Scott Church guest blogging

In order to cover for my recent wrist injury (which is getting better, but slowly, thanks for asking), I've invited St. Scott Church to fill in a bit.

Scott is a frequent commenter; going out of his way to be helpful when explaining things to non-experts, but with little taste for nonsense from those who ought to know better.  He got an M.S. in Applied Physics from the University of Washington in 1988, and now works as a photographer in Seattle.  Here is his personal website.

Scott will be writing a series of at least 2 posts on the Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics (and maybe later on, some other topics).

Also, to all those who have left thoughtful questions, sorry that I can't attend to them all right now.  But I still might respond to a few of them.  (I will of course continue to read and moderate the comments.)

Posted in Blog | 1 Comment

Spam filter problems

For the past couple months my spam filter (Akismet) has falsely identified a rather large number of legitimate comments as spam.

(For those of you who arrived on the internet yesterday, "spam" is off-topic comments trying to get people to click on links to buy things.  Mostly it is left by "bots" that automatically scan the internet.   When I installed a second layer of protection called "Cookies for Comments" a few months ago, Akismet was processing over a million spam comments a month, causing a slowdown on the server!  The vast majority of these were caught and removed by the filter, but sometimes it gets it wrong and lets spam through (a "false negative") or rejects legit comments (a "false positive").

I'm periodically checking the spam filter to rescue these false positives (just did 2 today), but you can help me out by doing the following:

  • Send me an email if you try to leave a legitimate comment and it does not appear on the website within a few comments.  You can find a working email for me on my personal website, which is linked to in the bar at the top of the page.
  • If convenient, go ahead and include a copy of your comment in the email.  (Generally it's a good idea to save long comments on your home computer before submitting, but if you didn't do this, you can often reclaim it by pressing the `back' button on your browser.)
    My spam filter keeps a copy of all comments flagged as spam for 15 days, so I probably don't actually need this, but rarely there are other technical problems that cause comments to disappear.
  • Please don't take it personally if your comment doesn't appear.  The spam filtering is done automatically by a hidden algorithm, and I don't have anything to do with it!
    If you are an insecure person, please don't waste time worrying that maybe you stepped over an invisible line and accidentally insulted me, and therefore I blocked your comments without telling you.   If you are a flesh-and-blood human being, your comment was probably legitimate.
    While I do occasionally remove "by hand" comments that violate the rules, I generally try to notify the person by email, or in that comments section, except for the worst offenders.  So unless you went on a blasphemous tirade or are an obviously-insulting troll, that's probably not you!  (And even if that is you, you are certainly entitled to respectfully ask by email—once, anyway—for an explanation of why your comment was deleted.)
  • All this assumes you left me a real email address.  Of course, if you violated the rules by leaving a fake email address, then you might not receive my explanation.  In that case, you deserve what you get, and I may also delete your comment!  (But sometimes, in the case of commenters otherwise engaging in good faith, I have looked the other way on this issue, in order to show mercy to the weak.)
    Obviously, I promise not to give your email address to the spammers, or otherwise share this information without your permission!
  • It is also necessary for your web browser to accept "cookies" in order for you to successfully leave a comment.  If this happens to you, you will be redirected to a page with an explanation & instructions.  If you are wrongly redirected to this page, please send me an email saying so.  Also, if for some reason you don't want to accept cookies from other websites, you can add an exception for Undivided Looking.

Christ is risen from the dead,
Trampling down death by death,
And upon those in the tombs
Bestowing life!

-Paschal troparion

Posted in Blog | 2 Comments

Christ is Risen!

Alleluia!  Christ is Risen!

Rafael - ressureicaocristo01.jpg

The Resurrection of Christ by St. Raphael.

Tapestry version in the Vatican museum, actually I don't have a lot more than that to say right now.  But it seemed relevant, so I thought I'd post it.  If you want to read more about the significance of this event, click here.

Posted in Theology | 14 Comments

Remember you are dust...

I haven't been able to write much recently due to a recurrence of tendonitis in my wrist, a repetitive stress injury from writing and typing too much.  I expect this to be temporary; in the sense that it has always gone away before, with enough rest and ice.  (Which is like the smoker who said to an ex-smoker, you've only quit once; I've quit hundreds of times!)

On a brighter note, I'm also being distracted by job interviews for tenure-track faculty positions at two excellent UC schools (Berkeley & Santa Barbara).  I will not call these permanent positions since such permanence is to be found only in Heaven: life is short.  But it would still be nice to settle down for a few decades... Anyway, these are very exciting places for physics research, and I would be extremely pleased to get an offer from either of them!

