Monday, April 28, 2014

Science and Philosophy

It seems there are two fields of thought on the relationship between science and philosophy. One camp would argue that philosophy nurtures science, helping to propel scientific endeavors forward by asking interesting questions. The other camp would say that modern science has removed the need for philosophy, specifically the philosophy of science. Both groups make valid points, and as with all things there are plenty of shades of grey between them.

So where do we start? First, by saying, that I have no sincere academic interest in philosophy. I am approaching this from the hard science point of view, and it is from science which I will draw my line in the sand and extend the olive branch. 

The birth of science is IN philosophy. Asking fundamental questions about life, the world, and the universe is where the intersection of abstract thought and evidence-based examination occurred. We see that ancient philosophers asked questions which are fundamentally responsible for the development of modern sciences. Early philosophy is responsible for asking us questions which lead to the formation of modern physics, microbiology, evolution, and most modern science. Not only that, but philosophy gives scientists the tools to ask the right questions in the right way. The scientific method is a fundamentally philosophical process, which values the methodical, logical examination of observations in order to determine an approximate truth. This is conceptually part and parcel of the epistemology, the philosophical discussion of the nature of knowledge and what constitutes relevant knowledge. As you can imagine, a discipline which examines how to best answer questions is relevant to science, but the simple fact is that science is equipped to deal with epistemological questions independent of philosophy... science has subsumed the important aspects of epistemology. This was the last useful frontier of philosophy in science, and science has taken what it needs and just run with it.

Take it a step further, and we see that logic itself, an important part of modern science, is based on philosophical principles, and has been instrumental in the development of modern computer science and the formation of advanced mathematics. I would say that this point is another time where philosophy ceases to be philosophy, and becomes something else: pure mathematics. This is a case I also see occurring in the intersection of psychology and biology... eventually one of them (psychology) will become consumed by the other (biology) as we learn more about it. To be perfectly honest, I think that's entirely okay to happen... in fact, I think it's an inevitability. Like the melding of epistemological principles into the scientific method, it is the contribution of a set of tools which have been modulated and improved to fit the needs of scientific disciplines.

Now we see that where philosophy does not become science, it necessarily stands behind science. In most of modern science, we see that philosophy is entirely unnecessary to consider. In the scientific endeavors based on examining empirical evidence, there are no real philosophical implications. In fact, the only fields where philosophy has any sort of presence are those in physics... namely cosmological physics and theoretical physics. Now, I am no physicist, and I have my own personal feelings about these fields...namely that they offer nothing practical to the world except for trivial knowledge, and despite how great it is to expand human knowledge, I don't see quantum theory saving lives or eradicating disease anytime soon. Philosophy can exist in these fields by virtue of this, though. With theoretical physics and cosmology, you find openings for a LOT of questions about meanings and whats and wherefores... and most of it is nonsense. I think it misrepresents the science to entertain it: philosophy relies more on semantic arguments than it does on evidence, because it doesn't bother following up the questions it asks. It's one thing to say "Well, where did the universe come from?" and then set out to find evidence of everything that could have contributed, and to postulate a hypothesis about the origin of time and space and matter. It's another thing entirely to ask those types of questions, and then suggest that the answers (which you had no part in finding) indicate more than they seem to.

Now, where these fields intersect, it seems to me that philosophy starts asking a lot of useless questions, or at least unnecessary ones. It needs to maintain relevance, to be taken seriously, and it can't do that by giving us answers. Now, philosophy and science still share the fundamentally necessary role of getting us to ask questions about the nature of things. The difference is this: science wants to answer them, where philosophy seems content to just pose the questions as a purely intellectual exercise.

As an aside, let's look at the idea of ethics. This requires a lot of philosophical background and application of philosophical ideas: what is right, or wrong? How do we determine them? What do we do with shades of grey? These things are extremely important in modern biomedical science, because there are ethical boundaries scientists are expected to not cross. We can't do arbitrary, painful, or cruel testing on humans or animals. We must obtain informed consent relating to clinical testing and use of human cells or tissues. These measures are the result of examining the ethical-philosophical questions, and science conceding to them. I will say this though: science, though it MUST be cognizant and aware of ethical limitations, is about knowledge... not right or wrong. Ethics is a limiting factor to scientific progress. Science should be interested in the question of "How does it work," and "Can we do it?"...not with the "Should we do it?" which characterizes ethics. Still, I think it is wholly necessary to adhere to ethical concerns in science, to protect human interest and human rights... but one can see where a decade of human testing would catapult modern biomedical science forward by leaps and bounds. I think this is one of the few places where philosophy has so much to offer, in a global sense, and in particular one of the greatest contributions to science (for better or worse) philosophy has made.

