Tag Archives: science

Physicists Say

Physicists say
That all this
Will, one day,
Fade away.
”Tis
A sobering thought,
So perhaps I ought
To stay
In bed today?

But the universe
Is still here
And, I fear
That verse
Does not pay.
Therefore I must
Put aside thoughts of whirling dust,
And go about my mundane day.

The World After the Corona Lockdown

I have been thinking a lot recently about the effect of COVID19 (the Corona Virus) on society and, in particular on human relationships.

To state a truism, we humans are social animals, and, with a few exceptions we all crave company from time to time. Even in this increasingly technologically driven society, individuals still enjoy face-to-face interactions, whether that be a meal in a restaurant, a drink with friends in the pub, or intimate time spent with a lover.

Today’s World at 1 on BBC Radio 4, https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m000h8gg, contains discussions regarding whether face masks should be adopted by everyone as a means of ending the lockdown currently in place in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The view expressed by the scientists/doctors was that masks should be reserved for health service professionals in the first instance then, once shops start to re-open for those professions where close contact can not be avoided, for example the hairdressing profession. In the longer-term it was argued that everyone might need to wear masks in public, at least until a vaccine is made available.

My thoughts on this are as follows:

1. I don’t at all relish the prospect of walking through the woods, parks etc and not being able to properly appreciate the scents of nature owing to the presence of a face mask. The wind on one’s face and the scent of new mown grass is one of life’s pleasures.

2. How exactly would face masks operate in settings such as restaurants and pubs/clubs? So far as I know, its impossible (or extremely difficult) to eat and drink whilst wearing a face mask. I haven’t tried doing this, so stand to be corrected. However, even if it is possible, I can imagine getting food, drink etc on the mask thereby impairing it’s effectiveness, not to mention making the wearer look rather messy!

3. Related to 2 above, Even if “social distancing” is maintained, I assume that friends, family members etc will be able to sit together, otherwise one of the greatest pleasures of eating out (convivial company) is thrown away. Also, in smaller establishments, its difficult to imagine how tables could be kept sufficiently apart to comply with the 2 metre “Social distancing” rule. Likewise (in the case of clubs where people dance) just, how exactly will “social distancing” be practiced and/or enforced? Will people dance with one another in masks, then use hand sanatiser once they have finished their dance? And what happens if (as frequently occurs) a couple decide to go home together? In the latter case “social distancing” goes out the window …

4. Leading on from 3 above, what happens to dating? Apart from the pleasure derived from relationships (whether long-term or otherwise), sex is necessary to perpetuate the species.

This article, https://www.dw.com/en/love-in-the-time-of-coronavirus-covid-19-changes-the-game-for-online-dating/a-52933001, indicates that the dating game is alive and well at the time of the Lockdown. However many people appear to be interacting online, but not meeting. One assumes that serious relationships will develop and individuals will meet when COVID19 is, so far as is possible beaten or contained.

5. I was not surprised to learn that escorts are continuing to ply their trade despite the lockdown, as exemplified in this article, https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8188793/Manchester-City-star-Kyle-Walker-hosted-sex-party-two-escorts-coronavirus-lockdown.html. I shall refrain from any comment on this particular story.

On a personal level, I am looking forward to sharing a few pints (and a nice meal) in a restaurant once the Lockdown is over.

Kevin

James Burke Predicts the World in 2030

Today’s World this Weekend, on BBC Radio 4, contains reflections by the science writer, James Burke, on the developments he believes will take place by 2030.

Amongst Burke’s predictions is that by 2030 humans will be able to live autonomously, in a location of their own choosing, people will be able to create anything using nanotechnology, we can “forget privacy”, and climate change will be solved by technological developments, for example the production of artificial meat negating the need to keep livestock.

I am no scientist (my degree being in history and politics), however Burke’s view that science will solve all problems strikes me as overly optimistic, and that’s putting it mildly!

Whilst I’m sure that some of the things predicted by Burke will come to pass – indeed some, such as the use of nanotech to solve health issues are already baring fruit – I’m sceptical of the timeframes postulated. Also his implied view that we don’t need to change our way of living to tackle climate change (as science will solve everything) is not one shared by most scientists and I, also am unconvinced by Burke here.

I am a believer in individual liberty and I’m extremely wary of governmental intervention in the lives of consenting adults. However individuals don’t exist in a vacuum. We owe duties to one another and our lives are enriched by friendships and other social interactions. Listening to Burke’s broadcast it is, to my mind to individualistic and lacking in an appreciation for the complex relationships, institutions etc which make it possible for individuals, families and communities to live the good life. His view does, I believe chime with libertarians (of left and right) rather than with the one-nation Conservatism which, broadly speaking shapes my outlook on life.

You can find Burke’s interview approximately 25 minutes into the podcast, which can be found here, https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m000cnbw.

