Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Robotics and AI: more jobs and a more human world?



Much of the western world has operated in a way to saddle itself with large numbers of unemployed people with no prospect of job security or of doing anything that seems really worthwhile. Making money and making sure you enjoy yourself, if possible not at other people's expense, seems to be the ethos of a spiritually arid age.

Whatever our spiritual beliefs or indifference to these it cannot be denied that meaningful work is essential to the well being and balance of most people. It is an important role of a government to steer the country it governs towards an economic structure which generates meaningful jobs and careers. This means encouraging industries and enterprises, state or private, which create value-added products and services i.e. products and services which bring in the money needed to finance social services and investment for the future, and above all, to provide people with lifelong, meaningful employment, either with one organization or a variety of employers, ensuring that adequate training is available.



Here are some schemes which could employ a huge number of people, paying them good wages to do useful work. All are compatible with or driven by the growth in robotics or artificial intelligence.


   
  • Robot ships to clear up the oceans (briefly described in my novel 2077:Knights of Peace).This could provide a great opportunity to generate both IT and heavy engineering work, bringing back to life many a derelict shipyard (e.g. like those on the UK’s northern coast – Tyneside etc.) and creating entirely new ones. This could not only provide worthwhile employment and stimulate local economies but solve the burgeoning problem of microscopic, non-digestible plastic particles entering the marine food chain, including sea birds.


  
  • Roads and pavements, millions of miles of them world-wide, need ripping up and replacing with smooth, high quality surfaces. Consider the market for a machine that stops over a crumbling section of motorway or clearway, say, pulverises the existing material and replaces it with a smooth, tough, durable surface within an hour. The market would be mind boggling and  a boost to the manufacturing industry.


  • Laying of new roads and railways. Again, a robotic machine that could lay down strips of finished road by the mile would have a vast market worldwide. Imagine the sales potential of China and India alone as well as  the investment and employment opportunities for western economies.


  • Footpaths and small roads over mountains, rough terrain and marshland are especially useful in rural and tourist areas. Teams of skilled individuals equipped with robot-based systems could lay these down more efficiently than at present. The market would be enormous in the developing world, allowing small remote communities to share in the growing prosperity of the wider world as well as allowing medical aid to reach them more quickly. Hopefully, food aid would be less in demand as the communities prospered.


  • High tension overhead power cables need repairing rapidly so any robotic help could reduce the down-time. As completely new national grids are installed there will also be a big market for technological assistance in doing this rapidly. Again there would be a boost to employment as new infrastructure is manufactured, installed and maintained.

  • Robotic repair systems for use on sewage pipes, drains, water supply lines, gas pipes and buried cable conduits, especially in metropolitan areas, are already being used but there is no doubt plenty of scope for innovation. The demand for such technology in China and India alone should be enormous. More employment opportunities.


  • Caring for our fellow humans when their physical or mental faculties require this is primarily a personal task, requiring great kindness, skill and dedication by gifted individuals. If robotic devices could be developed to help the carers at a practical level (e.g. fastening buttons or handling soiled clothing) this would allow them to spend more time on personal interaction and transform the nature of care work.                                                                                                                                                                                

  • Drivers displaced by driverless vehicle technology could be trained to help, both practically and at an interpersonal level, infirm or disabled passengers at the start, during and after their journey. Taxi drivers, for instance, often have good interpersonal skills which could be put to good use providing they are not burdened with excessive demands for political correctness or following of petty rules and regulations.                                                                                                                                    
  • Automated telephone menu systems are widely resented because they are inhuman (made more so by pretending to be otherwise), complicated and inflexible. There is a place for these but they need to be kept behind the scenes as well as improved. There will be a need to employ a new version of the switchboard operator able to interpret the customer's needs and match it to the right department and support them if they get disconnected. The operator would in turn need plenty of training and an up-to-date knowledge of the organisation's structure, which in practice changes continually faster than the IT designed to service it. In large companies or departments the operator would need support staff.                                                                                                                              
  • Doctors could be geatly assisted by automated image recognition of X-rays, tomographs, f-NMR scans etc. to identify or eliminate disorders and diseases. If this approach proved very effective it would increase the turnover and complexity of work by medical secretaries and other ancilliary staff while at the same time dealing more effectively with many more patients.                                                                                                  
  • Lawyers could be released to make better use of their talents by employing artificial intelligence to scan routine legal documents. This could lead to more secretaries and other posts requiring interpersonal skills.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         
  • Business services could be aided by artificial intelligence, leading to a simpler, faster, less burdensome process of setting up a small company. This could lead to a growth in self employment and make possible enterprises driven by creative individuals less hampered by paperwork.                                                                                                                                               
  • High street banks are closing local branches and customer counter positions at an alarming rate as automated menu driven customer stations are brought in. It could be that if small businesses (see above) multiply there will be a greater demand for bank staff able to advise them and connect them to the appropriate sources of finance and expertise.

