"I'm Not Convinced We Know Anything"

Who Am I

Who Am I

Am billions of cells arranged together by chance,
A multicellular organism like any other,
A product of evolution and nothing further,

Maybe a carefully crafted art piece by Father
A unique design in his spiritual image
Blessed, granted life, and a higher purpose

Perhaps just an expendable piece of several billions
Packed in a world with infinite copies
Each copy with a copy of me

Or am a variation of you in a different skin
Connected to you, part of whole
Might say I am you
Might ask who are you?

Beba beba – Kenya’s matatu life

Beba  beba, come on in, hurry hurry,
There’s a seat for you, for all of you, it’s a direct bus, it’s  only 30/-,
We leave in a minute, the seats are all taken, just squeeze there, but it’s only 50/- ,
We leave in a minute, just one more guy, and we are off.
We leave in a minute, after you pay your money, no refund, no matter what.
Off we go, no seat belts, hold on to something, it’s for your own good.

Yes, we’ll slow down in a minute, after we overtake that guy,
One more minute, two more, darn there’s a lot of them,
Sit tight, it’s a bumpy road, he said he’d fix, if we voted him in again,
We already did, that was four years ago, and he wants our votes again.

Oh look, it’s traffic police, is that a new guy? No, it’s Odhiambo and Macharia,
We’ll give them a hundred, they’ll split, they’ll let us through.
Jambo Odhiambo, Jambo Macharia, it’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?
Here’s a hundred, have a good one.

This is our stop, it’s okay , we’ll transfer you to a direct bus,
We’ll pay them your money, you’ll get a seat we promise,
Beba beba, your fare is paid, grab a seat, we leave in a minute,
Hold on, the road gets worse.
Where’s your money, who paid, when,
I don’t have your money, give me your money, or hit the road.

Oh look, passengers by the road, we have to stop for them, and the others further down,
Move move, a Kenyan needs your help, don’t be greedy, this space can fit more,
Hurry hurry, beba beba, come on in,
There’s a seat for you, it’s a direct bus, it’s only 30/-.

Free Will: The grand illusion

A guy walks into a bar. He heads over to the counter to order a drink. The waiter asks him what he will have. He takes half a dozen seconds to think about. He chooses to have a Bond 7 whiskey from 16 other options. He sees a woman sitting alone at the end of the counter, and a couple of his drinking buddies at a table at the corner. He chooses to head over to the girl to say hi and probably offer her a drink hoping to get lucky. But he is not sure how to approach the girl, whether to play vulnerable and humble or cocky and rich unaware of the girl’s taste in men. He goes with the former. Our guy is called Sam. Sam gets lucky tonight. Sam lives in a world where things can take any direction depending on the choices one makes. At least that is what he is taught to believe.

Free will is defined as the ability of agents to make choices free from certain kinds of constraints. Sam appears to have made the choice to have a Bond 7 Whiskey from the 17 drinks that were available. He chose to make a move on the girl instead of going to talk football and drinking with his friends. He also chose to go with the approach he thought would give him the highest chances of getting lucky with the girl. And it all worked out. Question is, did Sam actually make these choices of his own free will? Isn’t it possible that every choice he made were determined by chemical reactions in his body, his genetic makeup, his environment; factors which are beyond his control?

Can it still be said to be one’s choice when there are determinants at play, beyond the subject’s control? Consider this: scientists have found that about 1 in every 2 people have a gene – DRD4 or the thrill-seeking gene – which makes them more likely to cheat on their partners or be involved in gambling and alcohol addictions. There have been a number of other genes associated with other behaviors that have long been thought to be people’s own choices, like a gene that gives people a religious predisposition, the alleged gay gene etc. Although scientists are still divided on some of them what is becoming clear is that at least some of our choices are made at the genetic level. We practically made them as soon as we were conceived.