I will take a side here, though it will be tempered with some concessions. I think that philosophy has almost no place in the hard sciences. Outside of science, philosophy can, and does contribute to the world. Philosophy is responsible for most of the great cultural movements: democracy, communism, fascism, religion, etc. it also, as mentioned, had a foundational role in the earliest development of what became modern science: every early scientist was also a philosopher, and i think that every great scientist currently must still show this. Sadly, to burst the bubble, all humans are philosophers. We all ask questions, we all consider the hypothetical nonsense of the world, and the implications of things... it's part of how the human brain seems to be wired. Philosophy trains us to ask harder questions, in a more informed (and maybe more pretentious) way, but at the end of the day, every single person has entertained philosophical thought over the nature of consciousness or the meaning of life or the universe. Unfortunately, while philosophy is asking those questions, science is busy finding answers to them... or, in the case of the "meaning of life" shrugging its shoulders and moving on to things that are actually able to be examined. If I can't observe, postulate, test, examine, and repeat it, it isn't science. The question of the "meaning of life" is just as unscientific as the question of God. Neither of these are scientific questions, and I find it intellectually irresponsible for science to attempt to answer them. They simply have no scientific relevance.

When you start to entertain philosophical ideas about empirical sciences, you start to dance with pseudoscience. When you start allowing people to discuss the meaning of things without understanding the fundamental principles of what they're discussing, you do a great disservice to the intellectual integrity of the fields which entertain these discussions. I find that often, even the scientists attempt to make their work philosophical, by addressing the non-scientific implications of their work. Science is interested in the "why" of the process, not the abstract "why" which the philosopher addresses. In a lab, we examine why we observe what we do... we make a "best approximation of cause" and then develop assays and experiments which would then test our postulate. These results are then used to formulate the next step, deeper: what are the implications of the molecular structure, or the chemical cascade, or the anatomy, or these particle interactions? What can this process tell me about the processes that come before, and after it? Science should be concerned with questions like "How did the universe come into being?" and "Why do the observations we see actually happen?" but assuming there should be a "why" beyond those mechanistic processes is unscientific, and that is what philosophy does. It attempts to insert itself into fields where it has little (if anything) left to offer in way of useful interjection. 

I find that, by the very nature of scientific examination and inquiry, some philosophical questions become unnecessary. Look at cosmology and theoretical physics. They can show us that fundamental laws of existence govern interactions which led directly to the formation of the universe, the galaxy, the solar system, and eventually to biology and chemistry. They are not, and should not, be concerned with WHY these forces exist, but instead with the fact that they DO exist, and are functional in a reproducible environment. If the suggestion is that these processes are immutable and omnipresent, there are philosophical implications which should (and are currently being) examined, but these are NOT the purview of a scientist. The scientist, as a creature of logic, reason, and evidence-based approximation, should only say "The evidence reasonably points to this conclusion, by virtue of overwhelming statistical force." The human being, who is curious and fearful, and awed... THAT is the part that begins asking questions that flirt with philosophy. We all know, however, that we can't separate the two. If science shows that the universe did not require a "creator" to come into being, it has philosophical implications, but the science shouldn't care. It is simply elucidating the principles... shining a light into the darkness, and adding another brick to the tower of all human knowledge. When biology finally recognized evolution as a fundamental process which is necessary for what we observe in almost every aspect of biological sciences, there were staggering philosophical ripples... and the science didn't give a fuck about any of them. Science works because it takes the philosophical questioning, and takes it a step further: it attempts to answer questions in an approximately accurate way. These answers often raise more questions (another parallel to philosophy) but these are questions which can be examined, not merely posed and pondered.

Do I think philosophy has no place in science? No. I think intellectual pursuits are too universally linked for that to ever be the case. I do, however, feel that philosophy is an afterthought to the scientist. Every scientist... every person... is a philosopher. Every single one. I think this is a beautiful part of human nature: that we question the world, and ourselves, and everything around us to an extent. Where science excels is using the tools of philosophy and focusing them into a search for knowledge. Both science and philosophy revel in uncertainty and doubts, and in the pursuit of the next big question. I think that, in order to be a good scientist, you must be willing and able to entertain doubts and questions which are deeper than merely "What's next on the list of shit to find out?"

