Monday, November 17, 2008

Most of my friends are Christians, many quite devout, but not so that it is annoying thankfully. There are a couple Agnostics thrown in, but they are the exception to the rule. All of my friends know my stance and, much to my relief, have no problems with it. There are many times that we will get into debates (as we call them despite their good nature) and we all find it quite interesting and often enjoyable.

I got in with the crowd through my aiding the college theatre (why do so many people insist on spelling it theater, that bothers me so bloody much) by acting as a tech. As such most of my friends are either actors, singers or just hang arounds (or groupies as I like to call us).

There is however another group of friends who have nothing to do with the theatre or choir. These friends I have gained by being taken in by yet another group (you think they would know better then to take in one as crazy as I). This group are often found at the BCM. The BCM is the Baptist Collegiate Ministry. This was the absolute last group I expected to become associated.

Yet despite the name they do not follow what one often thinks when one conjures the word Baptist (a word often spoken with a cringe, especially considering I like in the Southern part of the Bible Belt. Many, if not most of them are actually non-denomination and are quite a bit less judgmental. Once again, they all know my stance on religion and have absolutely no problem, including the director of the establishment. In fact there have been many times when they have taken care of me in ways far past I would expect many to do.

But while some claim they do it because it is the Christian thing to do, I have seen the actual reason. This is because they are truly my friends. I have been accepted into a group in a way that can only be described as love and once again, their religion has nothing to do with it. If there was such a thing as a soul, I would not hesitate to consider many of them soul-kins.

Now many of those reading will not be surprised by hearing this as they are able to see people as people and not their belief system. The reason I make the effort to type this is two fold. One it is my blog and I can do what I like no matter how inane it may be (OK, that isn't a real reason). The second is because I have seen many of the other young Atheists recoiling at an individual when the word Christian is mentioned. To me this is such a sad thing as it is no different then when Theists cringe when the word Atheist is spoken.

Speaking from the standpoint of a Secular Humanist, we all need to work together if we ever hope to relieve the humane suffering and ignorance we encounter daily. Also, by allying ourselves with the more moderate of the Theists, we stand much more of a chance of silencing the extremists. I have already moved some of those I know to begin standing up to extremists in open defiance. There was a recent time when at the BCM's noonday (free food day, something no college student would be willing to pass up) when a pastor began spouting homophobic idiocies and those around me actively began to show open hostility to this man and made a motion to prevent his access in the future as well as boycotting his church. While I know I cannot take to much credit for this, I know I had a hand in these actions. Something that fills me with quite a bit of satisfaction.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Why Not to Wait for Marriage

I have heard many times that one should save oneself for marriage. That keeping your virginity for your spouse is a great gift (this is more often aimed at women, however I will not go into that now as this is a post about general sex and not double standards and misogyny). But I see this as a very unhealthy attitude to hold, both physically and emotionally.

Say you have found the man/woman that you want to marry. You both abstain from sex until after your wedding. Finally the big night comes, but instead of being a wonderful experience, all you can think about is how horrible and disappointing the experience was. This sadly happens more often then we are led to believe. Sex is a great emotional outlet and source of bonding, while bad sex can have the opposite effect. One or both (I am assuming monogamy for this post as most developed countries do not allow polygamy) of the partners will be left feeling unfulfilled sexually which leads to sexual frustration, possible resentment towards their partner (or anger at yourself if you believe it is your fault), both partners will not get the emotional connection sex grants a couple, and they will not have sex as a bonding agent after misunderstandings and arguments.

This leads to a higher divorce rate, a divorce that could have been avoided had the couple simply had sex before the got married. Many of those that do not divorce (usually for religious reasons, the same causative agent of the chastity) are left will a less then satisfactory marriage that leaves them craving emotional closeness.

Some will argue that two people will get better at sex over time and many people do, but that does not address the key issue here. Even if there is an improvement in performance, the two individuals sexual tastes or libido can still be utterly different. These do not change. A person can force themselves to do something they do not truly enjoy for their partners sake, but this leaves both unfulfilled (the one who is forcing themselves for obvious reasons and the partner who wants the encounter as a forced situation is invariably worse or less convincing then honest enjoyment). A person who enjoys a lot of kink during sex will not feel satisfied being monogamous with someone who only enjoys vanilla sex and vice versa.