And it’s not just the genes that determine our choices, it is the environment we grow up in, level of intelligence, the moral code implanted by the parents and guardians, every one of them beyond our control. That’s why a kid brought up in the middle of Saudi Arabia will naturally become a Muslim even unto old age when he thinks it’s his own choice, a way of living that gives him a completely different moral code from what he would get if he was born in a mostly Christian nation like the USA or a secular nation like Sweden. So naturally we would ask if we can hold people responsible for their moral positions. Is it possible that we have no control of who we are? Is it possible that everything can be determined from equations?

Since Einstein, scientists have been in search of a theory that describes everything – literally called the Theory of Everything. This theory would be able to give us a picture of everything from the tiniest building block of matter to the universe itself. The possibility of such a theory existing might shove us back to the drawing board on the very meaning of life. Given that humans are just biochemical entities, the ability to reduce everything to an equation makes everything deterministic.

There’s some sort of security that accompanies the feeling that we are the makers of our own destiny, that our choices have direct consequences on the paths our lives take, that we are completely in charge of our lives. So it becomes very unsettling when it appears that human behavior, his actions and inactions can be sought from equations. The idea that all it takes is a good calculation to figure someone out and tell what they will do next or even chart the course of their lives with good precision puts an asterisk on life itself. What is the point, if it is all figured out? And yet my mind is made up on this. I know, it probably doesn’t matter what I decide , because I may not be actually making a decision in the strictest philosophical sense of the word. From the way my human mind works, and it’s limitation to process time one second per second I think of a past, a present and a future and think that I have a hand in how the future manifests. Perhaps that is a greater illusion than that of free will.

When to strike and Why I agree with McCain on Syria

BASHAR AL-ASSAD, BARBARA WALTERS

BASHAR AL-ASSAD, BARBARA WALTERSOne of the biggest arguments I had with a good friend recently was on how to treat sovereignty of countries. They believed that societies should be left to evolve and achieve balance on their own without external influence even from more civilized societies and even if the members of the society are being treated inhumanely by their leaders. Now being a beneficiary of western education, something I value very much and having lived through a regime of a dictator who ruled Kenya for 24 years never ready to quit it is obvious that I didn’t agree with them.  Today Koffi Annan heads to Syria for talks with Assad. Koffi Annan who is the special envoy for UN and the Arab League over the almost one year old crisis is expected to mediate between the Syrian opposition and the president.

But is it still okay to talk to Assad? Well it’s not going to be first time that diplomacy has been attempted with Assad and yet the death toll is approaching 10,000. That’s 10,000 human lives sacrificed because one man wants to stay in power? What a shame for our civilization. How do the talks and the sanctions help? Sanctions have very little effect when it comes to leaders determined to stay on. There are many dictatorships that have survived sanctions before.

China and Russia remain to be a stumbling block in change. While they position themselves as respecting countries’ sovereignty their whole point is just to stand against America and other western countries on influencing regime change no matter how inhuman the said regime is. They’ve vetoed two UN resolutions calling for Assad to step down. They also stood against action in Libya and against Kenyan post-election violence being referred to the ICC.  What an embarrassment Russia and China is. But their action this time over Syria is actually not favored by the Arab region. They’re messing up their own diplomatic ties.

In Zimbabwe we have a leader who is 88 years old, been in power forever and is even blocking a change in the constitution that is overall good for the nation. Reason being that the new constitution would stop him from vying for the presidency again. This is a leader who has caused great economic woes to his people and his rule saw the Zimbabwean dollar inflate by humorously high levels of up to 231 million %. At the height of inflation 80% of the population was living on less than a Euro a day and 50% was malnourished. When did it become okay to stand back and watch in the name of respecting sovereignty while millions of people are tortured so one man can stay president?

John McCain a U.S republican senator for Arizona has come out boldly in support of air strikes on Syria. Many politicians have tried to dissociate themselves from him because military action is not very popular among American voters right now. It’s true that air strikes will definitely result in loss of innocent life so this may not be a good option. However, when Assad decided it was okay to sacrifice thousands of lives to stay president he became a terrorist. If Osama could be sought and killed in his hideout without casualties then Assad whose location is well known should be easier to deal with. I say let’s take the bastard out. Let’s respect our fellow humans’ lives. Talking to Assad will not take us anywhere. It didn’t work with Ghadaffi, it didn’t work with Bashir, it didn’t work with Gbagbo.

