Thursday, December 13, 2007

The big bang for creationists,

Darwins theory of evolution by natural selection is not the Big Bang, Abiogenesis or Atomic theory.

The big bang is sometimes described as a titanic explosion that happened 13.7 billion years ago. 'Explosion' is a misnomer since the Big Bang happened everywhere at once and there was no pre-existing void into which the Universe erupted. Space and time and energy all came into being in the Big Bang. The Universe began in a super-dense, super-hot state 13.7 billion years ago and has been expanding and cooling ever since.

Just because you don't understand it, doesn't mean it never happened. Fortunately your belief isn't a prerequisite for the truth.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A few words about the "theory of evolution"

A few words need to be said about the "theory of evolution," which most people take to mean the proposition that organisms have evolved from common ancestors. In everyday speech, "theory" often means a hypothesis or even a mere speculation. But in science, "theory" means "a statement of what are held to be the general laws, principles, or causes of something known or observed." as the Oxford English Dictionary defines it. The theory of evolution is a body of interconnected statements about natural selection and the other processes that are thought to cause evolution, just as the atomic theory of chemistry and the Newtonian theory of mechanics are bodies of statements that describe causes of chemical and physical phenomena. In contrast, the statement that organisms have descended with modifications from common ancestors--the historical reality of evolution--is not a theory. It is a fact, as fully as the fact of the earth's revolution about the sun. Like the heliocentric solar system, evolution began as a hypothesis, and achieved "facthood" as the evidence in its favor became so strong that no knowledgeable and unbiased person could deny its reality. No biologist today would think of submitting a paper entitled "New evidence for evolution;" it simply has not been an issue for a century.

- Douglas J. Futuyma, Evolutionary Biology, 2nd ed., 1986, Sinauer Associates, p. 15

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The following is from an essay by Louise Antony

Looking back on my development from devout Catholic girl to adamant atheist, I think that it was its bottom-line dogmatism that drove me away from the Church, and indeed, from the very possibility of religious faith. "Faith" presents a paradox: if a doctrine can be defended on rational grounds, then it needn't be taken on faith. But if it cannot be defended on rational grounds, why should you believe it?

BiLL HiCKS - Comic Genius, Dark Poet, Human Being.

"I'm so sick of arming the world, then sending troops over to destroy the fucking arms, you know what I mean? We keep arming these little countries, then we go and blow the shit out of them. We're like the bullies of the world, y'know. We're like Jack Palance in the movie Shane, throwing the pistol at the sheepherder's feet.

"Pick it up."

"I don't wanna pick it up, Mister, you'll shoot me."

"Pick up the gun."

"Mister, I don't want no trouble. I just came down town here to get some hard rock candy for my kids, some gingham for my wife. I don't even know what gingham is, but she goes through about ten rolls a week of that stuff. I ain't looking for no trouble, Mister."

"Pick up the gun."

(He picks it up. Three shots ring out.)

"You all saw him - he had a gun."

Friday, August 10, 2007

A Poem

I am a man: little do I last
and the night is enormous.
But I look up:
the stars write.
Unknowing I understand:
I too am written,
and at this very moment
someone spells me out.

- Octavio Paz

Knowledge and Ignorance

When the knowledge exists, ignorance is a crime. When the knowledge does not exist yet, ignorance is most noble and far preferable to false truths and certainties.
- Steven(1982-present) 10th Aug 2007

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

To Christians

So you believe that a cosmic Jewish zombie who was his own father can make you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh and telepathically tell him you accept him as your master, so he can remove an evil force from your soul that is present in all humans because a woman made from a rib was convinced by a talking snake to eat from a magical tree and thereby pissing off an invisible wizard who lives in the sky? Yeah..makes perfect sense.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Fundies Say the Darndest Things

You know you're a fundie if this makes sense to you:

"Gravity: Doesn't exist. If items of mass had any impact of others, then mountains should have people orbiting them. Or the space shuttle in space should have the astronauts orbiting it. Of course, that's just the tip of the gravity myth. Think about it. Scientists want us to believe that the sun has a gravitation pull strong enough to keep a planet like neptune or pluto in orbit, but then it's not strong enough to keep the moon in orbit? Why is that? What I believe is going on here is this: These objects in space have yet to receive mans touch, and thus have no sin to weigh them down. This isn't the case for earth, where we see the impact of transfered sin to material objects. The more sin, the heavier something is. " --Courtesy of (Fundies Say the Darndest Things)

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Star Star Shining Bright.

