Human Consciousness

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Brazilian philosopher Olavo de Carvalho writes that  Human consciousness is at risk.  For the reader that is wondering what is meant by "human consciousness", I recommend two books. 

The easy and fun book is Lost in the Cosmos by Walker Percy.  The format pretends to be an irreverent pop psychology self help quiz.  Unlike most such quizzes, the questions are quite penetrating, with "thought experiments" in the form of entertaining short stories.  In the middle, is a short introduction to semiotics, a discipline which attempts to create functional maps of the symbols in our brain with which we think.   The key concept, is that while people are arguing over biological evolution, the real mystery is the explosion of consciousness (self awareness) and civilization that began around 10000 years ago.  The brain, whether designed or evolved or both, is a suitable receptacle for words and symbols, and these words and symbols are the basis of thought and consciousness.  They do not arise spontaneous in the brain, but are transmitted from society.  For example, Helen Keller had the behaviour of an animal, with only limited trainability, until her teacher finally made for her the fateful association of the finger sign for "water" and the water flowing from a pump.  That spark ignited an explosion of consciousness, and she went on to develop great intelligence.  Percy describes how modern consciousness results in selves that are isolated from the world.

The hard book is Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry by Owen Barfield.  Since words and consciousness are transmitted from culture to individual, and each individual can then use those words in new ways, consciousness evolves over time as individuals change culture, and culture sparks intelligence in new individuals.  Barfield traces this evolution from ancient India, to Greece and Rome, to Medieval Europe, to modern Western Civilization - describing how we got to the situation described by Percy.  Idolatry refers to the tendency to confuse the symbols in our minds with the things they refer to.  Since these symbols are the only way we experience the world (even our senses, like vision, are processed by our brains into internal symbols), it is easy to do.


Posted 1/21/2012 at 9:51 PM

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Hell's Torment

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This passage from "Uncle Tom's Cabin" by Harriet Beecher Stowe touches on the question "from whence comes Hell's torment".

That was Legree's day of grace; then good angels called him; then he was almost persuaded, and mercy held him by the hand. His heart inly relented,--there was a conflict,--but sin got the victory, and he set all the force of his rough nature against the conviction of his conscience. He drank and swore,--was wilder and more brutal than ever. And, one night, when his mother, in the last agony of her despair, knelt at his feet, he spurned her from him,--threw her senseless on the floor, and, with brutal curses, fled to his ship. The next Legree heard of his mother was, when, one night, as he was carousing among drunken companions, a letter was put into his hand.  He opened it, and a lock of long, curling hair fell from it, and twined about his fingers. The letter told him his mother was dead, and that, dying, she blest and forgave him.

There is a dread, unhallowed necromancy of evil, that turns things sweetest and holiest to phantoms of horror and affright. That pale, loving mother,--her dying prayers, her forgiving love,--wrought in that demoniac heart of sin only as a damning sentence, bringing with it a fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation. Legree burned the hair, and burned the letter; and when he saw them hissing and crackling in the flame, inly shuddered as he thought of everlasting fires. He tried to drink, and revel, and swear away the memory; but often, in the deep night, whose solemn stillness arraigns the bad soul in forced communion with herself, he had seen that pale mother rising by his bedside, and felt the soft twining of that hair around his fingers, till the cold sweat would roll down his face, and he would spring from his bed in horror. Ye who have wondered to hear, in the same evangel, that God is love, and that God is a consuming fire, see ye not how, to the soul resolved in evil, perfect love is the most fearful torture, the seal and sentence of the direst despair?

Posted 5/21/2011 at 3:20 PM


I really appreciated your comment on my last xanga post. Would that I were always thankful for the many gifts God has given, and praise God that he gives and takes away in love!

Posted 9/29/2011 at 5:8 PM by pikljooce

By the way, I unsubscribed from since I haven't been using it since I was in your computer class. Nevertheless, I am still glad I got to be a part of the group with you and Taylor at AFA so long ago!

