  Even if I were younger and the conversation happened yesterday, and we could go back to see if there was a second shooter in the grassy knoll, there is wisdom in the following metaphor, “Memory is a distant relative of Truth.”

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By optipessi mist, December 8, 2008 at 1:33 pm Link to this comment

Sodium-  However, the question of the nature of time is a compound one.  It also hinges on whether the universe is infinite or not.  According to the latest experiments with inconceivably long range lasers and traingulation the universe is flat.  The latest theory says that if the universe is flat it is infinite.  If it is even slightly curved then it is finite.

The experiment described above is only one of many alternative methods to the method of thermodynamics.  The theory of thermodynamics is good science.  But regarding direct vs. indirect observation of the universe; the laser experiment is more direct yet both methods are still inconclusive.

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By Stephen Smoliar, December 8, 2008 at 8:27 am Link to this comment

Since I seem to be the “token phenomenologist” in your club ( grin ), allow me to take issue with your assertion about the blind.  They may not have RETINAL sensations of light, but most of them still sense it indirectly.  For example, a blind person can deduce that the sun is shining on the basis of sensations of heat.  That is still perception in my book.  The sensations just go through specific channels.

I am more intrigued by what premise those students were actually discussing.  Were they assuming a universe without ANY electromagnetic radiation?  Were they assuming one that filtered out those high frequencies at which wave and particle properties start to get confused?  Enquiring minds wnat to know!

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By Shenonymous, December 8, 2008 at 5:00 am Link to this comment

Just a quick thought as I have to be off to work…that was a captivating good morning question you and your young physics majors were kicking around in a more cordial ambience than the classroom and the emotional detachment of the Internet.  There is something about warm bodies.  At any rate, there are a group of human beings who do live in a universe without light.  They are called the blind.  Of course they do get the vitamin D from the sun, so otherwise they might be normal in a light environment except for blindness.  There are also animals that live in complete darkness at the bottom of the ocean I see occasionally on a Nova program or so.  There, though, they live in a wet environment.  But there are also blind moles that live on dry land.  Again, there are many questions such as to what degree does light, whatever its source, contribute to a life-conducing condition.  I will be interested in your recollection.

Ought not also to be considered why organisms developed eyes in the first place and that there are different places on an organism’s body where the vision sense organs occur.  Some organisms have their eyes in what we would call the feet.  (I won’t speculate where it is claimed some other organisms have their eyes, I will leave that up to the indelicate in breeding).

Also Stephen Hawkings new theory quantum gravity looks very interesting. I was just reading about it on  Will get back this evening to the forum.

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By optipessi mist, December 7, 2008 at 11:33 pm Link to this comment

Shenonymous and Stephen Smoliar- There is a downtown coffee shop where I live called The Coffee Lounge.  I go there to play chess, enjoy the Bohemian atmospere and from time to time eavesdrop or interject myself into conversations that I find very interesting.  the shop is owned by a local lady radio personality.  Believe it or not she is hands on with her business.  She is there often and is hilarious and fascinating at the same time.  She has provided the twenty something and younger group in this area with an intellectually and culturally stimulating place to go.  Young artists, musicians, poets, scientists, etc. frequent her coffee shop in the evenings.  There are a few Baby Boomers like myself that go there too yearning for another taste of the freedom of the sixties.

One night as I was playing a game of chess a conversation caught my attention.  At first jists would waft to my ear from the table nearby.  Then I would go back to concentrating on my move and the position on the board.  As the subject of the conversation became clearer to me which took about 5 minutes, I was trying to be polite and not listen in on other people’s private conversations. But it was too much, the next thing I knew the game was forgotten and I was asking to join in the conversation with the trio (two guys one girl).  They were very polite and with quizzical looks on their faces invited me to join in.  They were probably thinking, “Why is this old chess player interested in our conversation.”