In 1994 astronomers captured this image of a single star in the galaxy NGC 4526 briefly shining as brightly as all the other hundreds of billions of stars in that galaxy put together. It was a Type II supernova, designated SN 1994D.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Poem: The Second Comming By W.B. Yeats

The Second Coming

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight; somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

W. B. Yeats

Sunday, March 25, 2007


Some definitions on the word mutation in relation to evolution.

Mutation: When parental DNA is copied to form a new DNA molecule it is normally copied exactly. A mutation is any change in the new DNA molecule from the parental DNA molecule. Mutations may alter single bases or nucleotides, short stretches of bases or parts of whole chromosomes. Mutations can be detected both at the DNA level or the phenotypic level.

- Evolution By Matt Ridley Third Edition

Mutation: A change in the genetic material of a cell (arising from point mutations or base-pair changes, insertions, deletions, duplications, etc.). Mutations in the genetic material in reproductive cells (sperm or egg) are know as germ-line mutations. These changes can be inherited and are an important source of heritable variation in populations of organisms. They thus provide some of the grist for the mill of natural selection.

- God, the Devil, and Darwin - A critique of Intelligent Design Theory By Niall Shanks

Mutation: A change in inheritable genetic material, most commonly due to a "copying error" during the process of DNA replication. Mutations can be harmful, beneficial, or neutral. They contribute to the genetic variability in a population which services as the raw material for evolutionary change.

- The Science of Evolution and the myth of creationism - Knowing what's real and why it matters By Ardea Skybreak

Saturday, March 24, 2007


Great article by V.S. Ramachandran from A great website and a great sceintist and writer. Please check his book out "Phantoms in the Brain".


What is the self? How does the activity of neurons give rise to the sense of being a conscious human being? Even this most ancient of philosophical problems, I believe, will yield to the methods of empirical science. It now seems increasingly likely that the self is not a holistic property of the entire brain; it arises from the activity of specific sets of interlinked brain circuits. But we need to know which circuits are critically involved and what their functions might be. It is the "turning inward" aspect of the self — its recursiveness — that gives it its peculiar paradoxical quality.

It has been suggested by Horace Barlow, Nick Humphrey, David Premack and Marvin Minsky (among others) that consciousness may have evolved primarily in a social context. Minsky speaks of a second parallel mechanism that has evolved in humans to create representations of earlier representations and Humphrey has argued that our ability to introspect may have evolved specifically to construct meaningful models of other peoples minds in order to predict their behavior. "I feel jealous in order to understand what jealousy feels like in someone else" — a short cut to predicting that persons behavior.

Here I develop these arguments further. If I succeed in seeing any further it is by "standing on the shoulders of these giants". Specifically, I suggest that "other awareness" may have evolved first and then counterintutively, as often happens in evolution, the same ability was exploited to model ones own mind — what one calls self awareness. I will also suggest that a specific system of neurons called mirror neurons are involved in this ability. Finally I discuss some clinical examples to illustrate these ideas and make some testable predictions.

There are many aspects of self. It has a sense of unity despite the multitude of sense impressions and beliefs. In addition it has a sense of continuity in time, of being in control of its actions ("free will"), of being anchored in a body, a sense of its worth, dignity and mortality (or immortality). Each of these aspects of self may be mediated by different centers in different parts of the brain and its only for convenience that we lump them together in a single word.

As noted earlier there is one aspect of self that seems stranger than all the others — the fact that it is aware of itself. I would like to suggest that groups of neurons called mirror neurons are critically involved in this ability.

The discovery of mirror neurons was made G. Rizzolati, V Gallase and I Iaccoboni while recording from the brains of monkeys performed certain goal-directed voluntary actions. For instance when the monkey reached for a peanut a certain neuron in its pre motor cortex ( in the frontal lobes) would fire. Another neuron would fire when the monkey pushed a button, a third neuron when he pulled a lever. The existence of such Command neurons that control voluntary movements has been known for decades. Amazingly, a subset of these neurons had an additional peculiar property. The neuron fired not only (say) when the monkey reached for a peanut but also when it watched another monkey reach for a peanut!

These were dubbed "mirror neurons" or "monkey-see-monkey-do" neurons. This was an extraordinary observation because it implies that the neuron (or more accurately, the network which it is part of) was not only generating a highly specific command ("reach for the nut") but was capable of adopting another monkey's point of view. It was doing a sort of internal virtual reality simulation of the other monkeys action in order to figure out what he was "up to". It was, in short, a "mind-reading" neuron.