I know it seems I've been a bit harsh to philosophy in this little rant, and I don't mean to be. I don't think it is an entirely obsolete field, and it is still necessary in social and cultural questions. Hell, philosophy has given science so many of the tools it uses now to MAKE progress, you can't discuss science without tipping your hat to the philosopher-scientists who came before, and the philosophers of pure thought who asked the questions which brought about the discovery of cells and atoms, and dismissed the concept of spontaneous generation. These are HUGE things in science, and were made possible by the questioning of a few great thinkers. I just feel that science has subsumed the useful portions of philosophy, and can (and does) function independently of philosophical questions. I think that philosophy offers us intellectual tools and motivations, but as a field, is mostly impotent in contributing much to science which science itself can't take care of.

Unfortunately, the two disciplines, though entwined at their roots, are not on the same level. Philosophy can admire and advocate for empiricism and examination and scientific thinking, but science takes these things, and turns them into useful tools for actual discovery. It isn't enough to pose the question. One must also be willing to look for the answer. THAT is what science does. Philosophy stands in the light, staring at the darkness, and contemplates what lies beyond the edges of its vision. Science grabs a flashlight, and a camera, and says "Let's go see what the fuck is out there!"

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Courting the Inevitable Conclusion

The clock ticks slowly away
A countdown to nothingness
Every monotonous twitch of its limbs 
Echoing like the final nail in a coffin
The hands chasing each other
An eternal race
Which ends only with death
Our time bleeding away from us
From the shallow cuts of wasted days
And opportunities we ground to dust
The dull click of every passing second
Ringing like a gunshot in my ears
I can only watch
As the hands drag ever onward
A slow march to the sea of oblivion
Eyes wide, glued to the shortening length 
Of a burning candle
Knowing that the inevitable conclusion
Is to burn to nothing
Or be snuffed out in the wind
And as a dead candle leaves smoke
Trails of grey regrets, dancing in the air
I shall leave only memories
Swirling in your mind
Until, like the smoke, I disappear
And nothing will be left of who I am
Or what I was
Except the fading memory of warmth 

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Things I Was Thinking While Writing my Masters Thesis

I just recently finished my masters thesis and here are some of the things that went through my head during the course of my reading/writing.

I am actually paying someone for the "privilege" to be miserable, stressed, and sleep deprived. there free food at that seminar?

...I don't care if it isn't my department

Charts and figures are my personal hell

...but they're so pretty

Go to class? Seriously?

One more page. One more page. One more page more page? Ugh

What was this author thinking? This paper sucks

...but I need another source. In you go!

How many pages of sources do I freakin' have?

Review article? More like "free sources"

These words mean nothing to me anymore

What happens if I snort caffeine pills?

There isn't enough coffee in the world

...or alcohol

I'd rather be drunk

Maybe I should just be homeless

Oh man oh man oh man, I'm going to end up homeless anyway

I just read the same section of this paper 3 times

I don't even know what this protocol is trying to do

How many more papers do I have to read?

THAT many?!

I never want to see another pdf again

Did I shower today?

...Who cares?

Oh, I need to shower

What day of the week is it?

Rewrite? I'd rather lose a hand to a wood chipper

*Types furiously. Stares blankly. Backspaces furiously. Cries.*

How long have I been awake?

You want me to add what?!

See this chart? I MADE this chart. It is mine. No one else's

Maybe pretty figures will distract from my shitty thesis

In text citations can suck on rancid cock and die in a chemical fire

Are they actually going to read this shit?

I forgot how DNA repair works

One more page, one more page

Did I spell that right?

...Yeah, I did

...wait, maybe not

I need to sleep

Fuck sleep


Go to bed? Nah. It's only 4am

Oh man, I need to sleep

Why didn't I do something easy, like psychology?

Don't judge my sweatpants. You're lucky I even WEAR pants

I feel like a zombie

Thank fuck, it's finally fucking over!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Waking from You

There is a secret pain inside of me
Hidden behind walls of discontent
And black curtains of false words
I hide it away from the light
Sheltered from the prying eyes
Of all who would breach my darkness
Holding your memory like a promise
In the prison of my thoughts

I whisper your name
On the lonesome nights
Where the sounds of the world
Steal into my head like monsters
Feeling the words form on my lips
With the taste of the grave
Trying to remember the beauty
Of the lines of your face
Before they fade from my memory
Like tear-stained still frames in the sun

I try to remember the way you tasted
And the way your skin felt against mine
I wish to lose myself in this somnolent world
Where you and I can rest together
Under the shade of the tree
Where I carved our names
I wish to dream more than your last words
Where they echo through my head
The lachrymose chorus of apologies