The subject of their conversation was:  How would human beings have developed if we had been born into a universe without light?  Oh my God!!  I was flopping around like a fish on the deck. The girl was majoring in physics/computer science at one of the local universities. One guy was working on his Master’s in Physics.  The other guy was leaving shortly to begin work on a doctorate in physics at the California Institute of Technology.  We talked until the place closed at 2AM and then continued outside until 5AM.  The group grew as the conversation went on throughout the night with occasional breaks for coffee, snacks and refreshments.  By the time we got outside the group had grown to 15.  Among them were young artists, scientists, physicists, mathematicians and computer scientists. For that few hours I knew what inspiration young Einstein must have received in pursuing his magnificent obsession. 

Later I will share some of the insights from that conversation.  But, just a hint for now.  I learned volmes about the technical details inherent in “collapsing the wave”.  And to appreciate how revolutionary the concept of the “field” is.

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By Sodium, December 7, 2008 at 9:49 pm Link to this comment
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Subject:Thermodynamics,Time and Space of the Universe

Re:shenonymous,December 7,at 9:28 am.


I was about to unplug my computer for the holiday as I read your interesting post referred to above.I have felt that should postpone shutting my computer for a day or two and try to provide you with some off-the-cuff thoughts that came to mind on the subject, hoping that such thoughts might be of help to you and others.If not,well,at least I have tried to be of some help:

The whole purpose of this attempt is to show that the universe cannot possibly be static from a thermodynamics point of views and hence its effects on time and space.

To start with the thermodynamicists have provided us with the following extremely important principle:


The operative words in the above principle are:


A bit of an outline on each may be helpful:

Through a process called enthalpy,the energy of the universe is transformational,meaning it can be transformed from solid to liquid and finally to vapor or gas or from gas/vapor to liquid and finally to solid aqnd so on and on,while its original mass/weight remains quantitively the same.That means NO loss in the mass or weight of the original energy before the transformations occurred.Question:

What does the whole enthalpic transfrmation of energy have to do with space and time? Apparently,no relationship exists until one understands how the entropy of a thermodynamic system is calculated.At this point,one must say that the enthalpy resulting from energy transformation is actually measurable, but the entropy can only be calculated from its relationship with the enthlapy resulting from the transformation of energy from one physical state to another.

Before proceeding any further,what is entropy?

The thermodynamicists define entropy as a theoretical tool by which the disorder of a thermodynamic system is measured.Considering the whole universe as a thermodynamic system in constant changes,with no cessation in sight,entropy becomes an important tool to confirm that the thermodynamic system of the universe is an expanding system,not a static one,where Einstein once blundered and thought it was static.The word “blunder” was Einstein’s word,not mine,as he described his error with an admirable humility.

Since the universe is expanding in an infinite space,trying to define time has become like trying to catch one’s own shadow in a sunny day.Can anybody catch his/her own shadow? If anyone can do so,then and only then,one may hope to define time in an expanding universe.Peter pan tried catching his own shadow and he ended needing St.Bernard dog to help out catching it for him.I do not recall if they ever succeeded!!

Now,one is confronted with a very complex dilemma,not only from the expendability of the universe,but also from its constant energy because the entropy can only be calculated from knowing the measurable enthalpy that results from enegy transfoemation from one physical state to another,along with the temperature involved.Therefore,energy transformation cannot be ruled out that it has no influence on time and space,as initionally and apparently one might have thought the case.Hence,time and space,in my personal views,are dependent on specific components of a thermodynamically expanding universe-that are energy and entropy.

Shenonymous:I hope all the forgoing outline will contribute to your discourse with others,in a small way.And,please try to enjoy the break resulting from the holidays season.It is good for the soul-nothing else.

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By Shenonymous, December 7, 2008 at 5:07 pm Link to this comment

I loved the destiny/density pun, I’ll have to come up with one equal to it later too.  Much to do, too much to doooooo.  I’m late I’m late said the March Hare, gotta goooooo.

