Expressions of Causality

The problem with free will, as I see it, is that people have the wrong impression of what it means.  Free will is not all it’s cracked up to be but there’s no doubt we have a modest form of it.  I prefer to call it “self-determinism”.  This self-determinism is empirically proven every time we conceive and execute a plan. I’ve found this is hard to explain because so many people assume that any free will must contradict causality and, thus, determinism.  I claim that the only free will we have is actually self-determinism and that it isn’t in conflict with causality: in fact, it’s a product of human intelligence interacting with causality.  I’ll try to explain . . .

I maintain that “free will” is an awful term to express the independent agency humans possess to define purpose for themselves and pursue it. Our choices aren’t free in a libertarian sense: they’re free within the constraints of our heredity and experience (which are both products of causality).  Perhaps Arthur Schopenhauer summed it up best: “Man can do what he wills but he can not will what he wills.”  We can do, in the present, whatever our experience has prepared us for.

Experience represents the past.  Experience — what we’ve learned — is all we know.  With the exception of instinct and reflex, I believe it’s virtually impossible to think or act beyond our experience.  Even inspiration comes from experience. Where the rubber meets the road is in the present.  This is where our human brains interact with the world around us to form the conceptual continuity of consciousness: our identity.  Experience influences us so much because it’s been layered into our identity just as the present will be.  THAT is the self in self-determinism.

Don’t get me wrong . . . causality rules.  We might think we’re in control until that fire or disease or earthquake or tsunami or accident or economic crash changes our lives.  Causality is the ultimate big dog.  We can make choices to maximize security but we can never be sure we’re secure.  We can’t anticipate everything.

So how do you explain the fact that, despite the pervasiveness of causality, we can still map out our own futures and achieve our plans (if they’re any good)?  How do you explain how we, for the most part, hack our own paths into the future?


Mental feedback is the key.  Without it, we could not have memories or analyze problems or learn or make plans.  Without it, we could not understand causality or anticipate it.  Intelligence and consciousness itself hinge on mental feedback.  Mental feedback gives us a temporal advantage over causality by allowing us to anticipate it and plan for the future accordingly. THAT is the determinism in self-determinism.

It lacks the flourish and romanticism of unbridled, libertarian, free will but self-determinism has its own beauty revealed in the paradox of independent agency in a clockwork universe. Causality determines the scope of our abilities and actions and we use those abilities and actions to hack our own paths into the future.  We’re so good at it, we’re getting cocky. But we’re not masters of causality . . . merely expressions of it.


Scientists Slow Light to a Stop

There was a fascinating article, by Eugenie Samuel, at It explains an experiment in which they stopped light dead in its tracks, then released it, letting it speed off, as usual.  Incredible.

Stop Light: The REAL Spin Doctors

Scientists have stopped light in its tracks in two landmark experiments. In doing so they have overcome a fundamental obstacle to the development of quantum computers.

Light normally travels at 300,000 km per second but both groups of researchers slowed a laser beam to a complete standstill by passing it through a specially prepared cell of gas atoms. Later the researchers restarted the light beam and sent it speeding off again.

Ron Walsworth from the Harvard Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics led one of the groups and says the demonstration shows how information could be transported in a quantum computer. “The light could take information from node to node as required,” he told New Scientist.

“Everybody thought it was pretty wild,” says Seth Lloyd, a quantum computing engineer from MIT who attended the Physics Optics and Electronics conference in Utah where the Smithsonian group presented their idea. “We thought it would be what’s needed in quantum computing.”

Steady state

In conventional quantum computing, researchers aim to store quantum states in individual atoms. However the states are very delicate and liable to be destroyed by background noise.

In contrast, in the light stopping experiment, the information is contained in the electromagnetic fields of the light beam and is transferred to the state of the gas atoms. “We have over 1012 atoms which makes the state very robust,” says David Phillips, who worked on the experimental set-up at Harvard-Smithsonian.

Both Phillip’s group and Lene Hau’s at Harvard University and the Rowland Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, prepared their gas atoms in the same way. They used a control laser beam tuned at just the right frequency to put the atoms into a so-called dark state. In this state the atoms cannot absorb light as usual.

When a second pulse beam is passed into the cell, rather than being absorbed it interacts with the atoms by flipping their spins. Doing this slows the beam by an amount that depends on the intensity of the control beam.

So to slow the beam to a standstill, the researchers fade out the control beam completely. But they have to do it smoothly or the dark state is destroyed. “Showing that could be done was the clever theory,” says Phillips.

This theoretical breakthrough was achieved in 2000 by Misha Lukin and Suzanne Yellin at Harvard-Smithsonian and Michael Fleischhauer at the University of Kaiserslautern, Germany.

The Vatican Battles Satanism

Is This for Real?

According to an article, by Nick Rees, in The Daily Telegraph, the Catholic Church conducted a conference in Rome to combat the dangers of Satanism.

A conference for demon-busters?

This is, apparently, not a joke. There were Catholic clergy, doctors, psychiatrists, teachers and social workers – ostensibly grown adults with college educations – all gathered together in a coordinated effort to do something about the insidious, dangerous, problem of devil worship.

