Professor J. Anderson Thomson on Why We Believe

October 20, 2010 § 1 Comment

This is a great talk by Professor J. Anderson Thomson from the American Atheist convention in Atlanta, Georgia in 2009, which addresses ideas of human evolution, the mind’s coping mechanisms, and the way religion probably evolved with us as a by-product of social mechanisms which emerged within us.

Watch and enjoy!

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Atheist Climber Prominent People Project

September 24, 2010 § 7 Comments

Atheist Climber Blog is turning One year old on October 10! Yay! And I remember like yesterday thinking “Do I have anything to write about? Will anyone care? Will anyone read it?” I just wish I had taken more baby photos!

Well you have all spoken to me by visiting and commenting on my blog. My measure of success has been reflected in the blog stats with over 60,000 page hits, over 100 subscribers, and more than 1500 comments for the 100+ articles and videos I have posted. This far surpasses my expectations and for that I thank you all.

To celebrate, I am in the process of interviewing a selection of prominent figures in humanism, atheism, science and critical thinking. Most of these will be in the form of written interviews, but who knows? I might, down the track, do some video or audio interviews too. This will be dependent on how these interviews are received by my readers.

I don’t want to say too much at this stage, but suffice to say, I already have confirmation from a few very prominent and important people who I’m sure you’d recognise. More information to come. So stay tuned!

The first interview will be published on Atheist Climber Blog’s first birthday, October 10, 2010. So come celebrate with me, and feed your brain with the words of some great thinkers.

Thanks again,
Atheist Climber

The Mind is Everything

September 15, 2010 § 8 Comments

Is there a sense of determinism in the universe? Does the universe have a purpose?

My personal understanding of the universe is that there is no definite purpose for the universe, merely that the universe is a result of a series of events, which were the series of a previous series of events, which in turn, are the result of a previous series of events etc. But this is a gross over-simplification. Obviously, since some state that time began with The Big Bang, then how could there have been “previous” to The Big Bang? Unfortunately we may never know, because events before a certain stage of development of the universe are hidden behind an “event-curtain” or “event-horizon” (also known as the cosmological horizon) much like that which surrounds a black-hole. The idea here is that light travels at a finite speed, and objects are also moving at a second finite speed. In order for us to be able to see these objects, they must be travelling away from us (or us from them) at a relative speed less than the speed of light, otherwise the light fails to reach us. It is because of this event-horizon that we cannot see past the event of the fledgling universe, and the light will never reach us here on earth, as we are moving away from that position in space faster than the speed of light, relative to it. (In the case of a black hole, the objects move toward the black hole so fast that light cannot escape back out, so once it’s past this event-horizon we can’t see it any longer.)

Image from Hubble

Image from Hubble

But I digress. The universe is still reacting to the initial conditions that caused its beginning, at least as far as we we can see into the past. This being the case, I think it is folly to think that the universe has a personal interest in you, as a person and what happens to you in your life.

There are those who think that there is no god, but believe that the universe is “guiding them in some way”. I’m not one of these people. I think the universe is indifferent to our existence. I’d even go so far as to say I think the universe has no capacity to “know” anything in any case. I have said this before in previous blogs.

The universe as God?

As to the idea that the universe has a predetermined pattern which the human (and all action takes for that matter) in a Donnie Darko-esque way, well I can’t say one way or the other. But i must say, apart from the ideas of cause and effect, I’d have to say, in my experience, when people say “The universe is telling me to blah blah blah…” what they REALLY mean is, “My subconscious is telling me to blah blah blah,” or “I’m not sure why, but I really feel like I should blah blah blah”. The idea that the universe has a personalised deterministic nature is the human mind’s anthropromorphising of the universe, giving the universe some sort of human characteristics, specifically that of caring for us, combined with the innate wish that everything will work out for the better if we just trust in the “will” of the universe.