In that dark room of memory
Mired in shadows of past circumstance
I stand quietly in the blackness
Of this tragic oubliette
Smile painted on a tired face
Too tragic to twist its lips upwards
I reach a hand to touch the shadow of you
Before it fades away in the light of your loss
The morning stealing your image from my mind
Softly, tenderly
As I once stole kisses from your lips
Whispering your name
As the dream fades to tortured dawn

Trapped in Amber

My dreams paint a grey horizon
Shifting shades of apathy
As my monsters stand around me
Their eyes burning with my failure
Screaming regrets through my head
The chains of living life
Wrapped around my throat
The fires of the world burning through me
Eyes downcast, shamefully
As the ghosts of my self-loathing
Lay bare my flaws and faults
Insecurities brandished
Like instruments of torture

Your memory stands before me
Grasping lost love like a weapon
Or a well-worn teddy bear
Meant to keep us safe
From the false terrors of the world
The same way I remember holding you
Trusting you to strike the chains from me
I fall to my knees, free
Blind to you banishing the demons
Focusing only on your face
A work of art I thought lost to the world
Trapped in slow-flowing misery
Your memories
And my heart
Still trapped in Amber

The noise subsides
And I feel your gentle touch
Lifting me from the ground
To a peaceful embrace
Once more laid bare in your grace
A smile no longer blurred
By the strength of your death
I close my eyes
To lose myself in the fading hope
Of your gentle kiss

I awaken in the dark
To the desperate whirring of the ceiling fan
And the cry of distant sirens
Reaching for you
Touching the place besides me
Where you should be
As my eyes adjust to the dim light
Your face fades back into my mind
The monsters silenced momentarily
By the strength of your memory

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Greatest Threat to Atheism

I know the title sounds a bit dramatic, and it was meant to. It of course needs to grab your attention, and pull you into the rant I'm about to throw at you, like a dodgeball at the fat kid in PE class. This may ruffle some feathers, to be sure, but if you stop to think about it, then I've already done more for you than I could have hoped for.

It has been my experience as I've progressed through various phases of atheism, that there is above all one HUGE obstacle to the acceptance of atheism into the mainstream. Oh, we've made headway, walking hand-in-hand with humanism and a ton of other labels that share us with atheism. However, there is one thing that is holding us back.

This thing, is of course, atheists.

I doubt this idea is singular to me, and it is by no means universal. Some of the most thoughtful, wonderful, compassionate people I've met are atheists. I sincerely enjoy most of the atheist community, but there are times i see the community splinter along arbitrary lines and it seems so stupid. For a group of people who generally acknowledge that people matter and life is special, we spend an awful lot of time on in-fighting. It sincerely pushes me away from the atheist community more than it gives me a sense of solidarity, and given the nature of all of our shared labels and ideas, the last thing we need is to be at each other's throats. I understand that not all of us are interested in activism or changing the world. Some people just want to be left alone with their outlook. I respect that, because that doesn't make you act like a vapid little shit goblin.

Now some of you are probably nodding quietly to yourselves. Some of you may be a little skeptical of that statement. So let's dive in a little deeper. Whenever religion does something batshit crazy, everyone is quick to point this out, religious and secular people alike. The mainstream disagrees with stoning rape victims, or protesting at funerals. It's very easy to get support against the big things, even from theists who understand that religious ideology has to develop with the times. We meet resistance from these fringe lunatics, and it isn't very hefty resistance. Oh, to be sure, the conservative right wing in America is pretty mainstream and accepted in our little corner of the world, and there are similar groups all over that we see in our respective countries and think "Fucking hell, these people are insane."

You know what though? The numbers and time are on our side. That's a game of patience. One we can see eventually winning out on, because they're a bunch of bigoted pricks and people see this. So this is a problem, but not our biggest problem.

Our biggest problem lies in the same area as all other "movements" or "labels" find their biggest struggles: members of our own group who share an idea, but take it to an extreme that borders on fanaticism. Like every other group, religion included, this fringe group of fuckwits gives the majority a bad name. I know plenty of Muslims. Two of my best friends are devout, practicing Muslim women. They are both extremely intelligent, independent, strong women, and neither one of them has tried to kill me (unless the poison failed due to my Herculean constitution and intestinal fortitude.) Those Muslims are not the ones anyone has a problem with. It's the fringe fundamentalist nutjobs who are stoning rape victims and beheading apostates that people are concerned about. THESE are not the majority. The same stands for Christianity and Judaism. Every group has their Al Qaeda and Westboro Baptist Church, and the groups do their best to distance themselves from them with equal amounts disgust and shame. 

