Friday, December 29, 2006

"Spirit And Mind" -> The Triumph of Genesis 1

The picture to the left shows supernova 1987A in the Large Magellanic Cloud. as captured by the Hubble telescope.

How would you describe this to a person that had no eyes and never had light described to them?

I want you to describe this in a complete fashion that will allow them to get a good solid grasp of the fundamental principles behind light, the formation of the star, and the physics of the supernova.

Oh, and by the way, I want you to limit your description to less than 600 words.

I firmly think that we miss the point of Genesis 1. By reading so much into Genesis 1, we miss that it simply does not have the capacity to carry the amount of information that we desire it to have.

By my quick copy and paste, I think that the first 26 verses (the key part of the creation account) has all of 588 words. I'll repeat that again: 588 words.

So, I want you, with all the advantages that you have as a 21st Century man, to be God's helper for a second.

1. Now, I want you to take be able to describe the creation of the universe, of man, and of the universe in 588 words.

2. Even more importantly, I want to describe that time began.

3. Now, I want you to place into this dialog the idea of "work and rest." I want you to place in the idea of a Sabbath.

4. I want you to describe this so that people will use it as a fundamental understanding of who God is and what he does, but I want you to remember that the people that will be reading with will have no idea of what a planet is, how big the universe is, what is the speed of light, who think that the sun somehow appears on one side of the horizon, and have no advantages of the modern knowledge that you have.

5. I want you to slip in a few ideas of geological formation and of life sciences.

I'll give you a clue. You can't. Any description is going to have the problem of the inadequacy of language to completely describe the situation as per nice scientific terminology.

You are going to start to run into a bunch of problems. The first issue is how to describe the earth.

Let's look at some of the pictures taken by the Hubble telescope. Do you describe it as somebody that is out in space in a space suit? The people that you are talking to aren't going to understand the term space. They aren't going to understand that there is anything but the physical nature in front of them. Perhaps, like the Greeks, they'll think there are only four building blocks: earth, sky, fire, and water. How do you describe the "water" of the heavens after the big bang? The hydrogen and the helium that was formed. How would you describe this to a people that no idea of what a gas is. They have no idea of what an atom is.

So perhaps you'll describe it from the perspective of standing on the earth. However, this does not allow us to fully describe what is going on.

I would submit to you, the Genesis creation account holds up very, very well.

Somehow, there has been a subculture in Christianity that has formed the thought that science is steadily chipping away at Christianity's roots. I admit that in certain places with certain people, this is the truth. However, need to recognize that the biggest battle of teh creation account is not the exact evolutionary vs creation steps for the universe to be made. The fundamental issue was one over time.

And this, is a battle that Christians won a number of decades ago a few years after I was born.

The whole of science leading into the mid-1900th century was that time did not begin. This seemed rather stupid to those of us under 50 years of age because we all know that time started with the "Big Bang." The lurching of the universe into motion. Genesis described the beginning of time very well.

And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light.

From here, time began. We can debate if the days described in the Bible were 24 hours or of an indeterminate fashion. However, the scriptures points out clearly:

a. God created light
b. God created time

If you were an atheist, you absolutely hated this idea. As a matter of fact, Sir Fredrick Hoyle fought the idea of spontaneous creation of the universe. To quote Wikipedia:

An atheist, he found the idea that the universe had a beginning to be philosophically troubling, as many argue that a beginning implies a cause, and thus a creator.

The main thing about the Jewish creation account is how easy it is to reconcile to science.

The Jewish account is remarkable when compared to other accounts.

Let's compare the Jewish account to the Babylonian Enuma Elish, their story of the beginning of man? By the Enuma Elish, first we had matter, then the gods were formed. See here. So how was the earth formed? See below:

Marduk challenges Tiamat to combat and destroys her. He then rips her corpse into two halves with which he fashions the Earth and the heavens.

We could look at others as this site does.

The Greek creation account? The Universe Was empty except for a bird, we never have an answer to who created the bird.

In the beginning there was an empty darkness. The only thing in this void was Nyx, a bird with black wings. With the wind she laid a golden egg and for ages she sat upon this egg. Finally life began to stir in the egg and out of it rose Eros, the god of love. One half of the shell rose into the air and became the sky and the other became the Earth.

The Japanese? A little bit like the Babylonians. Matter first, then the gods are created out of this.

Long ago all the elements were mixed together with one germ of life. This germ began to mix things around and around until the heavier part sank and the lighter part rose. A muddy sea that covered the entire earth was created. From this ocean grew a green shoot. It grew and grew until it reached the clouds and there it was tranformed into a god. Soon this god grew lonely and it began to create other gods. The last two gods it made, Izanagi anf Izanami, were the most remarkable.

The Norse? The earth was made out of a giant call Ymir.

Odin, Vili, and Ve put Ymir's corpse into the middle of ginnungagap and created the earth and sky from it. They also created the stars, sun, and moon from sparks coming out of Muspelheim.

The Egyptians? God from an egg.

Only the ocean existed at first. Then Ra (the sun) came out of an egg that appeared on the surface of the water.

The more time that you spend in comparative literature, the more you will realize that the creation account in the Bible is unique and elegant. It is simple and complete. God is not formed. The God of the Bible is unlike any other God described.

So, let us wind our way back to the original thought: the Bible as science and as description.

The fact is that the creation account, as written, is so close to what we know of the creation of the universe that it stands apart from every other contemporary creation account. In the late 1800's and early 1900's, those that wish to ignore it were hoping that they could find refuge in the simple fact that the Bible indicated a beginning. The Bible indicated that God started the whole thing off with a simple "let there be light."

The idea that that universe started in this fashion smacked of religion. Science that rejected God couldn't see this idea ever happening, and could discount the Bible on this behalf. The universe, according to their thoughts, always was and always would be. The universe was infinite and eternal.

Georges Lemaître redefined this. The thing I find fascinating about Georges is that he was by all accounts a highly religious man, a priest of the Roman Catholic Church. He was also a gifted mathematician and physicist. He had the crazy notion that the world sprang out an atom. This struck Fred Hoyle as so stupid that he labeled this the "Big Bang" theory.

The name stuck.

Einstein, who really disliked the whole idea of a Big Bang, dismissed Lemaître at first, and said he didn't do his physics correctly. However, as time wore on, he also understood that Lemaître was correct.

In 1965-1966, Bell labs found background radiation in the universe left by the Big Bang. This was considered the final proof of Lemaître's ideas.

According to Wikipedia, he heard about the discovery shortly before he died.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

"Spirit and Mind" -> Is The Bible Perspicuous?

I am a die hard believer in inerrancy.

However, I do not believe that the Bible is necessarily perspicuous.

What is perspicuous? This means that the Bible is clear. Martin Luther believed that the Bible was perspicuous, therefore anybody that read it could drag out the true meanings of the Word. Now, mind you, I believe that certain section are very perspicuous. The message of salvation is easy and simple so that even my young children can understand it.

However, we fool ourselves to think that all of the Bible is this way. Indeed, I have the highest regard for the scriptures, and because I do believe in its power, I try to read through the entire Bible every year.

However, it is important to realize that wide spread literacy is a new behavior. Are we to say that the only true giants of Christianity are those that could read? If so, this would rule out many Godly men of the past.

Because we do not have a perspicuous Bible, we must lift meaning out of the Bible. This is done by two big words.

Hermeneutics: This is the theory or philosophy of how to draw out meaning.

Exegesis: This is applying your hermeneutics to any section of scripture to explain it.

I believe that an overlooked hermeneutic rule is the following: How many times is it mentioned?

If something isn't mentioned a lot of times in the Bible, may you need to accept that it really isn't all that important.

