Religious rights vs. gay rights

The debate raging over religious rights vs. gay rights has escalated thanks to a law that is, not surprisingly, applauded by some and condemned by others.

This really shouldn’t be called a debate. Neither side has any interest in seeing – let alone listening to – the other side’s point of view. The only way to get around this deeply held bias is to examine the issue from another perspective, one that doesn’t involve gay people.

So, let’s consider a hypothetical situation: An art enthusiast (who happens to be a Christian) has been buying paintings for years from an artist (who happens to be an atheist). Neither party has been troubled by their different views because the artist has been painting what he wants to paint and the buyer has been buying only what he likes.

One day, the buyer approaches the artist with a request. “Since I have always admired your work, I would like to commission you to create a religious painting. I’ll pay you what you usually charge, but this time I want you to paint what I want, not what you like.”

Since this would conflict with the artist’s world view, does he have the right to refuse?

If he does refuse, would you applaud him for standing up for his principles? Or, would you condemn him for discriminating against someone whose principles disagree with his?

In the infamous case of the baker who refused to bake a cake for a gay wedding, the gay couple had been buying cakes and cookies from the baker for years. Neither had a problem with that, since the baker got to bake what he wanted to bake and the couple got the sweets they enjoyed.

Like the artist in my fictional scenario, the baker did not refuse to do business with his customer until the customer decided to dictate what the artist should create. The baker probably considers himself to be an artist, too.

Some people who strongly support gay rights might say this is two different situations, and that the one has no bearing on the other. One thing I’ve learned over the years is no matter how different we perceive ourselves to be, we are basically very much the same. We all want to be treated with respect and we all want our opinions validated by others.

The first part is a reasonable request. In a civil society, everyone deserves to be treated respectfully. The second part is an unreasonable demand.

There is a big difference between acceptance and approval. We should accept everyone because none of us has the right to tell others what to think or how to live. We should show respect for the opinions of others, but we don’t have to agree with them. Approval indicates agreement. No one has the right to demand that. And, yes, that means I hope you have given respectful consideration to what I’ve written, but I can’t expect everyone to agree with what I’ve said.

Anyone who is confident in their beliefs shouldn’t need the approval of others. Believe what you will and live your life accordingly, but respect the rights of others to do the same. If you want the respect of others, behave respectfully. If you can’t live without the approval of those who disagree with you, recognize that you have a problem. Don’t blame others for your problems.

P.S. ~ It may seem as though I’ve sided with the artists, but that last piece of advice applies to everyone.

Universal Intelligence

The Problem:

Although studies have provided much information about the workings of the brain, we have only scratched the surface in our search for understanding what makes us “conscious”.

We know that the brain receives input from our five physical senses, interprets the input, compares it to previously created memories, and draws conclusions. We also know that those conclusions can be subjective, and at times, inaccurate. Nevertheless, the brain’s ability to analyze input at speeds that exceed that of man-made computers is impressive. Computers have been shown to exceed the speed of the human brain, but only when processing a single set of data. The human brain is multi-tasking, analyzing more input than we are consciously aware of from all of our senses, while simultaneously monitoring the functionality of all of our organs. Impressive!

But, where do “original” thoughts come from? How does the mechanical view of the brain as an organic computer explain “intuition” or “inspiration”? How can we have ideas that seem to be unrelated to the input provided by our physical senses?

The premise:

Much is broadcast over radio waves. We can turn on our radios, select a frequency and listen to our favorite music. Without a radio, we would not be able to hear the music. The radio is a device that can receive and interpret those waves, “translate” them, and produce sound in a range that can then be received by our ears and interpreted by our brain. The result is “music to our ears”.

Granted, this is not a perfect analogy, but our brain serves a function similar to the radio. As a mechanistic device, the brain receives input and interprets it, “translates” it into images that can be processed and compared to stored memories – all for the purpose of making sense of it.

If your radio is turned off or broken, you hear no music. The radio waves responsible for what we call music still exist, but without a device to “translate” them we can’t hear the music. If your brain is damaged, you cannot make sense of the input. The sensory data still exists, but without a device to “translate” it we would be deaf and blind to the world around us.

From this perspective, the brain is a tool whose function is to translate input into a usable form, much the same as a radio translates sound waves. There is no reason to believe thought originates in the brain, anymore than there is reason to believe music originates in our radios.

Unlike the radio, the brain is capable of receiving and translating input from more than one source. We understand that it is equally proficient in translating visual, auditory and sensory input from our eyes, ears and skin. It does not take a great leap to surmise that it may also be capable of receiving input from other sources, if other sources of input exist.

The hypothesis:

I (and others) have proposed the theory that an external source of information exists outside of ourselves. This is best explained using another analogy.

In most businesses today, personal computers are a standard feature on an employee’s desk or workstation. But most people must share information with their co-workers, so data is not stored on their own computer’ hard drive, but rather on a server that is accessible by many people. When working on a particular problem, some of that data is uploaded to the PC and stored in a temporary memory. In this way, the employee can utilize the combined knowledge of many people and add to that knowledge by altering the spreadsheet or document, then returning it to the communal archive – the server – for all to see. The Internet functions using the same principle by providing many people access to shared information that is stored on servers not owned or maintained by the individual users.

