Thursday, January 19, 2017

Not Your Grandmother's Evolution

Michael Skinner. Not Mule Skinner.
Pay attention.
I changed my mind.

I just found another bit on evolution and epigenetics from Michael Skinner in Aeon.co, who's getting to be my fave. My BSF. That's Best Scientist Forever.

The link is at the end.

And here're the best bits:

The unifying theme for much of modern biology is based on
Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, the process of natural selection by which nature selects the fittest, best-adapted organisms to reproduce, multiply and survive.

The process is also called adaptation, and traits most likely to help an individual survive are considered adaptive. As organisms change and new variants thrive, species emerge and evolve.



But this explanation for evolution turns out to be incomplete, suggesting that other molecular mechanisms also play a role in how species evolve.

Part of the explanation can be found in some concepts that Jean-Baptiste Lamarck proposed 50 years before Darwin published his work. Lamarck’s theory, long relegated to the dustbin of science, held, among other things, ‘that the environment can directly alter traits, which are then inherited by generations to come’.

Lamarck, a professor of invertebrate zoology at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, studied many organisms including insects and worms in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. He introduced the words ‘biology’ and ‘invertebrate’ into the scientific lexicon, and wrote books on biology, invertebrates and evolution. Despite this significant academic career, Lamarck antagonised many of his contemporaries and 200 years of scientists with his blasphemous evolutionary ideas.

At the start, Lamarck might have been pilloried as a religious

heretic, but in modern times, it is the orthodoxy of science – and especially Darwin’s untouchable theory of evolution – that has caused his name to be treated as a joke. Yet by the end of his career, Darwin himself had come around; even without the benefit of molecular biology, he could see that random changes were not fast enough to support his theory in full.

(Here) is the precise definition of epigenetics: the molecular factors that regulate how DNA functions and what genes are turned on or off, independent of the DNA sequence itself. Epigenetics involves a number of molecular processes that can dramatically influence the activity of the genome without altering the sequence of DNA in the genes themselves.


Environmentally induced epigenetic transgenerational inheritance

has now been observed in plants, insects, fish, birds, rodents, pigs and humans. The epigenetic transgenerational inheritance of phenotypic trait variation and disease has been shown to occur across a span of at least 10 generations in most organisms, with the most extensive studies done in plants for hundreds of generations.

One example in plants, a heat-induced flowering trait first observed by Carl Linnaeus in the 18th century, was later found to be due to a DNA methylation modification that occurred in the initial plant, and has been maintained for 100 generations.

In worms, traits altered by changes in nutrition have been shown to

propagate over 50 generations. In mammals with longer generation times, we have found toxicant-induced abnormal traits propagated for nearly 10 generations. In most of these studies, the transgenerational traits do not degenerate but continue.

Much as Lamarck suggested, changes in the environment literally alter our biology. And even in the absence of continued exposure, the altered biology, expressed as traits or in the form of disease, is transmitted from one generation to the next.

Here's what evolutionary folks did. They used Randomness in evolution to get rid of the need for God.

Here's what religious folks did. They missed that entirely mostly and decided that the earth and the universe were only 6000 or so years old and everything happened instantaneously, more or less, spread out over six days.

Here's where we get to meet in the middle. Evolution is a thing, but
it is not a random thing. Things self-organize to solve problems of survival with intent and specificity. It's an intelligent process of reacting to the environment quickly and deliberately, not over long periods of time gradually and randomly.

It happens in ONE generation. And can persist for A HUNDRED generations.

Not gradually over long periods of time. Not randomly in any sense.

So since Randomness has gone away,

God is back.


You should go read it right now.

Now. You might be saying, what a minute! Just because Randomness is gone doesn't mean God is back! WTH!

Well. Yes, it does. If they used Randomness to get rid of the need for God, then logically if Randomness is no longer Randomness, then it's pretty reasonable to say that God is needed. That's just logic.

But. Maybe you need a bit more than that. OK.

Evolution as a theory doesn't get rid of God. Just like the good ol'
laws of nature, if the universe has a starting point, then the question, where do the laws come from, has as a possible and reasonable answer, God made the laws.

It's not the only reasonable answer, but, well, there are no other answers to the question, so you've got that or nothing.

You could then say, well, that's just God-of-the-Gaps all over again. Don't know the answer, so just blame it on God.