I say strike, influence, change. We are all humans, the reason we appear to be of different cultures is because of the silly boundaries we’ve created. The boundaries have resulted in the Arabs treating their women like second class citizens while elsewhere they’re empowered and free living their full potential. It has resulted in parts of Africa starving to death while other parts of the world die of obesity. It has led to leaders torturing their people and shutting them up making themselves gods while in other parts simple mistakes by leaders end their rule because its people’s voice is powerful enough to execute that change, and they have the freedom to do so.

What’s the point of boundaries, sovereignty, citizenships? How do they help us move forward as a species? Despite being the most evolved species we still live in packs like wolves. We are one society: humans. The sooner we recognize that the better off we’ll be. For we’ll no longer let the neighbor torture others and declare sovereignty. Sovereignty my ass.

 

 

Upcoming 2012 Sci-Fi Movies To Look Foward To

1. Resident Evil:Retribution
This is going to be the 5th episode of the Resident Evil series. Resident Evil 1 was awesome the next 3 were just okay. If they are going to continue producing with the story they should at least keep it as exciting as the first part. However, when all is said and done Resident Evil remains one of the best movies I’ve seen. Milla Jovovich – sassy as always – does a great job and her almost expressionless almost robotic face ironically adds more character to her character. Release date for retribution is set at September 14th 2012 – a few months before the world ends :) The trailer looks promising, hopefully this will be better than parts 2, 3 and 4.

2. G.I. Joe: Retaliation
After G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra I must say the producers of this series really know how to thrill. It is packed with cutting edge futuristic technology and is action tense all the way, oh and really nice shots of Paris. The only other time I was ever hooked to a movie from start to finish was watching “Eagle Eye”. I know, right? In this episode Cobra spy Zartan has most of the Joes assassinated, the remaining Joes band together to strike back.

3. Men In Black III
Yeah I know, it’s not the boldest science fiction film. However it has its moments and you’ll find it pretty entertaining if you ignore the terrible science. The aliens are pretty funny and its the same humorous crew: Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones.

4. Prometheus
You give any science fiction film a Greek name and I’ll watch it no matter how terrible it is. And this one doesn’t sound terrible at all: A team of explorers discover a clue to the origins of mankind on Earth, leading them on a journey to the darkest corners of the universe. There, they must fight a terrifying battle to save the future of the human race. Release date is set for 8th June 2012.

5. John Carter
If you enjoyed Avatar you’ll probably enjoy this. It has the same futuristic theme with a tint of fantasy. However this one looks more violent.
Transplanted to Mars, a Civil War vet discovers a lush planet inhabited by 12-foot tall barbarians. Finding himself a prisoner of these creatures, he escapes, only to encounter a princess who is in desperate need of a savior.

6. The Avengers
Okay am not the biggest fan of superhero movies but this one looks worth my time. The trailer had me go “Holy shit”. Release date is set for May 4th 2012.
Nick Fury and the international agency S.H.I.E.L.D. bring together a team of super humans to form The Avengers to help save the Earth from Loki & his various membered army.

7. Neighbourhood watch
Another fun Ben Stiller movie, this one with aliens too and Richard Ayoade(from IT Crowd UK). Advance ticket anyone? This is more comedy than science fiction but still… Release date 27th July 2012
Suburban dads form a neighborhood watch group to get time away from their families, only to discover a plot to destroy Earth.

8. Battleship
Am going to watch this despite the fact that Rihanna is in it. Release date set on 18th May 2012
A fleet of ships is forced to do battle with an armada of unknown origins in order to discover and thwart their destructive goals.