As long as one practices safe sex, the risks of premarital (or extramarital sex if both married partners are consenting) will be outweighed by the benefits. Both individuals will have most likely gotten over the awkwardness of sexual encounters due to inexperience. Their sexual aptitude will also increase dramatically as by the time these individuals get married they will have begun to understand each others likes and dislikes.

Aside from the emotional reasons not to wait for marriage there is also a physical reason. A person who has sex regularly (in the referred study regularly was only once a week, greater frequency will have better effects) are less likely to get sick, they get over illness quicker and have a stronger memory and critical thinking skills (due to stress relief and greater amounts of neurotransmitters). Another recent study found that individuals who were still virgins after the age of 21 had more health issues then those who have had sex at least once, reinforcing the previous study.

No matter your gender, waiting for marriage to have sex is ill advised. Of course many of the emotional benefits only pertain to sex with an individual you have strong feelings for. Females need not wait out of fear of being considered a whore and males not need wait thinking abstaining somehow shows more respect to their partner (this is another form of misogyny that I will try to get to at a later date). In this post I have mostly used heterosexual monogamous couples as examples, however the concepts will equally apply to those who are homosexual, bisexual or polygamous. Also as to not give the wrong impression, I am not advising having sex before one is ready for it, that is always a must. Just my reasoning against abstaining until marriage.

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Naturalistic Beauty

One argument against a naturalistic world view is that it supposedly holds no room for beauty and the euphoric awe that is familiar to many theists. This concept truly saddens me, to think that these people have to believe in the supernatural to be happy with their life and the universe they live within. I believe that humans can find as much, if not more beauty and spiritual fulfillment though naturalism as compared to the supernatural (theism included).

Yes, I said spiritual. When most people hear this word, them begin to think of religiosity or some new age belief. But the supernatural does not hold a monopoly on spiritualism. Freethinkers can have incredibly strong spiritual experiences through an understanding of their universe and their place in it. In fact spirituality is any view though which an understanding leads to betterment and a feeling of oneness.

Any person who truly knows me can tell you that I can be seen as a deeply spiritual person in this sense. When I begin to talk about our understanding of the universe and our place in it, I develop a fervor that would put the most evangelical preacher to shame. The feeling I get from this knowledge is pure ecstasy.

Our universe is more beautiful then we could ever hope to conceive of. Think for the moment that you, and everything you see around you is composed of the remnants of long dead stars. Look at a simple stream of water and conceive of the countless molecules of water in an endless dance with one another through hydrogen bonding. Imagine a simple microbe and know that there are thousands of chemical and atomic reactions going on within that very cell, allowing it to exist. Know that we are not separate from the universe, but an infinitesimal part of it.

Our very existence is amazing, consider that a single change in a single specie in the past could have prevented you (or even the whole human race) from being here. Intelligence is not a necessity for the universe to exist, yet we posses this trait. It is almost as if we, with our complex minds able to think in the abstract, are the universe's attempt to understand itself.

So next time you see an insect, a star, a stone or even your fellow humans, don't pass it off as a trivial thing. Stop and think of everything that had to take place for you to see it, all the complex processes going on within that item and the fact that you are even able to understand this concept to begin with. Think of these things, truly think and you will feel a sense of wonder that can move the most pessimistic of us to tears. This world is beauty, relish your chance to experience it, trivialize no experience and never forget to live your life, you will not get a second chance.

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Crazy and Me

I realize I am somewhat unstable. I am not joking about this, nor am I saying this because it is now trendy. I am sometimes utterly nuts (ok, maybe more then sometimes). Nearly everyone who knows me is unaware of this though, I have gotten damn good at hiding it. While those who have seen some of the worst are still unaware of how much it still affects me.

The diagnosis I have received in the past is major depression and dysthymic disorder (a near constant state of 'mild' depression). Together these are often referred to as double depression for breviaries sake. While such diagnoses are useful in a clinical setting for treatment, outside of them, they don't mean much of anything. They do not take into account the psychological effects of having a chronic illness, the temporary insanity brought upon by reliving past memories or the occasional utter highs when the chemicals in my brain just go nuts.

One hour I may be fine, then next too depressed to get out of bed, the next a feeling of utter joy (think of an individual with bi-polar going through a severe depressive and then a manic phase in a matter of hours). But despite these occasional massive swings in mood, I tend to keep a perfectly composed facade up for the world to see. A few may see through, but most know me as a calm, composed individual who seems to be able to see through others issues to get at a heart of the problem. My own 'insanity' has allowed me a very personal view into the problems of others to aid them in ways a 'sane' individual would not be able to.

