Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Syria: the chemical weapons factor

How will the Syrian fighting end?

At the time of writing, the Kofi Annan UN plan seems to have been accepted by Bashar al Assad and two powerful sympathising nations – China and Russia.

The disparate forces trying to depose him are so disorganised that despite UN support and universal horror at the bluntly applied brutality shown by Assad’s forces there seems little chance of the plan coming to fruition, except possibly on a long term basis.

Only recently I became aware of his chemical weapons stockpile and this could be a large factor if he decides either to go down fighting or to negotiate a safe passage and immunity. Even if he does not use them they could fall into the hands of jihad groups hostile not only to the western world but to each other and to Coptic Christians who, prior to the uprising, had been protected by Assad’s security forces. Given the relative technological illiteracy of many of the fighting groups involved the death and injury from chemcal weapons are more likely be the result of tragic accidents than targeted mayhem.

Image from Amazon site
However there may be a very significant factor which I had almost forgotten about.

 Not long after Saddam Hussein’s defeat a senior defector who was the no.2 official in Sadam’s air force, General Georges Sada, wrote a book (c.2005) about his time in Saddam’s high command. In this book Saddam’s Secrets  it was claimed that shortly before (6 weeks or so) the ill-considered 2002 invasion of Iraq Saddam had dispatched all his weapons of mass destruction (WMD) to a secret location in Syria. A senior Israeli figure confirmed the report but the media did not pick up on this at the time so I mentally put it to one side.

 Recently more stories about this hitherto largely ignored divulgence have begun to appear on the Internet and there seems to be increasing acceptance that Syria does have a large stockpile of chemical weapons, although it is still an open question whether this includes Saddam’s former arsenal. Here is a fairly random selection of recent links:


If Assad has been storing Sadam’s WMDs it might be used by him as a bargaining point in negotiations. Although Democrats and Republicans have obvious party political motives in accepting or rejecting the rumours it would probably be better for the USA as a nation to have its invasion of Iraq at least partially vindicated. Whatever truth emerges concerning the presence or otherwise of WMDs in Syria, there can be no justification for the political leaders of the time riding rough-shod over the US military commanders as they questioned the wisdom of trying to occupy a country with such a small army and without intensive planning.

This blog is about peace and unfortunately, human nature being what it is, one has to recognise that until we get the kind of world portrayed in 2077 AD it may sometimes be necessary to fight towards it. All we can do is fight in as humane a way as possible and try to hasten the day when it is not necessary.


Friday, 23 March 2012

Global perspectives on the future

A series of short articles in the November 2011 issue of Prospect was intended mainly as a report for those wishing to invest internationally; but they seemed to me to have some points of wider interest so here they are with my comments in italics.

  • Forget the Malthusian gloom: human ingenuity plus the power of incentives always defeats pessimistic predictions. Technological innovation has raised living standards in the developed world over the last century or so, despite a rapidly rising world population and higher average consumption per person. Cheap labour has been a factor in giving the developing world its high standard of living but I’m fairly sure that technology-driven agriculture and division of labour are the main causes.

  • Water shortage and sanitation are big problems. 880 million people are without safe drinking water and 2.6 billion have no access to basic sanitation. How do you define ‘without’? If you have to walk 2 miles to fetch a bucket of water is that defined as ‘without’?  On sanitation there is a lot of scope for technical solutions.

  • Water shortage can be combated with drip feeding. This is 90% efficient if computer-controlled, as is the case with greenhouse systems in the Netherlands. Compare this with 65% for sprinklers and 35% or less for surface irrigation where water is diverted along open conduits. The aim should be to introduce drip feeding in Africa, China and India. Could China be instrumental in developing such technology? It is already the biggest producer of wind driven generators of electricity, surpassing even Germany. Also, desalination should be viable if done as a by product if solar thermal power generation – see......... I read that 20% of the world’s fresh water is in Lake Baikal in Russia and that this may be used by China.

  • Rich countries are most likely to innovate in dealing with shortages. When the cost of a resource soars and it is no longer trivial compared to wages there is a powerful incentive to find more of it or use it more sparingly. E.g. when oil prices rose rapidly new methods of extraction were developed and made viable (horizontal drilling and vertical fracturing of rock). And energy is used more efficiently.
  • Investment follows strong property rights and the rule of law. This is a basic precondition for economic growth in any country. Few will risk setting up an enterprise if it’s likely to be nationalised, taken over by robbers or blown up by terrorists.

