Archive for September, 2007


Sunday, September 30th, 2007

Back on September 11th I wrote a piece here, Letters passing in the night as Rome burns, that provoked a long series of follow-on comments (32) that ran on until September 21st. Without a doubt, it was the longest chain of comments on anything I’ve written so far.

I’ve been extremely busy of late but I haven’t forgotten all the various things that were discussed in that series of comments. Some excellent points were made in reaction to some very deep questions.

I think each one of the folks who participated (or even those who just read along) could summarize what they thought were the pivotal points and we would likely each come up with a different list and for different reasons.

Not withstanding that, I’d like to attempt to summarize the discussion and note the points that I felt were key.

The issues

We opened with a discussion of whether or not it made sense for a person to rail against the way the world is (full of environmental problems and injustices and getting worse by the day) when there was and is very little likelihood of changing things.

This advanced into a discussion of where people find purpose and meaning (P&M) it their lives. Some (like myself) felt that P&M arise from our spiritual beliefs and that these same beliefs call us to try to ‘fix’ the world regardless of whether of not there seems to be any possible chance of succeeding. I also asserted that I failed to see where and how folks without any spiritual basis to their lives could find P&M in their lives.

This last point was roundly and well opposed and I’ve come around now to believing that we all, regardless of our spiritual beliefs, create our own P&Ms and that everyone’s P&M’s are equally persuasive and valid.

A lot of the discussion also focused on whether there was any reason to believe there is, in fact, a spiritual underpinning to our existence.

The rationalists among us asserted that rationally there was none.

And those who believed (like myself) that some sort of spiritual intelligence pervades existence, acknowledged the a-priori nature of their beliefs – while asserting that the beliefs of the rationalists were equally a-priori – since nothing can be proved either way about the existence or non-existence of Spirit (or God or whatever one wants to call it).

I also believe, if I understood the points Fergus Brown was making at this point, that there’s also a middle ground in which the issue need not be decided because the individual understands that he himself creates his or her own P&M by choosing to.

“In other words, if we feel as if we want to be responsible and to care about others, we have already created the grounds of a purposeful life which aspires to goodness, and which is founded on goodness.”

The conversation continued on into a discussion of why someone would act to do good if they believed that Spirit underlies reality. I.e., Does someone who believes in Spirit acts to do good from fear of Spirit or because they recognize that the very definition of right is inseparable from what they believe Spirit wants?

From one POV, the individual is driven against their own natural urges to do good by fear of the Deity. From the other POV, the individual freely embraces what they believe Spirit wants as the good and acts in accordance with this. In one view, one is the oppressed slave of Spirit driven by fear and in the other one is the child of Spirit driven by Spirit’s apparent example.

I don’t think there can be any resolution to a discussion like this. In the end, I think it will be for each of us, however we believe it to be.

Again, I think Fergus summed it all up the best. He said:

This discussion could go on forever… let me leave you with this proposal:

The meaning (and sense of purpose) of our existence is determined by us, our relation to the world, and the relation between our meanings for ourselves and the meanings others posit for us. This holds true whether there is an ordering force external to us or not. But inasmuch as the meaning of our being exists in our own narratives (stories) and those of others, it is we who are the ordering force behind them; we make our own meanings, both individually and ‘in the world’. we cannot know whether our interpretation of our meaning as grounded in spirit is true or not, so we must accept that it can have no more status than that of any narrative; in the end, the meaning is subjective and relative, even if the truth behind the meaning exists, because this is opaque to our perception.

I think at this point, I should have let the entire discussion come to a graceful stop of its own weight. And I regret that I did not. I brought forth Pascal’s Wager as if it would help folks see my POV when, in fact, I’d already agreed with Fergus that there’s not likely to be anything that will decide these matters and they are all just as we believe them to be.

So, I do apologize to all for continuing to press the argument when I already knew it to be pointless. I can offer (tongue in cheek) an explanation on how and why folks continue to beat a dead horse here – but I don’t imagine this excuses me.