The problem with that is that God-of-the-Gaps is an inside-the-universe thing. Not an outside-the-universe thing.

Everything inside the universe can be explained (eventually probably) by the laws of physics.

But the laws of physics only exist inside the universe. Including, as far as we know, evolution. Which is really a process more than a law.

The universe produced the laws of physics, and evolution is
apparently derived from those, and all of that happened because of Big Bang creating the universe itself, and so we have no laws to cause Big Bang and we've no real idea at all why there are laws and particles and forces and all of that. Why there is something rather than nothing, that is.

The laws of physics are intelligent and ordered and extraordinarily calibrated to the finest of fine-tunings, and if there is only one universe (which is all we will ever ever ever have evidence for), then, well, somebody smart set it all up. Even if there are many universes, there still could be somebody smart out there in the Nothing setting it all up.

And an evolutionary process that is non-random is clearly the product of a smart somebody out there somewhere.

For lack of a better word, we'll call that God.

So here's what we're saying. If things happen in life, the universe
and everything (Nice phrase, that. I should remember it.) with clear and unmistakeable signs of an intelligence, one that empowered the universe with the laws of physics and with the amazing power of epigenetically driven evolution driving things so that intelligent observers would arrive in the universe and cause REALITY ITSELF to come into being, then, well,

that intelligence, that organizing observing intelligence outside of time and space that observed the universe into being and imbued it with organizing laws and rules so that

first there was the language of the universe (mathematics) and second there was physics and third there was physical chemistry (inside of stars) and fourth there was then chemistry (the table of elements) and fifth there was biochemistry (life itself) and sixth there were eventually observers and seventh there was Reality, then

you don't have to call it the God of Christianity or Judaism or Islam or the gods of Hinduism or the pantheonic gods of Rome or Greece,

but whatever. It's a lot like whatever God would be if God were.

And what we've already seen in previous posts is that the universe is apparently defined by 

Interactions. Relata. Relationships.

Which means that this God is likely to be an interactional,
relational God, and thus it is entirely reasonable to suggest that this God

is all about relationships.

Perhaps even and especially

with us.

Dang. That's some sweet logic.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Evolving Evolution

Now there's a boatload of negativity about all of this. That's because there's been so much hostility about evolution that some folks are afraid to question it at all, and other folks are afraid that it'll turn out to be true, only in a different way than everyone thinks, OR, and this is true on both sides of the argument, 

they're just not paying attention.

Both sides are stuck in arguing about Old Evolution, and they're not even aware that New Evolution is not only out of diapers, it's about ready to go to high school.


Neither side is ready for the argument to change in a dramatic, paradigm-shattered sort of way.

Curious, that.

Anyway.

Remarkably, the place where Lamarck was wrong was in the timing.

He thought (like Darwin) that changes in response to environment would take place over many thousands or millions of years.

Turns out, those changes can happen in one generation.

One.

Mother to child. And hence to grandchildren. Whether or not it continues further remains to be seen. And since we don't really know what's going on yet, well, it remains to be seen.


The Old School Traditionalists are all about "Gradualism", which is that things evolve gradually over enooooormous amounts of time. Sloooowly. Tiny little random mutations that add up to big changes but it takes a looooong time.

So that's Darwin and Larmarck and Richard Dawkins (who is reputedly still alive) and all the high school and college and university textbooks. Mostly.

Then there's the slightly Newer School guys like Stephen Jay Gould (who is sadly no longer alive. I mean, sadly for his friends and family. Hard to know how he feels about it.) who had enooooormous fights with Dawkins about Gradualism, because Gould Didn't Think So.

He said that things went along pretty much as they were for looooong periods of time, and then kinda all at once, evolution happened in a much much shorter amount of time. Fast.

He called it "punctuated equilibrium", which is a fancy scientific way of saying that nothing happened for a looooong time until it was punctuated by big changes in a much much shorter amount of time.


He and Dawkins had big fights. Then Gould died. Then everybody sort of decided that the fossil record was much more about punctuated equilibrium and Gould was right after all.

Dawkins moped about and complained, but he was wrong and Gould was right.

Now, nobody had much of an explanation as to how things which were supposed to happen sloooowly didn't. Happen sloooowly, that is.