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By optipessi mist, December 7, 2008 at 4:58 pm Link to this comment

Shenonymous-  You didn’t like my destiny/density play on words joke?

Thanks,I will be checking out both of those sites.  I have a ton that I go to.  I’ll just add that physics forum after I check it out.

Where do the lost supernanoseconds go?  Well, as far as I know down the same rabbit hole that Alice went through.  Just joking again.  I will share what I know a little later.  Right now I have to be somewhere.

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By Anarcissie, December 7, 2008 at 4:51 pm Link to this comment

“That there is something, and not nothing—that is the greatest of all miracles.”  (Leibniz?)

However, if will can be free, then there must be causeless events; and if there are causeless events, then the universe can will itself into being.

Instead of asking why, then, we might just as well ask: why not?

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By Shenonymous, December 7, 2008 at 4:36 pm Link to this comment

Thank you optipessi mist.  Knowing a quantum leap less than you, and as much as I can understand, seems like there are a few competing theories:  (but they are all “just” theories) there is the old one called inflationary theory, then ekpyrotic (without fire) theory, string theory, then there is one called aether wave theory (AWT) or an endless universe where two already existing branes (short for membranes and I don’t know what those could be) collide causing a big bang, I think.  It is all mind boggling.  Then there is the worm hole theory, twin universe theory see

There is a book I just ran across today with the longest title I’ve ever seen,  “The unknown universe; the origin of the universe, quantum gravity Quantum gravity is the field of theoretical physics attempting to unify quantum mechanics, which describes three of the fundamental forces of nature, with general relativity, the theory of the fourth fundamental force: gravity, wormholes, and other things science still can’t explain.” by Richard Hammond, New Page Books, 2008 ISBN 9781601630032 seems to be available at amazon for a great price.  I’m buying it!  Maybe Professor Stephen Smoliar will explain this stuff some more for us.  I’m all ears (uh, eyes).  I’d take a course but there are no colleges ‘round here.  damn.

Also there is a physics forum that seems very interesting.  Interesting questions asked and answered.  For instance, check out:

A small question.  The airplane example of the slowdown of time, when one gets off the plane, are those lost supernanoseconds recovered?  If not, then where did they go?  Just a weird thought.

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By optipessi mist, December 7, 2008 at 3:36 pm Link to this comment

“...But doesn’t that just mean that light would slow down with respect to the density of the material and the photon is also decelerated?  But this only addresses the speed and the slowing down or acceleration, not the phenomenon of time.  The photon is still traveling, and in time, with respect to an observer.  As barely an amatuer at physics, you and omnipessi mist talk himalayas over my head.  I would be most appreciative if you would simplify your expertise language a bit.  I can follow to a certain degree, but not as much as you might imagine…” 

I am just an amateur particle physics fan myself.

Here is one down to earth way that I understand it.  Before Mr. Einstein, so far as we know no one else knew what he discovered, time was separate and absolute and worked alone.

Now space and time together as two different color threads make up the fabric of our universe.

To simplify your example I like to use a formula from basic math: d = r x t or t = d/r

That is the way it used to be.

t’= shortened time

Now t’ = d/r.  The more you increase “r” the speed(rate, velocity, etc.)the shorter the time.  As evidenced by the examples in science articles and news media of passengers jets that slow down our aging almost imperceptibly by microseconds.  When we went to the Moon the shortened time factor had to be taken into account by NASA or we would have been missing a couple astronauts travelling somewhere in space at about 25,000mph.

Why time is shortened as you increase rate I don’t know.

“...opessi mist’s question is also fascinating.  But I admit I’ve never heard of alien shelf technology with reference to a name for the universe.  But I suppose if I could answer his question, MIT would hire me in a nanosecond.  The reverse engineering going on at LHC, that is, breaking something down in order to understand it, build a copy or improve it is worth every millions of dollars it will take to fix the catastrophe that happend to it.  But please omnipessi mist, would you please elucidate further and in some understandable language for the lay people (uh, me).  Thank you.

