I just joined Facebook

I joined Facebook yesterday and it's awesome! I was already on Hi5, joined MySpace but I found Facebook different in a good, better way. It looks like it is more conducive to networking than the other sites... call me biased if you want but I would like to know what other people think?

I am an admirer of Dr. Pamela Gay

I just started listening to the "Slacker Astronomy" podcast and was pleasently surprised to find out that Pamela Gay (the Doctor) is on it. I am working my way up through the podcasts so I don't know if she still participates in the podcast but I am a faithful listener of Astronomycast and I have to say that Dr. Gay combines a sexy feminine voice with wonderful inteligence and knowledge - to me that combination is irresistible. I still don't know much about her looks, she doesn't seem to like to post pictures of herself, which I can relate to. Here is one, from her webpage at Star Stryder:

Swoopy says Pamela is hot. I believe most everything Swoopy says but this wonderful inteligent and educated woman does not need Swoopy's endorsement to gain my wholehearted admiration. I will make sure my daughter knows about her so that she can see a good example of a woman making her mark in a male dominated world (the world of astronomy, that is...)

Pamela rocks!

Yes, weather made a big mess but what about religion?

Last week Thursday I went out of town for the day and coming back to the office in the afternoon was impossible because of extraordinary rain that caused mudslides and all sorts of catastrophic events, reducing inbound traffic into the city to a slow crawl.

Weather can turn our best plans into a big mess but what about the mess religion is making with people's minds?

That same Thursday morning, before weather wreaked havoc with my agenda, I was talking to a gentleman who was showing me and my colleague around in the facility that we were visiting (a government entity). The guy was very nice and accommodating to our requests and while my colleague took notes I engaged him in conversation, since I was not really busy.

We started talking politics (who doesn't these days?) and since he told me he personally knew the guy who lost the election in the last poll, I asked him if he regretted having voted for the winning candidate, whose government after six months is a big disappointment to his voters. His answer, while candid and honest, was a big disappointment to me.

He said something like "look, I am a christian and I believe in the Word and I read the Bible, and the Bible says that at the end of times there will be violence and evil and those are the signs we are reading in the world all around us these days. So, it doesn't really matter if we vote for one candidate or another, the end result is going to be pretty much the same and Jesus is the only one who is going to make it better when he comes back in all his glory..."

So, if we pollute our environment and kill each other it does not matter because "it is written". And, exonerating ourselves of any personal responsibility, "God will, in the end, make it better".

Sorry, I can't deal with that.

We are responsible for our actions and we are the ones who have to take action and be accountable in order to improve our world and clean up our messes.

I understand now better Mr. Harris' and Mr. Dawkins' fierce opposition to religion. I am inclined to agree.

The life of a religious skeptic

I guess doubt has always been in me. I got a flashback of my early years doubt (a flashback that has lasted for three days) from a recent conversation with my son. He was telling me about his skepticism of religion and I remembered how at his age I was not only skeptical of religion, I was very much against it. I sat in the back of the chapel in school every week during our obligatory weekly mass and cavorted with the other skeptics, agnostics and the occasional evangelical christian who was stuck in a catholic school with the rest of us.

These days I consider myself an agnostic though if you question me hard enough you might think I am a hard core atheist. But it was not always like that... or was it?

As a young boy I got through the usual cathecism classes and the first communion preparation and all that. I do remember vividly how I always thought how come those wonderful miracles you read about in the Bible were never around for me to see. Why did they happen in ancient times and not in modern times, when I could be around to see them? Seas parting, walls crumbling, huge floods and thunder and big voices coming from the clouds. It would have been great to witness such an event. Why did they not happen anymore?

My conversation with my boy echoed those same memories. Everything came back, together with the lingering doubt, a doubt that grew given the spectacular lack of evidence of any divine entity.

It was a long process that took 40-plus years. I have reflected before on how difficult it is to renounce your belief when you are indoctrinated (oh yes Mr. Dawkins, you are right!) from such a young age. Or is it not renounce your belief but rather accept your lack of?

As a child I could not do it. Parental wisdom and indoctrination prevailed. As a young adult, I got carried away by my friends and the vision of a pretty young girl (who is now my wife) into a "conversion" to the "new man" and a renewed encounter with catholicism, which lasted all of 4 or 5 years. Even in the deep side of my encounter with faith I doubted - I remember clearly thinking if this was all really worth it as I was being asked for sacrifices I really did not want to make. And the truth is I never got around to making those sacrifices. (So much for conversion to the "new man"). But I did get involved and it took me a long time to get out of the mess I got myself into.

For some people belief or disbelief is just not important. For others, like me, it is of the utmost importance. My son seems to be on the last group. My advice to him and others like him is that anything that you settle on (either belief or lack of) must come from a strong reflection and the conviction of one's own ideas. No one should impose them on you - and definitely, juvenile indoctrination should not be allowed

About the Singularity...

The best answer to the question "Will computers ever be as smart as humans?" is probably "Yes, but only briefly"

Can you upload your conscience?

and have you heard about the singularity? An interesting concept.

The long and the short of the singularity is that, according to some forward thinking individuals (some of whom may be a little too optimistic) the current advances in microprocessor technology and the accompanying software will lead to an "explosion" of technological advance in the very near future. In other words, since Moore's law of microprocessor power has ruled the world of technology for the last 30 years or so, the rate at which computer power is increasing is exponential. Then, there will be a moment in time, very soon, when computers become so powerful that they can bring about the next generation of computers and the interval between successive generations will shrink from years to months to weeks to days...

At that moment, this technological "Big Bang" (hence, the singularity) will allow us to de-compile, so to speak, our consciences by fully understanding how the brain works. Then, we will be able to "move" our conscience from our soft and fragile bodies into the sturdy framework of silicon and titanium ... and then live forever, moving from mechanical body to mechanical body ad infinitum. And we will become inmortal.

Sounds good? There are opinions for and against the whole idea, the singularity and the posibility of inmmortality. Some people believe that the singularity is a pipe dream. Others acknolewdge the possibility but the idea of "uploading" your conscience into another medium, outside of your brain is more often than not rejected.

And, I think, with good reason. Consider your motivations and your desires. How much of that is due to "software" in your brain and the neural connections in that maze of neural connections, developed during your 10, 20, 30, etc. years of life and how much is related to your hormonal level, pain, exposure to light... disease...

Critics of the singularity consider the idea of likening the uploading of our consciousness to a data download as an extreme simplification. We may be more than the sum of our brains - we are corporeal beings who suffer hunger and pain and sexual desire. Would those be uploaded as well? How do you enjoy your favorite dessert when you have become a titanium bodied, silicon brained artificial lifeform?

Would you give that up?

Here is Ray Kurzweil, who is the leading proponent of the Singularity, at Stanford University during the Singularity Summit in May 2006. You can also search for Mr. Kurzweil's provocative thoughts at TED. Further reading about the singularity at IEEE's Spectrum magazine for June 2008. Enjoy and prepare to be uploaded!