The significant points for me

I was convinced by good arguments that purpose and meaning belong equally to all of us; atheists or spiritualists.

Michael Tobis contributed the idea that

“We should not be so foolish as to expect that our efforts will turn the tide, but we must hope so and act as if the possibility exists. If we don’t act as if the possibility of a better world exists, the possibility vanishes instantly.”

which I think stands as a great indictment against the notion that we should give up acting if we cannot see winning in our cards.

I still believe that the issue of God or Spirit’s existence cannot be decided logically and that we each must make our own choice on this (including to make no choice) and that the choice we make is unavoidably arbitrary and a-priori.

As Fergus pointed out, any decision we make and try to justify that involves pre-existing human-derived values is going to lead us into circular reasoning:

“But what criteria should we use to make such judgements? If we make use of a set of values which already belong to one of the world-views already posited (in our cases, it is often Judaeo-Christian), then we are inevitably going to end up with a circular argument at some point.”

If human-centric justifications are necessarily suspect, then can we find deeper justifications? I suggested one based on the universal interplay between Entropy (Second Law of Thermodynamics) and Complexity. The thought went something like the following:

In our universe, the Second Law of Thermodynamics tells us that the amount of energy in a system will either stay the same or decrease. This is true in all places save those which are fortunate enough to have an excess of energy in the local area (example: planets orbiting suns). In these places, matter can store the excess energy that bathes it as organization and increasing complexity. And once these storage processes have advanced to the point of creating self-replicating entities, we call the process evolution and its product, life.

As complexity increases in evolved life forms, it may eventually result in consciousness of the type we possess.

And it is here that I think I see purpose. It is here that I choose one side of the game (Entropy vs. Complexity) over the other because I am necessarily prejudice and biased – because I am life.   So I chose for my purpose to aid the progress of complexity and increasing awareness and intelligence and to oppose all that which would pull it down. I can see no higher purpose in existence.

Personally, I like this formulation. It stands alone without recourse to anything human-centric or spiritual.


Well, from my POV, it was a great discussion.

As life, I think we need to support life or, as Dylan Thomas famously once said, “To rage against the dying of the light.”

We can be atheists or spiritualists. We each have an equal place at the table. We each decide our values and live by them or not and none of us can really know the implications of any of it.

Fears of dollar collapse ?

Thursday, September 20th, 2007

– I’ve believed for sometime that the US is in dangerous territory with our enormous balance of trade deficit and the fact that we’re sending our jobs overseas which is essentially leaving this country as a cardboard storefront within which money comes and goes (and mostly goes) and very little of substance actually happens.

– I’m no financial expert  by anyone’s measure but there are some very saavy people out there that are beginning to get the willies at how things have been shaping up recently.   Read the this piece ➡ and see what you think.

Arctic Melting Leaves Countries Sparring

Wednesday, September 19th, 2007

– Reach out and place your finger on the world’s pulse. It’s not good, what you’ll find there. The pulse is rapid and unstable. Systemic instability is spreading.

– So, how far down this road are we? Well, consider, as my friend John pointed out, that this entire article about the growing tension in the Arctic over seabed resources doesn’t even mention, other than tangentially, why the seabed is opening up for exploitation. Global warming and its consequences are becoming such an accepted part of our world that an entire article like this can be written without more than a passing mention of the on going global climate crises.

– Given that this is so, can we really still hope that mankind is going to act to deal with climate change? I don’t think so. I think we’re all going to have to grin and bear the coming chaos because, as a species, we can’t muster the grit it would take to deal with it. And the deep irony is that the consequences of not dealing with it will be far worse than the consequences of dealing with it would be.  We are indeed a short-sighted species.

Canada, Russia, Greenland Debate Ownership of Northwest Passage, Oil Fields

The reports from the world’s scientists depict the Arctic sea ice cap now shrunk to its smallest size in history — the great melting uncovering vast stretches of the Arctic Ocean and opening up a northwest shipping lane mariners have been dreaming about since Christopher Columbus discovered America.