The Big Bang Theory is nice, but it is just a theory.  I want to know where the infinitesimally small dot out of which it all supposedly exploded came from.  I have read exhaustively about particle physics.  There are experiments described where seemingly from nowhere a particle simultaneously appears and acquires mass.  All that I have read has some measure of empirical basis.  I can give up causality (the chain of cause and effect), and the concept of absolute time.  But, the concept of something from nothing.  That one—like Pi,the zero power identity, etc. and my math and science teachers—you’re gonna have to prove to me.

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By optipessi mist, December 7, 2008 at 2:26 pm Link to this comment

Shenonmous-”...I think I am denser than water…”

You make me laugh.LOL

So I say back to you, “Our density has brought me to you.”

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By Shenonymous, December 7, 2008 at 12:16 pm Link to this comment

The photons are moving too fast for me, I think I am denser than water…  Anarcissie’s Cabinet, sort of like Dr. Caligieri’s Cabinet where the photon is could be likened to Jane whose beauty prevents Cesare from killing her.  Can we imagine that the cabinet is the Dr.’s mind and is comparable to Anarcissie’s cabinet?  But for what it is, his poeticizing is highly appreciated nonetheless.

And it’s another thing to jump off the bridge.

Fascinating, Stephen Smoliar.  I was responding to Anarcissie’s particle physics comment.  But you know that.  Anyway, to answer it more directly, for my own clarification, or enlightenment (punster that I am) it seems elementary, that if something, say a photon is traveling at the speed of light (299,792,458 meters/second), which is a particle of light, it of course does not experience time relative to the speed of itself.  No?  The photon cannot be accelerated faster than the speed of light since it is light, and it is somewhat redundant to speak of a photon traveling at the speed of light, even though the speed of light may differ in different materials, say water and air where water has a higher density than air, it doesn’t matter since the photon has a maximum speed.  But doesn’t that just mean that light would slow down with respect to the density of the material and the photon is also decelerated?  But this only addresses the speed and the slowing down or acceleration, not the phenomenon of time.  The photon is still traveling, and in time, with respect to an observer.  As barely an amatuer at physics, you and omnipessi mist talk himalayas over my head.  I would be most appreciative if you would simplify your expertise language a bit.  I can follow to a certain degree, but not as much as you might imagine. 

omnipessi mist’s question is also fascinating.  But I admit I’ve never heard of alien shelf technology with reference to a name for the universe.  But I suppose if I could answer his question, MIT would hire me in a nanosecond.  The reverse engineering going on at LHC, that is, breaking something down in order to understand it, build a copy or improve it is worth every millions of dollars it will take to fix the catastrophe that happend to it.  But please omnipessi mist, would you please elucidate further and in some understandable language for the lay people (uh, me).  Thank you. 

Speaking of water and photons (a bit of a diversion here) if water is frozen, wouldn’t the photon be even more decelerated as it passes through?  I saw an article recently where a beam of light was halted in mid-stream so to speak because of some freezing of the atmosphere.  The picture was way wicked cool (oops, another pun, sometimes I just can’t help myself).  We just gotta laugh.

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By Stephen Smoliar, December 7, 2008 at 11:43 am Link to this comment

Anarcissie, if Einstein could fantasize about riding on a photon, attributing consciousness to one seems like less of a stretch!

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By Anarcissie, December 7, 2008 at 11:43 am Link to this comment

OM—“It is one thing to build a bridge, and another to walk over it.”

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By Anarcissie, December 7, 2008 at 11:28 am Link to this comment

Shenonymous—I was being somewhat poetical, or maybe fabcetious, about photons experiencing things.  However, someone I knew once had a dream about being in a timeless universe where there was neither movement nor sound, but there was distance and color.  It occurred to me that she had dreamed of being a photon—something we can dream of but hardly experience, burdened as we are with mass.  Every now and then I bring that photon out for a brief appearance, and then it goes back in the cabinet.