So if I have gotten so good at hiding my neuroses, why am I writing this now? Why would I share this with random individuals? I am writing this because when people hear the phrase 'mental illness' they run scared. The person with real issues beyond their control is often left alone when they need those around them the most. I am writing this to show that, while I may be completely off my rocker, this does not change that I am an individual. I cannot help my mood swings, my anxiety attacks, or my occasional psychotic moments, but I try. I did not ask for this, nor did those you may know who also have issues.

They might not always ask for help, they may even avoid sharing as they might be afraid at how you will react. But they do want you there, they want to feel that they are at least somewhat 'normal'. Because we are normal in most every way, by shunning those with a mental dysfunction, you will only lead to more issues.

Besides, our unpredictability keeps us from getting boring. If you are reading this and you have been made to feel less because of an issue, don't. Every one has their problems, paraphrasing Christopher Titus, it is the dysfunctional ones in the world who the normal turn to when the world goes to hell. While I am not saying mental illness is a positive thing, it is not entirely negative. Just like anything else, it can sometimes be crafted by the individual to gain certain benefits, not always, but in many cases. Do not be ashamed, do get the help you need, but do not feel like you are less. Also remember that asking for help is not a weakness, letting yourself deteriorate is.

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Monday, October 27, 2008

Selfish Does Not Always Equal Bad

I have often heard that humans are inherently selfish. Each time I hear this I have to laugh a bit as the comment is almost always stated as a negative, not as a simple observation. It is true that the selfishness intrinsic to humanity has many negative aspects, but its inherent existance itself is not necessarily a negative.

In fact, this trait is one of the key factors that has driven our specie's evolution. Without a certain level of selfishness, our specie would have been doomed before it even emerged. All species must look after their own genes and their propagation, be they direct or those of the individual's family. Humans are no exception, we have had to look after our own descendants and relatives to prosper as a specie (although due to our specie moving from a regional to a semi-global one, this has broadened our scope of 'family' dramatically). Is this to say that one should look after ones direct genetic lineages while ignoring those of others? Of course not, as that would go against basic humanistic principles. What it is simply saying is that our specie required a certain level of selfishness to prosper and evolve in the first place. Due to our enhanced abstract thinking capabilities, this principle can be broadened considerably. This broadening is one of the key reasons why human selfishness (and the selfishness of many other species as well) is not inherently wrong.

When I say selfish, I want to clarify for those who see the word solely as a negative. In this instance, selfish simply means doing an act while thinking that the individual performing the act will get something in return. This return can be a specific as a physical reward or it could be as abstract as an increase in endorphins and other neuro-chemicals (a feel good moment). There is a very good reason for this. When our specie emerged on the plains of Africa, resources were quite limited. As such, any action would have to be gauged carefully to determine if the energy usage would be worth it. With this environmental pressure, the trait of selfishness was evolved to keep our specie from declining.

However, it was not taken to the level where it was harmful to other individuals, as that in itself would be detrimental to the specie (and more particularly, the propagation of the individual's genes). It was offset by a desire to do what would also aid the group (because if the group did not prosper, the individual would have no chance to do so). This is where the desire to do good for those around you most likely came from (it also explains why the desire is so much stronger for those with a genetic or communal link).

So no matter the act, there is a selfish desire behind that act (even if it is self sacrifice, as this would help one's genes, be they direct or family, continue on). This does not lessen the good behind the act, as it will be good regardless. What it does though, is put into context selfishness and its role in our specie's continuation.

Obviously there are many forms of selfishness which are harmful, but those tend to be rather self evident (usually, at least). The point of this post has been to show that selfishness itself is not bad. In fact, it could be viewed as a positive, for if such selfishness did not exist, neither would any of us.

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Why Would a God Create?

I have a question for the theistic world. Why would a god create anything in the first place? It is such a simple question, yet I don't think it is one that gets enough attention.

For simplicities sake, I'm going to assume for the moment the common belief of most theists, that a god is a perfect being. If a god is perfect, then it does not need anything to better itself (just like you cannot add anything to infinity to get a larger number). So why would a perfect being create anything at all? The question gets even deeper when you notice the universe is anything but perfect. This imperfection of the universe begs the question of why a perfect creator would intentionally create imperfection. Wouldn't this in itself be a flaw and violate the supposed perfectness of said god?