9. Total Recall
As the nation states Euromerica and New Shanghai vie for supremacy, a factory worker (Farrell) begins to suspect that he’s a spy, though he is unaware which side of the fight he’s on. – 3rd Release date is August 2012.

Everyone needs a God

Despite my bias for science over everything that can’t be observed and tested I’m generally a very spiritual person. My mum raised me with Christian values and ensured I always went to church on Saturday. I enjoyed the Sabbath school very much. The Bible stories for children were usually the highlight of my week and something I really looked forward to. God was everything. Even though my prayers were never answered I still strongly believed in God and can’t remember one time when I tried to perceive the world without a God. I lived my life by strict biblical codes (well mostly the new testament) and by the time I was 12 I had probably read the Bible cover to cover. To me this life was just a passage to heaven where we would sing hymns, eat fruits, play with lions and spend time with Jesus forever. I worried about my friends not spending eternity with me if they were found guilty on Judgment Day. Things took a drastic turn however and my perception of life changed within a matter of hours. It was so fast it scared me to tears.

I came across one of my genius cousin’s books on biology and read about the theory of evolution – back then I used to read everything I came across. The science was interesting but I didn’t quite perceive the implications until I had a chat with my cousin. The possibility that life and everything else might have spontaneously appeared and that there may not be God made me cry for at least the next few hours. My ideal understanding of reality had been blown into little, tiny inconceivably small pieces and scattered to the ends of the universe. I felt lost and life didn’t make sense anymore. Looking back now, I think my main fear was the absence of life after death – religion’s main selling point – and that humans are nothing more than biological systems that thrive and die.

Somewhere along the way I managed to reconcile evolution, the big bang theory and religion. I even attempted to write about it. But with a deeper dive into science and further investigation of how things in the world work, especially poverty and starvation, I eventually decided that Christianity doesn’t make sense. I looked for an alternative and almost joined Islam during my first year of college. I soon noticed the patterns in most religions – an unquestionable authority, ideas accepted as fact without any evidence, a super-intelligent observer, answers to life’s biggest questions, and life after death among other things. I gave up on it all. For a short moment I felt empty and shallow but with time I accepted myself as an atheist; for it seemed better to keep pursuing the truth than banking on an obvious lie.

I became a militant atheist, you know the daily religion basher, and started africanatheists.org where I tried to network atheists across Africa and blogged incessantly about the history of Christianity and the general evils of religion. I eventually grew tired of the negativity, stopped blogging anti-religion rhetoric and gave up the website. Life become just science and not giving a damn what other people chose to believe in. Pretty shallow you might say.

Then I met someone. Melissa Gabriel – wife to be. Melissa brought to the surface an idea, a feeling that I’ve been trying to suppress since I dismissed religion. Science says that if something cannot be proved it’s not true. Contemporary science on the other hand is something else. Every person has on at least in one occasion had a gut feeling about something. Maybe a feeling that someone was watching you and then you turned around and saw that someone was actually watching you. Maybe a feeling that something bad had happened and then you get that phone call. Maybe a feeling to take a certain route instead of the other just because and then it changes your life forever or something.

The human brain is one of the most complex things known to man, second only to the universe itself. It contains about 100 billion cells and they say that we only use 10% – the jury is still out on that but it’s an agreeable fact that we use a very small percentage at any one time. The brain has 100,000 miles of blood vessels and generally represents about 2% of total body weight. Information in the brain is processed at between 0.5 and 120 meters/sec. While awake, the brain generates about 10-23 watts, which is enough to power a light bulb. The human brain is a great wonder whose harnessing can change what it means to be human. The limits of its capacity are still a mystery to science.

