Saturday, July 22, 2017

Truth


“Truth is so obscure in these times, and falsehood so established, that, unless we love the truth, we cannot know it.” -  Blaise Pascal (French Mathematician, Philosopher and Physicist, 1623-1662) "In De l'Art de persuader ("On the Art of Persuasion") 

"What is truth?" Pontius Pilate CE 33; John 18:38.

I feel like I may have used one or both of these quotes before. However, it seems with every passing day that these words become more important.

Friday, July 21, 2017

A Note About Privacy


A recent article in Wired Magazine reviewed and critiqued the various Artificial Intelligence (AI)-powered devices known as home assistants or homebots. Tucked into the innocuous article was “A NOTE ABOUT PRIVACY.” It is perhaps the most relevant part of the article and reminds us of something we have all been thinking for more than a decade.

A NOTE ABOUT PRIVACY
If your paramount concern in life is privacy, turn back now. Google Home and Amazon Echo are constantly listening, and they send some of what you say back to the mothership. But you know what? This is just another scootch down the slippery slope you stepped on when you signed up for Facebook, bought your first book on Amazon, and typed “symptoms of shingles” into a search box. Tech companies have always asked us to give up a little privacy, a little data, in exchange for their wondrous services. Maybe homebots are the breaking point. But the things Alexa can do—so convenient! One bit of advice: Before the gang shows up to plan the casino heist, hit the device’s mute button. — David Pierce, Wired.com 


In a world of bank machines, cell-phones, smart-phones, internet browsers, and homebots, we have chosen to get services for a reduced cost or “free.” What we have traded for these free services is information about our choices. This is an invaluable commodity for those who would sell us products or services. The movie Minority Report (2002, Directed by Steven Spielberg) envisioned a world in which shopping malls would be filled with personal advertising to appeal to our particular tastes and purchasing history. The movie came out in 2002 and seemed implausible at the time. In 2017, we are tiny steps away from this view of advertising. Such advertising may seem invasive, but the things your smart-phone can do - so convenient!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Life and Death in God's Good Creation


God created a world in which one creature consumes another to survive. We may wish it was otherwise; we may think it would have been a better world if God had made it so that we humans could synthesize energy from the sun, but that is not the world God created. Besides which, even grass which does photosynthesize its energy relies upon nutrients in soil. Many such nutrients are provided by the decay of dead creatures. Whether or not one sees life as created by God, we must admit that our planet can be a harsh and competitive place. For Christians, such observations must be part of how we understand ultimate questions about the manner in which God created life and death in the Garden of Eden. Our theology has not yet fully wrestled with some of the implications of the lion and lamb created prior to humans.

Recently it has been discovered that some species of Praying Mantis can kill and eat hummingbirds. They have been known to lie in wait at hummingbird feeders and grasp the unsuspecting bird out of the air. It is an ugly picture of life and death in God’s creation and yet it is perfectly natural and the way God intended the lifecycle of his creation. God also created parasitic wasps that lay their eggs in the living bodies of caterpillars. The lifecycle of these baby wasps is the stuff of movies like Alien in which the immature offspring of one creature bursts out of the living body of another. Our world can be a cruel place.

Such is the struggle of life and death in the good world God created. Did God create all of this before the Fall of Humans? How much of life and death is a result of the Fall?

In case you are still worried about hummingbirds, there is a built-in system for the control of the mantis population. Parasitic worms, that live mostly in water, are known to place their larvae in the gut of the mantis and other arthropods. These parasites affect the brain of the mantis in such a way that, at the right time, the mantis drowns itself in water, thus returning the parasitic worm to another familiar environment.



Saturday, July 15, 2017

Plan Like a Raven


Many will know of my fascination with crows, ravens, and other members of the Corvidae family. This group of birds also includes the jays, magpies, and whisky jacks (grey jays). I have previously described (blog posts here and here and my favourite here) the great intelligence of these birds (specifically the Corvus moneduloides or New Caledonian crow) and so it comes as no surprise that a recent study[1] links one member of this family to the ability to plan for the future. A group of common ravens (Corvus corax), studied at the Lund University of Sweden, was found to be at least as good as small children and apes at “flexible planning.”[2]

A series of behavioural experiments revealed that the ravens were capable of planning for the future beyond common instincts they would have experienced in the wild. Some of the behaviours exhibited included the ability to select a rock that was useless to them then but proved to be useful in getting a food treat later. They could also delay gratification by choosing a useful rock, over an average treat, which would later allow them to retrieve a spectacular treat. There were further ways in which useful tools were purposely set aside for later use.

Seeing this intelligence in these birds causes some to marvel at the mystery of the universe and see a natural progression of intelligence in evolutionary systems. For others, it results in praise for the Creator’s perfect intelligence that bestowed upon these beasts a portion of intellectual prowess. For some of us, it does both.




[1] C. Kabadayi and M. Osvath. Ravens parallel great apes in flexible planning for tool-use and barteringScience. July 14, 2017. Vol. 357, p. 202. doi:10.1126/science.aam8138
[2] https://www.sciencenews.org/article/ravens-pass-tests-planning-ahead-unnatural-tasks