If I can think up a list like this imagine what a dedicated think tank could come up with. So my hope is that readers may pressurise their MPs, senators, congressmen, local government officials, aid agencies and church leaders to move in this direction. Or plant ideas in the minds of existing and potential entrepreneurs, or, even better, start up their own companies to develop and launch such technology or use existing technology more imaginatively.


This could be a way to help the developing nations while saving the developed ones from their past sins and improving the quality of life  of their own citizens.


John Sears

author

reach me at
cosmik.jo@gmail.com







Monday, 21 August 2017

Is the earth alive?



Until only the last decade or so there appeared to be a widespread belief among most biologists that life on earth was not really that mysterious. (Many physicists and most engineers did not share this view.)

Admittedly there was much to learn but ultimately it was just a matter of finding the mechanisms by which atoms and molecules had accidently arranged themselves into reproducing entities which by random genetic mutations and natural selection would evolve into a bewildering plethora of competing viable species of  bacteria, insects, reptiles, fish, birds and mammals.  It all started with 20 different kinds of amino acid molecules (19 of which had to be 'left handed' as opposed to their 'right handed' counterparts)  being thrown together by chance to produce the first organisms able to reproduce and with the potential to differentiate into future species in a way which would ultimately lead to the biosphere we know today. There was admittedly a growing recognition that cooperation between species, as in symbiosis, played a role but it was all driven by chance and selection pressure.

The widespread appearance of design was considered illusory - but not even neo-Darwinists ever suggested that design did not seem to be present.

Now this picture is beginning to be recognised by most scientists, even many neo-Darwinists, to be at best inadequate and probably fundamentally wrong.

1.SPECIATION. This is observed mainly in  bacteria and some insects but as far as I am aware (I only have the knowledge of the interested layman) no new bird or mammal species has occurred since humans appeared a few tens of thousands of years ago. One occasionally hears about a 'new' species but this always means 'newly discovered', unless it is a bacterium.

2.MUTATIONS. The so called random mutations which give rise to new species of bacteria while intrinsically stochastic do not occur anywhere in the organism at random - they only happen where they lead to a viable variation of some kind.

3.EPIGENETICS. Learned behaviour and acquired characteristics are passed on down the generations. The gene is not the master. What determines the behaviour and characteristics of a organism is what genes are turned on or off and the instructions for this somehow get passed to the offspring. What you learn now on how to cope with your environment can be passed on to future generations. How many generations is not known.  I saw one paper recently talking about 18 generations but I can't remember at this moment what kind of life it was.


4.COOPERATION betweeen species seems to be common throughout the ecosphere, This, as far as I am aware, occurs for all types of life, from bacteria to mammals, both within one type of life and between different kinds of life.

5.BIOLOGY AND GEOLOGY INTERACT. For instance, vegetation in prehistoric times lubricated the movements of rocks in a way which led to certain patterns of tectonic activity which indirectly affected earthquakes, volcanoes, vegetation, animal life and human settlements today.

6.INTELLIGENCE is ubiquitous in nature. New examples appear in the scientific press almost daily whether it is insects solving the 'travelling salesman problem' or crows using twigs as tools . A clue as to how this intelligence is achieved may lie in recent quantum biological investigations into photosynthesis and bird migration.

7.PURPOSE.  Everything from an embryonic stem cell to the leader of a lion pack in some sense knows its purpose and behaves accordingly. In his book Improbable Planet the astrophysicist Hugh Ross cites a wealth of meticulously referenced evidence to support the thesis that the entire cosmic history is directed towards the realisation of human civilisation.

