Little Green Men.

3 Aug

The prospect of other life existing somewhere out there in the universe is undeniably an interesting one. Does other life exist? Does it want to Skype? Or does it want to harvest our flesh to fuel its industries?

I would take it as a given that the more rational among us might admit that there not being other life out there is pretty unrealistic. With an inconceivable number of stars harboring billions of planets, it would be almost as ridiculous to not find any Starbucks on the high street as for the universe to be barren.

Recent estimates suggest there could be as many as ten billion earth-like planets in our galaxy alone. Factor in the billions of galaxies in the universe, and to suggest that there are any less than billions of other-world civilisations just gagging to rape and pillage us is moronic. As any betting man would tell you, it’s a dead cert.

Certain maverick renegades have even tried to turn this into a formula. The Drake equation is one such (albeit criticised) attempt to guesstimate how many civilisations might exist. Apparently it could be in the millions.

So what are these dudes gonna actually look like?

Your mother.

Seriously though, our expectations when it comes to extra terrestrial life really are quite interesting. For the most part, we yet again take the self-important human belief of expecting them to be, well, pretty similar to us. Because we’re so perfect.

This belief is from the same school that suggests we were the centre of the solar system (false) and designed specially by a god. The design plan for our genitals seems to pretty much amount to building a theme park on top of a sewage plant, so I’m gonna rule out intelligent design.

We are, however, almost entirely generic as a life form. We’re based, unsurprisingly, on carbon, the most productive element, and contain elements in pretty much the same proportion as they exist in the universe. You can tell we’re just another natural part of the universe. It seems reasonable to assume our aliens would at least have similar chemistry.

As for their appearance, you only have to take a look at some of the strange creatures we see on planet earth to see potentially ‘alien’ forms of life. Just think how vastly different to us an ant is, or a fish, or even a chimp. And these animals share ancestors with us.

We share 98% of our DNA with chimps. And yet, even the most intelligent among them can only perform tasks we see as everyday for a 2 year old.

Just this tiny difference in genetics has a massive difference in the real world. Even our closest cousins are far from being anywhere near as intelligent as we.

So think about it, Aliens are going to be vastly different.

If a 2% difference is the difference between Plato and flinging shit for entertainment, then other forms of life are going to be smarter than we can possibly comprehend.

Even fruit flies share 36% of our DNA, and do you we regularly share discourse with them? Do you think they can even comprehend what we are, or how our minds even work?

Heaven help us that we meet a race that is a fruit fly sized step more intelligent than us. Do we seriously imagine they will want to talk to us?  Or shall we appear to them as ants, busily working away on our hive planet, slowly eating up its resources until we die out, and another verminous species feasts upon us?

It’s a quite interesting thought.

The Hard Problem. Harder than Vinnie Jones.

13 Jul

This problem is a tricky one. And it is a relatively simple question:

How, or why, do we have conscious experiences?

It might, taken at face value, seem like a slightly ridiculous question. But the problem has been yet unsolvable by scientists, philosophers, nutjobs and psychic llamas. This problem is all the more ridiculous when we consider it’s a simple matter of explaining something we all experience nearly all the damn time.

Smarter people than me use the term qualia. It’s basically a big fancy linguistic blanket for all the stuff that, if you try and describe to someone, you can’t. Such as: what yellow looks like, the taste of a peanut M&M or the smell of your own intellectual farts. In fact, even attempting to explain these experiences using language alone flags up a problem. Yellow? Well, it’s all… yellowy.

That said, seeing as everybody can relate to experiencing qualia, one would imagine that some clever bean had managed to work out where it all comes from by now. Most people agree that consciousness has some grounding in physical mental processes, but as of yet the leap from a sparking neuron to the warbling of your favourite artist has not been made.

Other Minds

Now for a neat little sub-problem that helps add to just how difficult consciousness is.

GeniusIt may seem totally obvious that we experience these odd qualia, and the real difficult part of the problem is explaining how on earth they come to be. But, you’ll be happy to know, that experiencing them at all is almost pointless.