But now we kinda do. To review:


As well as being able to respond in specific ways to particular conditions, organisms seem to have evolved the ability to respond flexibly to whatever conditions they experience...

This allows systems such as the immune system, nervous system and behavioural systems (through learning) to adjust to meet whatever environment the individual faces.

And finally: ... developmental bias directs evolution ...


So NOW there's developmental bias and epigenetics and symbiosis and Complexity Theory.

Complexity Theory probably says it best. It says that using self-organization and spontaneous emergence, organisms and systems of organisms solve problems of survival with intent and specificity.

Not randomly. Not accidentally. Not always even genetically. In fact, it could be even mostly not always genetically.

Deliberately and on-purpose.

The universe organizes itself spontaneously.

That is, emergent self-organization is at the root of existence.

What emerges is not only more than, but vastly different from just the parts.

Self-organization results in higher forms of order.

But the process is unpredictable – you don’t know what you’ll get until you get it.

And problems are solved with intent and specificity.



Here's an example. It's about locusts, from LiveScience.com in about 2006.

Scientists have finally figured out the exact moment when a jumbled swarm of creatures becomes an organized, unified, and sometimes terrifying, mass.

Examining a group of desert locusts, researchers found that at low densities, the insects were unorganized and went their separate ways. But when the group's density increased, the bugs fell into an orderly line and began to follow the same direction.

When there were a few of them together, they did not coalesce. As the group grew to 10 to 25 members, the locusts got closer to each other, but still did not move in unison.

It was only when the researchers placed about 30 locusts in the arena that the insects fell into a line and started moving in the same direction.

The march of the locusts is a bit of a mystery since they have no leader and each one can only communicate with close neighbors.

When the locusts reached a certain density, a "tipping point", then the self-organization emerged from that density. Not before. Individual locusts don't do this. It's not a genetic thing.

And what we found was something much more than just the sum of the parts, something dramatically different from the parts, almost like a super-organism, one massive locust monster from the deep.

The last sentence in the article is key. It's a bit of a mystery.

We don't know yet how it all happens.

We should probably find some more examples. What a fine idea.


Friday, December 23, 2016

Now we're talking about evolution. Not a great move, frankly, blog popularity-wise.

Yeah, writing about evolution in a blog is a great way to 1) attract trolls and 2) flamings and 3) fire- and brimstoning.

Because if you don't write exactly and precisely what everyone wants to read, then they'll come after you with frontal lobotomies and exorcisms and excommunications and really bad language. And they'll say you're stupid. All of them will say that.

Like, it's either TOTALLY RIGHT or it's TOTALLY WRONG.

There are no other options.


So just for fun, let's agree with the article we talked about last time from NewScientist magazine that evolution is in deep need of a fixin'. It has a problem. An issue. It needs to talk to someone about it.

The problem (spoiler alert!) is

Randomness.

Let's just also say that there's evidence for evolutionary change to be found. Lots. Tons.

But let's also say that the assumption that random mutation is 1) the only thing making it happen and is 2) truly random, is 3) just an assumption that we've made up all the way along the way.

It was not Darwin's assumption. He came up with Natural Selection, but not Random Mutation. They didn't have genes then (everybody wore khakis)(sorry, bad joke). Genes were later. Mutation was later. Randomness was later.


Random mutation and natural selection are the way that neo-Darwinian evolution is thought to have always worked. Genetic mutation is random. Natural selection is not.

And OH. BTW. Remember how the thinkers got rid of God (and free will) by using an infinite universe? Which turned out not to be true?

Randomness in Evolution is how the thinkers get rid of God all over again.

That is, if everything is random and nothing happens on purpose and evolution is not heading anywhere ever, especially not towards humans, then

Religion is just wrong to think that man is special. Because humankind, just like everything else, is just a big biological accident.

So. If Randomness is wrong (or mostly or partly or sometimes or frequently wrong), then humans may not be an accident and evolution was indeed heading somewhere and humans may be the where. Maybe. Along with free will. Maybe. And God might exist and might have structured the evolutionary imperatives as, well, imperatives.

You might go back and read the previous post again. So that you'll know where we're going.


Here's a hint: We now know that things other than genes are transmitted from parents to offspring...

That means that something other than random mutation and natural selection is going on.

That, frankly, is earth-shattering news.


Here's another bit: As well as being able to respond in specific ways to particular conditions, organisms seem to have evolved the ability to respond flexibly to whatever conditions they experience...

