Archive for March, 2015

The nature of reality


I’ve been thinking about modern physics.

Reality consists of quantum fields.   That’s it – just fields.  These fields can vibrate.   Those vibrations are perceived by us as particles: numerous vibrating fields create what we perceive as solid reality.   Apparently those particles don’t really exist, they just are there when we observe them – it’s how our minds perceive the vibrations.   If reality is not being observed in some way, it doesn’t exist.   The fields may still be vibrating, but the “stuff” we understand to be reality is the result of our perceptual framework.

A paradox: if there are only fields, which sometimes can vibrate, and if our material bodies are a manifestation of these vibrating fields, why do we have consciousness?   Why do we perceive these fields as “matter,” and are able to act within them as if there were a solid real world out there?   And what about the symmetries that make all this possible?

The only reason "stuff" has mass and particles can form what we perceive as matter is the existence of a Higgs field permeated all space-time.  The existence of this field was verified by the Large Hadron Collider at CERN on July 4, 2012

The only reason “stuff” has mass and particles can form what we perceive as matter is the existence of a Higgs field permeated all space-time. The existence of this field was verified by the Large Hadron Collider at CERN on July 4, 2012

Five possibilities come to mind:

1.  This is all one really elaborate virtual reality game, and when we die we’ll find ourselves in the real world, suddenly realizing we’ve just been playing.  Sort of a cool idea, but when you think of the pain endured by those experiencing rape, genocide and intense poverty, it seems a rather harsh game.  But maybe our “real” selves want to experience that, at least sometimes.

2.  A wild accident of nature.  No meaning, somehow within this system of fields it’s possible for entities to emerge that can perceive it as a reality.  This seems unrealistic to me, but it’s possible.

3.  Some kind of God created this, and we’re the product of its imagination, living based on that God’s whims, laws and dictates.  That seems even less realistic than 2, but again, it’s possible.

4.  An entity (God, for lack of a better term) exists and wants to experience interaction and challenges.  So it creates this realm and then is able to experience a variety of things stemming from its imagination.  This is different from 1 in that we’d all be aspects of this God, experiencing this field-based vibrational reality from different perspectives.  This view has some appeal, and harkens back to Platonist and especially neo-Platonist philosophies (e.g., Plotinus).  Or, as Bishop Berkeley suggested, we’re just part of God’s dream.

5.  There is something about consciousness that gives us the ability to perceive a world in this series of vibrating fields.  That would mean that this world is not an accident, but was meant for us to be able to perceive reality.  This option differs from the rest in that it doesn’t posit this as a product of a God (even if we are aspects of that God), a game or an accident.


Why does this matter?   It’s easy to get caught up in the every day routines – the problems, the ambitions and concerns that drive us.  Taking care of our kids, earning money, dealing with others, etc.  But somehow that feels a bit empty – is that all there is?  And why is it?  Is there something more?   And if we just live going through the motions, as dramatic and sometimes distressing as they are, are we just sleep walking?  Are we going through life hypnotized, thinking this is REALITY, when really it’s a kind of illusion?

And if there is something more, is there something to gain by trying to understand it, probing with our minds, meditations and philosophy?  Can studying world religions provide a hint?   And if we can get a sense of a kind of deeper meaning, one that transcends this particular brief dance in space-time, will that actually pay dividends?  Will it make this life more meaningful, can we have more control over the reality we experience?

That’s it for today.   Just questions.


Irrational Fear of the UN


If you read some of the extremist literature about the UN, it’s alarming.  The UN is out to get our guns with the Small Arms Treaty!  Absurd.  The UN wants to stop us from spanking our children with the Rights of the Child Treaty!  Hardly.   Though if you spank your kids, you’re really doing some bad parenting.   Some even claim net neutrality is a doorway for UN control of the internet.  And now – a UN Security Council resolution will bind the US to an agreement with Iran, circumvent Congress and sacrifice US sovereignty!  And least so claim the latest UN-0-phobes.

Bottom line:  The UN can do nothing to hurt the US.   Nada.  Zilch.   In fact, the UN has proven itself very useful to the US given our position as a permanent member of the UN Security Council with veto power.   We often use the UN to support US foreign policy.   The most dramatic examples are the Korean war and the 1991 Iraq war.

So why the irrational fear?   Part of it comes from a kind of animosity towards anything cosmopolitan among the tea party crowd, and a fear of losing American sovereignty.  The truth is that globalization has already weakened sovereignty by creating deep interdependence.   But that’s not the UN’s fault.

The UN Security council approves US led action to liberate South Korea in 1950.  A Soviet boycott of the council due to the US not seating the Communist government of China on the council allowed approval.

The UN Security council approves US led action to liberate South Korea in 1950. A Soviet boycott of the council due to the US not seating the Communist government of China on the council allowed approval.

Not approving the Small Arms Treaty means its harder to stop the use of children in war zones.  AK 47s are $6 a piece, that treaty is a fundamental tool in stopping atrocities in the third world.  No one is going to use it against the US or American gun laws.   That’s not possible.  The Rights of the Child treaty has been approved by every country except the US and Saudi Arabia.   UN soldiers aren’t going to round up people who spank their kids.