The problem arises if you ask yourself: “do the rest of my fellow humans have the same sort of mind as me”? As in, are they too, conscious, thinking beings? Anyone who has watched The Jeremy Kyle Show will have found themselves asking this question, as they listened to the fellow above relating his tales of social and familial injustice.

There is, in fact, absolutely nothing wrong with everybody else being mindless zombies, or sophisticated robots. They could respond to sensory inputs and react accordingly in the same way you do. They could seem entirely identical, but just not experience the same self-awareness of these processes occurring. Like Michael Fassbender’s (best name ever) David from Prometheus. He rocks.

If anything, having us being consciously aware of things like the hot flame or the pointy stick seems redundant when we could, in theory, just respond accordingly without all that qualia crap. It seems not just the how of consciousness, but also the why are standing there laughing at humanity’s ignorance.

Any answers then?

Yeah, loads. Any right ones? Now that’s a better question.

Given how flaky any argument of any position on consciousness can be, there are numerous positions on what it is, why it is and how it is. In fact, there are just too many for me to be bothered to hammer my sausage fingers into the keyboard to describe them for you.Maybe we can dabble in specifics another time and I can share which I consider to be the better answers.

Heartbreaking as it may be, I think the only real conclusion that can be made is how undeniably fascinating it is that consciousness is still so inexplicable, despite being what many would hold as a defining characteristic of humanity. Consciousness is all that we are, and yet we know more about the far side of the moon than we do about this intrinsic aspect of our lives. I think that makes it all the more magnificent.

Higgs Boson found! It was down the back of the sofa.

4 Jul

What a fantastically awesome achievement.

Higgs boson-like particle discovery claimed at LHC

This really is a pretty good day to be a human. It may be drizzling, bankers may be fixing interest rates and a crackhead might be urinating through your letterbox, but we’re still pushing the boundaries of knowledge and discovery to the utmost. The world owes CERN a collective pint.

Scientists have been looking for this little blighter for 50 odd years, and it’s unsurprising that you can see Peter Higgs, the man who first theorised the Higgs-Boson’s existence getting a tad teary eyed. It’s taken a monumental worldwide effort, but it has payed off.

What have they actually found?

First things first, I probably understand quantum physics worser-er than you do. But seeing as Richard Feynman (very clever bloke) once said “If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don’t understand quantum mechanics”, I suppose that makes me just as qualified as the next man.

The Higgs Boson has basically been the missing gap in the Standard Model of the universe for a good 50 years. People reckoned that the universe, or at least the 4% we know about, is made up of a set of elementary particles. They have weird names, and flavours, but that’s a whole can of confusing worms that is better left undisturbed.

Up until this point, we had found particles to explain things like gravity, and magnetism, but there was no real reason why some particles had mass, substance, and some didn’t.

That’s where this Higgs dealy comes in. It’s believed to be responsible for giving stuff mass, and finding it is a massive relief (pun intended).

That said, it may not be a Higgs.

What they’ve actually found, is almost certainly, a new particle of some sort. They’ve got a 5-sigma degree of certainty (which as far as I can fathom means they’re pretty damn sure) that we’re dealing with a new bit of stuff. This bit of stuff looks a bit like what they thought a Higgs would look like, but more testing will need to be done as to whether it behaves as we think it should.

Even so, we’ve found another building block of the universe, so don’t be cynical.

These things are ridiculously hard to find.

This is what impresses me the most really, the brilliant and nigh on impossible way that we can detect these utterly minuscule wisps of matter and energy.

These guys are trying to answer the biggest questions we have, by firing particles into one another at nearly the speed of light. It’s fantastic, caveman science at it peak: smash it up, see what’s left.