Posted 10/1/2011 at 10:7 AM by pikljooce

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The Framework View

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My daughter in 7th grade at Ad Fontes had a debate on interpretations of Genesis for class.  The teacher divided the class into 3 views: the "24 hour day", the "day/age", and the "framework".  The teacher described the framework view as "figurative and non-chronological", which doesn't do it justice.  Since she was assigned to defend the framework view, I then spent many hours explaining it - to the detriment of other school-work.  While church fathers generally accepted that there were 6000 odd years since Adam, some also pointed out that our time dimension was created along with space dimensions:   Augustine, in "City of God" Chapter 15 and Aquinas in Summa Theologica.   The teacher called the "24 hour" view the "historical" view, but both Augustine and Aquinas specifically reject it.  Augustine in particular wants to know how you propose to define "24 hours" during the first 3 "days" of Genesis:

"And if time was even before the heavenly bodies, not indeed marked by hours, days, months, and years,—for these measures of time’s periods which are commonly and properly called times, did manifestly begin with the motion of the heavenly bodies, and so God said, when He appointed them, “Let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and for years..."

He also argues that the Angels belong to another world, and hence also not to our timeline.

The sound-bite that clicked with my 7th grader was the one highlighted below.  Genesis is the "making of" our universe.

Understanding the “Framework” view of Creation

Author Time and Story Time

Genesis 1 is the story of how God created our universe.  I don’t mean the pagan idea of creation, where, for instance, Northern Giants fashion the world from fire and ice.  Christian creation is “ex nihilo” - out of nothing, something like how a human author creates a story out of nothing but his or her own mind and experience.   In the framework view, Genesis 1 is not the history of the first few days, or first few billion years, of a universe.  It is God telling us how he came to conceive and plan the universe of which we are part.  

In today’s scientific age, the scenes most people picture when reading Genesis 1 are depictions of dramatic changes in matter and energy:   a quark plasma cooling and expanding until it condenses into matter, and free space electromagnetic radiation, light, bursts forth as a birth cry;  a dark nebula condensing until gravity ignites the nuclear fusion of our sun; a dark planet, covered entirely by water, suddenly illuminated by light from an unseen source.    These are all pictures of things happening in our universe, in its earliest times.

The framework view imagines a very different scene.  Imagine God, anthropomorphized for a moment, seated at a desk, and indulge a little paraphrasing.  In the beginning, God conceived the idea of the heavens and the earth.  At first, the idea was formless and void, and the Spirit of God brooded over it.  Then God said, “I know! Let there be light.”  God saw that this was definitely a good design so far, separated the light from darkness, and called them “day” and “night”.  Then he knocked off for the night.  When he came back to work,  he said, “Hmm, let’s divide the water into waters above and below the air...

And so on.   The focus of our attention is not the events happening in the early universe, but what God is saying, and thinking.  The features of a story are created when the author thinks or speaks them in his  mind - even if they are not yet published.   There may have been an event early in our timeline, where a hot planetary atmosphere cooled and condensed into oceans below and clouds above (whether in a 1 planetary rotation, or a million revolutions.)   But Genesis 1 is about the creative moment when God decided this, not the event itself.   If our universe is the movie, Genesis 1 is the “making of”.  God is the hero, not matter and energy.

The time we experience was created as part of this world.   We picture it as a line (although physics tells us that it is actually a space-time fabric, and events may have a different order to different observers).   But the creative process God is sharing with us did not take place in our timeline (or fabric), because that fabric is part of the universe being created.  As any Sci-fi buff knows, as soon as you introduce time travel, or other worlds, or even General Relativity, words like “when”, “after”, and “before” lose their meaning, because time is not really a line, and time in other realities is not connected with ours.  More relevant words are “where”, “in”, and “outside”.   Genesis 1 takes place outside our universe, in heaven, at God’s desk, or as Augustine once speculated, at the seminar He gave for the Angels.

So what was on the slides at the seminar?

Earth Overview, part I

In the first 3 days, we introduce 3 realms.  

Day 1 - Light and Dark

We will call these “day" and “night".    While seemingly simple at first glance, the mathematics of Light are exceptionally elegant and subtle - a good, solid, and beautiful foundation for the realms to come.

Day 2 - Sea and Sky

Again, water seems simple, but its behavior is astonishingly complex.  It will be  the key resource that enables the rulers planned for part 2.   I get excited every time I work out the dozen odd physical phases of this talented compound.  It is truly a work of beauty.

