Adonis Diaries

Archive for September 26th, 2014

‘I’m an Atheist’: Stephen Hawking on God and Space Travel

World-famous theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking says flat-out that he doesn’t believe in God, but he does believe that space travel offers the best hope for our species’ immortality.

Those pronouncements came during the buildup to this week’s Starmus Festival at Tenerife in the Canary Islands, where Hawking and other scientific luminaries have gathered for rounds of talks, tours and elbow-rubbing. 

The Spanish newspaper El Mundo engineered an exclusive interview with Hawking, and headlined its report with his views on the origins of the universe.

In the past, there’s been a tiny bit of ambiguity: In “A Brief History of Time,” Hawking writes that the discovery of a unifying set of scientific principles known as the theory of everything would enable scientists to “know the mind of God.”

But in a follow-up book about the quest for the theory of everything, titled “The Grand Design,” Hawking said the mechanism behind the origin of the universe was becoming so well known that God was no longer necessary.

El Mundo’s Pablo Jauregui asked about those two references to God in one of the questions he prepared for Hawking to answer, and here’s the scientist’s response:

“Before we understand science, it is natural to believe that God created the universe. But now science offers a more convincing explanation.

What I meant by ‘we would know the mind of God’ is, we would know everything that God would know, if there were a God, which there isn’t. I’m an atheist.”

Hawking addressed the issue more delicately several years ago when he told Reuters that he was “not religious in the normal sense,” and said “God does not intervene to break the laws” that He decreed.

Since then, however, there’s been a lot more theorizing devoted to the origin of the universe. Hawking now believes that an approach known as M-theory will eventually reveal the grand design of the cosmos.

“In my opinion, there is no aspect of reality beyond the reach of the human mind,” Hawking told El Mundo.

Space travel as life insurance

Hawking’s views carry a lot of weight in popular culture — in large part because his studies of black holes, the nature of space-time and other deep subjects have earned him a reputation as one of the smartest people on Earth.

Another part of his appeal comes from his triumph over adversity: For decades, he has been fighting against amylotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS — a neurogenerative disease that’s left him almost completely paralyzed.

He can communicate only through a computer that’s controlled by the twitches of his cheek. Despite that hardship, he continues to travel and give voice-synthesized lectures at the age of 72.

The El Mundo interview says that his doctors no longer allow him to fly — which might pose a problem for his plans to fly into space once Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo suborbital rocket plane goes into service.

But whether or not Hawking gets into outer space himself, he sees that final frontier as a life insurance policy.

“It could prevent the disappearance of humanity by colonizing other planets,” El Mundo quoted Hawking as saying.

But what about the aliens?

There’s a catch: If there are other civilizations out there, we’d better be careful not to run across the bad guys, a la “Prometheus.”

Hawking has previously warned against calling too much attention to ourselves, for fear of attracting the wrong sort of extraterrestrials.

Such a visit might well be similar to Christopher Columbus’ visit to the Americas, “which didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans,” Hawking said.

But how likely is it that intelligent life exists?

Surely someone who’s skeptical about God’s existence would be skeptical about E.T.’s existence as well, right?

Not really.

During his own Starmus lecture, evolutionary biologist (and outspoken atheist) Richard Dawkins said the astronomical evidence suggests it’s “most likely” that the universe has many forms of life — although those life forms may be on “islands separated by vast distances.”

“The idea that we are alone in the universe seems to me completely implausible and arrogant,” El Mundo quoted Dawkins as saying.

Considering the number of planets and stars that we know exist, it’s extremely unlikely that we are the only form of evolved life.”

First published September 24th 2014, 1:38 am

Why don’t you share my belief system?

You must belong to one of these 3 categories of people:

1. I tend to assume that you are ignorant.

You surely lack the necessary information and facts.

Political activists, particularly the ideologues, think this way: Through enlightenment, I’ll win you over to my cause and positions.

2. I tend to assume that you are an idiot.

You have the necessary information, pieces of intelligence… but your mind is underdeveloped.

You lack the capability to draw the “obvious” conclusions.

Bureaucrats who want to protect stupid consumers from idiocy.

3. Most probably, you are a malicious person.

You comprehend the debate… but are deliberately confrontational.

You have evil intentions.

Religious leaders and believers treat the disbelievers are malicious servants of the devil.

If you have written your introspection “autobiography” before you became an important personality and a celebrity, you readily fabricate 2 dangers:

1. Introspection illusion that creates inaccurate prediction of future mental states by over trusting your “internal” observations

2. We tend to believe that our introspection is far more reliable than the external observers.

This phenomenon is a twin sister to the False-Consensus effect or the myth of like-Mindedness.

If we passionately love something, such as music of a period, literature of a period, a social cause, a political cause… we tend to think that the vast majority feel the same.

We categorize the falsely perceived minority of people as abnormal.

Doubters are less “sexy” than confident people in their capacity and belief system.