The reports from the world’s diplomats and military planners say there’s a new theater of war — at least cold war — where tensions are heating up because the world is.

Watch a video of Bill Blakemore’s tour of the ice wonders of Greenland here.

In the Arctic these days, there are Danish commando dog-sled patrols guarding northern Greenland.

While U.S. icebreakers are mapping the seabed, Russian subs are planting their flag on the same seabed.

And the Canadian navy is expanding its Arctic patrols, running new military exercises, ordering six new military patrol ships, while the Canadian government is building up two Arctic military bases.

“As there was in the American West in the 1800s, there’s a great land grab going on, but most of the land is at the bottom of the seafloor,” Brookings Institution scholar William Antholis said.

Under that seafloor lie giant, but largely unexplored, oil and gas fields. Over it are new, warm-water fisheries, all now accessible as ice melts away.


– research thx to John P.

James Kunstler – laser beam

Monday, September 17th, 2007

I’m busier than a one-armed paper hanger these days and hardly have time to sit down at the computer but I’ve always got time to read what James Kunstler (Author of The Long Emergency) has to say.  The man is a laser beam.   His current piece ➡ on what’s going on here in America is well worth a read.

A most excellent clock!

Thursday, September 13th, 2007

What time is it?

The clock can be found here:

Thx to David D. for the research

Brains of liberals, conservatives may work differently, study finds

Wednesday, September 12th, 2007

By Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times

CHICAGO — The differences between liberals and conservatives may run deeper than how they feel about welfare reform or the progress of the Iraq war: Researchers reported Sunday that their brains may actually work differently.

Oh yeah…I think we knew this…

In a study likely to raise the hackles of some conservatives, scientists at New York University and the University of California, Los Angeles, found that a specific region of the brain’s cortex is more sensitive in people who consider themselves liberals than in self-declared conservatives.

The brain region in question helps people shift gears when their usual response would be inappropriate, supporting the notion that liberals are more flexible in their thinking.

“Say you drive home from work the same way every day, but one day there’s a detour and you need to override your autopilot,” said NYU psychologist David Amodio. “Most people function just fine. But there’s a little variability in how sensitive people are to the cue that they need to change their current course.”

The work, to be reported today in the journal Nature Neuroscience, grew out of decades of previous research suggesting that political orientation is linked to certain personality traits or styles of thinking. A review of that research published in 2003 found that conservatives tend to be more rigid and closed-minded, less tolerant of ambiguity and less open to new experiences. Some of the traits associated with conservatives in that review were decidedly unflattering, including fear, aggression and tolerance of inequality. That evoked outrage from conservative pundits.

The latest study showed “there are two cognitive styles — a liberal style and a conservative style,” said UCLA neurologist Dr. Marco Iacoboni, who was not connected with the latest research.

Linda Skitka, a professor of psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said it’s possible the liberals in the recent study appeared more flexible than the conservatives because the population was skewed.

“We’re more likely to find extreme conservatives in the U.S. than extreme liberals,” she said.


Research thanks to: Van

Radio Frequencies Help Burn Salt Water

Wednesday, September 12th, 2007

What’s really happening here…

This story is all over the Internet today. , , , and etc.

And most of what I see are organizations and blogs both large and small just simply repeating the original story without commentary. It’s kind of sad, really, that hope springs so eternally on the subject of getting something for nothing. And sad as well that people in general are so poorly educated about the basic laws of nature.

So in this story, first they use radio waves to break the bonds between Hydrogen and Oxygen in water. And then they light the Hydrogen as it comes out and it burns, recombining with Oxygen and releasing some heat.

Given the basic laws of physics, breaking the Hydrogen-Oxygen bonds will take more energy that burning the resulting Hydrogen will produce. So, there’s not much to get excited about here, really. We currently use electricity to break the Oxygen-Hydrogen bonds when we need free Hydrogen. Using radio waves is just an alternative way to apply sufficient energy to the bonds to break them.