This allows systems such as the immune system, nervous system

and behavioural systems (through learning) to adjust to meet whatever environment the individual faces.

And finally: ... developmental bias directs evolution ...

So here's what it's saying.

It's saying that rather than, or maybe in addition to random mutation, organisms change deliberately and intentionally to things going on around them.

!!!!!!!

So evolutionary change is not always, and maybe never is or was random.

It may be sometimes, maybe most times, maybe all times intentional and organized. Specific. As though the organisms responded with deliberate intelligence to figure out what was going on and what they should do about it so that they don't die.

For the religious among the readers, let me tell what this is not. It is not intelligent design. It is not all-at-once miraculous creation. If there is anything intelligent design-y or miraculous-y about it, it is that organisms seem to have an innate, unexpected, surprising, and on the face of it miraculous ability to look around, see what's going on, and do something creative and amazing and generally entirely unexpected and unpredictable to fix it.

For the irreligious, areligious, atheist agnostic skeptical Newtonian readers out there, it is not random and it is not completely or maybe even mostly genetic. It is that via epigenetics, developmental bias, symbiotics, and/or spontaneous emergent self-organization, organisms seem to have an innate, unexpected, surprising, and on the face of it miraculous ability to look around, see what's going on, and do something creative and amazing and generally entirely unexpected and unpredictable to fix it.

It seems positively 1) neo-Larmarckian and 2) heretical.

Lamarck was the guy who suggested that organisms did this kind of thing.

All the trolls of his time made fun of him. Then he died. Not because of 
everybody making fun of him, but still, he's not around to get to say "I told you so." Bummer.


Because Lamarck is kinda back.

Evidence would be good.

Here's some, from www.evolutionnews.org :

Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1744-1829) was an early evolutionist who proposed that life forms could acquire information from their environment and pass it on in their genes. He was dismissed, when not ridiculed, by Darwinists for many decades (though not, as it happens, by Darwin). But the basic thrust of his idea has recently resurfaced in epigenetics.

Epigenetics is the study of the systems and processes by which
Turns out, he wasn't completely wrong at all.
genes' expression can be altered, not randomly as in Darwinism, but by specific, predictable, repeatable, and researchable events -- and then inherited in the altered state.


Here's another: 
Science Magazine called Michael Skinner "the epigenetics heretic" for maintaining that chemicals can cause changes in gene expression in mice that persist across generations. Notice who ... had the biggest knee-jerk reaction of all:

Michael Skinner is gleefully listing the disciplines that he's ruffled with his contention that, without altering the sequence of DNA, certain chemicals can cause harmful health effects that pass down generations. Toxicologists are so outraged that they have tried to block his funding, he says. Geneticists resist having their decades-old understanding of inheritance overturned. Then there are the evolutionary biologists, who have "the biggest knee-jerk reaction of all."

Skepticism is to be expected, Skinner acknowledges: "This is probably going to be the biggest paradigm shift in science in recent history," he declares. (Emphasis added.)


And that's just epigenetics. Wait till we get to Complexity Theory.

And finally, from MIT. MIT. The real MIT. The IT that's in M. 


The effects of an animal’s environment during adolescence can be passed down to future offspring, according to two new studies. If applicable to humans, the research, done on rodents, suggests that the impact of both childhood education and early abuse could span generations. The findings provide support for a 200-year-old theory of evolution that has been largely dismissed: Lamarckian evolution, which states that acquired characteristics can be passed on to offspring.


If you're religious, you need to keep reading. If you're not, you need to keep reading.




Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Something Else Going On.

Having now pissed off all the religious people and all the Harley guys (and the latter is probably safer, since they'll just beat me to death with the Harley tool of choice, whereas the religious folk tend to have all sorts of interesting solutions to the problem of what they might define as heresy.) and probably the atheists and agnostics, too (do they have a plan for dealing with, um, what we might call anti-heresy? a-heresy? a-heretics?) ...


Anyway. Let's piss off the scientists.

Some of them, anyway. The old school traditionalists.

Here we go.

Several blogs ago (you should go look - it's the Free Will - Get Over It. Or not. blog), there were some articles.

