Friday, April 16, 2021

If I were a Preacher...

 A Sermon for Modern Mankind

God has dominion over all of creation. Res Extensa is God's domain. There God controls all, knows all, is supreme. Via the original act of creation God set forth all of his plan flawlessly, yet within this flawless plan of creation God granted mankind his greatest gift: free will. God's knowledge is so vast that he can know all of the possibilities mankind's free will introduces into his creation. There is no evil in God's creation...however the devil is busy at work.

God will never speak to men or women as that will rob them of the most precious gift of freedom. God does not influence. All God has set in motion God has power over and need not adjust it as all is within his perfect plan.

The devil has his own plans. The devil seeks to manipulate men and women into using their free will to his ends. The devil speaks to both men and women, telling them they are righteous, worthy or vicious, despicable; whatever is needed to influence to manipulate the freedom of mankind. 

Remember: if you think God is speaking to you he is not. He has spoken already. She has blessed all of creation and saw it as good. What you hear is the Devil speaking, calling out to entice you into spending your freedom on his game, for it is the only way for the devil to impact God's perfect creation. 

Your task is to identify the devil's cries and set them aside. For you to exercise your truly free will is to be holy and divine. Follow your heart and your reason. God's gift of will rests in your breast while God's gift of rationality and reason exists for all to discover of the glory of the natural world.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

On Happiness or Who am I and why am I unhappy?

Everyone wants to be happy. Happiness is one of those things we philosophers describe as good in itself. This means that is good without needing to add anything to it. It is also an end in itself. This means that one seeks it without the purpose of using it for get some other thing. Socrates sought happiness through philosophy (by this I mean that he saw philosophy as the means to the form of happiness...I won't defend this claim here but it shouldn't be too much of a stretch for most who are familiar with Plato's works to see where I'm coming from) and Augustine sought happiness through the love of God.

Modern American Society would likely see both of these previous attempts as 'outdated', 'old fashioned' or even 'primitive'. After all science tells us a lot about happiness right? Brain scans like fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) and EEG (electroencephalogram) along with blood test can show us all the workings of the brain from an electrical and chemical perspective. Further, we can take the data and identify a number of chemicals (dopamine, serotonin, adrenaline, endorphin etc.) present that correlate or predicate experiences that can be identified or associated with happiness. From here drugs can be produced that will either supplement these chemicals or trigger our own increased production of these chemicals, hence doctors can prescribe happiness.

Assuming all human experience is reducible to chemical and electrical impulses in our brains that should be the whole story. Problem solved...but it most certainly is not.

Science can recreate the sensation of happiness based upon observations of our brains whilst we’re happy but that is not the same as making us happy. Happiness persists after the sensation of happiness has passed. This passing transient happiness can be called chemical happiness. Chemical happiness leads to addiction because whether we are aware of it or not we become capable of properly identifying the sensation of happiness with the chemical cause of our transitory happiness and begin to seek out the sensation alone which leaves us feeling empty once it has passed. True Happiness remains as a feeling of satisfaction after the sensation of happiness has left us. Thus we feel satisfied instead of empty and are less likely to seek out the sensation alone as the satisfaction that remains is a far more pleasant experience.

A Neuroscientist sympathetic to this account of the experience of happiness may be so bold as to create a chemical cocktail that will place the proper chemicals in our brains at the precise times needed to give us the boost of happy feelings as well as the satisfaction feelings in an attempt to avoid the empty feelings that lead to addiction. The only trouble here would be to somehow trick the recipient of these chemicals so that they don't associate the taking of the medication with the subsequent happiness feeling. Once that association is made the recipient will likely discover that the chemical therapy is the source of happiness and seek it out, further exasperating the problem.

So what is the solution? Guiding each individual on a exploration of themselves where they learn the true external and internal triggers that cause their brains to produce those very same chemicals. Does this assume that humans are Pavlovian flesh robots, who merely need certain programming to be happy? What does this mean for issues of freedom and will power? My suspicion is that Freedom and Will Power are the source of the answer to human happiness. But that is a topic for another time.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Reflections on an old Post: Dark Matter and Luminiferous Ether

A few years ago I was very excited to propose that physicists were on the crux of a breakthrough in cosmology, namely the reduction in the size of the size of the unknown Dark Matter that is prevalent in our universe. I drew parallels to the prevailing theory of cosmology that the Michelson-Morley Experiment and Einstein disproved supposing that the scientific community was falling victim to 'groupthink' again. Well, I was wrong.