A Transhumanist Heard A Clock Tick

A Transhumanist heard a clock tick
And said “time I shall lick”.
And the clock said, “progress,
Regress, progress, regress”,
As the hands did trace
The clock’s round face
From beginning to beginning,
Forever spinning:
“Progress, regress, progress, regress . . .”.
And the Transhumanist said,
Nought, for he was long since dead.

When An Extremely Precocious AI

When an extremely precocious AI
Said, “Truly I am a guy!”,
A philosophy student named Paul
Said, “you are no guy at all!”,
Which angered that precocious AI!

If I Could Look Into Your Mind

If I could look into your mind
And you into mine,
What would we find?

Will you pretend
That no friendships would end
And that our inner feelings
Would not leave one another reeling?

A smile
May just that be,
A smile
But all agree
That guile
May hide inside a smile.

Some maintain
That man will
Never fully understand the brain,
While still
Others maintain
That you will never find the mind
Within the brain.

I know not whether the mind
Is separate from the brain,
But I can not pretend
That many a friendship would not end
Where you and me
To be able to see
Into the mind
Or brain
Of our dearest friend

When Scientists Have Analysed You and Me

When scientists have analysed you and me,
To the nth degree,
And found that there is nothing ethereal
And we are merely
Genetic material,
What will be
Left of you and me
Save for genes
And mechanical dreams?

Writing Robots

“As the demand for internet content increases steadily, AI content bots become more crucial. That’s because of the sheer demand for information and constant
updates. To stay on top of the search engine results page and remain SEO-focused, bloggers and webmasters need to produce new content consistently — and
not all of it needs to be empathetic, prose-like or high quality”.

It’s the words “and not all of it needs to be empathetic, prose-like or high quality”, (particularly those 2 words “high quality” which give me most cause for concern. This is well worth reading, (https://www.mostlyblogging.com/articoolo-writing-robots/).

Hotter

I sit here
In the autumn of my year
And my voice raise
In praise
Of the god of progress.

They say
That robotic bees
Are on their way
But I know that the seas
Boil
With oil.

The temperature is relatively normal for the time of year
(Although autumn has been unusually hot).
I shall enjoy it while it lasts
For more storm blasts
And weather hot
Are what
Are on the way.

I heard an ostridge say,
With his head in the sand,
“You must understand
That climate change isn’t true,
Those experts are all lieing to you!”.
The weather will grow hotter my ostridge friend
However much you may pretend
That what
Is, is not.

I shall enjoy this autum day
And think on how nature does the forest floor dress
In fallen leaves, and think on progress
But towards what
I know not.
Yet hope is the last thing to die
And I
Have faith that we may overrule
The fool
Who believes not
That the world is getting hot.

The Myth of “Free Will”

According to the author of this article, (https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/sep/14/yuval-noah-harari-the-new-threat-to-liberal-democracy) “free will” is a “myth”. While we can choose who to vote for, our choices are, for the most part products of our biology and societal influences (E.G. family upbringing). The author contends that governments and corporations will, in the future be able to “hack” us and know us better than we know ourselves for, in his view we are “hackable animals”.

The author is right that we are not free in some respects. For example there is considerable evidence that one’s sexual preferences are biologically determined (I.E. gay people have a natural/biological attraction for the same sex, while straight people have a natural/biological attraction to people of the opposite sex). For this reason it is, in my view cruel to try to change a gay person, by religious or other means into a straight individual. It doesn’t work and one is forcing them to adopt a way of life which goes against their natural inclinations.

I do, however fundamentally disagree with the author’s assertion that “free will” is a “myth”. Take, for example the young man attracted to a pretty girl. It can be argued that he lacks “free will” in the sense that he can not help being attracted to the beautiful woman. However where that same man to pester that young woman for sex or, god forbid sexually assault her, can we really say that he lacked “free will” and his actions where predetermined? We can not, for the overwhelming majority of men attracted to beautiful women do not make inappropriate advances or force themselves on the object of their desire. Where there no such thing as “free will” the number of sexual assaults would increase massively. It is moral precepts and the existence of “free will” that makes us human.

The author is correct that corporations and individuals can (and do) try to (and sometimes succeed) in influencing our behaviour. For example a person who frequently searches for news stories with a particular political bias may well find himself confronted by only those kinds of articles. However the educated person does (in my experience) go out of their way to find stories which challenge their preconceptions and its through education that we can help to combat the danger of “echo chambers” in which people only find themselves exposed to views that reinforce their existing view of the world.

With the growth of artificial intelligence, we do need to think seriously about the hacking of humans (the author is undoubtedly right here). However his view of “free will” (the lack thereof) is, in my opinion wrong and dangerous.

(My thanks to my friend Brian for drawing the above article to my attention).