The first one said that free will, just like everything else, has to have evolutionary origins and therefore is just a genetic byproduct, just the DNA that each one of us inherited from all of our ancestors. Everything biological is a product of evolution, and that's true for the brain, and that's where free will would be, and so all of our decisions are predetermined by our genetics, and so we don't have free will.

And there were all these experiments that seem to say that we don't have free will.

Until in the second article, there was an even better experiment using an MRI that actually observed free will apparently happening in the brain.

And then, of course, in the final article, there is the reality that we'll never really understand the brain, anyway. So we're never really going to know whether or not we have free will based on any kind of scientific evidence.


I read something else about that the other day - someone said that if the brain were simple enough for us to understand it, we'd be too simple to understand it.

Zing.

Let's assume for a minute that the absolutely positively latest and best experiment, the one that says we have free will based on the MRI evidence, let's assume that one is correct.

Let's assume that we have free will.

Standard Darwinian evolutionary theory says we can't have free will. Neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory says we can't have free will.

But, today at least, we do.

Hmmm. That is a conundrum.

So either evolutionary theory the way that we understand it is generally wrong, or specifically wrong.

Let's assume that it's generally right, but specifically wrong. Like, in this case.

So what does that mean?

Well. Regular old evolutionary theory says that random mutation provides a gene by complete accident that happens at a certain moment in time and space to provide for better survivability, and that gene is then selected for, and so it goes.


What if there's something else going on?

You should keep reading now even if you're upset.

Well. Here's part of an article from NewScientist for you to read and consider:

In recent years, our understanding of biology has taken huge strides. Advances in genetics, epigenetics and developmental biology challenge us to think anew about the relationship between genes, organisms and the environment, with implications for the origins of diversity and the direction and speed of evolution.

In particular, new findings undermine the idea, encapsulated by the
“selfish gene” metaphor, that genes are in the driving seat. Instead, they suggest that organisms play active, constructive roles in their own development and that of their descendants, so that they impose direction on evolution.

Some biologists are trying to shoehorn the new knowledge into

traditional evolutionary thinking. Others, myself included, believe a more radical approach may be required. We don’t deny the roles of genetic inheritance and natural selection, but think we should look at evolution in a markedly different way. 

It is time for the theory of evolution to evolve.

We now know that things other than genes are transmitted from parents to offspring...

These and many other findings suggest that the current focus on genetic mutations only captures part of the story of adaptive evolution – the slowly changing part. The broader view shows there are other ways to generate heritable variety.

And that’s not all. We now also know that a given set of genes has the potential to produce a variety of phenotypes, depending on the environment in which the organism develops.

This ability, called developmental plasticity, used to be dismissed as

“noise” or mere “fine-tuning”, but recent research suggests it may play a far more active role in the evolutionary process. As well as being able to respond in specific ways to particular conditions, organisms seem to have evolved the ability to respond flexibly to whatever conditions they experience...

This allows systems such as the immune system, nervous system and behavioural systems (through learning) to adjust to meet whatever environment the individual faces.

Perhaps, rather than merely setting limits on what forms are available for selection, developmental bias directs evolution by generating the tramlines along which the engine of selection can proceed.


The article goes on. You can read it here - https://www.facebook.com/www.lifeuniverseverything.org/posts/10154012596767428

or if you have a subscription, at NewScientist.com.



So. Here's what we're suggesting.

Free will is not a product of random mutation and natural selection.

It's a product of directed evolution.

Now that is really gonna make absolutely everybody upset.

You need to remember, though, that if there is no free will, then you can't be upset at me because my DNA made me do it.

And if there is free will, then you can't be upset at me because, heck, there is free will.

Trapped like rats. Don't you hate that?

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Living within the Clumps

Life is clumpy.

Get over it.

Not helpful.

Really. I mean, how are we supposed to live with unpredictability?

Well. Pretty much the way you've been living so far.

This shouldn't be a big surprise to you. That life is unpredictable, I mean.

Because, you know. Look around. See?


We really really want life to be predictable, so we say things like when a door closes a window opens and there's a reason for everything, but in fact,

that's just not true.

Here's what is true.

First. When a door closes, you can't go that way anymore.

So you've got to find another way.

Chances are good you'll find one. There are lots of options. Sometimes you need to be creative and work hard and be patient. It would have been good for you to get ready for a clump of bad things to come along, so, you know, having some extra money in the bank is a fine idea. For example.