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By optipessi mist, December 7, 2008 at 11:12 am Link to this comment

Shenonymous & Anarcissie,

How can science bridge the gaping gulf between these two versions of time?

Some of us are reverse engineering this alien shelf technology we call the universe.  At the moment the cutting edge seems to be the reverse engineering being done at the LHC.

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By Stephen Smoliar, December 7, 2008 at 11:05 am Link to this comment

Needless to say, what I said about auditory phenomena generalizes to any phenomenon that we choose to describe in terms of wave-like behavior!

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By Stephen Smoliar, December 7, 2008 at 10:48 am Link to this comment

Shenonymous, you seem to be working your way back to the fundamentals of the calculus of infinitesimals!  (The laws of motion may have evolved in the transition from Newton to Einstein, but the underlying mathematical principles remain.  The just get applied in different ways!)  The initial question was whether or not you could accurately characterize change (which takes place over an interval of time) at any given instant.  Both Newton and Leibniz proposed that one “approach” the instant as a “limit point” of smaller and smaller intervals.  If the “measurement of change” “progresses” smoothly with the change in interval size, then such a limit point can be both well-defined and predicable by mathematical operations.  If there is not such “smooth progress,” then the behavior is technically called “undifferentiable;”  and change cannot be so defined.

When we shift our attention from (say) billiard ball bouncing off each other to auditory phenomena, things get trickier.  We try to define a sound in terms of its frequency content, and there is a fair amount of evidence that the path between the inner ear and the auditory cortex does pretty much the same thing.  However, because frequency is, itself, time-dependent, the way in which we describe the frequency content of a sound (its Fourier analysis) depends on the duration of the sound be analyzed.  (This is the “classic” relation between sample size and bandwidth.)  Thus, where sound is concerned, the Newton/Leibniz strategy of narrowing down the temporal interval mucks up the description of the phenomenon (even if it does so in a mathematically differentiable way).

When I wrote earlier that Husserl’s writings on time-consciousness tripped up on some of the physical details, these were the sorts of detail I had in mind.  However, if he did not get the physics right, he was not bad at anticipating subsequent “wet brain” discoveries.  He pretty much identified the need for what Edelman would call “organs of succession” in the brain.  We now know a lot more about what those organs are (cerebellum, hippocampus, basal ganglia) and what they actually do.

Getting back to the mathematics, calculus provides us with a foundation that identifies when we can describe tensed phenomena through tenseless techniques.  Sometimes we can;  sometimes we can’t.  Through the calculus of infinitesimals, we have a better appreciation of our limitations in dealing with auditory phenomena.

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By Shenonymous, December 7, 2008 at 10:28 am Link to this comment

Perhaps, Anarcissie, but in any experiential universe, traveling implies time.  If not, tell us how it doesn’t.  What you said is just a funny cosmological or subatomic particle physics way of talking.  For how do you know what a photon experiences?  If you do know this, then please explain how it is that a photon exists as a line “running” from its place of emission “to” its place of absorption in a static universe without some passage of time even if that passage is imperceptible.  For unlike Berkeley, I submit that there is hypothetical time even though imperceptible and that things (albeit hypothetical things) do and continue to exist in it.  The hypothesis of a static universe is one that is dynamically stable meaning space does not expand.  Even though there are a few holdouts for a ‘steady state’ universe, however, Einstein himself, who postulated the static universe, declared this notion to be his biggest blunder.  Hubble proved him monumentally wrong besides, and I can only imagine Albert’s humility.  Nevertheless, a static universe cannot give a rational explanation of how a photon gets from one place to another without traversing space and therefore time.  Even hypothetically, if it comes and goes out of existence then comes back into existence, there was a ‘time’ when it wasn’t then a ‘time’ when it was.  Nothing travels outside of time.  Space expands as a function of the passage of time.  To the degree time passes, so space expands.  Time rules!  It is my new T-shirt message.