How can you become your own toughest critic?

 

 

Photo Exhibit Restores Dignity To Victims of U.S. Torture

The U.S. military used a camera as a torture device at Abu Grahib prison in Bagdad.

To add further humiliation to detainees who were already put in cages, urinated on, stripped naked then stacked in macabre human pyramids, their photos were taken during these degrading acts.

Natasha Vargas-Cooper posted this 09/19/2014

“I wanted to use the camera to restore these peoples’ humanity through beautiful portraiture,” says photographer Chris Bartlett, whose exhibition, “Iraqi Detainees: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Ordeals,” opens tonight in New York.

Featured photo - Photo Exhibit Restores Dignity To Victims of U.S. Torture

When confronted with images of torture, Bartlett says, even the greatest liberal or humanist among us has the tendency to flinch and look away.

“It’s such a disturbing and disgusting issue that people want to turn off from it.” Bartlett, who often works in high fashion photography, shooting subjects like candy colored Tory Burch handbags, said he wanted to take “very kind, respectful, beautiful, portraits to draw people into the subject and learn more about their stories.”

“I want people to consider, what if that happened to your family member or daughter?”

In 2006, Bartlett was invited by attorney Susan Burke to Amman, Jordan to sit in on interviews with former Iraqi detainees in preparation for a lawsuit against the Department of Defense for unlawful detention and torture.

The interviews were two to four hours of intense emotional testimony that included one woman’s story of being threatened with rape while she watched her son be forced into a cage by U.S. soldiers.

She was held in detention for seven months in 2004, then was released with no charges. “What I heard over and over again in these interviews were ordinary people being in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Bartlett says.

Indeed, many of Bartlett’s subjects report being held captive for up to a year’s time, then being released without any charges filed. “I want people to consider, what if that happened to your family member or daughter?”

(That is what Israel do with Palestinian youth, administratively detained, as the British did during mandated power over Palestine)

When Bartlett joined Burke again, this time in Turkey, for another round of interviews, the dark pall over the pictures was still weighing heavily. There were close to forty former detainees who did not want their pictures taken, for those who agreed, Barttlet took the portrait in daylight on high quality film, with a deep black background and warm hued lights; an intentional difference from the small digital camera–which intensified the acidic yellows and electric greens of Abu Grahib– used to capture images detainees in crouching, cuffed, and hooded.

“I wanted to put these people back in front of the camera and use photography as a humanizing force,” Bartlett says.

The exhibit opens tonight at the Photoville in the Brooklyn Bridge Park and will run through this weekend and next (Sept 25th – 28th). Here are some selected portraits, which Bartlett gave us permission us to publish. All captions are via Bartlett:

Detained January 20, 2004 – May 28, 2004
Bartlett: “He was put in a steel cage a meter wide and a meter high. ‘I asked why they are doing this, so they hit me.’”

Detained November, 2005 – May, 2006
“He does not remember how long he was in that cell, but he thinks it was a month. Then they took him to Abu Ghraib. ‘First they got me naked, and they tied my hands to the door. My detention lasted six months. I was always naked, always tied to the door, they brought the dogs to us.’”

Detained August, 2003 – March, 2004
“They have made the prisoners dance. ‘If they didn’t dance in the disco room, they would have been beaten. After 12 hours, they would end up in a hospital room. One of the men told me, “you’re better off with one leg. You don’t have to go there.”‘”

Detained from January to July 2004
“Divorced with 7 children, she is an accountant in Baghdad.

‘They put me in a room and they put my son in a cage in front of me.’ The soldier said to her, ‘Confess that you know terrorists or I will send you to a place where they will rape you. They will do things to you that you could never imagine.’”

Detained December 16,2003 – March 10, 2004.
“One of 10 siblings, he raised sheep, cattle, and goats for sale at the market. He had never been arrested before, never had any dealings with the authorities. They came for him at night.

The soldiers knocked on the door. His mother, carrying her six-year-old daughter, went to open the door. A bomb, ‘with nails in it,’ blew open the door, killing his mother and sister.

They put him in a vehicle, covering his head with a piece of clothing stained with his mother’s blood. He was released after three months at Abu Ghraib. He was never charged or accused of doing anything wrong.”

Detained October 3, 2003 – October 13, 2004.
At Abu Ghraib, he stood on a cardboard box, hooded and holding electric wires. “They forced him to lie on the ground, loudspeakers blasting music into his ears. The ordeal lasted only a day, ‘but it felt like two years.’

They beat him regularly, and, on three occasions, subjected him to electric shock treatments. ‘It feels like your eyes will explode,’ a soldier said, ‘we are doing what the interrogators want. They want us to make your life very difficult so you will answer the questions.’

After his release, he founded the Association of Victims of American Occupation Prisons in Baghdad. ‘There is not one person in prison in Iraq who has not been subjected to some kind of abuse.’”

Email the author: natashavc@theintercept.org


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