Not only that, but there’s the small matter of detection. The stuff they’re trying to find is so small, and hangs around for such a short while to see anything is a remarkable achievement itself. At this level, light itself is lumpy particles, you bounce them into the particles you’re trying to find and you’ll destroy them, or they’ll morph into something else. This tiny landscape is just that weird. So how awesome is it that we (or at least the very clever ones among us) are able to do things like this? It’s not a rhetorical question, because it’s fucking awesome.

What now then?

More atom smashing! A lot of work needs to be done to really uncover what this particle is and how it works, but at least we know it’s there. Makes the task slightly easier.

As for applications, quantum physics is already on it’s way to bring us awesome things like quantum computers and superconductors. One can only imagine a future where we can understand and utilise the particle that gives others mass. Something from nothing might actually become a reality. Sexy.

What is Love?

19 Jun

Baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me, no more. Bwam bwam bwam bwam bweh bwam.

God I love that head bob. Anyway, we were writing about something weren’t we?

Lurrrve <3

The L bomb itself. I have a few thoughts I’d like to share about this weird little lexical item we have here, and what, if anything it is supposed to mean in a sensible world.

Now like most totally normal people, when I think of love, I think of Disney, cheesecake and pain. The love that I’d like to discuss here is exactly the kind of love that we all idealise and aspire to to attain: True Love. N’aww.

True love is a funny notion, and when you think about it, has some batshit crazy baggage attached to it. True love, to offer a lumpy definition of a probably undefinable concept, is when you meet that perfect someone. That relationship which is perfect in every single way, where you are as happy as you could possibly be and it lasts forever. It’s a very bizarre transcendent sort of definition for something that, by and large we all experience at least once in our lifetimes.

And it’s just a little bit silly too. Now, I’m no Russel Brand, I’m not 147 and celebrating my kryptonite anniversary with my life-partner Margerie, but by inexperience plays to my point.

Being a sprog of almost-twenty (cry), I know and see couples my age that have already been together for nearly 5 years. It’s smashing, but it makes me think.

That special somebean.

True love is all about the perfect partner. Isn’t it fantastically fortunate then, how conveniently close we are located to our soul mates? They often go to the same school, university or workplace, live within a few hundred miles. In fact, if you think about it, we’re all bloody lucky we ever meet them at all, seeing as (if you’re straight) they are gonna one in about 3 billion potentials roaming about. I do hope my true love doesn’t live in Malawi. Just a bit awk.

What’s more, the process of finding this someone is fatally flawed due to the way the world works. When seeking something perfect, there’s no way to know that the current Mrs. Rumplestiltskin is the best, without  dumping her and carrying on accosting females until your bones turn to dust. Which wouldn’t be too fulfilling either.

By analogy, just because you’ve only ever seen white swans doesn’t mean every single swan is white. And just because you’re in love doesn’t mean it must be true love.

So in some ways I feel sorry for my companions who have already dedicated themselves so sternly to another. I can’t help but think they haven’t done enough experiments to reach such a monumental conclusion. It’d be like pretending your hand was a laser gun, firing it at a person who coincidentally drops dead of a heart attack and immediately concluding that you have death dealing murder claws at your disposal. Not smart.

However, I’m not an angsty cynic who cries while they masturbate.

Well, not today at least. The problem with disneyfied pop culture carebear love is that it is unrealistic. Like any sane person, I’d like to believe in as many real things as possible, and as few false things, I just think life turns out better that way.

So true love is a bit silly, but doesn’t mean love is dead. It just means that you can play the game a little smarter. Take the time to be in love a few times, test the waters, experiment. Your first love almost certainly won’t be your last, unless you’re either incredibly lucky or an emotionally unstable moron.

Being realistic means you recognise that true love is up to you, not the universe. So stop crying and listening to MCR while you try desperately to get hard over a facebook photo, and chill. You managed it once, you’ll manage to do it again.

Also, being realistic about love makes it that much more special. Instead of some cosmic fuckup that means you stumble across Mr. Right because your 3 year old decided to be sick on his shoes, it means that true love actually requires some effort and commitment from both parties.