Well, atheists have that too. It's harder for us though, because we're already working up hill. People already have a negative impression of any ideology that includes "no gods, because no proof." We also have the misfortune of being closely associated with a ton of other subgroups, such as feminists, liberals,leftists, socialists, etc. Each of THOSE groups has their fringe idiot subpopulations. 

So what is our atheist splinter "group" that raises so much hassle? There are a couple. The most obvious is the argumentative, crass, douchebag antitheist. I've been there, and sometimes I still dabble in this realm. Seriously though, being a cunt to people who don't understand your point of view isn't going to help them understand it. You're just alienating people when you should be trying to open their minds to the other side of the argument. They aren't stupid... some of the smartest people I know are religious, and that belief doesn't make them idiots. It's a result of a world view likely pushed on them since youth. In most cases, it isn't their fault. These flagrant fuckclowns don't get that though. They assume everyone who isn't an atheist-skeptic-liberal-egalitarian-socialist is an intellectually inferior being who deserves only scorn and insult. They claim that there can be no common ground between atheists and theists, and seriously, this is extremely ignorant. They're ignoring humanity for the sake of the labels they're GIVING these people. Since these types tend to be so fucking vocal, especially about stupid shit (like Christmas, or holiday greetings, or what people say when you sneeze, or whatever) it lends a huge negative image for the whole atheist community. They also do VERY little to change a point of view. Their aggressive cuntishness sours potential free-thinkers to thinking critically on their current beliefs. If you're one of these assholes, do what I did and start a blog nobody reads, because your interactions with others are making us ALL look bad. 

A notable subcategory of this, I will term "The Sniper." They seek out young or poorly educated theists specifically for the sake of making arguments and trying to shame or embarrass the theist. It's a pure bullying maneuver, I suppose one that makes them feel smugly superior or something? I'm not even sure what their angle is, besides being combative fucksticks and enjoying their own shitty attempts at self-righteous fervor. I would also like to give a special mention to people who are just generally cunts to other people. They just suck, regardless of labels, but they suck worse when they couple it with undeserved self-aggrandizing, self-righteous fervor. 

Then you have the atheists who assume ALL atheists are appropriating the same labels. These are the ones who assume we're all feminists. Or liberals. Or vegetarians. They get so angry when other atheists don't adhere to these. This creates dissent among the community, turning it all to internal bickering about rather irrelevant topics. They seem to forget that we're all people first, and the labels are taken or appropriated (or misappropriated) based on ourselves and those around us. They can't accept that any ideology but their own could have support and include atheists. These are the types of jerkoffs who alienate other atheists based on the totality of their own labels. A huge example of this kind of fuckery is Atheism+, which were as bad as religious fundamentalists in their outlook of "if you disagree with us, you're wrong." You often hear atheists get criticized for not being "real atheists" because they may not be feminists or skeptics. These people need to stop a moment and think about the fact that atheism literally just means someone doesn't believe in a deity. It often occurs alongside some other ideas, like humanism and egalitarianism, but seriously... that's it. Just not believing in gods. In this group, I also want to include atheists who play at being "more atheist than thou." These are the atheists who think that anyone who doesn't adhere to their idea of atheism isn't a "true atheist" or not as "atheist" as them. Which is, in and of itself, pretty awful and condescending. They constantly talk about atheist literature and will defend their favorite atheist philosopher with their lives if called upon to do so. They look down on those who have no interest in debate or activism.They're generally just a tad self-righteous. (Are you seeing that theme?)

Now we have the super-philosophers. This isn't just relegated to atheism, these people are just all-around awful. These are the ones who like to verbosely pontificate on the depths of human wisdom and knowledge. Generally it's a lot of intellectual masturbation that is supposed to make them seem deep and self-aware. Unfortunately, they're not self-aware enough to realize they just come across as pseudo-intellectual douchebags. These people are constantly trying to stage semantic arguments and ignoring the spirit of a discussion or point. They also constantly come across as less philosopher, and more condescending prick. So you've read a lot of books on theology and atheism and you enjoy the discussions of meanings and making it seem like a semantic argument is an accurate representation. Good for you, chinstrap. They like to use a lot of big, fancy sounding words in conversation in an attempt to end conversations at their desired point.. a point at which they seem to have some transcendent understanding and awareness, or at the least infallible "arguments." Let's be perfectly clear, a philosophical debate has its place, but accomplishes basically nothing except trying to show off that you can make an eloquent argument, regardless of any factual support. If you have to abuse language and be intellectually dishonest, guess what? You're a fucking waste of breath. Don't expect me to waste time on your smug attempts at superiority.