8.QUANTUM ENTANGLEMENT. Physicists since the mid 20th century have been aware that molecules, atoms and other particles are able to interact independently of separation. This interaction is instantaneous, and so independent of time. In principle it is possible for particles on opposite sides of the universe to interact regardless of future, present or past. The controversial reports of learning within a species being passed without human intervention to another in a different part of the world should be seen in the light of this and the intergenerational information transfer proven in epigenetics (item 3 above).

While not inferring here  anything about the philosophical or theological implications of this emerging picture it worries me that many scientists, in particular biologists and cosmologists, are made uncomfortable by it. They also show great reluctance to accept, if not a fear of, the hyperfine tuning of the initial state of the universe for life  (e.g. gravitational constant, dark energy, electromagnetic constant, initial mass and initial entropy, to name only a few, are finely balanced to permit living systems to function). Yet the scientist's role is to discover truths about the world, not pretend they don't exist.

Some cosmologists have been so nonplussed by the Big Bang model (first conceived by a Roman Catholic priest), the fine tuning and the teleological evolution of the universe that they resort to invoking chance under the auspices of parallel or multiple universes which by definition cannot be experimentally verified, rather than focus on understanding the real universe we live in, over 90% of which is a total mystery..

Many young people regard scientists as priests and expect them to be guardians of the search for truth. If humanity is to continue to progress the holding of truth as a sacred target is its most precious resource. Popular science, e.g. BBC's Horizon, or the Discovery Channel or science articles in the press, need to acknowledge and discuss these aspects of the world. Otherwise instead of a new generation of scientists respecting God and truth we risk a descent into alchemy and magic.

John Sears
author, 2077:Knights of Peace

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Father James reflects on God's universe

Father James is a character from the novel 2077: Knights of Peace
Image result for universe

Travelling between Earth and the monastery on Mars I feel especially close to the Almighty God.

Why should this be? The environment of space is mainly sterile, apart from a few hardy types of bacteria, as are all the stars within it. I get a similar but less intense feeling when I look at the Moon while standing in open country on Earth. Yet the Moon is a barren ball of rock, almost  lifeless.

I look upon the Moon as part of God's creation illuminated by the Sun, the source of life's energy, to reveal its beauty to creatures that can experience it. The fact that it looks the same size in the sky gives a sense of everything being set up by a deity for some purpose. (As some cadets have pointed out during Enlightenment, the very existence of life on earth depends on the moon-earth system being exactly as it is. Praise the Lord.) 

 The ancients thought the Moon, planets and stars had something to do with God, and they were right. Today we understand the schemes and mechanisms by which they shine and are formed; we know how to describe them and even predict their movements and their critical role in allowing life on our planet; but why they should be there we can only wonder.

The panorama I get from the Confucius viewing port starkly places before me the celestial drama and omnipotence of the godhead. In the latter part the 20th and in the early 21st century many thought the very size and complexity of the universe earth showed we were of no significance in the scheme of things, that our planet was a pointless fluke in a meaningless universe, a mere grain of sand in the desert. Now we know that humanity is the whole point of God's creation. The home He has made for us, this Garden of Eden oasis, is uniquely beautiful, richly alive, wondrously intricate and fuitful beyond understanding. To create it he needed to create a universe. The universe, from flower to Milky Way, is made for us and is needed for our existence.

To quote from the introductory text used in the Enlightenment programme for both cadet Knights and dominophiles:

 Had the universe not been exactly this massive - to the weight of a coin - during its early expansion stage, had its initial degree of disorder not been exactly as it was, had the laws of physics been slightly different, the physical constants wrong by a hair's breadth, had not the celestial events leading to the earth's formation been orchestrated as they were and had life not been designed as it is, then humanity's origin and history could not have occurred. For this we must thank the Lord.

Technology, through the Grace of Our Lord, allows us not only to observe but to visit and experience other planets. It also allows us to delve further into the secrets of physics, life and the universe. By the creativity within us, being made in God's image, we invent new technology. As we do so, and stay humble, our faith in his benevolence strengthens, our wonderment at his majesty magnifies, our joy in the unfolding  dimensions of being is intensified, our praise of Him grows and we are eternally thankful to have this bountiful, beautiful planet to return to after experiencing the stark but faith affirming beauty of the worlds beyond.

Glory be to God the Father. Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy.


Click  here for the cumulative writings of Father James.