  • Uncertainty about safe assets. Traditional safe havens like the currencies of countries having sound fundamentals are disappearing. This is because countries whose currencies appreciate too steeply are likely to devalue their currencies to protect their industry. E.g. Switzerland is printing money to stop the Swiss franc rising above 1.20 euros. The article says that gold is also losing its attraction as a hedge against inflation and debasement of currency but I don’t understand this. It appears to be something to do with fears of recession and deflation.

  • Commodities. The shortage of these is very difficult to forecast. As their prices rise new locating, mining and processing method are invented, as well as ways of reducing the amounts needed. E.g. hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling has greatly increased the supply of natural gas. No doubt there will be a restructuring of the market for all kinds of goods, with the emphasis on durability, repairability, the ability to be recycled and the location of manufacturing closer to the consumer.

Some months ago I read an interesting article (Oxford Today vol.23 no.3, ‘Predicting Our Future’ by James Martin), which made many insightful points:

  • China is buying up and securing the resources it needs. E.g. it has already cornered the market in rare earths.  But there may be new sources.

  • Future catastrophes will be caused by an endless babble of misinformation. Examples: PR organisations persuading people to believe whatever increases the profits of the hiring company, business executives focusing on stock prices and politicians seeing only as far as the net election. Some, but not all, of the climate change deniers have used PR companies. And in this babble valuable insight and wisdom can be lost. See also Distorting reality

  • USA, Canada and Russia will probably benefit from global warming. Russia, in particular, has a lot of fresh water. Within my own country (UK) Scotland and Cornwall are likely to become more pleasant. As one living in the south east of England I am conscious of the growing shortage of water in recent years and the weather patterns suggest this could be with us indefinitely.

  • China has the world’s fastest computer at 2.5 thousand trillion operations per second. In the future quantum computers are likely to be able to run applications that would take millions of years to run on today’s computers. A lot of judgement and spiritual wisdom will be needed to make good use of this computing power.

  •  Education could be greatly assisted by computer technology. But only if human beings provide the inspiration to pupils and the writers of software.
  • People’s abilities will be technology-enhanced and robotics will enable us to concentrate on tasks which are uniquely human. The challenge to our wisdom and humanity will be greater than that to our technology. See also the post: Robotic technology: work for the west, help for all

  • Lifespans of 120 years could become common and leisure time longer. I don’t see much evidence of this latter trend recently - we seem to be caught up in a mad rat race of consumption but over the decades he could be right.

See also the post Distorting reality

There is a lot to digest here. Our Creator has given all these gifts and powers for good and evil. I hope we will get closer to God and so be able to make the right choices for a better world.


Saturday, 17 March 2012

Distorting reality

A universal seeking of Truth, Love and God (the source of both) is the foundation on which all societies must rest if they are to survive and progress. This is my belief and most people, deep down, believe the same.

Without truth it is not possible to have true love. Instead you get the kind of ‘love’ that many influential 1960s teachers in my own country felt for pupils when they refused them discipline and guidance, following the preaching of A.S.Neill, the humanist educationist icon of the time.   He no doubt meant well, but the road to hell is paved with good intentions: our standard of education and moral behaviour have steadily fallen by failing to recognise that not all human beings are naturally good and that children do not always know what is best for them. Yet a sizeable proportion of the intelligentsia, political leaders and the people who vote for them are immersed in a culture of truth distortion that, if not checked, could lead into disaster.

Some examples are listed below but please let me point out that I fully realise that within each area there are honest and good people at work, often helplessly caught up like slaves in a money-making, truth-destroying machine, although occasionally they succeed in going against the grain or setting up a profit or not-for-profit enterprise with a good ethos and providing something useful to society by taking into account the wider community. I am also aware that in a greater scheme the 1960s teaching must have had a role to play in reforming man's institutions and allowing more creativity and humanity into society. There is a purpose and a time for everything under heaven. Now the times are changing.

The list below leaves out actual fraud and corruption – all the truth distortion falls within the letter of the law.

Informative advertising about something of genuine value is an essential part of a dynamic society which wishes to progress in its quality of life. Yet each year huge amounts of money (measured in tens of billions of dollars worldwide) and teams of talented people are devoted to giving others misleading information about a product or service, as well as persuading them that it will improve their lives or even their worth as human beings. The result is not only a prodigious waste of resources but a grossly inefficient economy where production is matched to distorted demand, the economy fails to deliver a better way of life and social values are distorted.

Every major enterprise – private, public or government - has a PR department dedicated to misleading the press, the financial community, its shareholders, its customers, the government and the wider community. A waste of human effort, talent, energy and natural resources. Moreover, directors have been focused on misleading shareholders and potential investors by managing the finances of a company to maximise share prices in the short term, rather than directing capital to those activities which deliver long term added value to all the company’s stakeholders – share holders, employees, customers and the community in which the enterprise operates.