Anytime you do full-cycle energy accounting like I’ve just done here and it takes more energy to run the cycle than you get out of it, it is a no-win situation

I imagine an article will appear on the snopes site in a day or so explaing in that this is, essentially, just another urban rumor.

Letters passing in the night as Rome burns

Tuesday, September 11th, 2007


Thanks for your input. I value your intelligence and your comments a lot.

I think you’ve reminded me about “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” concept again from a sense of compassion because you view me as hoping that what I say will change the world. And what you see is me banging my head against a wall which will never move because I don’t understand how the world actually works.

I appreciate your friendship and your compassion (if that’s what it is that motivates you to speak). But, I doubt you understand my motivations as well as you imagine. And that’s not meant to be a dig or a rebuff. I would love for you or anyone I consider to be a friend to understand me better so that when we talk or write, we are working within the same framework of understandings.

I’m not sure where the deep roots of my motivation differ from what you imagine them to be. I suppose some of it may be spiritual as I believe that spiritual motivations are largely anathema to you. And I believe there are secular material reasons as well to believe that the world can be a better place and to believe that action in aid of a better world is not wasted.

The world does make progress – slow and inefficient as it is. We’ve moved from various forms of totalitarianism to democracies, we’ve moved from dog-eat-dog societies to ones with social welfare protection nets. Not everywhere and not everyone – but these things are happening. We can, in many societies, now read what ever books we want to even if they are about other political systems or alternative religious beliefs. Doing that was difficult, if not impossible, not too long ago. We can, in many societies, rely on the rule-of-law to feel that our lands and possessions are relatively safe from confiscation by those more powerful than ourselves.

So, complete cynicism about mankind’s prospects and potentials doesn’t appeal to me. I can see that we can become better people because we’ve been, in fits and starts, becoming better people.

That’s what I might call an on-the-ground empirical judgment. But I have also motivations that arise from spiritual wellsprings.

From this I get that working for a better world should not be contingent on getting results. I get that speaking your highest truth is of value in and of itself. I also understand, that to those who believe there is no meaning or purpose to the world and who are deeply cynical of it, such actions, without obvious results, are just a form of pissing into the wind.

But, all that energy goes somewhere. If no one had been willing to speak up in favor of women’s rights or the abolition of slavery unless he or she was certain of success, then I doubt that women would have ever received the vote or the slaves been freed. But many people spoke up and worked in obscurity with nothing to show for their efforts but rejection and ridicule for decades – even centuries. But, eventually, their aggregate efforts begin to yield results. People resist change just as the rock resists the river – but eventually, if the river flows long enough, the rock will yield.

The things I write about appeal to only a small fringe. The vast vast majority don’t care and would avoid writings like mine on sight. And of the few who do read them, many are already ‘in the choir’ as they say and need no more convincing. But there are the very few who come by at that critical point in their thinking where they are open to new ideas and something I say may, just may, cause their next insight to click into place.

You might say, ‘Is that small return on investment worth all the effort and angst?” Well, it doesn’t matter because it is not a return on investment motivated action. It is a ‘it-is-right-in-and-of-itself’ action and it needs no external justification in my subjective world.

So, to summarize: Much of what I do is just because I think it is the right thing to do. But, I also act because I can see that mankind is capable of improving – because we have been improving.

The deep irony, as I am sure you are aware, is that even while I do these idealistic things, the empirical scientist in me is making hard predictive judgments about how mankind’s future is likely to turn out in the near term (say the next 20 to 100 years) – and I’m judging those probabilities as very bad indeed.

That’s why I’m focused on New Zealand – and I think I’ve discussed this with you before. I still have a very deep motivation to work for a better world but I’m enough of a physical pragmatist to realize that it is time to get out of harm’s way.

So, I am not unhappily beating myself to death for lost causes. And even if the world does goes to ruin, and I strongly suspect it will, I will still not think my efforts were wasted. Spiritually, I don’t think doing the right thing is ever wasted – though we may not see the results.