If you know that bad clumps are always out there lurking, then heck. Get ready for them.

And everything doesn't happen for a reason, but lots and lots of things that happen come with a life lesson wrapped up inside, something to learn, something to remember for next time.


Like, wear a seatbelt. Flush twice. All smells are particulate. OK, that last one is not useful to remember at all. It's just disgusting.

However. There are some things that happen that are so terrible, horrific, and monstrous, that not only did they not happen for a reason, but they didn't happen so as to provide you with a neat little lesson to learn from.

They happened because the quality of bad things is clumpy, too. Many bad things are just kinda bad, maybe most bad things. But some are much, much worse. Some are beyond imagining. Some are the stuff of nightmares that are not supposed to transition into daytime and reality. But they do.

Some you just have to survive as best you can. And maybe find people who have already survived as best they could. And then maybe become one of those people, so that you can be one of them when it happens to someone else.

Could be that there is a reason, after all.


We are supposed to help each other. And sometimes it helps to have been there for people who are now there.

Community is the thing. Coming together. Sharing lives and pains and joys and struggles and clumps.

Oh. And sometimes bad things happen because you did something stupid.

Let's not rule that out.

Because that's when everything does happen for a reason, and the reason is, you were an idiot.

Now. If God exists (always an option), then how does he fit into all of this?

Well. His main job is not to keep you safe from bad things. If it is, then he's doing a really crappy job of it.

And we're going to assume that God never does a crappy job on anything.


His main job is not to provide you with object lessons to learn from. With an exception for the stupid things you do. Those, you're supposed to learn from, whether God exists or not. Here's the lesson: That thing you just did? That's what idiots do. Don't be an idiot.

See how easy it is?

Now, as far as all the other bad things, especially the really bad things that happen, that's an interesting question.

Clearly if God exists, he could stop bad things from happening.

And clearly, he doesn't always do that. He might do it sometimes, but, well, you never really know. 'Cause they didn't happen.

So why doesn't he just stop all the bad things and keep only the good things?

Huh. Good question.

Let's give it a shot.

First. If there were no bad things, then we would never have any reason to look to God for help. Or to each other, for that matter.


We might even just start to think about only ourselves all the time, and never about anybody else.

Eventually, that would cause bad things. Maybe it does already. I'm gonna bet on that one.

Second. if there were no bad things, then there would be different levels of good things. And we'd start to rank them so that some of them would start to seem bad to us, and then we'd complain about it.

So even if there were no bad things, we'd come up with some. Maybe we already do that. I'm gonna bet on that one, too.

Third. There are only good and bad things if there is some sort of God around to call them good and bad. Even Richard Dawkins says that. "No design, no purpose, no good and no evil, nothing but pointless indifference."

That's a universe without God.

So even if we're not totally crazy about all the bad things,

they are only bad if God exists.

So you just have to live with that. And you kinda have to live with whatever he calls good and/or bad. You don't get to get to define good and bad for yourself.


Because often something that is good for you, is bad for someone else. One of you is being a jerk.

And we can't really let nations or cultures define what is good and bad, because they are full of people, and people are often not the best judges of that.

Because, well, the Holocaust. For example. There might be others. Ha. Not funny.

Fourth. If there were no bad things, then we'd never do anything at all.

Because some of the bad things are like, um, being hungry. Thirsty. Tired. Dirty. Naked. Walking instead of driving. Or floating. Or flying. Being sick. Or lonely. Or bored.

All of those needs give us something to do. For ourselves. For each other. If we had no needs, we wouldn't do anything. We wouldn't need to. And we wouldn't need each other. Or God.

And we wouldn't have dark chocolate. Or ice cream. Cookies. Hamburgers. Pizza. Fondue. Ceviche. Curry. Sushi. Burritos.

Or cars or movies or jeans or books or bikes or skiis or games or TV or music or scuba diving or dancing or theater or pyramids or great walls or tall buildings or short buildings or buildings or

anything. At all. Like friends. Lovers. Children.


Bottom line. Life is clumpy. So we need each other. And we need God.

Get over it.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Life is Chaotic. Then you die.

And when we say Chaotic, we don't mean messy (though life is certainly sometimes messy) but unpredictable. That's what Chaos Theory is all about. Unpredictability.