I've still got plenty of the content you love planned, once I'm past these issues!  There's a series on "Comparing Religions" that's almost done, so I might be able to get that out without too much more typing.

I apologize to anyone whose questions I haven't answered; I'll email you if I ever get around to it.  But it was nice to see the conversation continue for a while without my needing to continually stoke it.  I will continue to read and moderate the discussion, so you are free to continue talking amongst yourselves...

I...I...I...I...I...  Is death really necessary, just for us to come to an end of our continual self-absorption?

Posted in Blog | 8 Comments

Sean Carroll and the Afterlife

A while back, a reader of my blog asked me to respond to the following video in which Sean Carroll discusses why he doesn't believe in the afterlife:

Sean Carroll On Death And The Afterlife

[Please note that, as a matter of policy I will not review or respond to ideas that are encapsulated in videos, unless there is a text transcript.  I made an exception for this particular person, as a very special favor which is not to be repeated...]

I replied more or less as follows:

Dear _____,

I'm familiar with Sean Carroll's arguments and while I understand that they may be intimidating, he's leaving out something pretty important here.  Namely God.

Of course Carroll is an atheist and so he doesn't believe in God.  But we Christians do think there is evidence for God and miracles from e.g. the Resurrection of Jesus.  Even Carroll admits that sufficiently powerful evidence could change the conclusion that QFT is a complete description of nature.  He just hasn't yet understood that that this evidence does in fact exist, in the form of the historical documentary evidence for miracles.  This of course requires us to believe that, contrary to what Carroll said, sometimes things outside of our current understanding of physics do affect the human world.  But that's not as implausible as he makes out, since it often happens in Science that a theory is very accurate in certain circumstances, except in rare situations where it completely fails due to interaction with new kinds of things.  If the new thing was just new kinds of QFT particles, then it couldn't really work (for all the reasons Carroll mentioned), but if it is something like God, that would not fall under the purview of QFT!

Now while Carroll has defended his Atheism elsewhere, this particular debate was about life after death, not Atheism.  For the purposes of this debate, he's basically just assuming that Materialism is true, and that therefore the only way there could be life after death is if the information in our brain was preserved by some physical mechanism.

Now I actually agree with him that it is very implausible, if Materialism is true, for there to be any physical mechanism which preserves our mind after death!  So nothing he said bothers me.  Because I don't think that the reason we will live forever is because we have some magical soul-particles in our brain (not yet discovered in the laboratory) which happen to have the property of being immortal.

Instead I think the reason we will live forever is that God loves us and that he's promised to do it.  So at the end of time, when Jesus comes back, God will raise us from the dead in new physical bodies, and if that violates the current laws of physics that's okay by him.  (If he wants to copy our information into some other format to keep us self-aware in between the time of our death and Resurrection, he can do that too!  The New Testament suggests that probably something like this is the case, but it puts a lot more emphasis on the Resurrection of our bodies when Jesus returns.)

I also think that Carroll is more confident than he should be that the Laws of Physics can explain why physical systems are conscious.  The so called "Hard Problem of Consciousness" is an extremely deep philosophical puzzle, and even many atheistic philosophers (like David Chalmers or Thomas Nagel) think that there is a mystery here which is very hard to explain on a purely reductionistic materialistic worldview.  While this is a very interesting topic (which suggests that at some level that Materialism may be wrong about some deeply important things), I think it is hard to really prove for sure that this would imply anything about life after death.  Traditionally, many theistic philosophers have tried to prove the Immortality of the Soul through philosophical reasoning, based on facts about the supposed immateriality of the mind, but the Philosophy of Mind is sufficiently confusing I don't think this is the best way forward.

I would instead focus on the fact that God has promised, in the Bible, to raise human beings from the dead and made an advance demonstration of this with Jesus.  Our confidence that he keeps his promises (a.k.a. "faith") is based primarily on our relationship with him and not based on the kinds of pro and con arguments which were made in this debate.  I think our confidence that we will live forever is going to be proportional to our love and knowledge of God, so if you find yourself having difficulty believing in Heaven, the solution is not to directly try to believe in that harder (in isolation from other things) but rather to meditate further on your relationship with Jesus, and then the afterlife issue will straighten itself out automatically.  That's not to say that what we believe about the afterlife isn't important, but only that it follows from a correct understanding of who God is.


Posted in Metaphysics, Reviews, Theology | 27 Comments