Of course you could adhere to Milne’s Lorentzian pure vacuum universe theory of an empty universe that is not time dependent, but I would suggest, with tongue in cheek, that you would not be here if it were true.  Some things are just fun to hypothesize about, but are not really taken seriously as a description of reality.  There are theories that postulate objects can ‘approach the speed of light.’  But if they ever succeeded in achieving the speed of light, they would become light, their mass/energy would transform into light and hence would cease to exists as that object.  Homogeneity as a description of the universe has been “settled” in the opinions of most observational cosmologists, meaning Milne’s worries have been put to rest.  Oh, yes QM makes things a whole lot more complicated.  There the path of a photon would be a matter of taking an infinite multiplicity of “times.”  And, providing one of our worst nightmares, It would take an infinite number of times to track.  It’s all good.

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By Anarcissie, December 7, 2008 at 9:29 am Link to this comment

Shenonymous: ’... You also say that light is the phenomenon that most affects the perspective of time, but you did not say why. ...’

Since a photon travels at the speed of light, it does not experience time.  From a photon’s point of view (in Relativity) it does not exist at a single point in space but as a line running from its place of emission to its place of absorption in a static universe.

Of course, that’s the Relativistic view.  In QM, the photon does not take a single path but an infinite multiplicity of paths.  Which makes things a little bit more complicated.

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By Shenonymous, December 6, 2008 at 12:34 pm Link to this comment

Getting back to you optipessi mist, as I have been extremely occupied with a few other things.  But that does not mean I am not interested in what you have to say about the phenomenon of time.  “As far as we know the physics of our whole universe affects our perception of time.”  You also say that light is the phenomenon that most affects the perspective of time, but you did not say why.  Can we say that time is evident through some motion and is only measurable by comparison with other things in motion?  Seems it has been shown by Einstein that gravitational and electromagnetic forces affect time or are ‘part’ of time since time is dependent on those forces. Do I understand that correctly?  Seems time is also due to space expanding.  To intuit an expanding space, there needs to be some object in motion.  To measure the velocity or speed of an object, because of its known speed, the speed of light is used as a device for comparison because without a comparison, the velocity of the object in motion could not be measured. That partly explains relative motion theory. 

Either time is tenseless or it is tensed.  Your somewhat sketchy theory implies a tenseless condition.  I will await further reports, report on your explanation of what time is.

From Smoliar At any instant of time, there cannot be a sound, If there was such a thing graspable as an instant of time, it would not be “in time.”  It would not be in motion and time to be must be in motion, from one second to the next.  If there is no time in which the sound exists, then there is no sound as well.  This seems right.

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By optipessi mist, December 3, 2008 at 9:25 pm Link to this comment

Shenonymous- Sorry it took so long to get back.  Very busy. No time

Using our everyday experience is usually a good way to understand the nature of time as theorized by physicists today.  An example from our everyday experience is sound.  When a car is coming towards us on a road and its horn is blaring, the sound of the horn is very high pitched. It sounds nornal as it passes us.  Then it sounds very low pitched as it moves away from us.  It is not the sound of the horn that changes.  It is our auditory perception of the horn’s sound that changes due to physics.  Almost everyone knows that this phenomenon is known as the Dopler effect.  Concerning light, a similar effect was observed by a famous astronomer named Edwin Hubbell.  He discovered that the light coming to us from objects in the universe that are moving away from earth is red-shifted.  And, the light moving toward us from objects in the universe that are moving towards earth are blue-shifted.  I am reasonably certain that this is a rehash to just about everyone reading this.  But, please bear with me.  The preliminary information is a necessary foundation to the explanation about the present theory of the nature of time that follows.