Let's look at MY favorite: the uber-science fanboy atheist. I personally find these the MOST obnoxious, since I am entrenched in science and most of them aren't, and because they come off seeming so reasonable and then blindside you with their self-righteous fuckery. These are your folks who do indeed treat science as if it were some kind of immutable end-all-be-all of knowledge. They act like peer review is some perfect method, and that anything that isn't peer reviewed by the scientific community lacks relevance. These ones are spectacular to see because they constantly boil everything down to "well, science says..." without actually understanding the science.

Or what science is.

Or how it works.

These armchair scientists and fan boys like to quote science trivia as if that is an acceptable placeholder for actual scientific literacy, and they confuse a 15 minute google search with actual knowledge. They like to quote media scientists as if this creates some relevance to their ignorance, and generally spend a lot of time drooling over science they don't understand.

I find this to be patently insulting, as an atheist in a science field. I've never met an actual working scientist who thinks like this... because they don't. These people alienate others by dismissing every other viewpoint from a flawed understanding of science. They seem, at face value, to be very reasonable until you challenge or correct them. Then they start screaming foul and trying to parade their "intellectual superiority" over you. Now, there is nothing wrong about wanting to see sources. Wanting to know where someone is drawing information from is intellectually responsible. Using evidence to make an argument is the only intellectually honest way to MAKE an argument. Arbitrarily misrepresenting information and deifying science defeats the purpose of atheism AND science itself. Science is more than a body of knowledge. It is a matter of thought. Science is not debate, it is sharing and collaborating. Science seeks to build a strong tower of knowledge on a foundation of accumulated success and discovery. Science NEEDS to be questioned, or it doesn't work. Science NEEDS to be collaborative, and to examine all points of view, or it isn't science. These people don't understand that shit. They treat science as if it is always right, in every case, and that it overrides humanity. Well, congratulations on being the reasons theists don't take science seriously. You're on the spectrum of fanaticism simply because you refuse to acknowledge varied points of view for consideration. That's intellectually dishonest, and NOT how science works. 

Trust me, I'm a biologist.

So we see that these are NOT the only subgroups of atheists who are infuriatingly pushing the whole group backwards. Granted, I know there is some hypocrisy in any discussion of labels, especially given my earlier rant on how labels are fucking stupid. And in a sense, this is a continuation of that rant. I just get extremely frustrated at the idea that any group is completely homogeneous. Have your differences, your disagreements, but try not to be a cunt. You can't forget that people have unique experiences and stories. Being an atheist is great. The atheist community's generally welcoming nature is fantastic and it really helped me to come to terms with a drastic paradigm shift, through the caring and support. Now, I know that every group has shitty members and splinter factions, and that these can ruin things for outsiders and insiders. We don't have to share anything but our disbelief, and your differences do not make others less intelligent, or worthwhile. There are some things we all need to acknowledge: human experience, compassion, empathy. The rest will follow if we can treat each other as human beings rather than labels we assign by some arbitrary metric.

Seriously though, any concerted movement towards a more secular world that promotes empathy, compassion, education, logic and reason is impeded by every person who refuses to use these things in their daily lives... more so in a group that must almost necessarily be paragons of these virtues in order to be taken seriously. Unlike religion, we don't have the luxury of millenia of indoctrination and violent "conversion" tactics.We literally have to "practice what we preach" in the sense that if you want the world to be a reasonable, kinder place, you have to lead by fucking example. 

Being a piece of shit to people isn't helping anyone, let alone helping us make a difference in the world.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Vagabond Lovers

Bound in heresy and merriment
The lonesome fires burning
In abandoned parking lots
Singing songs for ghosts
Our hands find each other
The briefest link between us
In a temporary moment

We came together desperately
Like crashing waves on stoic rocks
Every kiss wearing us down
A desperate collision of emotions
Which could no more be stopped
Than the fires of our passions
Could resist burning us down

A lonesome plastic bag blows
Across the empty street
As the flickering streetlamps
Illuminate our caresses
Like a thousand dying stars
As I kick at broken bottles
And you whisper desires in my ear

I hear the lost, lonesome sound
Of a late night train, lamenting its loneliness
While I lean against a graffiti-covered wall
Tasting the faint smoke of the dying city
In the impression of your lips
I catch the flavors of gin and desperation
While basking in the hunger of your lust