Traditionally, any priest could perform exorcisms to cast the Devil out of a possessed person but 3 years ago the Vatican decreed that such purging should be left to professional exorcists.

Professional exorcists?

I guess parish priests aren’t up to the task. Do grown adults really believe people can be literally, physically, possessed by the devil? That the devil’s possession of a victim can be so potent that only a professional exorcist can force him out? And what does it take to become a professional exorcists? If parish priests aren’t up to the task, where does one start their quest to specialize in demon-busting?

One such specialist is Father Nanni of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints. He says that one should first have a “moral certainty” of an actual possession before calling in the big guns. In case you’re not sure what moral certainty looks like, look for freaky changes in behavior or voice. Moral certainty is not an oxymoron within the church but it has become cliché with overuse.

Sudden glossolalia (speaking in tongues) often accompanies possession but the exorcist must be careful to ensure he’s not mistakenly exorcising a Pentecostal charismatic. I guess that’s one of the reasons the Vatican requires exorcisms be performed by professionals. The professional exorcist knows the intricacies of his craft and is undaunted by victims that “scream, dribble and slobber, utter blasphemies and have to be physically restrained”. A real pro is even prepared for supernatural phenomena like vomiting “shards of glass and pieces of iron”.

According to the Vatican’s chief exorcist, demon possessions are so insidious that Satan even lurks in the clergy and the Vatican itself. That’s right: the Anti-Christ is attacking the Holy See. As proof of this, Father Gabriele Amorth pointed to the sex abuse scandals that have engulfed the Church. Need we say more?

Exorcism is serious business and is “wholeheartedly” endorsed by Pope Benedict XVI.

Scary. Isn’t it?

© Copyright 2011

The Palestinian Problem

Peace, my ass
Palestinian and Proud

I received (elsewhere) a reply to a post in which I provided a Pat Condell video and transcript which had nothing to do with the “Palestinian Problem”.  I received the following reply (edited for grammar):

I also was subscribed to Pat Condell’s YouTube channel but just was shocked and couldn’t agree with  his views on Israel.  I really don’t see how anyone who often goes on about human rights can talk as if Israel can do no wrong – AND he gets the real news on the matter in the U.K; not the suppressed U.S Israel lobby news the Americans get.

The following is my response:

Hi Justin,

My website is

As for Israel . . . I hope you’re up on the history of that region. There was NO country there when Israel was created . . . and “created” is the appropriate word.  The United Nations granted the  territory to Israel after WWII.  Israel took control after a short war.

This is not to say that the Israeli/Palestinian problem is not important.  What it means is that Israel is legitimate in its own right: both by international agreement AND by military conquest.  It’s hypocritical to condemn Israel’s possession by Jews, through war, when Muslims previously occupied the same land, through war.

Possession is now a moot point.  The question is: How does Israel address the needs of the Palestinian people?  First of all, the Palestinian people need to cease hostilities against Israel.  As an autonomous state, Israel has the RIGHT to protect its own security.  Peace, obviously, can’t begin until hostilities cease.  Missiles and suicide bombers must become an artifact of history before Israel can loosen its controls on the Palestinians.

The Palestinians will argue the opposite: that they can’t cease hostilities until Israel ceases its crack-down.  I obviously side with Israel on this chicken-and-egg conflict.  A large part of my position is the fact that Palestinians are predominantly Muslims who teach hatred of Jews and Israel to their children . . . who then grow up to be adults who continue the cycle.  Israel is a tiny democracy surrounded by despots and terrorists.  Until their neighbors learn to govern their own citizens democratically, I can’t, with clear conscience, support them over Israel.

If Egypt and Jordan can negotiate meaningful peace with Israel, then so can Palestinians — IF they have the will.

I can’t speak for him, of course, but I think Pat Condell would make a somewhat similar argument.

I know such a position is sacrilegious among a large portion of the uber-liberal atheist community but I believe it is right.  I understand that liberals want to be inclusive.  And that’s normally a good thing.  But inclusion should not be a goal for its own sake.  All considerations need to be addressed when dealing with complex issues.  Personally, I believe that non-democratic, Islamic, states have major issues where peaceful co-existence with non-Muslims (especially Jews) is concerned and that it’s pointless to capitulate to them unless you actually WANT to appear weak.

Israel’s “Land for Peace” initiative is a prime example.  Israel offered the Gaza Strip in return for peace and unilaterally evicted their own settlers and military from the Gaza Strip.  What did the Palestinians (Hamas) do in return?  They immediately resumed rocket attacks, building tunnels, smuggling weapons and kidnapping Israeli soldiers.  They obviously don’t care about peace.  Peace, to them, is for weak pussies.

Israel certainly makes mistakes and is not blameless.  But the same could be said for any other powerful nation.  Given the complicated and difficult realities of the region, they’ve shown remarkable restraint in the face of incessant hostilities.

Pat Condell was right.  What Hamas wants is to wipe Israel off the map.  They’re still terrorists.

© Copyright 2011