Tuesday, April 3, 2012

This is my latest music and video project, a little love letter to the universe, featuring my good friends Aranza Owen and Justin Stark, as well as my nephews Camden and Berkley Thompson.

Monday, April 2, 2012

On Time and Free Will

In any attempt to bridge the domains of experience belonging to the spiritual and physical sides of our nature, time occupies the key position.
—Arthur Stanley Eddington, 1928

Everything is determined, the beginning as well as the end, by forces over which we have no control. It is determined for insects as well as for the stars. Human beings, vegetables, or cosmic dust, we all dance to a mysterious tune, intoned in the distance by an invisible piper.
—Albert Einstein

Even very smart people can be wrong. After all, Einstein showed with his theories of relativity that Newton, another very smart guy, didn’t have the whole picture on the nature of space or time. But nor did Einstein, it seems, as I’ll describe. It is becoming increasingly clear that Einstein was wrong about the nature of time and determinism.

What is time? For Einstein and most physicists, time is considered an additional dimension akin to a spatial dimension — sometimes described as “the spatialization of time.” We arrive at a four-dimensional universe in which time is reversible and there is no real difference between past, present, and future. Past, present, and future are all just different coordinates in an unchanging and eternal “block universe.” Einstein made this view explicit in a 1955 letter to a friend; the appearance of past, present, and future as distinct features of our experience, he wrote, is a “stubbornly persistent illusion.”

Sometimes, developments that seem like advances can actually be setbacks. Einstein’s views on time have become prevalent in science and philosophy, but what is far less prevalent is the understanding that in a world where time is an illusion and the universe is deterministic, there is no room for free will.

Free will is an active area of interest in psychology and philosophy. There is an increasing — and disturbing — trend toward a kind of hard-nosed acceptance that we don’t have free will. The attitude is something like: “Science is increasingly showing us that we are not that important. Copernicus showed us that we’re not at the center of the universe, Darwin showed us that we’re just another animal, and physics has shown us that there is nothing special about consciousness and that we suffer from an illusion of free will because past, present, and future all exist at the same time.”

This attitude, while increasingly pervasive, goes too far in my view. Much of it is, of course, correct: We are not at the center of the universe, and we have evolved just as all other creatures have evolved on this blue/green planet of ours. But we are also the leading edge of that creative process, with our highly complex consciousness and associated attributes. Even though many things are indeed beyond our conscious control, it is not the case that we are conscious automatons in a deterministic world. New physical ideas support this view, and we are now seeing the dissemination of these ideas slowly but surely, steadily eroding Einsteinian determinism.

Read the rest here.

One Solution For High Gas Prices

It is common knowledge that “there is no quick fix” for high gas prices. It’s going to be a long-term effort to reduce our reliance on oil and we’re probably in for higher prices no matter what we do in the short term or long term because we’re facing a number of macro trends, such as systemic tightness in global supplies (peak oil), ongoing international tensions with Iran, etc., and perhaps also some amount of speculation in oil prices.

But is it really true that we can’t do anything to bring down gas prices in the short term? Maybe not. There are in fact a number of policies that could have a rapid impact on demand and possibly even bring down gas prices dramatically.
One policy, in particular — banning U.S. exports of gasoline — could result in significantly lower prices for gasoline almost overnight. As far as I can tell, this policy is not being talked about at all, and it should be.

The United States became a net oil-product exporter in February 2011 for the first time since 1949. It’s important to stress, however, that “net oil products” refers to refined oil products, not to crude oil itself, which dwarfs net oil products. We still import about half of the liquid fuels we consume each year and, as I wrote recently, we only produce about 6 million barrels of crude oil per day and we consume about 19 million barrels of all liquid fuels (including biofuels and natural gas liquids, etc.).

Read the rest here.

Toward Energy Literacy

"Energy literacy" and "peak oil literacy" should be requirements for pundits – and for citizens more generally. I've followed these issues for many years now, and the poor energy knowledge among even the chattering classes and punditry still amazes me.

A recent MSNBC show allowed a guest to state, without challenge, that U.S. oil production is now at an all-time high. No one, including the host and three other guests, objected to this statement. Many articles in various media outlets are now trumpeting the new “oil boom” in the U.S.

The fact is that U.S. oil production is a bit more than half of what it was at its peak in the early 1970s. It is not even close to an all-time high. This is not a small discrepancy in facts — every pundit should know this information when discussing our current and future energy needs. Read the rest here.

This is the introduction to my in-progress documentary about modern spirituality. Key themes will be the increasing departure from organized religion, but an abiding and perhaps growing concern about spirituality; integration of science and religion; meditation; panpsychism; eastern philosophy; ethics; environmentalism, and many others. Watch the video here and if you're inspired please donate using the button at the top right of my blog.