Saturday, February 18, 2012

Diverse Seas

I think my position is closest to the "Sea of Faith" community. A formalised religion is an institution organised around a set of strategies, heuristics and norms for social living, underpinned by a supernatural authority. There are many ways of living in a socially-civilised manner, and so many religions.

The paradox is that although the "authority", God, is made authoritative by being supernatural, the referent of the word 'God' is really just the religion's dogma. I suspect that most religious people believe this but fear their religion would collapse into schism and indifference if people 'owned up' to the essentially conventional foundations of their beliefs.

'Sea of Faith' is about as near as you can get to admitting this basic truth in public, and only the C of E, I suspect, would permit its adherents to live.

But we are better off with organisations committing their adherents to social solidarity and baseline ethics surely? Even if their cohesion is sustained by an appeal to magic?

Another kind of sea is the morass of virtual particles which constitute classical entities such as the electric, magnetic and gravitational fields. The concept of a virtual particle is a hard one: they're strangely evanescent, seem to emerge from the mathematical tricks of perturbational quantum field theory, yet still have real effects. The weirdness of the virtual particle concept is explained by Prof. Matt Strassler thus: the concept is in fact rubbish.

Professor Strassler shoots down another common (mis)understanding of the amateur physicist: that protons are little white ping-pong balls inside of which two up quarks and a down quark rattle around: that's the 'old quark model'. LHC results wouldn't make sense unless the proton is actually the name we give to a fuzzy cloud of an unbounded number of quarks and gluons as explained here.

Meanwhile the extraordinarily-smart Greg Cochran ("The 10,000 Year Explosion") returns to his old theme that homosexuality is caused by a pathogen. It's not so much that there is a significant amount of positive evidence for this hypothesis as that all the other explanations don't work: the search for a 'gay gene' is hopelessly compromised by the fact that there is zero evolutionary advantage in fitness terms by being gay. Read what he says here.

There is no research into this idea: it is frighteningly politically-incorrect. Not so much that gay people become the victims of a disease rather than simply an example of nature's rich diversity. No, the problem is that if it's a disease, how would it spread and would we want it to?

The elemental abhorrence of homosexuality in all civisations and religions (thus the reason why liberal thinking has to work so hard) would make a lot of sense if the condition did in fact develop as a disease at the dawn of the Neolithic - allowing time for an instinctive, 'gut-reaction' to evolve. Anyway, it's a hypothesis which is chewed to death in the 126 comments (at time of writing).

Today we decided to tackle our holiday plans for this year. We've scheduled a trip to the Isle of Wight in early summer and a visit to Croatia in late summer. More seas.