Day 3 - Oceans and Dry Land

Yep, even the planet has tricks up its sleeve.  The  surface is plastic enough for the continents to move.  This will be especially important later when the rulers of this creation start learning about the structure of atoms.  It will recycle the land they live on every 100000 years or so.  Very slick.  The vegetation is pretty, but is also needed by the rulers in day 6.   It is self reproducing, which lets the entire system be self-maintaining.  

Earth Overview, part II

In the last 3 days, we introduce the rulers of each realm, and finally,  a creature made in the image of God, to rule over all three realms.

Day 4 - The Sun to rule the day, the Moon and the Stars to rule the night.

In additional to providing light for the earth, these heavenly bodies  serve to mark days, seasons, and years.

Day 5 - Fish to rule the Sea, and Birds to rule the Sky

These creatures are not only self reproducing, a powerful feature which will be used yet again in day 6 as well, but they move - dancing and cavorting in splendid style.

Day 6 - Beasts to rule the Dry Land, and Man to rule over them all

The vegetation provides food and oxygen.  The beasts return needed raw materials to the plants.  This completes a self regulating and self maintaining environment for the benefit of our coup de grace.  The beasts self reproduce, and move about and play on the land.  They are truly pleasant to watch.  

And finally, to rule over all the realms, a creature like a beast, but also made in Our image, and able to create worlds of his own within this one.   A fascinating recursion, and very good, but dangerous as well.  But We have in place a glorious, though costly, disaster recovery plan.

Posted 9/21/2010 at 11:32 PM

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Red and Blue

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You can be a good American, and subscribe to any of a huge variety of political and religious beliefs.  There are however, at least 3 popular beliefs which no one can subscribe to and also be a good American.   I will discuss these later, but first I want to explain how Socialism is actually compatible with our Constitution.  Or, more accurately, can be compatible within Constitutional limits.

The restriction is very simple: the Federal Government has no Constitutional power to run or mandate socialist programs.  The States, however, do.  This principle is called Federalism, and the 10th amendment is most often cited as making the principle explicit. 

By Socialism, I mean government schools, government health care, government daycare, government welfare, and many more services run by government officials and paid for by tax revenue.  Conservatives often jokingly refer to Blue states like California as the “Peoples Republic of California”.  While conservatives believe that Free Markets are better, blue states are nevertheless within their States Rights to run their state the Socialist way. 

Personally, I am a Red state person.  But I can understand why some people prefer the other.  I don’t like bureaucrats telling me what doctors to see.  But other people do like professionals telling them what to do on most areas of their life.  Usually this is because they wish to devote their full attention to something else: art, music, sports, study.   I think almost anyone would hate extreme socialism that dictates your career, who you marry, what you study, or what you do in your leisure time.

One “ism” that you can’t subscribe to and be a good American is “National Socialism”.  This is socialism that wants to impose its system by force on the entire nation, and the world.  Unfortunately, this is the kind we have in Washington now.   I believe this National Socialism can only be defeated by the seeming impossible: red and blue making common cause to preserve our Constitution.   This will require conservatives to tolerate socialists states (although they can continue to insist that free markets are better).  This will require socialists to help remove socialist programs from the Federal Government.  This will also let blue states tailor socialist programs their own way without Federal interference.   (And of course continue to insist that government programs are better than free markets.)

It is possible to run a fiscally sound socialist state.  Denmark is an example (as are many northern countries).  However, a common problem with socialist states is runaway spending and bankruptcy (free market states have different problems).  The Federal government has no Constitutional power to make states “bail out” a bankrupt fellow state.  This will keep fiscal idiocy confined to state boundaries.  (Other states may decide to bail out anyway, though I don’t recommend it - it rewards idiocy.)  One thing for socialists to note: socialism + open borders = bankruptcy.   The only way for open borders to work economically is with free markets.  Denmark has a decades long waiting list of people hoping to get into their system.

Now I get politically incorrect.  You can be a “moderate” or liberal Muslim and a good American, but you cannot be a good Muslim and a good American.  This is because classical Islam demands that the entire world be under Islamic rule and Sharia law.   A good classical Muslim must work to destroy America and bring it under Islam.  That is the Islamic vision for world peace.

You cannot be a good Marxist and a good American.  In fact, you can’t be a good Marxist and a good citizen of any country.  This is because Marxism calls for  the destruction of the current system to make room for new growth.  The Marxist cure for disease in the forest is a forest fire.