Throughout human history, Man has had the desire to share his thoughts with others. We invented language and written language in order to communicate ideas, the printing press to share ideas with more than just those with whom we could communicate directly, libraries to store and share these ideas, and the Internet to spread these ideas all around the globe! Could we be intuitively creating mechanical methods of communication that parallel something that has always existed, but which we don’t fully understand or something that we have forgotten how to use?

Also throughout human history, there have been some who may have found the key to utilizing this Universal Intelligence. Most have interpreted the experience through the mental filter of Religion, because before Science, everything not fully understood was thought to be “from the gods” – thunder, rain, fertility, good luck, bad luck – but Science has shown us that there are natural explanations for these things. Even today, for the person who is devoutly religious, unexplainable “paranormal” events may be seen as God speaking to him. Others will say it justifies belief in the occult. To most people, it is something that happens from time to time, but not something worthy of much curiosity. An atheist may dismiss it as random firings of neurons, signifying nothing.

Because we all interpret such things through our own mental biases, there is no consensus on what it might mean and Science has not given it serious consideration – yet. But if we could agree on the semantics and agree that all paranormal incidents may have a natural explanation, Science would be better able to investigate.

So, let’s examine some paranormal events from the perspective of the theory of Universal Intelligence. Remember that the theory says our brains are capable of receiving information from an external source, similar to the way a PC receives information from a server, and that our brains can add to the stored knowledge of that external source, making it available for others to access.

Extra-sensory perception (ESP): This is the alleged ability to know what another person is thinking – in other words, mind reading. But what if one person is not reading the mind of another, but accessing the centrally stored data, which includes the contributions made by that other person? From the perspective of this theory, that would be a normal function of our brains. When I use my computer to access a shared document written by a co-worker, I’m not reading his mind, but I AM reading his thoughts!

Out-of-body experience (OBE): A term used to describe the sensation that you have left your body and are seeing yourself from an external viewpoint. Well, that’s the way other people see you, isn’t it? If you can access the shared thoughts of others, it shouldn’t be surprising that you may be able to see what they see. Normal.

Memories of past-lives: Some people believe they lived another life, and can remember things only the now-deceased person would know. When I read the autobiography of a long-dead person, I can learn things that were secrets during his lifetime. If I could access his memories without reading a book, the same would be true, so if all of our thoughts are centrally stored we can all learn those secrets. It is because we don’t consider that to be possible that we’re inclined to assume that the knowledge must be from our own memories. Again, thanks to this theory, the paranormal begins to seem normal.

Communicating with the dead: Do you wonder why the deceased only talk about things that already happened, or things they might have wished would happen? No one ever got a dead person to predict tomorrow’s winning lottery numbers! As with memories of past-lives, this could be explained by the theory. We are accessing the thoughts the person had while they were still alive. Nothing new can be learned from the deceased because they stopped contributing to the store of knowledge when they died. That seems normal.

Science rightly dismisses the paranormal because of the explanations given by those who believe it to be paranormal. If scientists would consider the possibility that the events being described are real, but just misinterpreted, we could progress toward an understanding of the cause. I offer Universal Intelligence as a hypothesis to be examined in the hope that “paranormal” can become an obsolete and unnecessary term.

Global Warming – a historical perspective

Earth has never had a stable climate. This is a fact that climatologists will tell you, if you ask the right questions – of the right climatologists.

If we want to know the history of the planet’s climate, one would think we should consult someone who specializes in “Historical Climatology”, but the method known by that label is the study of climate as related to human history and thus focuses only on the last few thousand years.

Another approach, known as Paleoclimatology, reconstructs past climates by examining records such as ice cores and tree rings. This method gives us a much longer historical span, and allows us to see patterns that indicate cycles in the Earth’s weather. From these folks, we learn that the planet has survived several Ice Ages and several periods during which temperatures warmed. There has always been a cycle of warming and cooling. We do not know why that has been the case, but the record indicates that this is natural.

Today’s climate specialists are quick to assure us that the current warming trend they are tracking is not in line with patterns established before. Since it does not fit the natural cyclical course of Earth’s history, they conclude that human activity is the cause. They may be correct. Were it not for the increase of greenhouse gases, we would be experiencing the onset of another Ice Age! In fact, those same specialists were warning us of that likelihood a mere thirty years ago. Based upon the long historical record, it seemed the logical next step.

But the Historical Climatology people, – the ones who study the relatively short range of history that is limited to the brief time humans have called Earth home – noticed a pattern that has gone by several names. The most common being: Global Warming (a misnomer, since only some parts of the planet are warming while other parts are predicted to get cooler) and Climate Change (a truer statement, but one that does not evoke the emotional effect of the former).

What has been lacking in this debate is the question of what would have happened if we humans had not tampered with nature. The answer is evident by history and by the climate models used as recently as thirty years ago. The next question that must be asked is, if we are able to reverse the warming trend, what will prevent Global Cooling.

The planet has been hospitable to human life for a very short portion of its existence. Naturally, we would like to stop the warming/cooling cycle that is the natural course preferred by Earth, and stabilize the climate so that we can continue to call Earth our home forever. We are chastised by the likes of Al Gore for having the audacity to tamper with the climate of our revered planet, while being told that we have an obligation to “save the planet” by tampering even more.
Let us be clear. The planet does not need “saving”. It has survived all these millennium without our meddling. For all we know, the climate cycles that it has experienced may be necessary for the survival of the planet. But we, so very smart and self-assured as we are, will save ourselves, even if it is the wrong thing to do for the planet’s sake.