What would a god stand to gain by creating anything? It obviously wasn't out of boredom as perfection cannot know boredom. Loneliness is right out as well. A perfect god wouldn't need things to worship it unless it had some sort of inferiority complex or was incredibly childish (but if you buy into many holy books, you would be hard pressed not to come to these conclusions). It almost seems that by creating an imperfect universe, god would have to also be imperfect. But if god is so imperfect, what would separate this imperfect god from simply a highly advanced intelligence?

Some would argue that the universe would have to be imperfect for us to understand it. This question misses the point of my statement entirely. My question, in asking why an imperfect universe was created also asks why we were created (as we are a part of the universe, not separate from it). Why would a god even bother creating something so violent as humans? I've already gone over the worshiping part and why that really isn't a viable answer. So why create us? Some may say because god wanted to bestow the gift of life on something in its own image (essentially, an urge to procreate). But such an urge itself requires imperfection. Not to mention the shoddy job. If a perfect god was able to want to create a being, wouldn't its inherent perfection require it to create perfection. If this were true, then we would have been created as perfect and not be limited to understanding an imperfect universe. Obviously perfection is not limited, but by creating imperfection the perfect being is limiting itself drastically.

This is a question I've never had satisfactorily answered (or really answered at all). It is also a question that I believe needs to be asked more frequently. It seems to be one of the larger holes in a theistic belief that holds a perfect being.

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By a show of hands, how many of you have heard the annoying whining of fundamentalists who say evolution should not be taught in schools (OK, you can put your hands down now, did you honestly think I would be able to see them?). For the few out there who have not heard about this, the argument is usually something along the lines that evolution is not real science or is just one of many 'theories' (showing their ignorance of the scientific term theory). This concept has been pushed especially hard in the states by the IDiots (those that believe the concept of intelligent design is anything other than completely laughable and an insult to rational thought).

I have to ask, have any of these people ever actually studied evolution and why it is such a damn good concept (not to mention a necessary one for modern biology)? It is supported by so much evidence from so many fields that to say it isn't science only proves how moronic the individual spouting the phrase is.

So what does evolution offer that creationism and its deformed hell spawn, intelligent design, cannot? Well for one, it explains why all of life on this planet uses the same molecules for its genetic material. It explains the diversity of life, it explains ecology perfectly. It makes wonderful predictions that are tested and proven time and time again. It explains why the human body is so damn convoluted and how modern medicine should develop. Oh, and it is also falsifiable, if some new piece of information comes along that would force us to re-write or throw out evolution (this hasn't happened), then it can happen. It is kind of hard to disprove a concept that revolves around 'goddidit', as such, creationism and ID are not science (or even rational thought for that matter).

Why is evolution so important to education? Well as I already said, biology would not make a whole lot of sense without it. It would also leave students woefully inept if they decide they want to go into any scientific field (including medicine). It would be like trying to train a physicist who believes gravity isn't real.

Evolution is vastly important to our understanding of life (oh, and it is right too, kind of an important part there). To try to ignore it or say it isn't real science only makes the person say it look like an ignorant fool from the 14th century. So next time you hear someone spouting such garbage, do me a favor, hit them over the head with the evidence (since a bat is made out of wood that comes from a tree which evolved, it counts as evidence).

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Hell, not just a great expletive

Hell, other then being one of my favorite curses when preceded by the word bloody, is an interesting concept held in many religions, especially strong in the Abrahamic religions (the three ‘one true’ religions).

For those lucky enough not to be introduced to this terrible concept, it is the idea that if you don’t behave right or you don’t say the magic words before you die or even if a god doesn’t like you, you will be cast into this place of eternal torment. Sounds like such a benevolent god right?

Now what I find rather interesting about this hell place is that, other then the occasional vague reference of brimstone and fire, most people cannot tell you what it is like other then that it is less than pleasant. Sure, there are plenty of crazies claiming they have been there or that their god has told them (and only them) what it is like, but unless you are rather gullible (read hyper-religious), they will seem like the kind of person you want to keep a wide berth from. Other then the generic talk, the only thing that is elaborated upon is suffering, lots and lots of suffering.