Monday, 17 July 2017

Apollo moon programme : the God factor


 There is in the western secular establishment an ongoing and insidious movement to expunge Christianity from public life, a process which I believe will lead to untold social and political problems as the spiritual basis of the western democracy is removed. The story below shows how this was beginning to happen c.1970, as exemplified in these  background stories of the Apollo moon missions.

Even after some promising changes to the American judiciary following the 2016 election it  still raises eyebrows if 'God' , the very kernel of reality, is mentioned in public life.


 It was Christmas Eve 1968 when the message of Genesis chapter 1 streamed from Apollo 8, in orbit around the moon, into our small black and white TV set. Each of the three astronauts in turn read a short passage. I was a science-obsessed agnostic at the time but 



click below

 for a video on the astounding story behind this photograph.

it stirred me deep down because it said that God was a real presence and power in the Universe, albeit a transcendental one, even though most of the time I either half acknowledged our Creator’s existence or was unaware of it entirely. It also revealed vividly to the world that humankind was one species on one precious planet in a vast universe.

Madalyn O’Hair, it appears, was also stirred; but in her case it was to anger and hatred. She brought a lawsuit against NASA for promoting religion.  From thenceforth astronauts and NASA as an organisation would be forbidden from associating themselves with Christianity. She had already succeeded in getting prayer banned in US state schools, after which crime levels by young people rapidly escalated. Her speech showed deep phobia against Christianity and was sometimes vitriolic, peppered with four letter words.

The lawsuit, based on the separation of church and state, forbade future astronauts from religious rituals during missions. They saw this as an infringement of their rights under the First Amendment and various subterfuges took place. The following is based on an excellent article in Spaceflight (Dec 2011), On the Wings of Apollo by Dwight Williams:

  • Aldrin wanted to take Holy Communion on the Moon during the 1969 Apollo 11 mission and so smuggled aboard a ‘communion kit’ in a pouch, part of his Personal Preference Kit. He took Communion shortly after landing on 20 July and read out John 5:15 from a card: ‘I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains  in me, and I in him, will bear much fruit....’ 



  • The Apollo 11 crew left a silicon disc on the Moon with the voices of world leaders, including Psalms read by Pope Paul VI.



  • The Rev John Stout, inspired by the devout Ed White who died in the Apollo 1 fire of 1967, started the Apollo Prayer League with 40,000 members and resolved to have bibles placed on the Moon. 300 microfilm bibles were indeed smuggled aboard Apollo 14 by Ed Mitchell.



  • Ed Mitchell of Apollo 14 announced at a business conference that the Apollo 13 mission had been saved from disaster by public prayers after its oxygen tank had exploded. Mitchell, I understand, had an IQ of 180  and proposed theories concerning the nature of awareness, quantum physics and the interconnectedness of life.
Madalyn O'Hare, the founder of American Atheists, had a tragic life. In 1993 she and one of her sons, Jon Murray, and her grand daughter Robin Murray O'Hare were murdered and mutilated by the former office manager of the American Atheists, David Roland Waters. The details are complex but it appears to have been the result of a financial dispute. Kyrie Eleison.

To me it is heartening to note that her son William J Murray is now the leader of a Christian church and author of My Life Without God. 

Western critics of Christianity, who are usually comfortably off,  should take a hard look at the world and ask themselves whether there are any nations without a Christian heritage where they would rather live. The West can be criticized for its past and it repeatedly rebukes itself; but by what standards, if not those of Christ?



John

cosmik.jo@gmail.com

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Lessons from Marx and Lenin

The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx, edited by Friedrich Engels, was published in English in 1888. The original document appeared in 1848 and went through a number of editions and translations. It inspired the Russian Revolution and attacked the rampant free-trade world economy which had already emerged, while the ruling class which grew wealthy through it was labelled the bourgeoisie.

Marx, a Jewish intellectual, was writing at a time of rapid de-Christianization of Germany by German Idealism, the Hegelian Dialectic and Friedrich Nietzsche, a nihilistic philosopher who was hostile to the very values emanating from Jesus Christ. The forces at work in the 19th century set the scene for both Nazi and Communistic totalitarianism.


To quote, Marx considered that

 the history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of class struggles...freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild master and journeyman, in a word the oppressor and the oppressed.