At one point I watched the film The Secret and decided to put the theory into action. I must say most of it made sense but as a science freak I just had to test it. It works. In fact it worked earlier today. I told myself that I want to see a butterfly now. In less than two seconds I saw a shadow. It looked like a butterfly shadow but I looked up and didn’t see it. I looked down again and the shadow passed. I looked up real quick and there it was – a pretty, bluish white butterfly. Now since I believe in the Big Bang Theory and the Theory of Evolution one should expect that I should consider that to be a coincidence. Or the possibility of infinite parallel universes means that in some infinite universes I would be seeing a butterfly at any one time and this could be one those universes. It is also possible that I had already subconsciously seen the butterfly so it was in my neighborhood. What if my mind created it?

There is obviously a part of human existence that we are not fully aware of; a part that gives a whole new meaning to being human. Different people seek to understand that part differently. Some seek it in Christianity, others in Buddhism, others in science, others in meditation, etc. But we all have a common goal of wanting to know who we are even though some of us take paths that don’t appear rational. But who gives one the authority to decide what’s rational? It’s a tough pursuit but dismissing it altogether makes us nothing more than smart robots. The pursuit might one day give us answers to questions like who are we, does the soul exist, what’s love and more. Or maybe everyone gets the answers within their own lifetime. People chose to believe whatever they want and create their own images of God according to what they envision. As long whatever God you chose helps you create a tranquil reality and help you manifest your best then it’s the right God for you. No one can judge. Everyone needs a God. At least just so to be human.

How Stuff Works – Science

I recently had a conversation with a friend about science and religion. At some point of the conversation we were talking about the sun and I mentioned a few facts about the sun like it’s distance to us – 150 million kilometers, it’s mass 1.9891 *10^30KG and its surface temperature about 6000K. Memorizing astronomical figure is a hobby I picked up while in high school. The amount of fun is of astronomical proportions :)

 

Now my friend was quick to point out that no one has ever gone to the sun and thus knowing such things is impossible. That no one has ever used gone and placed a thermometer on the sun’s surface so knowing the temperature is impossible. And that it would be impossible to build let alone use a weighing scale to measure the sun’s mass. He insisted that scientists especially physicists just guess figures like that to achieve fame. Despite his minimal knowledge in astronomy, my oblivious friend was right about the fact that we haven’t landed on the sun yet. However, his traditional understanding of how stuff works limits his ability to perceive the wonders of science beyond photosynthesis and rain cycles.

 

Before the ruler was invented we used things like the length of our feet to measure distance. With more innovation and our evolving ways of thinking we have come up with even more sophisticated and accurate ways of measuring distance. A trip to the sun is no longer necessary just to know how long it is from over here to over there. We no longer need a thermometer to know its temperature or a weighing scale to know its mass. Instead we need just the right equations and a number cruncher.

 

Physics opens up the mind to a world of new possibilities. It changes our understanding of the universe and morphs the way we perceive reality. Isaac Newton’s laws of gravitation published in his epic Philosophae Naturalis Principia Mathematica was probably the biggest scientific breakthrough of his time. It gave us a good description of planetary motion. But come Einstein the very definition of gravity changed from the pull between two bodies to the curvature of the space time continuum. Einstein looked at scientists in the eyes and said that the most celebrated scientist of all time was wrong. (Egoistic bastard :) Anyway,…) And while it’s only natural that most people would be skeptical at first, his theories of relativity became slowly accepted into mainstream science because the math was right. But Newton’s laws still remain practical in normal scenarios when dealing with low energy states. However for better accuracy and in extreme conditions Einstein’s more complicated equations have to be adopted. Even so, no one can say for certain that Einstein’s equations are absolutely right. As Stephen Hawking says in his book A Brief History of Time

“Any physical theory is only provisional in

the sense that it is only a hypothesis: you can never prove

it. No matter how many times the

results of experiments agree with some theory, you can

never be sure that the next time the result will not

contradict the theory.”

The idea that scientists make guesses to gain fame is therefore preposterous. It’s true that some scientists make publications without doing enough research or without conclusive results just to make headlines. But the 15 minutes only goes for 15 minutes since other scientists around the world try to repeat the experiments to confirm or disprove the theory. The case of Hwang Woo-suk the South Korean scientist who claimed in 2005 that he had created human stem-cells using cloned embryos from spinal cord injured patients is a good example. His supposed findings were published in scientific journals but it was soon found out that he had fabricated his experiments. Coming up with ideas that have to be accepted at face value has no place in science. It is more a reserve of religion; where nothing can be questioned. Science is all questions, and provisional answers.