We are lost in each other
As I am lost to the world
Vagabond lovers
Following wandering hearts to vacant lots
Where our limbs and lips can entwine
Forming moments where my wayward mind
Doesn’t stray to destructive thoughts

I hear your quiet breathing
And feel the warm sensation of your hand
Pressed over my beating heart
The least vulnerable part of me
Lost in these transient moments
Resting together in the fading darkness

As the dawn breaks like hearts and promises

Friday, April 4, 2014

Everything Wants Us Dead

Everything wants us dead. Every single aspect of life, the earth, and the universe is essentially conspiring to kill us, at every single moment. Just the fact that we live life is wonderful and kind of surprising. We beat the odds. The universe is stochastic and amoral. It does not think, or feel. It shows no preference. Life is controlled by natural laws and circumstances, none of which give a single fuck about some organized self-replicating bits of carbon on an infinitesimally insignificant piece of cosmic dust orbiting a temporary, mediocre nuclear reactor in a nondescript galaxy in this vast, dispassionate universe. Eventually, even the universe itself will likely "die". My money is on heat death.

Your own body slowly self-destructs. Things you are required to consume and metabolize form poisonous byproducts that can kill you. Natural chemicals can cause death easily. The forces of nature don't give a shit about you... Seriously, something as simple as gravity is more than capable of casually contributing to your demise. Natural disasters are experts at helping humans shuffle off their mortal coils. Even other organisms at every level don't mind getting in on the action: microbial infections to maulings by bears, our natural environment is a source of death. In fact, even the cosmic forces don't care about our lives. An asteroid could cause a mass extinction like THAT. Eventually, our own sun will wind down, swell, and consume us in a blazing, fiery orgy of destruction. There are so many different cosmic events which could destroy life on this planet (and the planet itself) that listing them here would bore me to tears.

The majority of planets that have been discovered to date are pretty uninhabitable, given a plethora of factors. If they don't rest within the habitable "Goldilocks Zone" they likely are incapable of supporting life. This zone is based on the heat of the star the planet is orbiting, the albedo of the planet (a measure of reflectivity/ absorbance of light) and the atmospheric conditions of the planet. Right away we see that life as we know it likely requires a pretty specific subset of conditions to develop, within a potential range. Given that liquid water and carbon systems are the most likely common requirements for life, conditions which contain these factors are important for the development of biological systems. I guess we could consider silicon, but there is a lot of chemistry that makes that extremely unlikely. This is before we take into account atmospheric conditions, gravity, etc. which may preclude the development of life, let alone complex life. Long story short, life already fought a hard battle just to come to be, based on probabilities and circumstances. A wonderful, stubborn battle against everything else that exists.

Yeah, well, as my neurochemistry professor said: "Nature doesn't want you to live forever."

In fact, if you look at it, nature is constantly doing her damned best to give the middle finger to life. Earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, sinkholes, mudslides, golf ball sized hail, lightning, below-freezing temperatures, floods, blizzards, tornadoes, flash fires in forests and savannas, hurricanes, tsunamis... just a tiny list of natural phenomena that can kill you faster than you can regret not masturbating that morning. These aren't exactly uncommon things, either. There are SEASONS for hurricanes and tornadoes and monsoons. Earthquakes happen at pretty well-delineated areas along faults, but not always. Volcanic eruptions have been eliminating cities for millenia. Human civilizations depended on flooding waterways for the development of agrarian civilization. Maybe this just shows that life isn't always very bright, but you have to admit, no fucks are given about living things when nature decides she wants to murder the shit out of something. Even the accumulation of nondescript weather can lead to destruction. Rain and snow melt can cause mudslides and flooding. I think that you get my point by now. Large scale natural phenomena care as little for us as astrological-scale phenomena do. Which is to say, they lack any anthropomorphic ability to care, as they are natural occurrences derived from unthinking natural laws and processes.

Oh, let's not forget other organisms that can kill you simply for being in their space. I'm not just talking about sharks or wolves or various predatory animals that occasionally make meals of us. Don't get me wrong, those are pretty intense. Even normal livestock like horses, cows, and pigs will destroy your life, even accidentally. Then we can look at snakes, spiders. Small, deadly things, that slither and crawl and creep and bite you with their nasty little pointed poisonous mouth knives. I'm not talking about these, though. I'm taking about the truly dangerous organisms in this world. bacteria, fungi, and assorted pathogens. Viral vectors too, like mosquitoes and biting insects. These kill in droves, and have for ages. The malaria parasite. Cholera. MRSA.