As far as we know the physics of our whole universe affects our perception of time.  But, of all of them, light seems to be the factor that most affects our perspective of time.  In addition, according to the latest experiments it seems our internal clocks in our brains slow our perception of the time of events down during stress or danger.  As if we didn’t have enough trouble determining the true nature of an abstract concept such as time.

I got a late start.  I promise with the next post the writing will be very specific and detailed concerning the nature of time as we know it today.  Especially about Einstein’s theories concerning absolute and relative time and everyday concrete examples to make it understandable.

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By Shenonymous, November 30, 2008 at 9:32 am Link to this comment

leilah - you have such a good sense of humor.  I’ve made so many posts it would take 10,000 years to organize them.  Also, to anything like that I’d have to reveal my identity.  Not a good idea!  I’m sure I’d be on somebody’s wanted dead or alive list. 

But more interesting is the fact of those five dead airmen involved the the transport of those nuclear missiles and why this is not big news!  Or wasn’t.  Was this even mentioned on such sights as Truthdig, AlterNet, or CommonDreams, the progressive boiler rooms?  This is most alarming.  This alarm is not meaning to eclipse the significance of moving the nuclear weapons in the first place.  Again this is most menacing.  I think Obama is right, there needs to be serious upper echelon dialogue with Iran, if that is indeed the impetus for this action.  What on Earth can we do about this?  There are no politicians I know of who listens to their constituents, a least here in Texas.  All of them seem to act on their own personal beliefs.  Obama’s first 100 days are going to be extraordinary and will be the most watched in history.  Not only does he have to give huge leadership in the financial crises, but he will have to set the agenda about these nuclear weapon activities. 

There is another problem looming at the United Nations that I think needs attention immediately. ‘Defamation’ of Islam Resolution Passed in committee 85-50 with 42 abstentions.  I find this as alarming as the nuclear missiles transportation.

Anarcissie, don’t be so lazy.  Do the work yourself!  You often have shown signs of good powers of polemic, much to my pleasant annoyance at times!  Nothing is ever so obvious that a fresh look at it would not be worthwhile.

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By leilah, November 30, 2008 at 8:04 am Link to this comment

I should like to continue with proliferation of nuclear weapons, which was originally brought up by Anarcissie.
News item:
On August 30, for the first time since 1968, nuclear warheads in combat position were carried by an American bomber. Numerous international treaty provisions were violated in the process.

That Thursday, a B-52H Stratofortress flew from Minot AFB in North Dakota to Barksdale AFB in Louisiana while carrying twelve cruise missiles. Either five or six of those missiles were armed with nuclear warheads.
News item:
The missiles on the B-52 were AGM-129 Advanced Cruise Missile units, specifically designed to be launched from wing pods of B-52H planes.

A total of 460 units were manufactured by Raytheon. A total of 394 units are currently maintained by the Air Force. Apparently, 38 are to be modernized and upgraded in Fiscal Year 2008 and the other 356 are to be decommissioned pursuant to the 2002 Moscow treaty.

Raytheon has publicly announced the AGM-129 missiles are to be modified to accomplish a “classified cruise missile mission”. This has widely been interpreted to mean conversion to bunker-busters, most likely for use in Iran. This widely accepted explanation is being used to explain why armed cruise missiles are being flown in American airspace.


Six nuclear weapons disappeared from Minot AFB in North Dakota.

Five nuclear weapons were discovered at Barksdale AFB in Louisiana.

Which leads to my chilling conclusion:

Someone, operating under a special chain of command within the United States Air Force, just stole a nuclear weapon.

Also, it is noteworthy that five of the airmen nvolved in this transport of nuclear weapons have unexpectedly died or have committe suicide.

In summation, when a neocon mole in the CIA overhears a conversation (as planned, to remove any direct connection to Cheney) to send someone to Niger to investigate what is knowlingly a lie, and that person (mole) suggests Joe Wilson knowing what he will report the facts, it should send up a red flag that this plan was a ruse to allow their shadow government to traffic in nulear weapon.

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