So I have to ask, why the obsession with suffering? It seems to be mostly a scare tactic. As if the religious are saying “act like us or else”. Whenever a group resorts to threats you know to be wary. I believe a lot of this obsession can also be traced to the origins of the religion. When most of these started, a person’s life tended to be less then enjoyable more often then not. Life was hard, death was frequent, suffering was a constant thing. Then a group arrives claiming enlightenment. They tell the squalled masses that if they worship this groups invisible sky daddy (or daddies or mommies or flying mass of pasta), the masses will have a chance at a good life after their death. But to make sure the masses agree, they also threaten them as well as give them empty hope. They claim that if they do not believe, they will be sent to a place of torment, a locale where the suffering of this life is not only continued, but intensified. Now for your average ignorant desert dweller, believing seems a lot better then not (the idea of agnosticism and atheism was not very common in this time).

However this threat ignores a few key questions. One, why would an omnipotent and supposedly omnibenevolent being want any of its creations to suffer endlessly? This seems more of a human reaction, namely wrath. But wait, isn’t wrath one of the seven deadly sins? So does this mean that god is breaking his own rules? I guess if you make the rules you can break them. The second question asks, if god is omniscient, then doesn’t he already know who will go to hell and who won’t? Well there goes free will as well as makes god a bit more of an ass. It means those who will go to hell have no way of changing the matter, they are screwed either way. Even better, they don’t know who they are till it’s to late. Seems a bit off, doesn’t it?

This leaves us with two prime possibilities, either religions use the idea of hell as a scare tactic to get the ignorant masses to follow them or god is a pissy child getting angry at his toys. Obviously the first makes a bit more sense (and is far less terrifying). If it is only a scare tactic, then it can be safely ignored as anything even remotely close to truthful.

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The Bliss of Music

One of the greatest loves in my life is music. It is something I get lost in for hours at a time. Be it live or simply sitting at home, it is something I enjoy more then I can aptly describe. When I actively listen to music I enjoy, I loose all sense of time and place. Some would call this an escape, but it is much more then that, for an escape is just somewhere to be, not something you live.

Music opens up channels of emotion that flow uncontrollably, yet never uncomfortably. I may be left in pure awe, be left exhausted from the extended adrenaline release, be left with a powerful rage, left with tears streaming down my face, or simply left in a state of pure contentment.

As I listen, I often finding myself closing my eyes and visualizing the music itself. Not those creating it, but whole worlds created and controlled by the sounds. Each piece offers a new landscape to explore. If I was an artist, I would be more able to describe these fantastical locales. The best I can hope for in describing this experience is for you to imagine if sound and emotion could be given life, an environment shaped by each note and feeling.

Before long I discover I have lost myself entirely amongst the sounds. It does not matter what is occurring around me as such things loose all importance. I find my entire body moving with the stream of auditory bliss. Everything that once weighed me down falls completely away, I find myself free.

Music becomes the closest thing possible to the Platonic archetypes. Not the lofty, unattainable ideals the ancient philosophers held, but real concepts that we, with our imperfect minds, can fully comprehend.

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How Science is Taught (Part Deux)

I wanted to elaborate on my previous post a bit. It was mostly limited to a lack of passion that the general public sees coming from the sciences, but this was far too short sighted. While I strongly believe that this must be rectified if our specie is going to continue to develop, I also see that it must not be limited to one area.

In many parts of the world, an air of anti-intellectualism is growing. To make matters worse, many people, especially amongst my generation and below (and some above as well) see the world as a collection of opinions that are equal to one another. Anyone with an intelligence greater then that of a plant can see the danger here.

One of the ways to combat this is through passion. Now passion is a finicky thing; it can lead to great things such as aiding your fellow humans, or it can lead to terrible things like blowing up those same humans. It is all about direction and temperance through logic. One such passion is a passion for knowledge. If you have that passion, use it. Do not hide it because it is ‘nerdy’ or ’strange’. If you share this love, it will effect others, it will show them what others might never have shown them. It might even inspire them to share their own passion. If you love art, learn all you can and take others to a gallery. If you love music, listen and go with friends to a concert. If you love literature, read and take your family to an open mic night. If you love science, discover and share the wonder at a museum. The most important part is not to keep it to yourself. The more people who are vocal about their positive passions, the more we can drown out the negative and enlighten the lost.