Neurons in the anterior cingulate will respond to the patient being poked with a needle; they are often referred to as sensory pain neurons. Remarkably, researchers at the University of Toronto have found that some of them will fire equally strongly when the patient watches someone else is poked. I call these "empathy neurons" or "Dalai Lama neurons" for they are, dissolving the barrier between self and others. Notice that in saying this one isn't being metaphorical; the neuron in question simply doesn't know the difference between it and others.

Primates (including humans) are highly social creatures and knowing what someone is "up to" — creating an internal simulation of his/her mind — is crucial for survival, earning us the title "the Machiavellian primate". In an essay for Edge (2001) entitled "Mirror Neurons and the Great Leap Forward" I suggested that in addition to providing a neural substrate for figuring out another persons intentions (as noted by Rizzolati's group) the emergence and subsequent sophistication of mirror neurons in hominids may have played a crucial role in many quintessentially human abilities such as empathy, learning through imitation (rather than trial and error), and the rapid transmission of what we call "culture". (And the "great leap forward" — the rapid Lamarckian transmission of "accidental") one-of-a kind inventions.

I turn now to the main concern of this essay — the nature of self. When you think of your own self, what comes into mind? You have sense of "introspecting" on your own thoughts and feelings and of " watching" yourself going about your business — as if you were looking at yourself from another persons vantage point. How does this happen ?

Evolution often takes advantage of pre-existing structures to evolve completely novel abilities. I suggest that once the ability to engage in cross modal abstraction emerged — e.g. between visual "vertical" on the retina and photoreceptive "vertical" signaled by muscles (for grasping trees) it set the stage for the emergence of mirror neurons in hominids. Mirror neurons are also abundant in the inferior parietal lobule — a structure that underwent an accelerated expansion in the great apes and, later, in humans.. As the brain evolved further the lobule split into two gyri — the supramarginal gyrus that allowed you to "reflect" on your own anticipated actions and the angular gyrus that allowed you to "reflect" on your body (on the right) and perhaps on other more social and linguistic aspects of your self (left hemisphere) I have argued elsewhere that mirror neurons are fundamentally performing a kind of abstraction across activity in visual maps and motor maps. This in turn may have paved the way for more conceptual types of abstraction; such as metaphor ("get a grip on yourself").

How does all this lead to self awareness? I suggest that self awareness is simply using mirror neurons for "looking at myself as if someone else is look at me" (the word "me" encompassing some of my brain processes, as well). The mirror neuron mechanism — the same algorithm — that originally evolved to help you adopt another's point of view was turned inward to look at your own self. This, in essence, is the basis of things like "introspection". It may not be coincidental that we use phrases like "self conscious" when you really mean that you are conscious of others being conscious of you. Or say "I am reflecting" when you mean you are aware of yourself thinking. In other words the ability to turn inward to introspect or reflect may be a sort of metaphorical extension of the mirror neurons ability to read others minds. It is often tacitly assumed that the uniquely human ability to construct a "theory of other minds" or "TOM" (seeing the world from the others point of view; "mind reading", figuring out what someone is up to, etc.) must come after an already pre- existing sense of self. I am arguing that the exact opposite is true; the TOM evolved first in response to social needs and then later, as an unexpected bonus, came the ability to introspect on your own thoughts and intentions. I claim no great originality for these ideas; they are part of the current zeitgeist. Any novelty derives from the manner in which I shall marshall the evidence from physiology and from our own work in neurology. Note that I am not arguing that mirror neurons are sufficient for the emergence of self; only that they must have played a pivotal role. (Otherwise monkeys would have self awareness and they don't). They may have to reach a certain critical level of sophistication that allowed them to build on earlier functions (TOM) and become linked to certain other brain circuits, especially the Wernickes ("language comprehension") area and parts of the frontal lobes.

Does the mirror neuron theory of self make other predictions? Given our discovery that autistic children have deficient mirror neurons and correspondingly deficient TOM, we would predict that they would have a deficient sense of self (TMM) and difficulty with introspection. The same might be true for other neurological disorders; damage to the inferior parietal lobule/TPO junction (which are known to contain mirror neurons) and parts of the frontal lobes should also lead to a deficiency of certain aspects self awareness. (Incidentally, Gallup's mirror test — removing a paint splotch from your face while looking at a mirror — is not an adequate test of self awareness, even though it is touted as such. We have seen patients who vehemently claim that their reflection in the mirror is "someone else" yet they pass the Gallup test!)