For example:

Angel: Word search yields 207 times. (NIV)
Heaven: Word search yields 236, New Testament only, times. (NIV)
Hell: Word search yields 14 times. (NIV)

I have noticed the tendency in my own life to want to spend a lot more time thinking about Hell rather than focusing on Heaven. As a matter of fact, my sense of the world is that the non-Christian is absolutely fascinated with Hell. And, we Christians seem to be willing to feed that fascination.

We should not brush Hell under the covers, as some of the liberal offshoots of the church have done, but we should be also highly careful not to describe our understanding of the lightly described sections of scriptures with absolute certainty.

If asked in the future about Hell by a non-Christian, here will be my response.

"As Christians, we only have the word Hell mentioned 14 times in the Bible. The fact is that we don't know exactly how the after life will play out. However, we do know that some will be invited to the banquet feast of the lamb, and each of us have an opportunity to respond to this invitation. If you turn down the invitation of believing in the Messiah, you received some type of a punishment. Some Christian believe that eventually you will be destroyed, and but many believe that the punishment will go on forever. Regardless, of the final resting place, we know that the point of this life is to find God before it is too late.

This is the message of the Bible."

"Spirit and Mind" -> The Age Of The Earth

As a marketing professional, I try and understand what makes a product interesting or worth buying. It is interesting that the Apostle Paul also recognized that Christianity should not be bound up with more overhead than was required for salvation. For instance, there were some in the early church that were "laying down the law" in terms of how the Bible was to be interpreted. They insisted on a narrow and formal reading of the Old Testament, which place an excessive burden on the new Christians.

Against this narrow view, Paul rebelled. He called out and said that the scriptures needed to be applied carefully. A narrow view was called legalism. On the core of the Bible, there could be no debate. However, the side issues were not to be used as judgments. Paul realized that such narrow reading of the scriptures were turning people away from Christ.

In today's world, some brothers in the Christian faith that wish to force a view of scripture that makes Christianity to be a religion that goes against common knowledge and science. Like the legalistic Christian in a previous age, they have a very narrow view of the scripture that goes well beyond what was written in the scriptures. In this post, I desire that we realize, for a moment, that some views are bound up in history interpretation and not in true exegesis of the scripture.

We, as Christians, need to be committed 100% to the truth. We need to have confidence that the facts will bring to light our faith. One of the things that bothers me the most is the ill conceived idea of "blind faith."

The idea that the scripture needs to be understood in light of science is called concordism. To some this is a bad word, meaning that you don't believe in an inerrant Bible. However, we all embrace concordism when we realize that the sun does not revolve around the world.

Nowhere, absolutely nowhere in the Bible does the term "blind faith" ever appear. To the opposite, we are blamed because we need very little faith, and yet we cannot even bring this to bear. If we look around us, all of nature screams the glory of God, how this nature and design must have a creator, and how we must seek him. All knowledge melds together to give us an understanding of how God works.

This means that Christians, and it is not hard to prove that historical Christianity was the basis of forward scientific thought, should be the ones that are the scientists of the world. Yet, today, we find that many Christians believe that science is fundamentally attacking the Christian faith.

What I want to appeal to is those that consider that the Bible speaks of a young earth. Young earth creationists believe the following:

a. The earth is 5 to 6 thousand years old (maybe 10 to 12)
b. The world was created in 6 literal days
c. God created the world to look old

The last one is the one that really grabs me. This is a subtle context, since young earth creationists are not forced in all things to make this claim. Instead, whenever possible, they try and say that the obvious old age of the earth is actually the results of Noah's flood. Therefore, the Grand Canyon was made in a little over a year during the time of the flood.

However, there is one place that they cannot do these types of mental gymnastics. This is the speed of light.

So think about this. The universe is roughly 15 billion light years long. A nice question to an astrophysicists here was "what is the furthest star that we can see?"

The answer is about 3 billion light years away.

So the light that we are seeing today started from this star 3 billion years ago. If the universe was created 10 thousand years ago, then this light would have never reached us.

Let me try and repeat this because it bears repeating:

*Light travels at 186,000 miles per second. This is a universal constant.

*We have great big telescopes that allow us to observe far away stars and even galaxies.

*When we see light from these far away places, we can estimate that the light must have started traveling toward us millions or billions of years ago.

This is simply fact. And unlike many other areas of dispute by young earth creationists, this fact is impossible to dispute. (I mean you could dispute anything if you wanted: if you are alive or somebody's dream, but at some point you need to accept that you are real.) The fact that light is coming toward us from a great distance that would signify that it must of started millions or billions of years ago is not worth arguing.

So how do young earth creationist deal with this. Two popular ideas:

1. They state that the speed of light has changed. And while there has been a couple valid thoughts along a minor twist of the speed of light just after the big bang, the amount of speed change simply could not account for a star that is 3 billion light years away having the light arrive in short order. So most do not say this. This is not widely held.

2. God made the stars with light already in transit to earth. In the same way, he made trees with multiple tree rings. Adam had a belly button. God made the earth with fossils in the cliffs (if not placed there during the flood.)

This makes God out to be less than he is. Young earth creationist would actually have us believe that God is a God of distressed furniture.

What do I mean "distressed furniture?"

If you don't have the money to buy a real antique you can fake it. What you do is take a nice piece of furniture and you scratch it with nails, you pound it with chains, and perhaps burn it a little. You want something that looks old and valuable, so you make artificial marks to make it look old.

In the similar way, God's "distressed" mark to make our universe to look old is to say that God created stars billions of light years away and placed photons in transit from this light source, although this couldn't have naturally happened.

The young earth creationists has sought to invalidate scripture while thinking that they are preserving in inerrancy.

Let me explain this a bit further. The Bible neatly and clearly speaks that God separated the universal matter. It clearly speaks that God created life ex nihilo (out of nothing). It clearly speaks that God created the earth in seven days. Yet if you look through scripture you will find time and time again that the scriptures will use terms like day, week, and month to represent longer periods. How much more clear can you get then the following?

2 Peter 3:8
But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.

So now that the young age creationist have ignore the caveats of scripture, they further tell us to close our minds. We are to ignore what God tells us through nature.

Let's look at Romans 1:

20 For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

Here we are told. God's nature can be seen by what is around us. To be blunt about this, to say that the earth is young is to say the following:

1. God made the universe in six days
2. You cannot figure out what God has done by looking at the universe around us since he'll "slip in" a couple of things to mislead us on the actual age.

In a very minor way, the young earth creationist have committed the same sin as the Pharisees. I certainly don't think that they mean to do this, and I don't think it is with a vindictive spirit. However, Jesus told the Pharisees that their sin was placing traditions in a higher place than the word of God. By stating that the earth is very young contrary to all logical thought is to make our religion out to be one of "check you brain at the door because you don't need it."

To the contrary, Christians should be the first to think. The first in science. The first to embrace logic. The first to understand that God does not hide behind distressed furniture.

Rather than focusing on the advent of the age of the earth, we should focus on how man was formed. The age of the earth is a minor point, easily harmonized with scripture.

The formation of man by evolution is not easily harmonized, and this is where we should spend our time.

Monday, December 25, 2006

"Spirit and Mind" -> Noah and Alleles

The realm of evolutionary proof has moved from the paleontologist to the geneticist.

If anything, the paleontologist, who studies fossils, has presented more problems than it has solved. The biggest obvious issue is the explosion of life that came during the Cambrian period. If you studied evolution in high school or grade school, you probably have thought that evolution happened at a "peanut butter" rate. The change was spread evenly over numbers of years like peanut butter on a sandwich. However, we notice that we don't have this in the fossil record. Instead, we have an explosion of life at 570M years ago. (Darwin recognized this as a problem from the beginning.)