Hedge funds, futures traders, credit default swap agencies and investment banks often live in a fantasy world governed by computer models (which assume all people are governed purely by self-interest all the time and ignore any factor outside the horizon of the mechanistic model – e.g. the unexpected event, such as war or natural disaster or the creativity of nature) and the idea you can get something for nothing if you act quickly and craftily enough in response to market prices. These make an art form of deception in order to attract money by playing down the risk and exaggerating the potential gain. The result is another mismatch between market price and real value, which in turn leads to capital going into the wrong business.

Circulation has always been a part of journalism, either to maximise advertising charges or to get the biggest possible subscription revenue. Financial support from vested interests has also been a factor. Exaggeration and sensationalism have often been employed to attract readers or to influence their world-view (this blog is trying to influence yours but, I hope, without distorting reality). This has always been balanced to a degree by other factors: ethics, concern for fairness and objectivity, a sense of human decency and a responsibility for social cohesion. Yet in recent decades the press and media have gone too far towards maximising sales revenue and rewarding journalists on a readership-related performance basis. The end result is lots of readers with a distorted view of the world, which makes it difficult for the ordinary citizen to participate in a democratic process, and the formation or encouragement of warring factions in society.

MPs, senators, congressmen etc. are increasingly less interested in truthfully portraying the problems they are elected to solve or the progress they have made in keeping to previous promises, or in treating their peers with respect. This tendency arises partly from a general decline in the ethics taught at the schools they attended and is encouraged by a divisive media that not only promotes or exaggerates the slightest rift between politicians but tries to ridicule or scandalise those with the humility to admit mistakes or change their mind as circumstances change or even as they meditate on past beliefs, or to be less than perfect in their private lives. Pressure from professional lobby groups is another cause of truth distortion. Again, democracy is not feasible unless citizens have a good idea of what their politicians are doing  and how it affects their lives.

Policing and the judiciary
Faced with a society which has a decreasing respect for honesty, where the honest are deemed naive or sanctimonious, where absolute morals are not reinforced by awareness of an all-pervading Creator, where there is in effect no Holy Bible to swear on in court, where you and your family are all that matter, it is not surprising that an individual within the police or the judiciary will be concerned more with immediate expediency than the truth about a crime.

Drug companies have to attract large amounts of money to finance their R&D and provide a healthy long term return. This means distorting medical research to present a rosy picture to investors, health authorities, doctors, and the public. There is also a pressure on both private and pubic health providers to present their service to clients and potential clients in the best light rather than realistically.

Truth as established by peer reviewed academic investigation was  always affected by the race for recognition and journalistic hype, with the latter gaining ground in recent years, and the battle for research funding has meant a certain amount of hype coming from the researchers themselves. However, recently it has been under more serious attack by idealistic scientists. Truth is essential to progress but whereas at one time it was held sacred and the universe was deemed rational because it was formed by a rational Creator, there is now a move by Naturalists to distort aspects of evolution, quantum physics and cosmology to eliminate a Creator from reality and with it the sanctity of truth. Chance is increasingly invoked as the new god of the gaps, or the gaps are ignored by adopting a post modern view of reality.
See The five-fold threat to science

Since the liberalisation of schools, in the UK and elsewhere, in the 1960s, education has been run on the illusion that pupils know what is best for themselves and that all people are naturally good. Adults are not there to discipline or guide them but mostly to pander to their needs and bring them out, a policy which has led to a spiralling lack of discipline and falling education standards in the English-speaking world at least.

On top of these endemic distortions of reality and the departure from the spirit of the law there is also an increasing amount of corruption and fraud contravening the letter of the law, even in the English-speaking countries where this has hitherto been minimal by the standards of most parts of the world.

If any readers think this does not call for a spiritual renewal I would like to hear from them.

See also

 What is truth?

Hold on to the truth
(includes a review of Stephen Hawking's post modern metaphysical extravaganza, the Grand Design, shortly to be televised despite widespread debunking of the book by theoretical physicists and philosophers of science.)

Doctrine of chance
Fighting fatalism

Is there meaning behind random events?

The five-fold threat to science

Are some scientists from the planet vulcan?