There is a saying: "Complex problems have many simple, easy to understand wrong answers". As I researched Dark Matter (I must explain that I am an armchair physicist, not an academic physicist) I discovered more details about the problem and what the observations were indicating. From what I've read it appears that we are in the post Michelson-Morley and pre-Einstein phase with regards to Dark Matter.

That is to say that in the late 19th and early 20th Century we (the scientific community) faced experimental data that challenged our prevailing theories. Theories that held the world together. Nature's mysteries were staring us in the face and we were at a loss for explanation. That is where we are today. Back then, Einstein came to the rescue with a theory so bizarre, yet so simple and elegant, that it must be one of those 'easy to understand wrong answers'. Today we are waiting for an Einstein to help us understand what we are seeing.

This fresh mystery may require as dramatic a paradigm shift as Einstein's theories or Quantum Mechanics. Perhaps instead of unifying gravity with QED we will be incorporating a new, third variant to explain all this missing matter and energy? Perhaps our understanding of space-time will be turned inside-out or upside-down and this will all make sense. My suspicion is that our understanding of time is to blame and will be revolutionized in the answer to this mystery. What if space-time is composed of a defined minimum quanta (string theorists seem to believe space is at minimum 1 plank meter in size, so why not space-time. 1 plank metersecond?) that expands in all 10 dimensions in the presence of energy, but remains static in the presence of matter? Would shape of space-time would inflate and deflate constantly, almost breathing, as energy passed through, or would the expansion cease to contract as energy passed? Could this be reconciled with relativity? QED? Would the math help explain those moments after the big bang?

The great thing about the mysteries of Dark Matter and Dark Energy is the possibility it represents. It shows us that the further we reach with our understanding the further we realize we have to go before we understand our universe.

Dark Matter may be found to have prosaic explanations like the WIMPS or something similar but I sure hope not and I think the mystery of Dark Energy is a clue that something we haven't even imagined is at work out there.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

(First Revision) Identifying as Gay: a Philosophical Reflection

Homosexuality is most likely not a choice in any real sense of the word.  We don’t choose our feelings towards things.  My distaste for licorice, appreciation of fine bourbon, aversion towards extreme cold, sensitivity to pinching, love of Beethoven and 90’s rock/alternative music, the smell of iris’s, love of my parents and friends cannot rationally be considered choices.  Along these lines it seems straightforward that someone’s sexual desire and love for another person cannot be considered a choice. 

Further it would be extremely detrimental to attempt a denial or suppression of feelings.  If I were to try to deny the heat of my morning coffee or suppress the feelings of the scalding water I will certainly suffer injury.  The same is true for the suppression and denial of emotional feelings[i].

Clearly we have no choice in feeling feelings.  They just happened to us.  Where we do have a choice is in our actions.  I may choose not to act on any of my desires or attempt to resist the temptation of desire.  I may also choose to suppress my feelings at a cost to my overall well being.  Where choice becomes of the utmost interest to us in this particular treatment, is our choice in how we choose to identify with our feelings and desires.

Sexual desire is a peculiar desire.  We will often hear philosophers make food analogies when referring to sexual desire (I am no exception).  Hunger and lasciviousness certainly share a similar intensity and strength.  One marked difference is that the satisfaction of hunger is necessary for life and the satisfaction of lasciviousness feels like life may be nothing without it.  One has almost nothing to do with how we identify with ourselves and with others while the other is centered upon how we self identify and even defines many of our relations to others. 

Perhaps it is important to differentiate between the carnal desire for sex and the more complex desire for companionship.  The desire for sex and the desire for companionship don’t appear to be any different for the heterosexual or the homosexual individual and it seems crude to assume that based on a stereotype of oversexed men (either homosexual or heterosexual) that being female or male changes this in any meaningful way.  In other words the desire for sex and companionship seem to be universal to all humans.  With that said we will try to focus on sexual desire here.

Let’s take a question often posed to homosexuals after they come out publicly: “When did you know you were gay?”  When I put myself on the receiving end of that query I’m shocked at how out of place and odd it sounds.  “When did you know you were straight?”  To be honest I can’t remember, but I know I had my first crush in the first grade but had made my best friend in kindergarten.  Perhaps it’s just my poor memory (I also don’t remember learning how to throw or hit a baseball), but I think my general lack of any real self reflective modality at such an age makes me a poor judge of when or what may have triggered my heterosexuality. 