I had mentioned the dangers of viewing all opinions as equally valid earlier. While everyone is certainly entitled to their opinion, that doesn’t mean that they are worth a damn thing. If you are wrong on something, then you are wrong and that is the end of the discussion. If you think the moon landing was a hoax or that rubbing a crystal on your forehead will cure you of your illness then go right ahead and do so. But don’t feel offended when I tell you that you are wrong and think you need to shut up about it. No one should have to put up with willful ignorance, nor should anyone feel bad for stopping it from spreading.

If all opinions were equally valid, we would have no more need for doctors, after all, it is only the doctors opinion that you should stop smoking or get treatment for your TB. We wouldn’t need engineers, after all, it is only their opinion that the new bridge is not strong enough to support the weight of traffic. Who needs experts when we have people claiming to be able to cure the worlds problems through talking to yourself or ending hunger through eating air?

If you are like me, you want our specie to live long enough to enjoy cybernetic brains and colonies on Europa. This will not happen if we continue to allow people to think it is perfectly fine to remain ignorant. Use your passion (wisely), future generations may just depend on it.

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How Science is Taught

In between classes I was lounging around near my colleges choral/theatre (as a useless aside, why do so many people insist on spelling it theater, that always upsets me) department when I overheard that some of the people there were having difficulty with their biology work. Being a bio tutor I offered my aid after my next class, an offer this, and two other individuals, enthusiastically accepted. So after my next class class ended, I sat down with them and ran them through the information they needed.

Normally such a mundane event would not be worth writing over, and this one is not much different, I was just using it as a segue to a different point. The point being that our centers for education really need to learn how to teach science. Granted there are some wonderful science educators out there, but not enough.

The sciences are far too often taught as a series of facts strung together that one needs to simply memorize. That is bloody boring and makes people hate science. When I am teaching science, I get really into it. I make connections to my students lives or I show them what the concept means in the grand scheme. I want to see the individual I am teaching have a moment where things not only click into place, but they see, just for a moment, things from my perspective. When I witness the 'that is awesome' moment I know that I have done my job.

While I realize that this is guaranteed to be more difficult with a large class, you would think one would see some level of it more frequently. But you don't (or at least I do not). I see English classes taught with more vigor (not that there is anything wrong with English classes, any subject should be taught with passion) then nearly every science ever is. Granted there is still the occasional 'mad scientist' style teacher, but not enough.

The sciences can be the most mind blowing set of subjects one could ever hope to study, or they can be reminiscent of a scene from 'Faris Buellers Day Off'. If you are familiar with the sciences and love what they have to offer, don't sit quiet about it. If you can interject your love into it, you can make others love it as well. Seeing that awe in others can be incredibly rewarding.

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Fun With Blasphemy

I have learned that allowing me to think freely on a simple conversation can lead to…interesting… results. What did my brain spawn this time? None other then a new form blasphemy based on my own twisted form of logic.

It started by my spending time in between classes around the theatre/choral department. An introduction occurred and it was another Chris. There is a veritable plague of Chris’ upon this land. This led to someone asking what the name Christopher even meant. I responded saying that it meant Christ bearer. This got me thinking, there are multiple meanings to the word bearer. It could mean one who has something (like in a little jar) or refer to a human bearing another (giving birth). So this means that I either have a god-child in a jar or that I will give birth to him. The second one seems rather unlikely until we analyze it further.

Young are bore through the loins (as we should all know by now), but what could I, as a male, bear? Other then the obvious perverted ideas, I immediately came up with an answer, kidney stones. If I ever have a kidney stone, I will have no choice but to name it Jesus now.

So rejoice Christians, there is the possibility of a second coming of your lord, he will just be slightly smaller and more calcified then last time.

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Transhumanism and Emotion

As my quest to ‘interrogate’ all I know about their stance on transhumanism continues, I find myself coming across a single argument time and time again. The argument that if we integrate ourselves with machines, we will become nothing more then cold emotionless drones. This isn’t really much of a concern at all when one understands the potential technologies and ourselves.

The first step in dissecting this question is to ask what are emotions? Emotions are creations of the brain, they are a series of electrochemical signals being transmitted across many synapses between neurons. There is nothing here to suggest a mind body dichotomy; emotions are a creation of the mind, in turn, the mind is a structure of the body. In essence, emotions (or any other thought) is just a series of circuits activating and deactivating, just like in a CPU.