There have been several ideas to address this:

1. Life was developed at a much more complex level before the Cambrian period but we cannot find the fossil evidence.

2. Life spontaneously jumped at a very fast rate for some unknown reason. This is call "Punctuated equilibrium" and certainly isn't liked by everybody.

3. Oxygen was a limiting factor, and as soon as it was really present, life really took off. (Of course, there is also the thought that an over abundance of O2 almost killed the earth.)

Regardless, of the proposals, the issues are many.

So, instead, the geneticist is now driving the boat.

One of the cool things about genetics is that is is observable by all. Now, modern genetics are being used to question a couple of religions. One is the religion of LDS (Latter Day Saints or Mormons). Joseph Smith said and wrote that the tribes of Israel came to America and colonized the land. As we genetically test the population, we find out that there is no shared common genetic traits between Israelites and the native Americans. This has caused some Mormons to leave their faith. The most popular way of explaining this, by Mormons, is to explain that the Mormon scriptures have been incorrectly used in that the Israel influence and population was much smaller than historically thought.

The same type of criticism has been leveled against the idea of Noah. It is worth talking about it here.

If you look at the DNA, there are unique combinations of DNA code, which are commonly called alleles. If Noah and the others on the ark were normal human beings, you might expect somewhere around 10-16 alleles out of the DNA for given sections of the DNA code. However, if we look at the population we have today, we find out a much, much more wide set of alleles than 16. So, to get today's set of alleles in a short 4000 or so years from the Noah flood, Darwinists claim the human genome would be mutating at an alarming rate. In fact, they claim it would be high enough to suggest that the DNA code was so unstable that we were ready to blow apart. (Through cancer or other spurious genetic mutation.) Therefore, we can't believe in Noah. Genetics tell us that this rate of change won't happen.

The problem genetics is that it cuts both ways. Most of the genetic research today points toward a common ancestor called "Mitochondrial Eve." Who was this Eve? Mitochondrial Eve lived around 150,000 years ago. She was the common ancestor for all human beings. We can tell this because the mother passes down a chunk of mitochondria DNA that everybody has. And we all have this chunk of DNA.

Now why do we all have this genetic code?

There are three main ideas:

1. For some reason, this Mitochondrial Eve had some genetic feature that really allowed her children to do much, much better than any other children. Basically, if you don't have this Mitochondrial Eve in your family tree, you don't exist.

2. Stanley Ambrose said that a volcano basically wiped out all of mankind, which happened after Mitochondrial Eve, but could have limited the population set to this common ancestor.

3. We actually believe in the Bible.

Most Darwinist hate the name Mitochondrial Eve because it can be easily used to say "hey, that Eve from the Bible." In fact, the most common ancestor is actually Noah's wife. (If we believe that Noah was only married once, and his sons came from his common wife.)

So mind you, the Darwinist and the reader of scripture are stuck with the same idea:

a. We had a common ancestor that would then indicate that we had a strong genetic bottleneck of alleles.

b. The difference between the two standpoints is one of acceptable genetic change rate.

So let's scale the the two hypothesis:

--Noah happened something like 4-10 thousand years ago. (I know some would say 2500 years ago, but I am at a loss of how you can bridge to this gap while looking at the evidence of the bristlecone pines.)

--Mitochondrial Eve happen something like 150-200 thousand years ago.

Thus the acceptable rate increase for DNA mutation in the Noah model would suggest somewhere around 150/10 to 200/4 = a factor of 15 to 50 times higher in the Noah model Mitochondrial Eve model. A factor of 15 is hardly worth talking about, and an accelerated factor of 50 is well within acceptable rates. Comfortable mutation rate? No. Practical mutation rate that could be absorbed? Yes.

Now, I will admit that I struggle with the Noah story as a Christian. If there was any story that tested my faith it is this. The story of creation is one that I see as beautiful and is in sync with what we know of cosmology. The elegance of creation story is in stark contrast with every other creation account that is told by other religions. I understand the story of Moses.

With Noah it is different.

It would certainly seem that the evidence for a worldwide flood should leave a bigger footprint, and we must wonder how the ice caps were not affected. Perhaps, this is a post for a later time, but for the time being, I am willing to put my Noah issues behind me.

Now here comes the rub, by the Bible's own story, this time of man was one that was tremendously not of this genetic code. The time of Noah had some type of difference of environment that made him very resilient. He might even be able to with stand high levels of mutations.

What do I mean?

People were living 900 years. Noah lived 950 years. He lived 300 more years after the ark settled down. His offspring started to lose lifespan after the flood. Depending on how you translate the Hebrew, the periods in the genealogies could stretch out because the write may have only hit the "highlights" and main ancestors in the chain. If this is the correct interpretation, then slowly, over time, the long life spans of Noah and his children were getting shorter and shorter.

We believe, today, with the science that we have, that lifespan is dictated by our genetic code and the way that our telomeres are set. So this would indicate that our DNA went through some type of a transformation. If you think about it, the problem with longer life spans is that it allows more damage (or mutation) to be done to the father or mothers genetic code. Thus longer life spans would contribute to higher levels of allele differentiation.

Noah has a logic, but the overall story is so fantastic and strange that the Darwinist will not believe it. I understand their point and I do not wish to minimize it. Of all the stories in the Bible, I also have difficultly in believing this one. The story soon gets even weirder, as these long living individuals rally together into one government. This turns into a big research project called the Tower of Babel. God, basically out of understanding that a unified human race with one language is going to collapse again, sees the only answer to this is to drive a different language.

So here you have the neat picture of the repopulation of the world:

a. Man's lifespan is dwindling down with every person living shorter than his parents.
b. Man is split in his language, and basically he moves away from each other at an alarming rate.

However, it is important to note: there is a difference between being fantastic and being illogical. The story, while fantastic in nature, is not illogical in nature. The idea of the changed genetic code transpiring along with the change in the language seems to logically hold within the story. The story, no matter how weird it seems to be to us, has a certain sense behind it.

As a matter of fact, I would suggest that the opposite (if we turned out to not have the wide disparity in genetic code and the wide separation in the language) might be an argument against the validation of the scriptures.

If you want to accept the scripture of Genesis, which I know is a difficult thing to do for those with a scientific bent, the change in the life span of man does ring toward a logical explanation.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

"Mind" -> What's In An IQ?

I was reading about the IQ of Jimmy Carter today, and some have said that he was a very intelligent individual. Thus, it got me wondering what my IQ would be if I tested it. So I decided that I would go to the Mensa Danmark website, where they (because they are very smart individuals) have created an online test to solve for IQ.

If you are interested, you can take the test here.

So, I sat down at the tube, and started the test. I have been interested in intelligence for some time, so I've read quite a bit about intelligence, yet I've never gotten around to taking a standardized test. As you can see from the graph, I have (drum roll) an IQ of 118 points. If you look on the standardized tables, this places me into the top 12% or so of the general population.

The test, as given on the website, is a series of puzzles that don't use words. Commonly, this type of IQ test is referred to as Raven's Progressive Matrices. The cool thing about Raven's Matrices is that they don't use words. So, you can have people of different languages take the exact same test.Here is a picture of one of the matrices in action. You have a series of 8 pictures, and you are to fill in the blank.

In this example, you need to put in a picture with three dots up and down (the second one) because you should be able to see a pattern where the top line is all the same, the middle line is all the same, so the bottom line should be all the same.

I've done a little bit of reading on these types of tests, but I've never really sat down and taken one. Even as I was in the middle of taking the test, I started to "get the hang" of it. In some cases the puzzles force you to look at the entire picture, in some cases the picture forces you to look down the rows, and in others across the rows.

If I had taken this test before, I would have said to myself "okay, let's go down the rows, across the rows, then lets count up the total number of symbols." However, it was halfway into the test before I started to understand this. So, I am almost positive that if I practiced a bit, I could bring up my score by some measure.