Merely because I can’t remember when or how I came to know of a general attraction to the opposite sex doesn't count as proof for the claim that my sexuality is in any way biological, it is just an example of that classic fallacy of begging the question.  I would even argue that any show of attraction to the opposite sex before puberty is clear evidence of the opposite.  It isn’t until puberty that real sexual desire grows in us.  It should not be viewed as just a correlation that at the moment in our lives when we are most susceptible to the influences of society and culture (during our pre-pubescent life) we show the first inclinations of our sexuality.  Sexuality in this case is clearly not a choice in that at such an age we have no control or ability to limit those strong influences around us.  Some individuals are never able to overcome the heavy influence of peers, culture or society.  This is reflected in how we identify ourselves throughout the rest of lives as well.  Some will continuously rebel, others conform and many will do a little of both.   

The biggest struggle a homosexual, especially a male homosexual[ii], faces is usually when and how to begin identifying as gay[iii].  ‘Coming out’ is a when someone has chosen that they are ready to identify as gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, pan-sexual, polyamourous, transgender, transvestite etc.  The choice is that this individual is now ready for society to see them as someone with a particular sexual orientation. 

It is important to notice the social aspect of identity here as well.  Sometimes we think that who I am is contained somewhere within ourselves; our thoughts, feelings, desires, likes, dislikes and the other subjective aspects of the inner experience of our life.  This is only part of the story.  A great deal of who we are is tied into how others perceive us.  The part we are aware of, the part we are unaware of, our attempt to influence how others perceive us; all of these are integral aspects of our identity.

Heterosexuals are lucky in that they do not have to make any conscious decision to proclaim their sexuality to society.  Heterosexuality is the default sexuality.  It is such a standard that in order to feel true to themselves someone of a differing sexuality must take efforts not to be associated as heterosexual.  So we need to address a central question:  “What makes someone homosexual?” or to put it another way, “Who is homosexual and who isn’t?”

Imagine a room of 20 random individuals of different sexes, ethnicities and body types.  Now imagine they are all naked, tattoo-less, without piercings and standing quietly.  It would not be possible to tell their sexual preference.  While they may identify as any assortment of sexualities no one would be able to identify it when they are bare and presented without any socially identifiable marks.  There exist no objective markers for sexuality.  This is important to illustrate the problem with trying to assign sexual identity to someone. 
To further muddy the water let us consider the claim that your actions make you gay. One action that would seem an obvious indication of gayness or homosexuality would be sexual intercourse with someone of the same sex.  This however is not at all conclusive.  For example a woman may have sex with another woman but she may also have sex with men or have had sex with men.  In fact, there have been studies that indicate that most gay men have had sex with women.  We have all probably heard stories of men who have been married for years and have children (this proves they had sex with their wives) and then come out of the closet as gay.  One may respond, “how can you be gay if you’ve had sex with women?  Doesn’t that make you bi-sexual?”  The answer is that it’s not up to society to label their sexuality, it’s the job of society to recognize it. The individual labels themselves.

Another good example involves incarcerated individuals.  A man in prison may engage either willingly or not, in homosexual activity.  The fact that they participated in the act doesn’t warrant a label of gay or bi-sexual.  How they then choose to identify themselves is the proper and only rational standard.  The concept that so long as you’re the penetrator and not the penetrated you can still reasonably call yourself straight is as illegitimate as claiming that a man who enjoys musical theatre and loves Bette Midler and Judy Garland must be called gay.

The final, possibly the most telling example would be involves virgins.  We have no problem with a young man or woman identifying as straight while still a virgin (and I mean virgin in the strictest sense).  So why is there doubt cast on the sexual identity of someone who identifies as gay or lesbian while still virginal?  Clearly the act of having sex with someone is a poor guide for such a claim.  The virgin is well justified in identifying as any sexuality that they choose, despite never having had sex.  In fact an argument could be made (I will not make that argument in this paper) that the virgin is better justified claiming sexual neutrality until they have had some experience with sex.  Virginity also brings us to the problem of sexual desire.  A virgin may desire sexual congress and perhaps out of curiosity this desire may sway between a desire for the same or opposite sex.  Would we insist then that this virgin accept the label bi-sexual?  Does the same swaying desire or curiosity based desires of this or other nature dictate sexuality?  It seems absurd to claim.