Oh, and let's not overlook the pseudo-life that is viral populations. They kill the shit out of everything they touch, or make them susceptible to other methods of death. Between bacteria, fungi, viruses, and other people, it seems like organisms are uniquely designed to kill each other very well. Especially human beings... we've been killing everything, especially each other, since the dawn of our ancestry. Whether it be bludgeoning with rocks and sticks or precision missile strikes wiping out city blocks, humans are especially adept at raining death upon anything that remotely shows signs of life. It's probably one of the few things humanity has shown a great aptitude for. Even our other technologies have put us in a bad place, with the development of carcinogens, or even just stupid things like traffic fatalities.

It isn't even the big things that are out to get us. Oxygen, so necessary for living beings on this planet, is a poison. Oxygen radical species in your body can cause cancer and cellular death. Water, which makes up most of our bodies and is necessary for life, can kill us. The beautiful natural world contains arsenic and uranium, both things that will murder the shit out of you. The different types of radiation (alpha, beta, gamma, X-ray, Ultra-violet) can all have potentially lethal downstream effects. The sun that is necessary for life to develop can also cause cancer, by these mechanisms. Everything you eat and metabolize is potentially harmful to you, either through various cascades or more immediately to your systems.

Our own bodies eventually self-destruct too. We're not just fighting the odds with natural disasters, each other, accidents, disease and pathogens, or organisms. We can have allergic reactions to banal things... peanuts, or shellfish. This will kill you. Our bodies are poorly designed for consumption. You can choke, or drown. Sometimes, for very little reason, you can develop blood clots. Strokes and heart attacks happen when our body fails us. Broken bones. Haemophilia. Immune reactions to pathogens which cause death, such as seen in many cases of death by various forms of influenza. Your cells begin to break down as you age and your telomeres shorten. Cancer arises as a natural part of cellular division, and can be expedited by our environment. We are born with genetic disorders than cause death or at the least make life exceedingly difficult. We are simply fragile meat sacks, held together by fragile collections of supporting tissues. The systems that protect our important organs from infection and damage are readily, regularly bypassed. Autoimmune diseases occur when your body just attacks itself with very little provocation. Your natural hormones can create metabolic intermediates which support carcinogenesis and the synthesis of radical oxygen species. Basically, the only thing that wants you dead more than the universe or this planet, is your own body. Kind of cool, but mostly shitty, huh?

So, in the face of everything ever conspiring to snuff you out like a candle, in a careless, angry universe, how exactly are we meant to live in anything but fear? It's simple: there isn't anything you can do about it. The worst that can happen is you die, and then you have absolutely nothing to worry about. We aren't special. We are self-aggrandizing primates. We are just apes with delusions of grandeur. That may be depressing, but I find it freeing. It shows me that I have a personal responsibility to my life.

Life is beautiful. More so because we only get one to live. The concept of death doesn't seem so scary. I'm not worried about dying, I'm concerned about being dead. I like being alive. I won't be dishonest and assume my desires matter though. When we die, we're fucking dead. We're so much worm food. So don't cower before the death concept. Embrace your life, and live so that you do not tremble before death, but go well into the empty sleep knowing you lived a life worthy of having been lived. You can run from death, but it will always find you. So just make the road you take from birth to conclusion a good one. I would suggest loving deeply, laughing as much as you can, forgiving what you can afford to forgive, and forging the kind of legacy that will at the least live in the memories of those you leave behind when you finally enter into that quiet, soft abyss. There is nothing for us, except this life. There is beauty in that... that everyone in this world, living at this moment, is sharing this flicker of time and consciousness with us. We are connected by our shared life, as brief as it is. There's something poetic somewhere in that sentiment.

If it helps, just consider this: your atoms are entirely recycled from the atoms of previous organisms and matter. You are composed of little bits of the universe. Within you in a timeline starting at the big bang, and moving forward long after you are dead. The things that comprise your being are as eternal as anything can be. They were born with the universe, and will die with the universe. You are a brief organization of these particles that has awareness, intelligence, and consciousness. You have beaten the cosmic odds to exist, so don't fucking squander it on bullshit. You've been dying since the day you were born, and you'll be dead for an eternity longer than you were ever alive.

So make it worth it.

The world is beautiful. Life, is beautiful. Don't let it slip away from you, or pass you by. You don't get another chance. If you live well, you won't need it.