The bigger problem with IQ tests is that they don't seem to correlate all that well with success in life. Now, Bill Gates is know to be pretty bright with a combined SAT score of around 1590, which people have translated into an IQ of 160. However, I am more likely to listen to the words of the world's second richest man, Warren Buffet:

"Success in investing doesn't correlate with I.Q. once you're above the level of 25. Once you have ordinary intelligence, what you need is the temperament to control the urges that get other people into trouble in investing." - BusinessWeek Interview June 25 1999

I have met with more than my fair success in life. I fundamentally believe that super smart people that I know normally have two issues:

1. They don't have self control
2. They don't have the ability to look something up

If you are a moderately smart person like myself, you are forced to work hard to stay up with your peers. As we've found out in my posts on acquisition of expert skills, the key in any area is simply spending 10,000 hours in deliberate practice. To the ultrasmart person, they don't need to work hard to get good results. Therefore, they find out that they have never learned to work hard. When they finally need to study, they can't. Their "discipline center" is half developed.

The second issue with really smart people is that they don't look it up. I have constantly been told "wow, you are really smart." In all seriousness, I often tell people "I'm not smart, but I steal really well."

It took Newton something like 20 years to figure out that the center of mass of an object could serve as a simplification for doing linear superposition on all the component parts of a mass in a equation for physical movement.

However, every structural engineer knows the center of mass is the right short cut about 1 week into their first class. Why? Because they are told that it is. If somebody else has derived it, you don't have to find it out again.

Intelligence is one thing.

It is not the only thing.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

"Spirit and Mind" -> It's The Complexity, Stupid

I refuse to call myself out as a republican or a democrat. I am a member of no earthly Kingdom. I vote on my heavenly calling.

But, as a marketing professional, I think the all time political brilliant move of the century came from the democrats, when Clinton declared:

"It's the economy, stupid."

With this one phrase, Clinton battered George Bush senior into a bloody pulp. Clinton found the perfect combination of a theme that had all the following:

1. It was true
2. It was simple
3. It was important

A lot of doubters of deity say, "I really need one really good reason to believe in God." To these, all those that deal with these doubters, I simple say "It's The Complexity, Stupid."

Romans 1:20

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse

If you have a bedroom, an office, or a garage, you know that nothing in this life organizes itself. Yet, this is central core of all evolution. Out of disorder, order was to come. At face value, there would be no doubt that most stupid people couldn't understand that order can magically step forward from disorder.

The Framing Of Our Story

Being a simple person, you might simply think the following:

1. The world has unbelievable complex organisms in it
2. Life probably can't sprout from nothing
3. Therefore, there must be a creator behind it all

However, there are many people that don't believe the three simple points above. So how does a an atheistic evolutionist support his view?

The atheistic evolutionist must say that there is a mechanism that self orders random material. Most people vastly misunderstand the real issue of evolution. The real core of evolution is NOT that man came from a common ancestor with apes. The real core of evolution is that there is a mechanism that "locks in" any forward progress that is made toward life.

Therefore, if you want to believe in evolution, you need to find a mechanism, like a ratchet on a wrench, that only allows evolution to go forward.

I consider it so important that I will state the key issue again, only with a bit more clarity.

Is it easier for you to believe that the disorganized state of the universe was ordered by:

1. A unique mechanism that automatically sorts through random matter to create life.


2. A deity who is not be found by means of scientific experiment.

The Blind Watchmaker

The Blind Watchmaker is the agent of organization in Richard Dawkins's book of the same name: "The Blind Watchmaker." The Blind Watchmaker is just a metaphor for the action of "survival of the fittest."

Now it is important to note, at first glance you will find that Dawkins's blind watchmaker mechanism ("survival of the fittest") has no parallel in any physical reality. There is no natural phenomena where disorganization mysteriously turns into more complex highly organized matter. Things naturally go from a higher organized state to a lower organized state.

Now, we need to embark on a fine point. You might say, "well survival of the fittest is obvious to me, the strong kill off the weak." And while this doesn't really describe what evolutionist really want to say, it is the common man's definition that most people on the street would have. However, let us be clear. This is NOT the Blind Watchmaker. Survival of the fittest describes how more complex or well adapted animals have an advantage over less well adapted animals. It does not, however, describes how that animal became more advantaged in the first place.

So you'll answer, "that's simple, they became more well adapted because of random mutation."

Now, you have really hit the point. We need to explore this a little more closely.

If you got one random mutation that helped, why do you ever think that you are going to get two in a row. Why isn't the next mutation negative?

Now, for the life of me, I wonder if Dawkins has a very large practical joke played on him by God by placing the title of "the blind watchmaker" into his brain.

Dawkins is arguing by analogy saying that natural selection is like a blind watchmaker. He picked the title to go against those that God was the seeing watchmaker. However, for Dawkins to really have an effective analogy, he should refer to anything but a creative agent. He should point to some chemical effect, physical reality, or Newtonian system untouched by human hands. After all, he is arguing against an intelligent agent. By mentioning a watchmaker, he undermines his whole argument. If the best analogy that he can come up with is a watchmaker, then he provides a pretty hollow thesis.

Dawkins on his website declares that it would be impossible for a single cell organism to pop into existence. However, he says that he is not claiming that cells pop into existence. He is claiming that things evolve little by little. Therefore, the complexity "builds" and this makes it very likely that evolution will occur.

Dawkins wrote a computer program call "METHINKS IT IS LIKE A WEASEL," to show people the principle of evolution in action. He starts off if a random list of letters, and then randomly spins the letters. If one of the letters is of phrase "METHINKS IT IS LIKE A WEASEL," he "locks in" the good letter, then spins all the other letters. In a short while, he has the phrase that he wanted. Thus, he says this is an analogy of evolution. Evolution is simply spinning the letters and locking in the "best" letter.

(For all practical purposes, Dawkins has done a bubble sort and said, "look, I've proven God does not exist.")

In many ways, Dawkins has simply recreated Maxwell's demon. If you are familiar with Maxwell's demon, the following will seem old hat, and I hope you immediately see the significance of the following thoughts. If not, getting to know Maxwell and his demon could be rather fun.

James Maxwell's Demon violates the second law of thermodynamics.

Huh? What is Maxwell's demon? What is the second law of thermodynamics?

The laws of thermodynamics state that closed systems become less organized as time goes on. If you add cold air and warm air, the two mix together to become the same lukewarm temperature. The entropy increases.

Maxwell devised a clever idea (and about everything that Maxwell did was clever) of a closed system where lukewarm air could again become separated into cold air and hot air. All it took was a little creature that could observe individual atoms and make some decisions about a little door. See Wikipedia for details, but I will give a short overview of the demon.

In a nutshell, Maxwell's demon watched as fast moving atoms flew by, and would open a little door to allow the faster "hotter" atoms to collect on one side of a container. The demon was able to "lock in" the hot (fast moving) atoms. Does this sound familiar?

This is very analogous to Dawkins's "Blind Watchmaker" that sorts through all possible combinations of evolutionary life types to allow the healthy ones to exist. Only, rather than catching the fast moving atoms, the Blind Watchmaker allows the better adapted creatures to exist.

So, did Maxwell actually figure out how to break the second law of thermodynamics? After all, it would seem that Maxwell's demon is a very good analogy to Dawkins's thoughts. We just need to send Dawkins an email and tell him to change the title of the book to "The Blind Demon."

The answer, as much as the perpetual motion machines makers hate to hear, is no. Maxwell's demon actually INPUTTED energy into the system. So while Maxwell's demon can separate hot from cold, it is only because Maxwell's demon introduces energy into the equation through an information pathway. In order to separate the hot from the cold atoms, you must observe the atoms. In the act of observing (via photons or other mechanism) you are inputting energy into the system.