 Each time the fight ended either in a re-constitution of society or in the common ruin of the warring classes. During the late nineteenth century, largely as a result of industrialization and global free trade, the opposing sections of society were the bourgeoisie (the oppressor) and the proletariat (the oppressed), and he maintained that the time was ripe for a new struggle that would lead to a new social order: communism. The proletariat would be victorious, religion would be exterminated and all would live in peace and harmony, a brotherhood of man.


 The Manifesto’s attack on the bourgeoisie reads like that of many a modern columnist on the global capitalist system of today, which again is based largely on free international trade, with little regard for the social costs of production moving according to market forces, be these of labour or goods or raw materials, and in which everything in life is reduced to a commodity or assigned a monetary value. Even debt itself has been made a commodity in the form of collateralised debt obligations and futures.


Christianity is attacked by Marx because it has allegedly colluded with the ruling classes in subjugating and exploiting the lower classes for monetary gain, while at the same time he implicitly recognises the reality of the sacred and holy – e.g. in talking about money and the way everything in life has been given a price he says 

...all that is solid melts away, all that is holy is profaned


Yet the means he proposes for providing what he must have been regarded as a more humanistically just way of organizing our affairs makes no appeal to the holy. Everything happens in a material world with no spiritual dimension and God either does not exist or is irrelevant, being replaced by man. Morality itself becomes meaningless other than as a set of man-made rules. It is impossible to declare anything morally wrong by any absolute standard if there is no holy source of morality.  Yet he obviously believed in the notion  of holiness without wondering where it came from or how it was to be sustained when its source was ignored. Without God anything is permissible (Dostoevsky). Those who killed 100+ million  people for the sake of  Mao Zedong, Marx and Lenin were breaking laws  laid down on humanistic principles for the benefit and flourishing of human beings. It was all done for the good of humanity. Similarly with cruel and lethal medical experiments on pregnant mothers and disabled inmates of Nazi concentration camps. It was all done in the name of human flourishing.

In attempting to sweep away all the church institutions, which undoubtedly did sometimes depart radically from the teachings of Jesus Christ, Marx ignores the provenance of Christian values, i.e. what happened during the life of Jesus and within a decade or so of His Crucifixion: the parables and commands of Jesus Christ recorded by His contemporaries, the empty tomb, the widely reported Resurrection appearances, the vision of Saul, the first conversions of gentiles, the Pentecost, the miracles of the apostles and the persecution by the authorities. The Romanized institutionalized  church and its ramifications, which Marx despised,  did not begin until almost three centuries later.


 Marx seems to be correct in seeing that every economic order grows to a state of maximum efficiency while simultaneously sowing the seeds of its own downfall. This probably applies to any system of organizing human affairs, since nothing in life is static: circumstances change. Even the societies which claimed to be working towards the communist ideal collapsed from within. But he failed to realize that although a society may wish to redistribute bread more fairly, it cannot live by bread alone. Reality is not a machine.  Well over 100 million died in the last century (more than in all previous history) because of this mistake, this departure from basic divine wisdom, as human beings were systematically killed in the name of atheist values or the human gods which always fill the spiritual vacuum left behind when the real holy source of reality is ignored by society. 

What Marx and his disciples failed to realise is that no human being or group of humans  can decide what is good by reason alone apart from God: there must be humility, love and truth, and these do not come from genetically expressed protein molecules but from submission to our Creator made incarnate in humanity through the Christ.  See also 1984 revisited: collective postmodernism


 Today, like Marx, we decry the folly and greed of bankers and borrowers. To the extent that a new system is needed perhaps it should lie somewhere between the unfettered market-based one of today and a modified socialism, more internationalised in some respects, more localised in others. Or maybe something we cannot even envisage. Whatever system emerges let’s not forget the lesson of history: every man, woman and child should treat each other in accord with this command from our Saviour: ‘...love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love each other.’ John 13:34. A command that must be held sacred in all the institutions of humankind as well as individuals. 

In western society we are subconsciously aware of this command largely through habit. Or maybe the Holy Spirit, being part of the Triune God,  is able to influence all humans to some degree (as I postulate in my novel 2077), even those not consciously in Christ. However, it would be safer to assume that this is not the case and that the Spirit needs to be consciously cultivated and encouraged throughout society in order to make it more like heaven on earth.