America is under attack by all three of these enemies.  Red and blue must make common cause to preserve our country.
Posted 6/10/2010 at 9:23 PM


You said that federal socialism cannot work with our constitution. Can't we if we really wanted to, pass a bunch of Constitutional Amendments, and give the federal government the authority to run stuff like health care?

Personally, I would be against such a move. I am just curious, on if you think it would be possible to amend the constitution so that the feds can be given socialist powers.

Posted 6/13/2010 at 2:57 AM by ProudToBeAChristianFruitcake

@ProudToBeAChristianFruitcake - Absolutely.  And if 2/3 of the states are socialists, it could easily happen.  It would the honest way to socialize the entire country, as opposed to the hostile takeover currently in progress.  (We did survive the FDR takeover, which had its socialist programs repeatedly ruled unconstitutional, but they kept re-enacting the legislation and eventually packed the court with radicals.)  Between FDR and now, we have had little transgressions here and there gradually added (like No Child Left Behind under Bush).

I would hope that at most, only one or two socialist Federal programs would be added to the Constitution. Maybe Social Security (with the understanding that the size of retirement payments are not guaranteed due to the nature of its financing - it depends on how many of the next generation are aborted).  I would vote against that, however.  I would vote to authorize Federal basic research and NASA.

Having all these programs in effect with no authorization just means we have a bunch of crooks in Washington.

Posted 6/13/2010 at 9:30 AM by CustomDesigned

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Anthropic Cooincidences

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It has been a while since I've found time for Xanga.  I still don't, but here is a letter I wrote to First Things magazine that never got a response (mildly frustrating).  So, I'll just post it here to see if it piques anyone's interest.  The article I criticize is making the point that 3 dimensions are uniquely suited for Intelligence and Life As We Know It, but makes a big blunder when it stumbles into an area I know quite a bit about.

First Things

While I enjoyed the June 2001 article by Stephen M. Barr, "Anthropic Coincidences", I am writing to correct what I believe is a factual error. Mr. Barr claims that "complex neural circuitry, as is needed in a brain, would not be possible in one or two dimensions. ... one finds that the wires have to intersect each other many times, leading to short circuits."

Statements of the form "there is no such thing as X" are always hard to prove, and I wish to mention several counterexamples for 1 and 2 dimensions drawn from literature and real life. There is a detailed counter-example for 2 dimensions in the fascinating book, "The Planiverse" by Alexander K. Dewdney, published by Poseidon Press, a division of Simon & Shuster, ISBN 0-671-46362-4 (0-671-46363-2 Pbk.). Diagrams are essential to effective communication of technical description, and the book is full of them, but I will give a brief overview.

First, 2D computer circuits are vastly simplified by integrating a tiny battery into each ciruit element. A NAND gate with battery does not require any cross-overs. An XOR gate is constructed from 4 NAND gates with no crossovers. A "crossover circuit" contructed from 3 XOR gates allows signals to cross an intersection without the benefit of a third dimension. Since each crossover requires 12 NAND gates, 2D computer designers will find that using an asynchronous design instead of a distributed clock will greatly reduce the gate count. This crossover circuit technique has been used in real 3D chip design to reduce the number of layers required since each additional layer adds significant cost. Mr. Dewdney also provides his Planiverse creatures with crossovers for fluid transfer by means of "zipper valves" and nerve impulses by means of a 3 neuron crossover connection.

Second, 1D communication is described in the classic, "Flatland" by Edwin A. Abbott. The inhabitants of Lineland communicate with each other by means of vibrations which are transmitted through all the participants. Each inhabitant has a unique and recognizable voice. This vision is not fleshed out in detail in Abbott's book, but I will point out that modern network protocols with linear topologies use this principle. IBM Token Ring, for example, transmits all packets of information through all devices in the ring. Each device has its own unique address and ignores, but passes on, packets with addresses it is not interested in.

There *is* a mathematically proven unique aspect to three dimensions. Knots can exist only in three dimensions. How knots relate to intelligence is far from obvious, however. And please note that virtual knots can be simulated by a 2D computer - even if they cannot exist physically in 2D.

Posted 12/13/2009 at 8:59 PM

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