Information or encoding or algorithms (which are processes to solve problems) are not found naturally in nature. They are placed into nature by means of energy and effort. Signal (and algorithms) tend to all blend together over time, not be turned into more complex bit so information.

But this is exactly what Dawkins does claim. He claims that signal emerges out of noise. He claims that "survival of the fittest is creating signal. (DNA is just a type of signal.) However, this would violate "information entropy."

This is the real bone of contention between Darwinist and those that like intelligent design. The leading proponent of ID, Bill Dembski, bases his ideas that information has characteristics very similar to energy. (Something that I'm not sure that I agree with, but his ideas are close enough to be to worth thinking about.) What Dembski would say is spontaneous generation of signal cannot happen within the bounds of the universe. If Dembski is correct, then the creation of signal and complexity cannot happen through the filter of natural selection.

We shouldn't be too surprised to find out that information and thermodynamics are linked. When you start to dig into information theory, you will find reuse of principles of and phrases of thermodynamics. One of the central words that is quickly thrown around in beginning course on information theory is "information entropy," which echoes many of the ideas of thermodynamic entropy.

[To give a minute to the Darwinist side, they will argue that information entropy, as use by Dembski, simply does not exist. They do not argue against Information Entropy as Shannon described, but they do argue against the ramification that information is formally equivalent to energy and therefore the idea that information cannot be created ex nihilo ("out of nothing") is not a valid argument against darwinism. To me, however, the burden of proof is not on Dembski to prove that information is conserved, but on the darwinist that ex nihilo information can spontaneously be created through an non-intelligent agent. The main problem with Darwinism is the idea that this self organizing behavior is unique to the process of natural selection.]

The key flaw in Maxwell's demon as well as Dawkins Blind Watchmaker is that there is information usage (algorithms and encoding) in "breaking" the second law of thermodynamics as there is also information usage (algorithms and encoding) in the Blind Watch maker.

Without the use of algorithms, you cannot get hot air and cold air to be created out of lukewarm air.

But the creation of intelligence is not free, and the usage of intelligence is not free. To create an intelligent agent, you must expend energy. Maxwell's demon use of intelligence is a bit like an external bits of cold and hot. The system is not closed because Maxwell's demon is there. Therefore, the second law of thermodynamics stays intact because energy is pouring into the system via Maxwell's demon and his processing.

So lets go back to the Blind Watchmaker.

The whole key to Dawkins's idea is the agent that allows only "positive" changes to stay around. This is the problem because for every positive change, we have a corresponding negative change also happening. So if there is a positive event, it will soon be counteracted by a negative event.

In the same way, Dawkins idea needs an intelligent agent to do the sorting. Considering that there are billions of stars and chemical compositions, would it be possible that two atoms might be joined together in a chemical soup? The answer is yes, but then the idea that this molecule sticks around as a "locked in base" just won't happen, unless an intelligent agent exists. But intelligent agents don't happen unless something creates an intelligent agent. Intelligent agents don't "pop into"existence.

Dawkins intelligent agent "the blind watchmaker" cannot exist unless somebody made the intelligent agent. But Dawkins does not answer this quesetion. He, and the rest of the evolutionist crowd, simply want us to accept that it does exist. The blind watchmaker holds up the whole of evolution. But like Atlas, we must ask ourselves, "What does Atlas Stand on."

This answer, on Altas, was told me many years ago by my Linear Mathematics teacher in college:

Q. What holds up the World?
A. Atlas.

Q. What is he standing on?
A. The back of a giant turtle.

Q. And what holds up that turtle?
A. Another turtle.

Q. What holds up that turtle?
A. Listen, I know where you are going, and I want you to's turtles all the way down.

Guess what. The turtles don't exist.

Maxwell's demon does not exist.

And neither does the blind watchmaker.

So, now we round the bend. Just because the blind watchmaker does not exist, does it even that evolution is impossible? Absolutely not! Evolution is very possible, but the probability is very, very low. See, to get a viable chuck of life, you have to do exactly what Dawkins says he does have to do: You need to roll the dice enough times so that they all come up in the combination that you need to start life. At any time, the same roll of the dice that may make a "higher life form" may also be the roll that "causes the whole game to be reset."

It gets even more problematic when you start to understand that many of the things we take for granted. After the Big Bang, the fundamental fields of the universe (strong, weak, electromagnetic, gravity) are not set. Basically, we are lucky that the universe just "happened" to find the right blend of forces so that all atoms didn't fly apart. I know this sounds like science fiction, but there was no reason for gravity to hold to the equation we have today. (Now some like Hawkins are claiming that perhaps the possible fields are not completely random, but he has yet to prove this.)

The simple problem is one of probability.

It has been said that a billion monkey typing long enough could type out Hamlet. In this nice little link, the author points out the following:

If we imagined 17 billion galaxies, each with 17 billion planets, each with 17 billion monkeys, each of which was producing a line of text per second for 17 billion years, and you had a feature to lock out versions that were already done, you would need to replicate this 18,718,157,355,362 times to make sure that you got all the possible versions of the text done. Of course, one would be Hamlet.

I would guess that atheistic evolution is less likely than this, but tell you what. If you are willing to believe in Hamlet from a monkey, you are probably going to believe in spontaneous generation of life from nothing but the leftovers from the big bang.

Now, if you are willing to have faith in this, I am fine with it. Please just don't say that your version of the universe is the most likely one. You are simply saying that you'd rather take this view than one of a deity. At least have the courage to understand that you are a believer in the anthropic principle. If you don't know what this is, then Wikipedia is your friend.

For me and my household, we'll believe that there is a God.

Friday, December 08, 2006

"Mind, Body & Spirit" -> Train Up A Child

It is rather ironic that I basically played every sport under the sun actively as a child, and yet I don't do this any more.

As a matter of fact, how many adults do you see in soccer, baseball, volleyball, and track? There are some, but these sports certainly aren't the choice of older males and females.

Somehow, we think that by allowing our children to play these sports, they will become

a. Happier
b. More well adjusted
c. Smarter

However, I'm not sure if this happens at all. If you played football in high school, you have a tendency to simply sit on the couch and watch football. The sport of participation becomes the sport of watching.

We certainly don't walk around in the business world (except in a few strange companies) and say, "well he had an advantage growing up, his parents put him into football at an early age, therefore he is successful today."

I'm not sure that watching a bunch of football did anything for anybody.

Instead, why don't we prepare our kids in the way that they need to go once they pass the age of 21?

Am I saying that sports are bad? Absolutely not. I look around me, and there is an amazing lack of physical activity everywhere that I look. The solution to this is not "more adult football." The solution to this is more adult swimming, running and walking.

The fundamental issue with most of my peers is that they don't do any physical activity at all. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention do surveys every once in a while to determine how many people exercise.

Back in 2000, there survey said that 74% of Americans don't get the necessary exercise they need. This improved radically in 2003 to 55% of the population not getting enough exercise. How did this radical change happen? The CDC decided to widen their definition of what was acceptable exercise!

So take the range, somewhere between 74-55% of the population simply does not get enough exercise.

Would you assume that it is the "football, basketball and baseball kids" that are now well trained as adults?

I would say no, and believe that the scripture have the answer.

Proverbs 22:6 (New International Version)

6 Train [a] a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.

We are training our children to be dysfunctional.

Not that we are totally missing the boat. After all, we do require some training in things like math. However, it strikes me that we are missing vast chunks of the educational background, and our children are suffering for it.

What should we be training our children?

1. How to stay physically fit. What is the balance of weightlifting, to walking, to running that you'll need to do for the rest of your life.

2. How do you save for the future. How do you plan for retirement?

3. How do you work in teams? How do you persuade people? How do you make goals?

4. How do you play a musical instrument?

I can hear many people saying, "wait a minute, my child doesn't want to do that." Or perhaps they think that the child will pick it up naturally later on.