Life is unpredictable. And then, yes, well, it just so happens that at the end, dying cease to be an option and becomes an imperative.

That might be the only predictable thing about life, in fact. Taxes too, I suppose. Unless you're able to figure out how to not pay them. As some have been known to do.

But just because life's unpredictable doesn't mean it's random.

Nor does it mean that there is no meaning or purpose to existence.


Or that there is no good or evil.

Richard Dawkins and his buds have mistaken unpredictability for randomness.

So the way that life works lies somewhere between randomness and predictability.

So when we say things like God has a wonderful plan for your life or when a door closes a window opens or everything happens for a reason or ask questions like why do bad things happen to good people or most importantly why do bad things happen to ME?, 

we are acting like life is predictable. That there's a reason for everything.

That somebody is in charge and making all the decisions and pulling all the strings and making everything happen according to some grand plan.

God. Or if you don't like God, the Flying Spaghetti Monster or Pay No Attention to that Man Behind the Curtain or Fate or Destiny or Karma or Aliens or the Buddha or the Military-Industrial Complex or the Illuminati.

We're gonna go with God. Short, sweet, simple.

Now the Richard Dawkinses of the world don't wanna go with God or anything resembling God, so they swing all the way to the other end of the bell curve to randomness.

Frankly, that just shows a lack of imagination.

Let's just use some. Imagination, I mean.


So. Let's just say that life will have good things and bad things in it. Also lots of things that are neither good nor bad but are just ... things.

Now. Everybody is going to get some good things and some bad things.

That seems fair.

So when something bad happens to us, here's what we say - why me?

Yeah, we never say that when good things happen.

We kinda assume that good things are normal and bad things are not normal.

For those who believe in God, sometimes we think that God's main job is to protect us from bad things and make sure we only get good things.

That's just silly.

For those who don't believe in God or the Flying Spaghetti Monster or Pay No Attention to that Man Behind the Curtain or Fate or Destiny or Karma or Aliens or the Buddha or the Military-Industrial Complex or the Illuminati, bad things are just baaaad things dammit, and good things are great, unless you are Richard Dawkins pretending for a brief moment that there are no bad or good things, there are just things, in which case, a bad thing is just a thing.

Yeah, he never does that. If he ever did, he'd stop saying that religion was bad. For example. He's a total hypocrite. Sorry, Dicky. And he never ever ever ever says that a bad thing that happens to him is not a bad thing it's just a thing. Never ever ever. Nobody does, not even Dr. Dicky Dawkins.

So really, life is going to have good things and bad things in it.

Now. Here's a math question for you. Or two. Several.


Are the good and bad things going to be equally divided in your life? Just exactly the same number of good things as bad things?

And are they going to be equally divided between humans? That is, will every human get exactly the same number of good and bad things as every other human?

And will the good things and bad things happen at regular intervals so that we will know they are coming and 1) bake a cake (in case it's a good thing or 2) run and hide (in case, well, you know)?

And since Death is like the ultimate Bad Thing, is everybody going to die at the same age?

Whether you believe in God or not, the answer to all those questions is the same:

No. That's ridiculous.

So here's what that means. It means that you will have an unequal number of good and bad things happen to you in your life.

Some of you will get way more good things, and others will get way more bad things. Some won't suffer much. Others will suffer a crapload.

Sometimes in life you'll get a crapload of bad things all at once, and then there might be a loooong pause where nothing bad really happens. Sometimes a ton of good stuff will happen all at once.

And since we're all going to die at different times in different ways, some of us will die before we are born, some when we are born, some when we are babies or toddlers or pre-schoolers or schoolers or teenagers or collegians or young adults or middle adults or old adults, and some will die quickly and painlessly and others will not be that lucky.

And some things will happen for a reason, and others will not.


And sometimes doors just close and windows don't open. Sometimes they'll both open.

It's not random. It's unpredictable.

Your life is not paint-by-numbers. It's not fill-in-the-blank. It's not a crossword puzzle.

It's a blank canvas with dangers and joys lurking in the paint, the brush, in your fingers and brain, in the fabric of time and space and in the interactions that are your emerging life.

And every interaction is the artist of your life.

So here's what Chaos tells us - life is clumpy. Life comes in clumps. Clumps of good things. Clumps of bad things. 