Because you could never realistically conclude that your love is ‘true’ then it means that instead, both parties have to make the effort to make their love true. This sounds pretty bent, but hear me out. It means that instead of ‘finding’ that special someone, you’re both deciding to work and give everything to a relationship and somebody else to make it perfect.

And homemade stuff is always best.

Ignorance ≠ Bliss

10 Jun

Nothing too controversial here, I bet very few people in this world really think that ignorance is bliss. Because it isn’t. Ignorance, is ignorance.

When people say this what to do they mean? One can only imagine the ignorance they are selling is some sort of selective derpiness, where by the Ignoramus in question somehow manages to ignore every single piece of misfortune in the world that may come their way.

It’s sort of impractical

Most people find it very difficult to ignore getting hit by a bus, or catching on fire for example. One could, I suppose, imagine that in the region of school/workplace bitching maybe it’s nice to be ignorant that Janet thinks you are a slut. However, if you are aware, then you have a perfect reason to submerge her stapler in jelly. That’ll learn ‘em.

But let’s image you’re utterly determined to remain oblivious this large and slightly shitty slice of reality, what’s gonna come of it?

  1. You somehow actually do manage to be ignorant of every single bad thing in the world ever (extremely unlikely). In this case, you’re batshit crazy, or in a coma. Good job, bro.
  2. You give it a good shot. You draw a drooling imaginary cartoon smile on every homeless man, and for a while, everything is tits and rainbows (I’ve met people like this). It never lasts. Furthermore, your happiness is so painful to others that it creates yet more misfortune that you must then ignore. Very counter-productive.
  3. You realise that this is stupid, and go have a beer (Likely).

So what, ignorance is stupid?

Nope!

Ignorance is everywhere. I can’t understand why people get all butthurt when called ignorant. We’re all ignorant of all sorts of things. I for one, am very ignorant of Marine Biochemistry. It’s not a big deal.

People act like being ignorant is the same as being stupid. Well, although there could be correlation, it just ain’t the same thing.

Being ignorant would be saying, “I do not know how life on this planet began”.

Being stupid, or Tom Cuise, would be saying, “75 billion years ago a galactic warlord brought some people here. And his name was Xenu”.

Which of these statements sounds stupider? I rest my case.

Science

Ignorance is a fact of the world, there’s still a great deal more stuffs that we’re ignorant of than we’re norant of. This is why Science is the best tool we have. Science embraces ignorance. It embraces it not as bliss, or stupidity, but for what it really is, a gap.

Science won’t jump from ignorance to an absurd conclusion. It recognises that really, admitting ignorance is often the smartest thing you can do.

I chose to write this post. Lol jk.

28 May

That’s right, the reason I haven’t put up a post in a few days is not my fault. In fact, it may well be the same reason my toilet seat decided to abandon it’s natural position to seek its fortune, why I saw a young lady accidentally pour milk all over her face last week, or why the family next door are screaming at each other. Again.

It couldn’t have happened any other way.

Now, I’m sure we’ve all heard of cause and effect. It’s pretty vital stuff; without it there would be utterly no point in us doing, thinking or saying anything. Nothing would make sense. Randomness would ensue, one might scratch one’s ear as one may consider doing at one’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations, and find that one’s ear changes into one’s corgi. Bother.

We all quite gladly accept that everything has a cause, and everything has an effect. But to take that notion towards a logical conclusion can be just a teensy bit gutting.

Right, lets do some pondering. Imagine you know everything. If you’re between the age of 12 and 16 then you should have no problem here, because apparently you already do.

Because you’re worth it.

It seems reasonable, that if you were to know every single fact about the present moment, that, you and your stupendous spongebob brain could predict every single thing that was going to happen next. Everythaaaang.

You’d know it all. You’d be able to predict the future with absolute certainty. You’d even be able to predict what people are thinking, as you’d have complete knowledge over the atoms and chemicals bouncing around in their puny human minds, and how they all react together to make thoughts. You’d be the Derren Brown of the universe, knowing just how perfectly predictable and determined reality is.