For this reason I believe that prayers and Christian symbols need to become part of public life. The values of the Sermon on the Mount are not likely to be adhered to rigorously but awareness of these through church going and the occasional media event can only be a good thing in re-establishing the trust needed for society to be viable at all.  

Returning to the Soviet experiment I recently came across a quotation from V.I.Lenin made when he was close to death, in 1924. Like Marx, he recognizes the power of the spiritual and the inability of scientific atheism to bring about net social progress:

I have deluded myself. Without doubt, it was necessary to free the oppressed masses. However, our methods resulted in other oppressions and gruesome massacres. You know I am deathly ill; I feel lost in an ocean of blood formed by countless victims. This was necessary to save our Russia, but it is too late to turn back. We would need ten Francis of Assisi.



Today it looks as though Christianity is returning to its true foundation values of infinite redeeming love generated by the Trinity and flowing through the whole of creation. Franciscans are definitely in the ascendant and Christianity as a whole is spreading fast in the world as a whole and even beginning to revive in western countries corrupted by materialism. Hopefully it won't be too late to advert upheaval and collapse.

 John

author
2077: Knights of Peace
Author Facebook Page




See also 2077:the writings of Father James
which includes a reflection on the last words of V.I.Lenin and the nature of freedom.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Deep mystery of existence.7.Ten trillion stars to make you



A curious aspect of the universe we live in, i.e. the only one in this dimension, is that it is designed and engineered accurately for the emergence and evolution of civilization.

 

It was created ex nihilio (out of existential nothingness) 13.8 billion years ago. It had certain starting conditions and physical constants and has proceeded to evolve in a purposeful way, from the first elementary particles to the atoms to the molecules to clouds of gas to stars to galaxies to planets, culminating in intelligent, self-conscious beings on this planet (quite possibly uniquely, judging by observations of exoplanets, stars and galaxies to date) able to peer across space and time to deduce the time and nature of the original creation event. The planet on which this life has emerged is special to say the least, as is the accompanying moon,  the sun, the solar system, its position in  the Milky Way Galaxy and the properties of the MWG itself. 

Our perception is swinging back to a pre-Copernican one. Although we are small and non-central in space as we orbit the sun rather than vice versa, we could well be the centre of consciousness of the universe. It is in a sense like the centre of consciousness of a supertanker being the captain, who is much smaller than the ship and not in a central position, although he has a good view from the bridge just as we have a possibly uniquely good view of the universe.

It is well known that the size of the observable universe is vast, 93  billion light years across,  as is the number of stars it contains (10 with 23 zeros, i.e. 100 billion trillion, is probably on the conservative side). What is not so well known is that for life to be here on this planet now the universe has to be this size and in its present configuration. During its early development its mass had to be what it was then (the same as now in fact) to within the mass of a single coin.


(Incidentally it is not commonly mentioned in the popular science media that had the earth been formed slightly later the sun would have been too hot for life to start and no stars would be visible in the sky any way because the universe would have been expanding too fast. Had the earth started earlier the sun would again be in the wrong part of its cycle and the sky would be one brilliant mass of light with no individual celestial object visible because the stars would have been too closely crammed together at that  time in cosmic history.)

All the atoms, stars and galaxies of stars have to be exactly as they are for us to exist. They have somehow been moved and configured and tuned since the Big Bang to make humankind. If the original mass of the universe had been infinitesimally different there would be no living thing in the cosmos. Every person is totally dependent on whatever agency brought him or her into existence, the parents being just the last link in the chain that 'began' as a  deliberate cosmic manufacturing process by a  Creator, operating from outside of space-time, in another dimension. 

Another startling discovery of modern physics is that every particle in the universe is able to interact with any other particle in the universe - past, present or future. (Quantum entanglement.) So the idea that all that huge expanse is connected with us is made increasingly real, albeit impossible to comprehend. The famous line 'No man is an island' by John Donne (1572-1631) has never been more apt, reflecting poetically something which would not be discovered until 4 centuries later. The old 19th century mechanistic, Newtonian, Darwinian reductionist view of the universe is now seen as an outdated, mentally stifling approximation of what is really there. 

How many of us are there? Rounding up let us say 10 billion.