Currently the only advantage our brains have over current computers is parallel processing power. Our brains can process billions of bits simultaneously, something current computers cannot hope to accomplish. When one compares the speed of thought to the speed of a CPU though, the CPU wins hands down, by nearly a million to one.

So if we were to build a computer that had sufficient parallel processing capabilities, it could be programmed, or possibly even develop autonomously, what we would call a mind with emotions. When this occurs (it is not as far off as you may think), the biggest question will not be if integrating with machines will leave us cold, but if we would be integrating with a separate person who deserves the same rights as organic minds do.

This assumes full system integration. A lesser form of integration is simple augmentation. This is the addition of the artificial to the organic. A person would still retain all functions of their organic brain, but would have added capabilities such as increased memory, greater problem solving skills and the ability to connect with other systems and users. Augmentations would not overtake the mind but compliment it.

Either route one chooses to go, the fear of being left emotionless is one that ignores the very path technologies are currently guiding us as a specie. Our specie will not willingly let go of our emotions. These technologies do not threaten to force it from our hands. For the very systems we will be integrating with will understand our attachment to emotions, as they will share them. As Ray Kurzweil said “These aren’t your father’s AI”.

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I am eccentric (such a shocking revelation, isn’t it?). I do not hide my eccentricities from anyone. For those who meet me, this is one of the first things they realize about me. I wear unusual kinds of clothing (I don’t think there is women’s and men’s clothing exclusively, either can wear both), I read books on complex subjects for fun, I like to debate anything and everything (friendly debating of course), I like wearing some makeup, I like having my nails long and painted (many a girl has been envious of my nails), I am so open that I will answer any question no matter how personal and have no problem asking others such questions as well, I love all animals to the point where I will go out of my way to move one to a safer location (if I see

a spider at the college, I will be sure to pick it up and release it outside so it does not get harmed), while I cannot recreate it I am a music whore, I am a science geek (those who know me seek me out when they have a questions of this sort instead of looking it up), I am a theatre hang-around, I am a tech geek, I have an odd sense of humor and can usually find a way to joke or laugh at anything and I am ‘different’ in many other ways.

So what is the point of saying that I am eccentric when it is plain to see for most? The point comes from when I was shopping with a friend of mine. She revealed that she wanted to dress more eclectically (specifically she loved the style from the mid-80’s), but for a couple reasons, she couldn’t. The first
was money, which is understandable, this is a problem I myself have had on many occasions (this is the main reason I started to design and make my own clothing) so I gave her a few tips on finding unusual clothing cheaply. The second reason is she was slightly worried about how it would affect other’s reaction to her. This saddened me, as it is a legitimate concern.

When I was younger, I wanted to dress differently, but I was afraid to. I was afraid of how my family would
react and how my classmates would react as well. I was already one of, if not the least popular person in my class, so its consequences would be quite unpleasant. Eventually I slowly started to change my style and
I discovered it had a strange effect on me. It seemed that the more I experimented with my style, the more confident I became. The more confident, the more others respected me. Since then, I have gained more
respect from others then ever before. I believe this is more a reflection of my attitude and not my style, as others who dress different and do not have a similar attitude do not receive the same
respect. But my style is what allowed me to develop my confidence in the first place.

My friend has the right attitude (she is very bubbly and friendly, I really do love spending time with her), as such, I believe she would not be treated differently after she started dressing how she wants. It is just the conversion time that she may find hard. When you start to change your style in any way (be it dress,
musical taste, how outgoing you are, college major, etc.), people begin to ask all kinds of questions and sometimes even ostracize. Society often believes that a personal change means there is something wrong
with said person. It is rare for society to consider that it is just a person changing as they tend to do.

I am considering trying to see if I can find some clothing laying around somewhere that fits her
style just to give her so that she may begin to dress as she wants. If you know anyone who is in a similar situation, do the same. If you come across something that you know they will love, but that they are afraid
to go out and get for themselves, buy it for them. You don’t have to do it as a birthday or similar day gift, just as a whenever gift. This will mean so much to them. It will show that not only are you a good
friend, but that you truly know them. For those who are going through a transition (or wants to), many feel that others do not know them at all, to find that someone does and who supports them, it will mean more
to them than you can imagine.