We do wish that we were “looked out for” in some way. It would make life a whole lot easier if we could simply throw our hands in the air and say something like “If it is the will of the universe, than that is the way it should be.” It would also be very nice to think that, at any given moment, we were being looked after by a surrogate parent, be it God or the universe. This makes sense, because as we are growing up when we are unsure, or hurt, or scared, we look to our parents or our guardians to give us support, guidance and comfort. The universe however is not capable of this, at least not by my understanding. In our minds, we can formulate all sorts of ways the universe or gods or nature is looking out for us, and for some this is seen as a reassuring. This all takes place in our minds.

The mind is everything.

Everything we see, feel, interpret, wish for, know and experience. That’s not to say there’s not more to the brain than we understand, because there IS more than we understand. The brain, however, is far more complex than a simple binary machine, capable of only “yes/no” decisions piled one upon the other. In fact, we are only beginning to understand the workings of the mind at all. Personally I’m very excited to see what we find out about the workings of the mind. Once we have unravelled the brain, can we then have better control over ourselves, our decisions and our beliefs? Will we then be ready to let go of our wishes to be looked after by the universe or god?

Inspired by Jonathan’s blog piece here.

VS Ramachandran: The neurons that shaped civilization

September 10, 2010 § 4 Comments

Mirror neurons are the most amazing part of the brain, which are one of the keystones to empathy within the human species. This talk by Vilayanur Ramachandran from TED shows how the brain is able to feel sensations that others are feeling, and to empathise with that. The talk is over way too quickly, however what he says in this talk is something I have talked about many times in this blog. The evolutionary advantage of mirror neurons and empathy have allowed us to increase our social skills to become the societies we are today. Indeed, this was a major turning point in human evolution. I would like to eve suggest that this was the beginning of our human civilisations and cultures.

Steven Pinker and The Blank Slate

September 4, 2010 § 2 Comments

I am still reading the book by Steven Pinker “The Blank Slate”. It’s taking a long time, but not because it is difficult to read, or because it’s unenjoyable. In fact, I’d put it down as one of my favourite books because it talks about the brain, whcih is slowly becoming one of my new fasciations. It’s taking so long because I find myself to be incredibly busy all the time, and only get a chance to read for about 20 minutes before falling asleep every second night or so. In any case, please enjoy this TED talk from Stephen Pinker from 2003.

Oliver Sacks: What hallucination reveals about our minds

September 2, 2010 § Leave a comment

Oliver Sacks, one of the foremost leaders in the popularisation of the intricate workings of the brain. In this TED talk he speaks of how hallucinations give us an insight into the weird and wonderful way the brain responds to the deterioration of visual and audio stimulus, with the main focus being on a condition called Charles Bonnet syndrome, a condition where visually impaired people can experience particularly strong and vivid hallucinations. He also touches on how brain trauma (such as a tumor or cyst) can cause hallucinations.

Personally, having a loved one who has suffered from a brain tumor, and who experience terribly from hallucinations which went undiagnosed for some time, I can see how these kinds of things cause people to question their own sanity.

Unintelligent Design

August 31, 2010 § 6 Comments

The human body is testament to the absence of determinism in the evolutionary path of animals. And there are several vestigial examples of evolutionary leftovers within the human body. Couple this with the imperfect state of the human eyeball (complete with a blind-spot at the back of the retina), and we have plenty of examples of the way that evolution works. Bodies are not redesigned every time an evolutionary change in a species occurs. Adaptations only hold on if they are advantageous, or at a minimum not harmful to the creature or plant.

The recurrent laryngeal nerve is an odd example of evolution that due to the evolutionary path of mammals takes a much longer journey than it should if evolution were about being efficient then things like this would never happen. Humans seem to be much more like a crammed together mess of spare parts than a divinely designed being.

And there are countless other examples of odd evolutionary quirks. Watch Dawkins’ dissection of a giraffe’s neck to reveal the epic journey of the recurrent laryngeal nerve.

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