And when you get a clump of bad things that happen to you, you wonder, why do bad things happen to good people, but of course, what you really mean is, why do bad things happen to ME?! ALL THE DAMN TIME!?!?

And the answer is (envelope, please), why not?

Bad things happen to everyone eventually. Sometimes terrible things.

But not equally. Some people have lots of terrible things happen to them. 

And others ... don't.

Because the universe is clumpy.

In scientific terms, the universe started out not clumpy at all, and then got clumpier as time went on. So after 13.8 billion years, there's a crapload of clumpiness out there.

So just about the only other predictable thing about the universe is that it will be unpredictably clumpy.

Live accordingly.

OK, that is not helpful advice.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Why bad things happen to good people, or Chaos Theory Explained

Here are some things folks worry about.

Like, why bad things happen to good people.

And, why good things happen to bad people.

Also, does everything really happen for a reason?

Plus, if a door closes, does a window open?

And most importantly, why do bad things happen to ME? Or in your case, YOU?

Now the reasons that we wonder about these things are curious.


It's because there's a certain ... tension ... in our thinking.

Science tells us that there's no reason or purpose for anything.

Not for the universe. Not for the earth. Not for humans.

Not for you. Not for me.

Everything is meaningless. That's what they tell us.

What? You don't believe me?

Well. Since science is all about evidence, here's some. Evidence, I mean.

Richard Dawkins, Oxford zoologist …
…the universe "has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but pointless indifference"…human beings are "machines for propagating DNA”.


Jacques Monod, Nobel Prize winner, physiology/medicine
"The ancient covenant is in pieces. Man knows at last that he is alone in the universe’s unfeeling immensity, out of which he emerged only by chance."


Carl Sagan – Pale Blue Dot
You are there. Along with all the rest of us.

"Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves."


Steven Weinberg, Nobel Prize winner, physics

"Though aware that there is nothing in the universe that suggests any purpose for humanity, one way that we can find a purpose is to study the universe by the methods of science, without consoling ourselves with fairy tales about its future, or about our own."

Bertrand Russell
"That man is the product of causes …;
that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental (collections) of atoms;
that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave;


that all the labors of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system,
and that the whole temple of man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins;
all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand.
Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built."

Stanley Kubrick: "The very meaninglessness of life forces man to create his own meaning."

Joseph Conrad: Life is "that mysterious arrangement of merciless logic for a futile purpose."


Jean Paul Sartre: "It is meaningless that we are born. It is meaningless that we die." 

Sartre: "Every existing thing is born without reason, prolongs itself out of weakness, and dies by chance."

Sartre: "Everything has been figured out, except how to live."

Clarence Darrow: Life is a ship that is "tossed by every wave and by every wind; a ship heading to no port and no harbor with no rudder, no compass, no pilot, simply floating for a time, then lost in the waves."


The catch, of course, is that nobody lives like that.

We, and by "we" I mean "everybody", live like there's a reason for us to be here.

And thus, there's a reason why things happen. Bad things. Good things.

And there's supposed to be some sort of ... balance to the universe. 

Justice.
Like, if you are bad, then bad things are what you get.

And if you are good, then you get good things.

The universe is supposed to be sort of like Santa Claus. There's a list. All of our names are on it. And good and bad things get divided up perfectly and justly and fairly between good and bad people.

Now, if there's no meaning to the universe, all of that is just
ridiculous. Things just happen randomly without meaning or purpose, so when a bad or a good thing happens to you or me, well, tough luck or wasn't that nice?

So bad things will happen to good people and good things will happen to bad people randomly and without rhyme or reason, and good things will happen to good people and bad things will happen to bad people randomly and without rhyme or reason.

And sometimes more good things will happen to bad people and sometimes more bad things will happen to good people, because it's all random.

Nothing happens for a reason. Things just happen to people because things just happen and people are always getting in the way.

When a door closes, a door closes. Windows opening are entirely
unrelated and random. Sometimes windows don't open when doors close.

In fact, if we really paid attention to Richard Dawkins up there, there are no good things or bad things, because there is no good or bad. There are just things.

"Good" and "bad" are just levels of comfort and inconvenience that
we make up out of nothing. Because we persist in thinking that we matter. That we are here for a reason. That there is meaning and purpose to our lives.

Silly us.
Perhaps, though, we might be wrong. In part, at least.

That would be ... intriguing.