The only body that can approve enforcement of international law is the Security Council, and the US has veto power.  The UN by definition cannot hurt the US.

So why the paranoia about Iran?   Well, the Republicans just got a majority in both Houses but yet they can’t box in the President.  They’re feeling a tad impotent, and resent the fact that he is using his executive powers deftly.  Rather than admit that this is how split government works, they have come to believe that he’s “lawless” or ignoring the Congress and the Constitution.   And of course, some of it is just to rile up the base.  They know the UN doesn’t have the kind of power to somehow undermine the US – but fear that it does can be a powerful and emotional motivator!


The claim:  President Obama seeks an executive agreement with Iran to get Iran to agree not to have a nuclear weapons program.  An executive agreement – a common foreign policy tool – only binds the President during his term, and it does not need to pass Congress.   A treaty would require ratification by 2/3 of the Senate, and that’s not going to happen.  But if the US votes approval of a Security Council resolution calling for the removal of sanctions, then it is legally binding and voila, Congress has been bypassed.

Except that’s not how it works.

First, even if it all played out that way, the US Constitution and Supreme Court are clear that this would not be binding on the US.  And even if it were, the only body who could enforce that agreement is the UN Security Council, and the US can block any Security Council action.    But that’s irrelevant – if the US votes yes on a Security Council resolution requiring Congressional action and Congress does not act, then the US can’t follow what the resolution requires.  That’s the way the law works.  It will not be binding on the United States, just as an executive agreement cannot prevent Congress from acting as they will, and is not binding on the next President.

As always, the anti-UN paranoia is irrational…and very strange.



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Raising Independent Children

The parents committed the heinous act of letting these kids, Rafi and Dvora, play in a park and walk home.

The parents committed the heinous act of letting these kids, Rafi and Dvora, play in a park and walk home.

In Silver Spring Maryland a couple were found to be negligent parents because they let their children, aged 10 and 6, play in a park alone and walk home.   In Silver Spring leaving anyone under 18 unsupervised is neglect.

OK, “under 18” is simply insane.   What happened to the idea of kids being able to go out and explore, have fun with friends, go on bike rides, hike in the woods…without some adult or supervisor tagging along?  But I’m not going to focus on the law now, but the culture – the idea that people would consider a couple negligent for letting their kids play in public without supervision.

People put such an emphasis on “being safe” that they go way overboard.  Whenever someone says to me “safety is our main concern” or “my job as a parent is to keep my kids safe” I feel like screaming.   No!  Safety is important but has to be balanced with factors such as learning, exploring and enjoying the world.  After all if safety were really the most important thing we’d ban cars – accidents kill nearly 40,000 people a year!

Recently I read an article by an American mom living in Germany who was surprised by the way Germans take care of their children.   As she put it:

All the German parents were huddled together, drinking coffee, not paying attention to their children who were hanging off a wooden dragon 20 feet above a sand pit. Where were the piles of soft padded foam? The liability notices? The personal injury lawyers?

“Achtung! Nein!” I cried in my bad German. Both kids and parents ignored me.

Kids know how to handle themselves, and the odds of someone getting seriously hurt on a playground are certainly less than in a typical car ride.   She also noticed that they didn’t push young children to read, allowed kids run errands and be on their own.   What is “normal” parenting for them (and for my parents when I was a child) is now considered a radical form of “free range parenting” here.

In Silver Spring, Maryland, it’s illegal.

My children are 11 and 9, and my view of parenting is definitely along the “free range” side.    I trust them to go out and play and explore on their own, usually with neighborhood kids.  At the local mountain they each ski on their own.  If they’re bored in summer I tell them: “go take a bike ride, explore.”  Kids develop self-esteem, autonomy and confidence not by having everyone win a trophy, but by allowing kids to work as much out as possible on their own.

The same goes for “protecting” kids from videos, songs, movies and other things that are meant for adults.  Kids can handle more than we give them credit for, and as long as a parent can explain things they don’t understand and give guidance on behavior (e.g., explain why using swear words in public isn’t a good idea), they’ll be fine.  My nine year old has learned the lyrics of Hozier’s “Take Me to Church” by heart (he sings along every time it comes on the radio) – and his questions about the meaning of the lyrics have been real teaching moments.

Yes, there are limits, and the limits change as they grow older.  And as kids explore the parents have to be cognizant of their children’s activites: ready to answer questions, provide guidance, listen and explain.  If I lived somewhere less safe, I’m sure I’d change how I construct those limits.  But overall, I don’t think we do children any favors by treating childhood as some “protected” time of their lives where they are shielded from the supposed dangers of the real world.   Too much of that and kids will not be able handle the real world, and will fear it!

Luckily rural Maine isn’t suburban Maryland, and if my kids go play at the park and walk home, no one will call the police and I certainly won’t be seen as negligent.  But the problem we’re creating is cultural – if we raise a generation that thinks it’s their birthright to be “protected” and “safe,” they’ll not really learn how to live.   When confronted with reality they’ll be more likely to escape, either into safe routines that give order to their lives but prevent true living, or something worse like drugs and alcohol.   That is as dangerous as anything parents are protecting them from!