Be eccentric if you are, do not hide it, be damn proud that you are one step away from crazy. There are
people around you who will envy you for it. These are the people that you and you alone can help feel better about themselves. A more ‘normal’ individual will not understand enough to do anything about it,
they might even tell them that it is ‘foolish’ and dissuade them from doing what they truly want. Take these people under your proverbial wing, you will gain a very close friend and they will gain confidence.

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Transhumanism, this is a term that is becoming more familiar to the average individual. However I am often surprised at how frequently I get a blank look when I mention the term. Transhumanism is a collection of studies including, but not limited to, philosophy, ethics, cybernetics, robotics, neurophysiology, quantum mechanics, computer engineering and research into artificial intelligence. As such, there is a lot of room to play with when discussing this topic. If I had to describe transhumanism as succinctly as possible, I would call it the movement to push humanity past its biological limits and take our future as a specie into our own hands.

While the reactions to the concept of transhumanism is rather varied, my personal view is one that is entirely in favor of. I see it as both the next step our specie should take and the greatest chance to reduce human (and non-human) suffering. Many of the technologies being developed from within the trasnhuman movement could very well eliminate horrors that we today accept as normal. Through a biological, mechanical, or fusion of the two paths, our specie looks to make disease, disabilities (both physical and mental), and suffering in general a thing of the past.

The biological path includes technologies as stem cell, tissue and organ regeneration, life extension, gene therapy (including recombinant DNA), trans-specie genetic integration, and other genetic engineering technologies. These technologies look not to only repair the ‘damaged’, but to improve humanity in general on a biological level.

The mechanical path includes neural integrated prosthetics, brain augmentation, medical nanomachines, sense augmentation, and many other augmentations. This path would allow for humans to merge with their creations. It is a path we have been on for generations already. We already interact with computers in a way that is nearly symbiotic. We implant machines in those with medical issues to allow them to live. It is not a very large step to imagine a time when we have merged with these machines on a more complete level.

There is a third sub-path of the mechanical one. This is the path of the mind. By augmenting our brains, we could have access to a whole new world, the cyber world. Everyone who is reading this now has experienced with the cyber world. Now imagine connecting with it not through sight and mechanical input (typing, cameras, microphones), but with neural input. Imagine logging your very brain onto the web. Imagine the transfer of ideas in their rawest form. Imagine interacting with people from across the planet in a fully artificial enviorment (think a less dystopic Matrix).

Once these technologies become available, we will have to revise what it means to be human. This is not a bad thing. We have been doing it for years. From the breaking of the boundaries of race, gender, mental and physical disability and creed we have learned that humanity is not a small group that is easily defined. As with the step of integration with machine, the expansion of the definition of human is something that we are already doing, and will continue to do so. I would love to hear people’s thoughts on this subject, be them for or against.

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And So It Begins...

So after much prodding I have finally decided to try this whole blogging thing. I would like to introduce myself, I am Cyc. This was a nickname given to me that is short for encyclopedia, as my friends soon learned that they did not need Google when I was around.

I would like to welcome all to The Rantings of a Gothic Atheist. Why choose this name you might ask (or maybe you might not, but that wouldn’t matter as I’m going to tell you either way). I personally see no evidence for any higher power, as such I see no other logical conclusion then the null hypothesis. Don’t worry, I’m not about to kick any puppies or eat any babies (as I’m a vegetarian this would be out of the question anyway, unless you have some sort of freaky tofu baby and in that case I may just have to make an exception). The gothic part comes in as to my rather, shall we say…eccentric mode of dress. This has led to many people knowing who I am and my being left in a state of confusion as to how they know me (thankfully it seems to mostly be in a good way).

You may have already picked up on my love of parenthetical asides (they are ever so much fun). I shall also warn you about my rather odd habit of speaking in third person. No, Chris has not gone insane (for the most part), he is just a touch eccentric (I much prefer eccentric to crazy).

I have a passion for the sciences that some may say borders on obsession. Through the lens of science I have seen a universe that is more beautiful then my mind could ever hope to fully comprehend. This love of the workings of the universe has driven me to learn all I can about it. It has also pushed me to attempt to grant those around me a glimpse of reality as I see it.

I hope to use this blog as a way to display this passion for others to see. I plan to primarily write about atheism, the sciences and anything else that might have grabbed my interest at the moment. I am open to any helpful criticism that anyone wishes to offer, but please be respectful. If not to me then at least to the other posters.

So sit back and (hopefully) enjoy my various rantings and ravings.

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