I think this is highly unlikely.

In the seminal paper by Ericcson on how true experts are made, it is clear that a willingness by the parent to train a child was paramount, regardless of "talent."

To quote the paper:

Many parents of precocious children were convinced of the great importance of very early systematic training and attribute the remarkable abilities of their children to the training and not to inherent talent.

If you read up on expert performance of musicians, you will find that many children were (shudder) FORCED to practice because they didn't want to practice naturally.

The net of all of this?

Children don't naturally want to do what is right for them. Often times we need to force them to do things that are good for their bodies. However, we see, given enough time and not "over forcing" them to do something, eventually they take the lessons from early childhood and turn it into something that will benefit them for a life time.

What is our responsibilities as parents and adults?

The process is very simply, and it has often been called the "WOW-NOW-HOW" model.

We need to come up with visions for our children of how they should be in the future. (The WOW.)

We need to bluntly access their state today. (The NOW.)

Then we need to assess the way to get there. (The HOW.)

I'll cover an example of this in a future post, but for now, start thinking of what you would like to have for your child in the future.

Monday, November 27, 2006

"Spirit" -> Intuition

Richard Wiseman, which is a great name, has declared himself the father of luck.

Specifically, he has been studying what differentiates lucky from unlucky people.

The answer really doesn't have to do with being lucky.

Lucky people are "lucky" because they have some unique characteristics that distinguish their behaviors. In other words, they set themselves up to be lucky.

Gary Player, who also has a great name, has said the self obvious, ""The harder you work, the luckier you get." However, it is more than just hard work that is involved in luck. And Wiseman has identified four characteristics of lucky people. I want to look at one of them in this post:


Wiseman has found out that lucky people listen to their hunches. As my grandfather told my Dad, who told me, "Boy, when you have a gut feeling and you go against it, watch out."

The brain and our spirit process things on multiple levels, and this often comes out as a hunch or intuition.

But there are three basic ways that we screw up the intuitive voice as humans.

1. We miss the intuitive voice altogether:
a. By listening to things which are not actually intuition
b. By not listening at all to our intuition

2. We misinterpret the intuitive voice<

Let's dig into this a bit more.

Intuition is the thoughts that sit inside of our brain that gently nudge us in a particular fashion regardless of the "logical" information that exists.

1a. Missing the Intuitive Voice: "Listening to things which are not actually intuition."

For example, I knew a friend that was dating a wonderful girl. He thought his intuition was speaking to him became uneasy about the relationship. So he decided to split with her. I could see from the side that the split was simply from getting his wires crossed, and he misread his own internal signals.

What happened? The uneasy feeling came because he was falling out of love, and he didn't have the maturity to understand that a long term relationship wasn't built on "being in love" but loving. So, as soon as the "in love" feeling went away he thought that it was intuition saying "don't see this girl anymore."

The opposite of this happens all the time. When you are in love, you will be sorely tempted to assume that intuitively you "should" marry the girl that you are in love with. Many people follow this path, and they will end up miserable. Being in love is not a good source for intuition. You must be careful to separate the intuition from the emotion that lies underneath the intuition.

I had something like that this week. I was not feeling good. I am pretty sure that I had a bit of a cold. Everything at work seemed to irritate me. I had a shorter fuse. Was my intuition telling me that everything was wrong? The answer was no. I wasn't feeling good, therefore I was grumpy.

This is the first point: Intuition is intuition. Make sure intuition is not other things like being sick or have other emotions from non-related projects.

1b. Missing the Intuitive Voice: "Not Listening To Intuition At All"

You might think, therefore, that you shouldn't trust intuition at all. If it can run the risk of being offset by something as minor as being sick, doesn't this mean it is unrealizable?

The answer is "yes and no." Intuition is not completely reliable, otherwise it wouldn't be called intuition. However, it does play the odds. While you intuition is not right 100% of the time, it is going to be right more than 50% of the time. The more that you use your intuition about an area, the more you'll recognize failures in the area, and modify your intuition to be better in the future.

2. We misinterpret the intuitive voice

It is good to consider the following scripture:

I Kings 19

11 Then He said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.
13 So it was, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. Suddenly a voice came to him, and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

This is such a great passage, and one that all of us should know. The still small voice can be found in our day to day walk. The LORD is whispering to us every day. I am not saying that God is in us. God is on the outside.

I am saying that on a consistent basis, God does talk to us. We need to test this intuitive voice against scripture and what is right.

It is up to us to listen.

Thus it brings me back to my previous posts on ear training. I beg you. I plead with you to go to my links and download the software on ear training and try it for a while. Ear training is the perfect analogy for intuition.

Almost everybody can sing a song, but few people can name the notes. If I play two notes on the piano, you may hum them back to me, but I bet it will be very difficult to say "oh, that was a perfect fourth" or say "oh, that was Fa then Do." By studying ear training, you can learn to do just that.

However, as you start to ear train, you will find out that identifying the notes is just maddening. You will think that you hear a note, but you'll be stumped as to what note it was. You will even be able to hum or sing the note, but attaching a name to that note is difficult enough to make you almost cry.

However, by working at it, bit by bit, you will find out that the notes almost start to name themselves. What was formerly a jumble of sound will start to say say "Do, Ti, Re, Fa" and other wonderful names.

The whole secret, in both ear training and intuition, is to make up your mind that you can hear and name the notes, start listening, and follow-up on what you believe was the direction of the music note (or inner voice).

Pretty soon, you'll be able to pick out themes and directions.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

"Mind"-> What Am I Doing?

Luis von Ahn is very, very clever.

He thinks that people waste a lot of time playing solitaire.

"How many hours do you say?"

He figures that we "waste" 9 billion hours a year just playing this game on a computers.

By contrast, it took just 20 millions hours to build the panama canal.

He asked himself, "How can harness this time to output something good?" This is a very interesting answer, and Google invited Luis to tell them what he did, and the lecture is recorded here.

The lecture is well worth your time. Because he tricks people into doing work, and in a very modern way, Luis becomes the Tom Sawyer of the age of computers. Only, he doesn't use a brush, but a game pallet.

You should just go to this site to see a list of games that he has developed to get people to solve very tough problems.

Now, here's the deal. I see what he is doing, and it pretty much makes me wonder what in the world am I doing with my life.

My job is one of negotiation.

About the best that I can hope for is applying a little game theory to my negotiations. However, the bane of my life is that I actually don't create anything new. I simply preserve what we have. I am standing on the other side of the table trying to figure out how much I have to give to somebody else so that they will buy my company's products.

This is a good job. It is a job that needs to be done. I have many people who depend on me successfully negotiating our products price so that they can send their kids to school, set aside money for retirement, or create a career. It is a job worth doing.

But it is not what Luis is doing. Luis is not simply trying to preserve what has already been created. No, indeed, Luis is creating. He is using his minds and and the gifts that God has given him to to make something. To tease something into the light.

He creates something where there was nothing.

He pulls a rabbit out of a hat, and I wish I am him.

Perhaps tomorrow, or the day after, I too will find a hat. I too will find a rabbit in the bottom of the hat.

But tomorrow, tomorrow I go to work.

And I'll negotiate one more day.

"Spirit" -> Divine Providence

Divine providence.

Here are two words that we have lost the meaning of, and we are so much worse for wear because of it. How can we so lose sight of God, and we do not understand this concept? What was the last time that you heard a sermon preached on Divine Providence?

Yet, the heroes of the Bible understood this. Look what Joseph had to say to his brothers that had treated him so poorly.

Genesis 50:20 (New King James Version)

20 But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.

Have you ever driven in a car and had no idea what was over the next bend? If you really can't see into the distance, there is always the possibility of making a wrong turn, having an accident, or driving past your desired destination.