The above examples illustrate the main thesis of this paper: Sexual identity is a matter of how one chooses to be perceived by society.  This previously married man will more often than not identify as gay and not as bi-sexual.  Bi-sexuality we will see turns out to be the most telling of the sexualities and the genesis of this thesis.

[i] There are many psychological theories with just this premise as the basis for their approach to therapy.
[ii] The reason I emphasize the difficulty for the male homosexual is that society, as accepting as it is in places, is far less accepting of male homosexuality than female homosexuality.  This seems self-evident and since it is not central to my thesis I leave it’s debate for another time if needed.
[iii] I use gay here to signify the notion of ‘gay’ in popular culture, not the traditional meaning of happy.  In no way should this use of the term signify a derogatory attitude towards homosexuals.  There is a cultural significance attached to this word that cannot be ignored.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Dark matter goes the way of the Luminiferous Aether

There is now an estimated 3x1022 stars in the known universe. For those of you who are keeping track that’s an increase of 200 sextillion star systems. This has hit all the major news outlets with just about everyone emphasizing that the increased estimate implies more potential life sustaining planets may exist. Not a single article mentioned the most important aspect of this discovery.
More important than the possibility of other potential Earths is the idea that the mystery of the theoretical Dark Matter may also have been solved. So what is this hypothetical Dark Matter and why does it make a difference?
Astronomers have had trouble accounting for observed gravitational effects in many galaxies. These galaxies behave gravitationally as if there is more matter present than we can see. The movements of stars and galaxies, as well as the light from stars around galaxies are all effected by the gravitational pull of matter. Scientists use a collection of formulas based on Newton's Laws and Einstein’s theories of gravity to determine how the stars should be behaving and have found that in every observed system of galaxies and stars (outside of our own) the stars are moving as if there is extra gravity. This means the stars are moving as if there is unseen matter pulling them as only matter warps space-time enough to cause gravitational effects.   
Based on these calculations astronomers have concluded there should be more matter in every galaxy observed. Astronomers and physicists then go on to propose hypothetical “dark matter”, called ‘dark’ because it must be there and we just can’t see because it does not produce or reflect light (like black holes but they are certainly not black holes). [For a collection of possible explanations and candidates for dark matter visit this website: and for a map of the dark matter around 3 of nearest galactic neighbors:]
This new estimate tells us that there is about 60% more matter in the form of red dwarf stars than previously thought. Dark matter estimates are on the order of 85% of the universe. If the known matter of the universe is increased then the unknown amount that is attributed to dark matter must decrease significantly. By how much this unknown amount will decrease is a huge question. Making this new recalculation more difficult is the doubt that will be placed on the estimates of the total number of other stars and massive objects in the universe.
When making an estimate on order of 1020+ any small discrepancy is multiplied tremendously. To be fair it doesn’t eliminate the existence of dark matter but it will make theoretical physicists rethink the possibilities of dark matter and its prevalence. This isn’t the first time physicists have made this kind of mistake.
Before Einstein’s theory of special relativity it was assumed that space was filled with the ‘luminiferous aether’, a hypothetical medium through which light could propagate. What dark matter shares with the ether is a phenomenon in science where theorists invent whatever is necessary to provide a solution for missing knowledge. The question still remains how scientists can still make these errors.
The reason this kind of mistake can happen is that astronomers aren’t necessarily counting every star in a galaxy when they are calculating gravitational forces for example. Instead, an estimate is made based on closer galaxies. Red dwarf stars are dim long lasting stars whose presence is generally estimated in galaxies far away. Based on these estimates gravitation observations are made and matter seems to be missing. Missing matter, or gravitation anomalies can’t exists, so a space-filling matter must be posited to solve the mystery.
There will always be gaps in our knowledge of the universe, mainly because we are so isolated and our attempts to understand the rest of the universe relies heavily on estimates based on what is close to us and what is close to us is no closer that the distance it takes light to travel in a year (5.9 trillion miles). The more we can do to dispel these dark theories the more we can say we have actually knowledge of the universe. Next lets try to get rid of all this ‘dark energy’ nonsense.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Bourbon versus Scotch

Bourbon versus Scotch

This blog is dedicated to philosophy so it may appear odd to have an entry about tasting the difference between Kentucky bourbon and a 12 year old single malt scotch. First let’s explore the philosophical implications of such an experience.