It has recently been shown that if a conscious awake human patient has his parietal lobe stimulated during neurosurgery, he will sometimes have an "out of body" experience — as if he was a detached entity watching his own body from up near the ceiling. I suggest that this arises because of a dysfunction in the mirror neuron system in the parieto-occipital junction caused by the stimulating electrode. These neurons are ordinarily activated when we temporarily "adopt" another's view of our body and mind (as outlined earlier in this essay). But we are always aware we are doing this partly because of other signals (both sensory and reafference/command signals) telling you you are not literally moving out of yourself. (There may also be frontal inhibitory mechanisms that stop you from involuntarily mimicking another person looking at you).

If these mirror neuron-related mechanisms are deranged by the stimulating electrode the net result would be an out-of-body experience. Some years ago we examined a patient with a syndrome called anosognosia who had a lesion in his right parietal lobe and vehemently denied the paralysis. Remarkably the patient also denied the paralysis of another patient sitting in an adjacent wheelchair! (who failed to move the arm on command from the physician.) Here again was, evidence that two seemingly contradictory aspects of self — its the individuation and intense privacy vs. its social reciprocity — may complement each other and arise from the same neural mechanism, mirror neurons. Like the two sides of a Mobius strip, they are really the same, even they appear — on local inspection — to be fundamentally different.

Have we solved the problem of self? Obviously not — we have barely scratched the surface. But hopefully we have paved the way for future models and empirical studies on the nature of self, a problem that philosophers have made essentially no headway in solving. (And not for want of effort — they have been at it for three thousand years). Hence our grounds for optimism about the future of brain research — especially for solving what is arguably Science's greatest riddle.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Noah was a timelord

Creationists you will love me.

I have just thought of a way to fit all the animals on the ark. Noah was a timelord like the Doctor in Doctor Who. Hell maybe he was the Doctor. The ark was the T.A.R.D.i.S and is bigger on the inside than the outside. Perhaps the chameleon chip wasn't broken at this time and the T.A.R.D.I.S was disguised as an ark.

My theory has more basis than any other creationist crackpottery lol.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Biggest Douche In The Universe

I love the episode of South Park title "The Biggest Douche In The Universe". Below is the text of my favourite bit. The very end is also great.

So, you think you can talk to dead people
better than me, huh?!

No, I don't think either of us can.

They told me your show is getting better
ratings than mine, that you're saying
I'm a fraud on your show! You'd better
not ever call me a liar, or a fake,
or a douche again, or else I'll sue
you for slander!

I'm saying this to you, John Edward,
you are a liar, you are a fake, and
you are the biggest douche ever!

Everything I tell people is positive
and gives them hope! How does that make
me a douche?!

Because the big questions in life are
tough: Why are we here? Where are we
from? Where are we going? But if people
believe in asshole douchey liars like
you, we're never gonna find the real
answer to those questions. You aren't
just lying, you're slowing down the
progress of all mankind, you douche!

I'M NOT A DOUCHE! And I challenge you
to a psychic showdown! I'll prove to
the world that I'm psychic and you're

Fine, douche!

I'm not a douche

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Jackass goes to jail

The jackass goes to jail.

I guess I should have checked that wikipedia link to Kent Hovind. A little snippet is below.

"On November 2, 2006, Hovind was found guilty by a jury in a Pensacola, Florida federal court of fifty-eight federal tax and tax-related offenses; his wife, Jo, was also convicted on 44 counts. On January 19, 2007, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison, three years of probation after his sentence is served, and $640,000 in restitution. He had been previously ordered to forfeit $430,400 and faced a maximum of 288 years"

I have to admit I laughed. I didn't feel proud of laughing but laughed none the less. Schadenfraude is what it is :-S. So much for his high and mighty morals eh.

Ali G taking the piss out of scientists and a creationist jackass

Ali G takes the piss out of some scientists and a creationist jackass "Kent Hovind".

Kent Hovind: Stupid, Delusion, or Concious fraud?

UPDATE: Kent Hovind is a charlatan who bilked money from people who don’t understand Science. “Since January 2007, Hovind has been serving a ten-year prison sentence after being convicted of 58 federal counts, including 12 tax offenses, one count of obstructing federal agents, and 45 counts of structuring cash transactions.”

You have to watch the Google video below to get the full expanse of this guys insanity. A more cynical view might be that he is simply playing to this crowd, as they are potential victims.