Jean Paul Sartre: not the way to Peace on Earth

1984: collective post-modernism




Monday, 12 March 2012

Eternity and Thermodynamics

The three laws of thermodynamics were originally about heat engines, expanding gases and changes between different states of matter (gas, liquid, solid). Later they were reformulated to apply to all of nature, i.e. the whole universe – everything from a small group of elementary particles to a balloon full of air to a cluster of galaxies. Here they are:

1st Law. Energy is neither created nor destroyed. This means that the total amount of energy in the universe is constant. Energy can be converted to mass and vice versa, and so one could restate the 1st law as the total amount of energy/mass in the universe is constant. (NB: energy can be expressed in units of mass or vice versa using Einstein’s famous E = Mc(squared) formula, where c is the speed of light in a vacuum.)

2nd Law. Any closed physical system becomes more disordered with time. The amount of disorder is usually quantified as entropy. An example would be a small pulse of coloured gas squirted into a thermally insulated jar: as time goes on it is seen to expand to fill the whole jar. Its molecules, being more spread out, form a more disordered, higher entropy system than the small pulse. (A consequence of the higher entropy is that the system is less able to do useful work e.g. drive a miniature turbine in the jar.)

3rd Law. It is impossible to reduce the temperature of a system to absolute zero degrees in a finite number of operations. (Absolute zero = 0 deg K = minus 273 deg C.)

I invite you to consider the consequences of each of these laws if we assume the universe to be eternal, i.e. to have existed for an infinite amount of time.

1st Law in an eternal universe
The total amount of energy would have to be infinite because an eternal expanding universe would have to be infinite in extent. However, as is pointed out in   infinity, eternity and cosmology,   infinity is a meaningless concept.  (NB: the universe is manifestly not static so it would have been expanding or contracting for an infinite time. If contracting it would not now exist.) This would mean the the 1st Law was meaningless but our observations confirm that it is meaningful.

2nd Law in an eternal universe
Since the natural order, i.e. the universe, is a closed system, it would be in a state of total disorder after an infinite time. In an eternal universe an infinite time has already elapsed so everything should be as disordered as is conceptually possible and we should not be here.

3rd Law in an eternal universe
Presumably the entire universe would be at absolute zero since there would be time for an infinite number of operations. Note that every possible event would have had to have occurred in an eternal universe, which would include cooling it down to zero in an infinite number of operations and once it had reached absolute zero, as a closed system,  it would have no way of departing from that state.

A naturalist, i.e.  one who assumes there is nothing outside the natural order, has to assume the universe to be a closed system, otherwise he/she is admitting a supernatural influence.  However, as the above shows by reductio ad absurdium, an eternal universe is not possible.

Therefore the universe was created.

Comments welcome.


Saturday, 10 March 2012

Nothing is not something

Mixing science with magic is a mistake, as the Alchemists should have realised by their failure to turn lead into gold.

 Lawrence Krauss’s book A Universe from Nothing: Why there is something rather than nothing (January 2012) has an Afterword by Richard Dawkins. Predictably it seeks to show that the universe need not have been created.

To be fair the book does not actually resort to supernatural magic. It merely seeks to deceive the reader by defining ‘nothing’ not as complete existential nothingness but as the quantum vacuum, i.e. space seething with energy and virtual particles. These fleetingly come out of the quantum vacuum and disappear back into it. Where this ‘nothing’, which is actually ‘something’, comes from is passed over. Atheists seeking solace in it will be disappointed. Dawkins’s seal of approval will not help – the central argument of his own book the God Delusion has been dismissed by all serious philosophers and thinkers as non sequitur.

 So if the physics in the book is sound Krauss is simply describing how one form of energy is converted into another. Philosophically the book is flawed.

A common misconception is that the Big Bang was an explosion from a point in space-time. This is not standard theory. Space-time and energy were created and, assuming the quantum vacuum does exist, this is simply a form of the energy that was created. The mystery is what created it and many scientists see this as a dangerous question, because they think it will cause scientists to abandon reason by invoking God as an explanation for everything. On the contrary, modern science evolved from a belief in a God who is all powerful and, like certain ancient Greek philosophers but unlike Krauss and Dawkins, rational. It is unfortunate that the prevailing world view of the Greeks was rather chaotic, full of arbtitrary gods, so that rational coherent theories of science and the universe could not flourish.

I see no point in reading this book except for any valid cosmology which may be mixed in with the atheistically-motivated dogmatism and for the intellectual curiosity of seeing how they come to their conclusion. A lot of effort would have to be invested in understanding a nonsensical argument.

 Cosmology and quantum physics are fascinating subjects and there must be much better books around for getting a grip on the frontiers of scientific knowledge.

Perhaps the second hand information I have on this book is wrong. If so, please correct me.

 What has this to do with Peace on Earth? A lot. Call me dogmatic but I believe that a peaceful world can only be built on a foundation of truth and love, and these do not come from any human being.