Where the present lieth?

Light travels at roughly 3*10^8 metres per second. Whatever we see, is what already happened. While in the normal scenario it seems like we see events instantly as they happen, this is not true and it’s much clearer on a larger scale. Light from the sun for example takes 8 minutes to arrive on earth since it has to travel 150 million kilometers. The sun might have gone off 5 minutes ago but we wouldn’t know until 3 minutes later. Light from stars take even longer to reach us, for some stars even billions of years. We might be seeing certain stars every night of every year yet they dried up into black holes billions of years ago. But we can still look up in the sky and smile at the beauty and appreciate it as if it were actually there. It’s almost as if the night sky is a video of its past.
Our earthly surrounding is a similar video of the past yet we rely on it to make decisions. Sound travels at about a millionth the speed of light, which means things we hear are even further back in history than most of the things we see. Smell takes longer to reach us since it depends on the velocity of the gas and gets a heavy influence from wind direction. And despite the human brain having about 100 billion brain cells and being superfast it doesn’t process information instantaneously. It takes time even for simple observations to turn signals from the senses into concepts.
Our observations are made up things from the past. The future is everything that hasn’t happened yet. What we think of as the present is made up of time past and time future. Everything we see and do are events that happen through time. Without a passage of time, they wouldn’t count as events rather static moments of the space time continuum. And yet the events are made of bits that have happened and those that haven’t, in the past and future respectively. So, the present is harder to picture since no time passes, it is a moment where change in time is zero. A bit of time where nothing happens: no breathing, no seeing, no particles of light moving from the stars, no radiation from the sun reaching us, nothing. And thus events become infinite layers of infinitely small present moments in a perfect ordering that creates time.

Screen Zombie

On a good day I work 8 hours. I report to the office at 9am and leave at 5. As a software developer my work involves just the computer, the rest is digital. I meet my clients online, do their work and send them software online or maybe a url. After that I expect a check to my account or via a mobile money transaction. I Skype or Gtalk with my boss, get new assignments on my email and complete all other interactions in cyberspace.
After work I watch a little TV or a lot depending on how the day went. A little motivation may allow me to get my computer and type an interesting blog post. Later on, I have my daily bread and try to learn something new on the e-books on my laptop. It’s possible that I may decide to have a more social night. In which case I grab the laptop and go to Facebook.
Since I don’t easily fall asleep, I’ll start a movie on my laptop and will fall asleep through it. Alternatively I may want to catch up with the latest news. In which case I’ll just bring the phone in bed and fire up the BBC app.
My name is Nick, am just like you. I am a screen zombie.

A Parallel Reality Within

The birds chirp and I can see the sounds, each sound, traveling by interacting with air molecules. I can feel my head on fire, there’s a flame but it’s not really burning, much like Nicholas Cage in Ghost Rider. I can see events; I can step out of time and look at it from outside. I can see it pass. I see millions of years passing by under a second. I can see just now, nothing else matters.
Everything is whatever size I think it is. My head is the size of planet Earth; I can feel it turn on its axis over long periods of time. And when I talk, I can feel the huge size of my lips. I can see the different lip and tongue movements that make the sounds. It’s almost as if I speak in slow motion. Time is no longer what it used to be a million years ago before I sat on this chair. How the sitting happens doesn’t make sense anymore because gravity doesn’t exist. There are no strong bonds holding the molecules of my body together. Each is but an independent body with a mind of its own.
And then reality fights its way back in. Things are more practical but not as interesting, not even real. I no longer live in the moment but jump back and forth regretting the past and worrying for the future. If only I can go back to that state and be there to infinity, what would be better than that? Except in reality, I would be an addict.