God is above our earthly view, and he can see around the curves and hills. From his vantage point, he can help us "tune our driving" so that we don't make mistakes. It is his perspective that allows him to direct our path with divine providence.

However, the lack of understanding of divine providence is something that has plagued the church for a long time.

To quote Wesley from Sermon 67:

"There is scarce any doctrine in the whole compass of revelation[ie divine providene], which is of deeper importance than this. And, at the same time, there is scarce any that is so little regarded, and perhaps so little understood. Let us endeavor then, with the assistance of God, to examine it to the bottom; to see upon what foundation it stands, and what it properly implies."

As Wesley pointed out in his sermon, the subject of providence is not limited to Christians, and indeed, the idea was found much more firmly inside of Greek thought rather than inside of Christian thought.

However, the Greeks based providence is one of fatalism. They believe that we are powerless to change anything, and the threads of fate will cause us to be swept along with nary an objection.

However, for those of a Wesleyan theological bent, we see the following out of the scriptures:

1. God has a plan for our lives
2. He is weaving all of those plans together
3. We can see the events in our life as signs from God
4. Our free will is captured in how we will internally respond to God's guiding hand
5. However, God's will cannot be changed. If we are not willingly be conformed to the divine providence of God, then we will be destroyed.

My nephew recently told of a story of forgetting something, and then rather than being disappointed in forgetting this item, we went back to get it and accepted that God wanted a delay in his schedule. Because of this delay, we was able to meet a friend that he would have either wise missed.

Where was his "free will" exercised in this event? If you looked at this, you might say "he had no free will, because God was manipulating the circumstances to have him meet his friend." This is not true. The freewill came when he reacted to the change in schedule. This is where he has the ability to impact the outcome:

a. He could have been all ticked that he had forgotten something
b. He could have thanked the Lord for the delay and looked for the reason why

In this case, he said that we wondered what God was up to. Received the delay with a good heart, and he was delighted with the results of this delay. This is his exercise of free will to accept the plan that God has laid out for him on that day.

God has a cycle that he takes us through:

1. Get a set back
2. See how we react to it
3. Depending on the out come of our reaction, he leads us in two different paths

Let's look at my life. I have had 3 major issues in my working career that looked like major setbacks because of "bad events" that happened to me.

In each of these "bad events," I got an extraordinary physical blessing. Here is a list of extraordinary good events that happened after these bad events (and each case was tied to the bad event through a clear chain of events):

a. My salary was doubled
b. I received almost a years worth of salary on top of my current salary
c. I received a massive amount of stock

These three separate events were years apart, so it it wasn't just one big miracle.

Even more importantly, all of these events happened without me contributing. The only reason why I list them here is because it was so obviously completely and total beyond my control, it was clearly a miracle that I had absolutely, and I mean absolutely nothing to do with.

Now, I don't believe God because he has blessed me.

Although I don't like to think about it, God can decide to test me at anytime: even as a righteous man ala Job. However, the above events are just so strange and wonderful that they have become a touchstone of faith in my life. The children of Israel had the parting of the Red Sea. I have my three financial events.

Out of the events above, in sheer joyous response, I have been able to fund a couple things that is in the Lord's work. Now, I want to be clear. I hate, absolutely hate the idea that if you give God money that he is obligated to give you something back. I did not give back to the Lord because it was going to "keep the cycle coming." The idea that you give money to the Lord to get back money on earth is horrible theology. However, if God does miracles in your life and you are not gracious and thankful something is fundamentally broken inside of your Christianity.

The next time something good happens in your life say, "Thank you God, let me be gracious and accept this perfect gift from your divine providence." And, like our spiritual forefathers in the Old Testament make an offering to the Lord for the goodness that he has given you. Write the good event down and remember it.

The next time something bad happens in you life say, "Thank you God, and although this bothers me tremendously and I cannot sleep, I know that you are behind this all, and your divine providence is guiding all of this. I will trust and love you despite the bad things in my life. Please delivery me quickly and safely through this time of trial."

Understand Divine Providence and this short vapor of a life will be all the more rewarding.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

"Music" -> The Well Tempered Clavier (The Latest Episode)

Yes, today is Thanksgiving, but the subject for today is Fugue #2 in the Well Tempered Clavier book (or the WTC) by JS Bach.

As mentioned before in my October 1st post, I am trying to make it through Bach's book before I leave this earth.

Let recount what the WTC is all about:

a. Bach wrote it as an exercise for his students
b. It consists of a prelude and a fugue in every major and minor key
c. There are 12 major keys and 12 minor keys for a total of 24 keys
d. Two pieces times 24 keys is 48 pieces
e. Bach, after writing his first book, decided that each key deserved another prelude and fugue
g. So, he wrote another book with 48 pieces in it
h. Total he wrote 96 pieces
i. At one time or the other, I have completely played Prelude 1, Prelude 2, Fugue 2
j. I am now stuck on Fugue 1, which has been a misery to get through, but beautiful all the same
k. Once through this piece, I will have only 92 pieces to go
l. I am praying that I'll increase in speed in learning or I'll run out of life

Plugging through the music in my spare time results in a slow forward progress. However, little by little, I can start to see the end of the current piece I'm playing come into sight.

Today I worked on measure 22. There are 27 measures that make up the second Fugue. Compared to the section that I was struggling through back in October, it should be simpler. However, the brain is a funny thing. I have been going through the second half of measure 22 slowly, and my brain just is not catching it.

The pattern is basically the same for most types of learning:

1. You laboriously learn a section of music by learn each hand separate
2. You then meld the hands together slow
3. You gradually pick up speed
4. Then the magic happens

What is the magic. This is when you go from consciously playing the piece to your hands just playing themselves. It is magic.

If I put up a recording of my playing, you would hear me play fairly smoothly through measure 21 or so. Then suddenly, I get to measure 22 and every thing grinds to a halt. I go from what sounds wonderful to something that sounds like a rank beginner.

I almost don't know how to describe what it is like to simply have your hands fly over the keyboard, and you don't even think about it. For somebody that doesn't play, here is how you want to think about it.

Watch a child trying to figure out how to walk for the first time. Most children have all the muscle tone that they need to walk long before they actually try and walk. Instead of walking, however, they "cruise." They pull themselves along furniture and walk while hanging onto something.

Why do they do this? Because they have not development the balance and the fine motor skills required to actually walk. They have all the strength, but the brain isn't wired for walking. So, they spend a long time simply developing their brain for walking.

You were a child just like this at one time. You had to develop you brain so that it could walk.

Now, think about walking. Do you need to laboriously plot out how to stand and how to balance?

No. The subconscious has now taken over. You simply move, with your body on autopilot.

The same thing happen with playing an instrument. You progress and the mind can go onto autopilot as you view the notes. As mentioned before, the "best of the best" get in around 10,000 hours before they truly get to world class performance. For the serious amateur, perhaps 3000 to 5000 hours would be enough. If the research is correct, if you put in around 5000 hours practicing the piano, you should end up pretty good.

The problem, as I am find in my own life, is how do you get all these hours in. The idea or throwing 5000 hours after something is pretty amazing.

For instance, it has been around 53 days since I was working on measure 17. On average, I probably don't spend much more than 1/2 hour practicing the piano a day. Thus, I have put in around 26 hours of practice. Most of this practice is not on the WTC. About 2/3 of this practice has been on my scales. (When I was younger, I had learned A-G scales, but none of the flat or sharped scales such as Ab to G# enharmonically.) So, I have been practicing my scales, and during the last week or so, I am now able to play all major scales or the 12 chromatic scales that are on the piano.