A simple piece of arithmetic: divide 100 billion trillion (assuming this estimate for the number of stars to be correct - it may be much more) by 10 billion.  The answer is 10 trillion, which, incidentally, is equal to the number of cells in the body  - one star for every cell. In a way this is what one would expect. A body cell comprises trillions of atoms expertly arranged to perform a specific function or range of functions, so vast resources are needed to make the atoms it needs and somehow intelligence is invoked in a way that surpasses understanding.

If, as I believe is the only rational explanation, the Creator has made this universe in order to bring us into being, you may wonder at his wastefulness. But what if there is no other way? Just to make a can for a soft drink or beer takes enormous resources and the most elaborate world communication and transport processes. Large amounts of waste are produced as a by product and have to be disposed of. Even if you divide the total consumption of energy and resources by the number of cans of drink it must still be huge. Similarly with the construction of our planet and its 7 billion inhabitants. Unimaginably large amounts of materials and energy are left over but unless they had been there to be left over, and in the quantities observed, there would be no human civilization. (See story of a drinks can on this blog.)  

Just to make a unicellular organism, an incredibly complex work of engineering, requires an immense amount of organization and bringing together of the right trace elements and building blocks and putting them together in an intelligent way. So is it surprising that it takes a whole universe to produce human civilization?

In a sense the Creator has in  His abundant love and omnipotence made 10 trillion stars (and much else) in order that you can exist in physical form and be conscious of the created order around you  and think, love, hate, create, destroy, perceive beauty and ugliness, seek truth or falsehood, desire justice, practice honesty or dishonesty, forgive or avenge, be loyal or disloyal, proud or humble, and experience a whole spectrum of sensations via the five senses and spiritually.

So when you look at the night sky don’t think you are not important to God.

John



Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Climate change checklist





My belief is that climate change is likely over the coming decades and that we should prepare for it, both  by reducing emissions and taking measures to protect us from floods and extreme weather events. However, we need to retain humility and recognize that effects known only to the Creator could occur (e.g.:  the influence  of dark matter or some cosmic connection via quantum entanglement. As a layman I have already seen references to this in the literature.).

The list below is a reminder of the complexity of the problem of predicting climate change. Please contact me (John Sears) via

cosmik.jo@gmail.com

if you think it needs modifying.

NASA image

Radiant energy output of sun. This has increased by around 25% since the sun was formed, i.e. over more than 4 billion years.  Very small variations occur over decades and centuries and bear some relationship to the number of sunspots (which is related to solar activity). The Little Ice Age  included  a period of low sunspot activity, with no sunspots observed over 1650-1700, when the mean temperature was lowest.

Milankovitch cycle. The amount of sunlight reaching the earth varies according to the changing shape of the earth’s orbit (eccentricity), the tilt of the N-S axis and the precession of this axis. The crucial factor appears to be the amount of sunlight falling on the northern hemisphere in any one year. Milankovitch (1970s, Serbia)  showed that the coming and going of ice ages over the last 600,000 years was due to these factors.  If there were no other factors we would expect to be entering another ice age now, instead of a warm period.

Heat from below the crust. The biosphere has more heat going into it than can be accounted for by the sun. The difference is believed to be due to  radioactive decay in the earth’s core.

Gravitational effects.There are  gravitational influences on climate which could become large in certain situations (chaos theory shows that very small events, like the fluttering of a butterfly, can potentially have dramatic effects, such as a storm on the other side of the world). The gravity exerted at the earth's surface varies very slightly with time and position due to inhomogeneities in the crust, mantle and core. Even small changes in these factors could potentially set off major changes not allowed for by present climate models. Even small changes in the orbit of the moon and planets would have huge effects (E.g. If a large asteroid caused a perurbation in the sun-moon system. Jupiter's motion is also crucial to the stabiity of Earth's orbit).

Atmospheric composition. The importance of this arises from the way it affects the absorption and reflection of radiation coming in from the sun or being reflected back upwards from the earth’s surface. Carbon is the main gas responsible fo the greenhouse effect – it acts like the glass in a greenhouse to trap in heat. Methane is also a greenhouse gas, much more powerful than CO2 but also much less prevalent.

Plants.  While alive these take in carbon dioxide from the air, thereby cooling it through the reduced greenhouse effect. But as they decay they give it out again,  but over a longer period. Large areas of trees affect the climate not only in this way but also by their moistening effect on the air.The Amazon rain forest appears to have a pivetol role in determining the global climate.