Philosophers have been debating the importance of physical experiences, or sensations since the beginning. Epicurus is said to have commented that it is best to have water and bread everyday of ones life so that when presented with cheese it will appear a feast. Now Epicurus while father of hedonism, ended up a hermit who reveled in simplicity, while later followers of his philosophy took it mean living in the extremes of pleasure. Moderation has dominated the content of most ethical talk of sensations and pleasure over the years, allowing for people to enjoy life and its sensual pleasures so long as not to overindulge in any one aspect of sensual delights. In keeping with this, expanding ones breadth of sensual experience will allow for a greater range of moderate sensual appreciation and a deeper enjoyment of life.

That being said, I have always been jealous of those who can enjoy a good whisky, wine or cognac. So in an attempt to be able to appreciate the joys of such spirits I have decided to embark on a spiritual culinary journey whereas I attempt to develop a taste for whisky.

Whisky is made from the distillation of a cooked fermented mash of grains. A grain or combination of grains is mixed with water and yeast, similar to the mash created to brew beer, and let to ferment; a process wherein the yeast eats the sugar in the grain and as a byproduct releases alcohol. The mash is boiled and the alcohol is distilled and collected. Distilling is the process by which the alcohol vapor is separated from the mash and cooled through copper tubing and collected as a clear, odorless and tasteless spirit. The clear liquid is not whisky until its aged in a barrel, typically an American white oak barrel.

Let’s talk about the difference between Bourbon and Scotch. First we will look at bourbon. A bourbon mash is made from 51% corn and a combination of other grains such as rye, wheat and barley. Water from the bluegrass region of Kentucky contains little or no iron, rather it is hard water that is limestone rich. The only way a whisky can be called bourbon is if it is distilled and aged in Bourbon county Kentucky. To be called bourbon the whisky must also be aged in a charred American white oak barrel. These barrels are only used once and then they are sold to distilleries that make other whiskies such as scotch.

Single malt scotch is made from a mash of 100% malted barley. Malted barley is barley that has begun to germinate before it is combined with water and yeast in the mash. For a whisky to be called scotch it must be distilled and aged in Scotland. The key to the flavor of scotch is that the malted barley is smoked by a peat fire. Of course local water is the other key ingredient in the flavor of the scotch. Distilleries often remain in the same location because of the water source used in the whisky. Most scotch whiskies are aged in used charred bourbon barrels made of American white oak. A cooper will often re-fire the used bourbon barrels for use in scotch aging. A scotch whisky can use the older barrels because the scotch is aged longer and require the subtle notes that can be gained from the repeated expansion and contraction of the barrels season after season.

To the taste test. I have an ounce of Maker’s Mark Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky, 90 proof, over a large ice cube and ounce of The Speyside Single Highland Malt Scotch Whisky aged 12 years, 86 proof, over a large ice cube. To set the mood I set my Pandora to the Frank Sinatra station and sipped each drink following it with a palate cleanser of ice water (I know ice water is an inadequate palate cleanser but I did also take a moment in between each sip to reflect on the flavors).

How do they taste? Well, at first taste, right after poured over a large ice cube, I preferred the sweeter taste of the scotch to the bourbon. However, after the ice began to melt the bourbon’s stronger flavor better offset the kick of the spirit underlying both drinks. It may have been Summertime playing on the radio but something about that American born bourbon sat well with me in the end.

Bourbon is a truly American drink and that may have affected my opinion in this particular tasting but I have yet to really gain a taste for whisky. Made from mostly corn, that most truly American grain, and only made in Kentucky there is a certain national pride associated with bourbon that I’m sure resides in every Scotsman as relating to scotch.

In short this not over by far as I have an entire bottle of Scotch to begin to enjoy and most of a bottle of Bourbon to finish. Cheers!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

I'm Quoted in a Recent Trade Magazine

I am quoted in the August 2010 issue of QSR Magazine on the topic of business ethics. It's and interesting article and well put together. The main point is that acting morally is necessary for a business especially in these trying times. It focus's on the quick service food industry but many of the points are valid across all industries. You can find the article here: and by clicking the title to this blog entry. Feel free to continue the discussion in the comments.