PS Multiverse and oscillating universe models which attempt to eliminate the need for a creation event by invoking infinity and eternity have been dealt a severe, if not final, philosophical blow by the BGV theorem of 2003. see the posting Infinity, eternity and cosmology).

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Infinity, eternity and cosmology

Infinity is any number divided by zero and does not exist in reality. It is purely a mathematical fiction, totally meaningless. For instance, it arises when certain values are fed into a mathematical equation, causing some term in the equation to be divided by zero. E.g.  Speed = distance travelled divided by the time taken. If a marble rolls forward in zero time its speed is infinite, regardless of whether it rolls forward a millimetre or a billion light years.

To assume it has any physical meaning or even any place in a mathematical expression other than to show the that the expression breaks down under certain circumstances, leads to profound absurdities.  It is the number beyond which no greater number can be imagined and there is no such number. Eternity is also meaningless – it just means an infinite amount of time. Here are just a few examples to show how meaningless are infinity and eternity within the realm of science.

 1. Infinity x infinity = infinity

2. Infinity divided by infinity = ????

3.Infinity – infinity = ????

4. Infinity squared, cubed or raised to any power, even to the power of infinity = infinity (‘raised to the power of infinity’ means multiplied by itself an infinite number of times)

5. Hilbert, a German mathematician (1862-1943) proposed a hotel with an infinite number of rooms, all occupied, specifically to illustrate the irrationality of infinity as a quantitative concept. A visitor turns up and asks for a room. The reception clerk says the hotel is full but he can make the first room vacant  by moving the guest in the first room into the second room as the second room occupant is moved into the third room as the guest in the third room moves into the fourth etc. etc. There is always an extra room at the end because infinity is always higher than any number one can imagine. In Hilbert’s fully occupied hotel an infinite number of new guests could be accommodated by this kind of shuffling.

6. Eternity. If the universe was eternal it would have existed for an infinite time and it would mean that everything had already happened an infinite number of times and one of the events that would have happened would be the end of the universe so the universe should not be here now. This does not accord with our observations.

Infinity and eternity have a place in poetry and metaphor, where they have qualitative rather than numerical meanings. Infinite love, infinite mercy and eternal life, for instance. No theory of science can use the concept of infinity with any expectation of being taken seriously. If an equation includes infinity it can only be as an expression of the equation’s limitations within certain boundary conditions.

Neverthless, some cosmologists use this concept with abandon, ignoring the fallacies which it implies.

Oscillating universe

It has been proposed that the Big Bang resulted from a previous Big Crunch, by which a universe imploded in on itself: i.e. the Big Bang is really a Big Bounce. This process is said to have been  going on eternally. This is supposed to avoid the need to posit a creation from existential nothingness, which would mean invoking an act of creation (Heaven forbid). What this theory overlooks is that each cycle of expansion and contraction must cause a higher entropy than the prevous one. If this oscillating universe is eternal it means it should now be one of infinite entropy – totally disordered and extending infinitely into space. Last time I looked this was not the case.

Such a model would mean that there had to be a first Big Bang, in a previous universe, since each cycle would be smaller than the one which followed it  (followed it causally not temporally, since between the cycles time would not exist). This follows, I understand, from the fact that each cycle would use a smaller proportion of the energy content, which would mean higher entropy and, consequently, a larger sized universe than the preceding one.


To avoid having to explain how this universe began in such a miraculous way some cosmologists have speculated that there must be an infinite number of parallel universes, one of which was bound to have all the physical laws and constants in place for the creation of sentient beings and the universe which has been revealed to us by scientific investigation. This is a non-starter for two reasons:

/1/ An infinite number of universes, apart from being intrinisically meaningless because infinity itself is meaningless, would mean having one universe which did not have any parallel universes.  There would have to be an infinite number of universes and just one universe at the same time. It is therefore a logical paradox.

/2/ An infinite ensemble of bubble universes, which some have proposed, expanding in all directions, would mean there had to be a point from which they derived. The ‘problem’ (and it is only a problem for those who deny a creation event) therefore remains – the universe had a beginning (Gen 1:1).

A theorem with fundemental implications for cosmological models involving cyclic or expanding universes or multiverses was published by Borde, Guth and Vilenkin in 2003. It is explained on this Youtube video.

It is becoming increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to avoid the conclusion that the universe was created. Should most cosmologists become theists I wonder how cosmology would develop. Personally, I think it would be a great boon to the science of the real universe which is huge and full of untold layers of mystery. There is no need to resort to magic by proposing unprovable and unfalsifiable cosmological models.