Animals . The main effect of these is due to the methane from  their defecated waste and rotting carcasses. Methane produced in this way is more of a problem than automobile greenhouse emissions as livestock herds grow in response to the westernization of diets in China, India etc.

Microscopic life. Bacteria and spores living in  land, sea and air sometimes affect rainfall. E.g. spores in the ocean can be whisked up into the atmosphere by strong winds and dispersed. Here they act as condensation nuclei for the formation of the water drops and thence clouds. Insects can reduce the balance of combustible debris in a forest and this in turn means fewer and smaller forest fires emitting CO2.

Clouds. The type of cloud and its coverage affect the amount of sunlight striking the earth’s surface and the amount of radiation reflected back to its surface instead of radiated away into space. They have been and still are a problem in creating climate models.

Aerosols. Particles in the atmosphere from both natural and artificial sources can have a marked effect on the cooling or warming of the atmosphere. This can either be direct, by absorbing or reflecting incoming solar energy, or indirect by altering the type and distribution of clouds. The size, shape and colour of the particles affect the way they reflect, scatter or absorb radiant energy, Major sources of aerosols include volcanoes, forest fires, aircraft and large cities. See this NASA source 

Atmospheric convection.  Heat from the ground boils up the air and the convection currents (i.e. wind) produced distribute warm air over the planet and also affect the cloud type, amount and global distribution. This in turn affects temperature, rain and snow.  Hurricanes, tornadoes, gales and the jet stream are all driven by atmospheric convection.

Ocean currents. The bulk of the heat in the biosphere which we inhabit is stored in the ocean and it is the global currents in the sea (e.g. the Gulf  Stream) which determine the global patterns of temperature in the air over the sea.

Methane from seabed and tundra deposits. As the climate warms it releases large bubbles of methane trapped in fozen deposits under the ocean or in tundra.  This causes further warming. It is 21x as powerful as carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas and is produced by a certain kind of bacteria.

Polar ice caps. Both Arctic and Antarctic  ice sheets reflect large amounts of heat from the sun back into space. Small reductions in area cause significant increases in the amount of heat absorbed from the solar heat reaching the earth’s surface. Similarly, the greater the ice coverage  the more incident radiant heat will be reflected.

Snow cover. As with snow in the polar regions the snow settled on large mountain ranges like the Himalayas and the Alps affects the percentage of solar radiation reflected or absorbed by the earth’s surface.  

Melting glaciers.  When a glacier melts it not only leads to possible flooding but reduces the area of the planet which reflects incident sunlight away from the surface, i.e. the ground retains incident solar energy instead of reflecting it  back into space. When melt water flows into the sea it dilutes the concentration of salt in the seawater and this has a major effect on ocean currents which in turn affects the climate. (The more salt the denser the water.)

Sea ice. As with glaciers and snow, melting of sea ice (icebergs) reduces the % of sunlight reflected back into space. It also reduces the salinity and hence density of seawater, which affects ocean currents which themselves affect the distribution of heat in the oceans.  However, melting icebergs maks no difference to sea levels.

Volcanoes. Eruptions from these inject huge amounts of sulphur dioxide into the air and, like carbon dioxide and methane, this produces a greenhouse effect. The ash and dust from eruptions also affects cloud formation and directly blots out sunlight.

Carbon dioxide absorption by weathering of rocks. About 1 billion tons per annum of atmospheric carbon dioxide is absorbed by weathering of silicate rocks. This compares to 30 billion tons emitted by civilisation. Such absorption is associated with the plate tectonic cycle which has been important in keeping air temperature constant over hundreds of millions of years.

Meteor  impacts. Hits by large meteors can have global repercussions including climate change. If a large enough object hit the earth it would of course cause a mass extinction event, like the one which wiped out the dinosaurs 66 million years ago.

Cosmic rays.  These  can also affect cloud formation , since the particles which make up cosmic rays can cause nucleation of water drops.  There does seem to be some link between them and average temperature/rainfall.

Human activity. Carbon dioxide from fossil fuel burning and methane from livestock farming are the main human source of global warming gases which appear to be tipping the global balance towards warming rather than the cooling we would expect according to the Milankovitch cycle (see above).

John Sears
author
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cosmik.jo@gmail.com