The advocates of Vedanta, a form of Hinduism, say that one should do their absolute best in all that they do and then be completely indifferent with regard to how the results of their actions turn out.

The Buddhists say that the source of all of our unhappiness is that we want things to be different than as they are. Many people mistake that for meaning that we cannot and should not work for improvement. But we can work to make things better and also accept how they are with equanimity – without it being a conflict. It is hard idea for the logical mind to accept but the spiritual heart grasps it well.

I’m a happy and lucky guy. I’ve got a good business and great wife and two fine strong sons. My health and intelligence are good. I live in one of the bests places in the world at an amazing time in the world’s history. I have many blessings.

If I didn’t believe that life had any meaning or purpose, I could work to see how many material toys I could gather around me in a pile before I died to help me cope with the emptiness of it all.

But I do believe it has purpose and meaning even if I cannot understand much about them. I can see that life advances and that mankind has been advancing. I think those advances have something to do with Spirit’s purposes here and so I want to put my shoulder against that self-same wheel that advances life, raises awareness and treasures emerging complexity on this planet and I want to push. I have no illusions that I’m going to be the one to put the problems right. But I do believe I’m moving in the right direction and that’s enough, in and of itself.

You said, “The definition of Stupid is: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”

It’s true that I would like a different result and I think it is inherently right and fulfilling to work for a different result – but I am not expecting one and my happiness is not dependent upon one. Perhaps that’s the part you don’t get – perhaps you always see my actions as part of some return-on-investment strategy.


Hello Dennis,

I enjoy reading your web-site. I must admit, that I am constantly amazed that you get so disappointed at the nature of humans. For example, in your latest post you highlight:

“We agree to work to achieve a common understanding on a long-term aspirational global emissions reduction goal to pave the way for an effective post-2012 international arrangement.”

How long will it take for you to get it through your thick noggin that this is the way it is?????

Do you know that I work for a consensus organization? If this is a new term for you, it means all decisions have to be agreed by everybody unanimously. That which you quote as frustrating, is business as usual in large GOs and NGOs (Governement and Non-Government Organisations).

These people do not do things for the good of humanity! They do it for the good (survival) of the self. The self can be more than the individual, maybe the family or the organisation. But it is primarily self survival. We could do a treatise on this, but I think you get my meaning.

Let me remind you on something I told you some time back: The definition of Stupid is: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.


Just laugh – because it hurts so much

Sunday, September 9th, 2007

I haven’t been blogging much of late. There’s dozens of links on my desktop to news stories I’ve pulled from the passing rivers of data but life’s been very busy lately and I’ve grown a bit dissatisfied with just reposting links to stories with just a dash of commentary added. I’ve got stuff of my own to say and I’d rather wait until I can find the hours it takes to say it.

But, in spite of all of that, I saw a piece today over on Only in it for the Gold that I just had to pick up on. Michael entitled his piece “Agreeing to work to agree to work to…” I have to say I prefer the title I’ve placed above.

If you have any doubts at all about how little we’re are getting done that is really meaningful in the face of the dire future changes that await us globally, just read this quote and reflect that this was the summary of the world’s most recent effort (the APEC meeting) to come to grips with our problems – and then weep at the ineptitude of it all.

We agree to work to achieve a common understanding on a long-term aspirational global emissions reduction goal to pave the way for an effective post-2012 international arrangement.

Why are poor countries poor?

Saturday, September 8th, 2007

Fascinating ideas in this piece. Definitely the subject for a long think and a discussion. I’ve been reading this blog and a couple of others of late in an effort to better keep up with and understand what’s going on financially in the world today. And mostly what I read falls into the category of “There are big and troublesome patterns running out there but you have to stand on a high place to see them“.

Follow this link to read the article I’m reacting to. It’s worth the click-through if for nothing else than just the graphics.

– thx to bruce s. for suggesting this site and others to me.