Sounds pretty cool.

Yes, Mr. Emboldened Subheading, it does. But if the universe is just this intricate clock of cause and effect, chugging its way through an inevitable path, then it is bad news for Free Will. Like his similarly-named whale counterpart, he may be in danger.

If all our apparent choices are in fact pre-determined by the nature of reality, then free will does not exist. How disheartening is that? No matter what we do, we have no say in the matter, it’s all an illusion. We’ve been unplugged from the happy-go-lucky matrix and have woken up in the minging pink stuff. Bleargh.

Morality pretty much goes up its own arse at this point. It seems perfectly meaningless to commend an action as ‘good’ or bad when somebody had no choice in the matter. It’s like somebody being threatened with a gun until they give their hard earned pennies to that cute dog who got tied to a fence off the telly. If they do, did they do a good thing? Not really.

Likewise, seeing as there was no way any of this could have been different, it wasn’t Hitler’s fault. Isn’t that shitty.

However, it’s not all doom and gloom.

Quantum Physics may even poop all over the very notion that the universe is even at all deterministic. But in the immortal words of those Niggas In Paris, ‘dat shit kray’, so we’ll save it for another time.

For now, I might hang on to determinism. It means that how well I do on my exam this Friday has already been determined, and it means I’m excused from getting my sunburn on instead of revising. Wahey!

You are nothing. Be a happy nothing.

23 May

We all know people on Facebook, or Twitter, like this:

Unnamed Whinger: Hate the way people go from been amazing to complete utter nob heads,

(Yes,  there was a random comma just left tragically hanging, waiting for a subordinate prince clause to give its life meaning.)

Now this won’t be a normal rant about bad spelling this, bad grammar that, yet another update that defies interest or why people feel the need to tag themselves as “sleeping -at My Bed!” . These are just other mysteries of the universe that defy explanation. We may never know why we need to know that you just peeled and onion (I’m very glad that we do, however).

Sadface :(

No, the point is people seem to actually enjoy being miserable. We like being miserable, and then we like to tell others about how miserable we are. It makes us feel all important and deep.

We’re talking about petty pessimism here. The glass is half empty. But it’s also half full. Who cares? Just discern its contents (very important step. Think ‘yellow snow’), drink it, then pour yourself another.

Fortunately, not only is the internet very good for letting you show off how sad you are that your soul mate of three weeks and four days licked another man’s genitals, but it’s also good for allowing Gene Wilder to embody your side of the argument.

We’ll just forget how much he terrified us on that trippy boat ride.

There’s a point coming soon, I promise.

And the point couldn’t be more beautifully illustrated by this little gem. It’s the Scale of the Universe.

Seriously, how much fun is it to woosh that slider about and pretend you’re flying through time and space? I know you did it, it’s okay.

But yeah, if anything else can show how insignificant already insignificant problems are, it is this. We aren’t even a spot on the arse of the universe. We really, really, don’t matter.

So cheer the fuck up.

Don’t cry because your life has no meaning (or at least if you must, do share it on Facebook so we can chuckle at it) but instead realise how much freedom this gives you.

If nothing really matters much, why on earth would you choose to be unhappy? Why would anybody sit there an lament the half empty glass? Fuck it, go outside, see your friends, write a blog, shout at traffic, masturbate or whatever else puts a smile on your face.

Now don’t get me wrong,

I’m not saying suffering doesn’t exist. That would be utterly obscene and an insult to billions of people across the world.

I’m not saying that if raping and killing children puts a smile on your face, then ‘because it doesn’t matter’ you can go right ahead with that.

What doesn’t really matter is you. People, others, this sexy-ass little planet we have going on, do matter.

Your choice to be happy cannot restrict others’ chances to do so.

Yes, the universe doesn’t have any fucks to give, even for the billions.

But we’re all equally unimportant

So let’s fight for a world where one day we can all throw down the fucks we give, and just exist.

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