So, I'm not so disappointed in my progress, but it does cause me to think about how to find time to practice more. After all, if I am practicing 1/2 hour per day, then I am going to end up with roughly 182 hours of practice over the course of a year. Not bad, but it is going to take over 20 years to get just 2000 hours of practice in.

Finally, one more thought. I am a very busy person, and I hardly watch any television at all. However, the majority of Americans watch around 30 hours of television per week. This translates into 1500 hours of "practice" per year watching the television. However, none of this is deliberate practice, and as the first post in this blog points out, this activity looks to be brain degrading.

Just think if we could harness the power of the television into something that would cause our brains to grow. If the average American could spend 20 hours per week doing something constructive with their brains (or using this to support their body), I think we would have a productivity bonanza that would cause the USA to catch economic fire.

Epilogue: My wife and I were talking about life and productivity this morning. We have accumulated a considerable amount of wealth over the last 14 years. However, when we were in our 20, we were really focused more on ourselves. We wanted to a series of things in our life, and most of these were very self focused. Now, when I look back on this time, do I have a bunch of "once in a life time" memories that I am really, really glad that I did while I was young?

The answer is no. Don't make a mistake, because I am not sad about this time, but doing stuff that was completely self absorbed didn't necessarily create an environment that was rewarding and I could look back on with good thoughts.

Instead, I have much better thoughts about the time after this: having kids, creating a home, creating investments, and supporting the work of Christ.

What was the difference between our early 20s and after?

My wife pointed out this morning, that we were not pursuing God during our early 20s. This is the truth of life. The more that you pursue only things that are interesting to you, the less that it will ultimately result in memories that cause you to be satisfied.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

"Body & Mind" -> Success (Part III)

In the previous post, we found out how incredible the training effect is on the body. If you approach things correctly, you can be in your 60s and still have the endurance of 20 years old.

The brain is even more interesting. As mentioned before in this blog, brain cells are post-mitotic. This means that brain cells don't increase, but neither do they die! In other words, treat the brain cells you have well, and they will stick with you.

I won't repeat my earlier post, but I do encourage you to read it again. It will help you remember what you need to do to preserve your brain.

So, lets repeat a few concepts from this blog:

1. Brain cells are the hardware
2. A skill (or expert performance) is the software.

Now if you have a lot of skill at something, is this because you are talented?

Remember that we talked about KA Ericcson publishing a paper in 1993? His paper really pushed the idea that practice and not talent was key in skill aquistion. It will makes sense if you understand the nature of the brain.

1. Brains fundamentally are not constructed radically different. Some people have wiring that is a bit screwed up, and others have a few more brain cells, but for the most part we are pretty all the same.

2. Thus, you need the right software download to get skill into your brain.

So, let's ask ourselves "what is talent?"

Talent is the ability to load the right software into our brain to acquire skill.

If you remember the movie "The Matrix," you should remember that the characters could download skill via a cable into their brains: that is that they could "download" the right program for Kung-fu, for language, or for flying a helicopter. However, that was science fiction. How do we "really" put software into our brain.

Many people believe that to download the right skill into your brain you need "talent." You might look at an individual and assume "wow, look at that skill. I bet it wasn't hard for them to gain that skill. Therefore, they must have something that I don't. They must have "talent," which allows them to download that skill without much problems."

This is called Nature vs Nurture. Is it the "inside" that makes a difference, or is it the "outside" that makes the difference?

So if you see somebody that has a lot of skill on the violin, you will probably believe the following:

1. Their brain was preprogrammed for the violin. (Nature)


2. Their brain was easier to program in certain people. (Nature)


3. More time is spent stuffing into their brain the information for the skill. (Nurture)

The first two say "talent." The last one says "hard work."

The world of psychology has gone back and forth over this. In the hey-day of BF Skinner, it was assumed that everybody was a blank slate, and your could simply "program" any person to any end.

However, things like the Minnesota twins study started to cast grave doubts on this. What was the Minnesota twins study? If was looking at identical twins that were separated at birth and were raised in different environments. It was very interesting to see that even when raised apart, many twins had very similar skills. So, many said, "ah hah, people have inborn talents that allow them to have similar skills."

Ericcson has started to swing the pendulum back to "programming" via hard work. How did he do this?

While Ericcson looked at several different areas, he looked very closely at violin players. Now, let's say you believe great violin players are born (have inborn talent) and not made. Thus what would you assume?

*If you believe in talent, we would expect the very skilled violin players to become very, very good without much practice.

*If you believe in talent, we would expect the violin players that aren't good to spend a lot of time practicing, but not to become very good.

So let's look at the data that he found.

The chart to the side shows the different categories of violin players. Part of the challenge is finding people who are willing to track how much time they spend in practice.

However, they found three different groups that they could get data on:

1. Teachers, who were good enough to teach.
2. Student that were "good"
3. "Talented" individuals

If you read the chart, you are going to come to a conclusion that is not tied to "having talent." Instead, you will see that, at any age, the best students simply practiced more.

Let's repeat that: simply working harder resulted in having more skill.

Lets look at bit at the data. The data shows the total accumulated time our subjects had spent in practice.

For instance, by the time the "teacher catagory" was 20 years old, they had accumulated under 5000 hours of practice. On the other hand, the good players had under 8000 hours of practice. However, the best players had over 1000 hours.

Think of it this way:

The best players simply flooded their brains with the violin. The ate violin. They slept violin. They spent twice as many hours every week playing the violin over the teachers. And because of their hard work, they resulted in "talent" for the violin.

Here is the issue, if you can't do something, don't blame your lack of talent, blame that you don't want to practice.

As Ericcson dug into this, he also found out that the way that you practiced was incredibly important. Some people may do an activity all day long, but they don't get any better. However, other people can also do something all day, and they will get better.

This problem is not new, and we can look at telegraph operators to see data from 150 years ago.

The telegraph was the internet of its age. The biggest problem with the telegraph was the speed of the operators. The faster your operator, the more your profits would become. So, they started to study operators.

Some were "naturally" very fast, and others were slower. While operators started the job, they were slow, but they increased their speed with time, and then eventually their speed leveled off. Thus it would appear that the speed of the operator would naturally "stop" after a while.

But here the really interesting thing. If they engaged these operators in special kinds of training they could increase their speed again. So, even though they might "naturally level off," it was possible to get them faster again.

So how did this happen? The analogy that I use is the "empty garbage can" that people throw used paper towels into in public restrooms. The garbage can is like your brain. The stuff that you need to put into your brain is like the paper towels that need to be put into the trash can.

Now, when the garbage can is empty, you can simply throw in the towel. What happens when the towels get to the top of the can?

You can either say:

1. The trash can is full
2. I need to compact the trash that is in there so I can throw in more towels.

This happens at work all the time. I come into the men's room, and the can is overflowing with paper towels. What do I do?

I roll up my sleeves, I grab a new paper towel, and I use this paper towel to push all the other paper towels into the trash can. By pushing in the new paper towel, I am able to open up more space on top, and then people can throw more in.

What I find is interesting: I am the only person I ever see compacting the trash. Most people are simply lazy, and they would rather say "the trash is full" and throw their towel on the ground, than going through the effort of pushing down the used towels.

Most people when they sense that their "brain is full" simply get to the point where the "natural" empty part of their brain is full with facts. So people have a bit bigger brain and can naturally take more facts, but even here, their brains eventually fill up. However, if you really want to cram in the software, you need to roll up your sleeves and do some work and really cram more software in.

So, how do you do you stuff more knowledge into your brain? You use "deliberate practice" and cram the software programming into the brain.

So, what do you need for deliberate practice?

Here is the list (as in a paper that is recapped by Larry C. Farmer & Gerald R. Williams):

(1) a highly motivated student
(2) with good concentration
(3) performs a well-defined task,
(4) at an appropriate level of difficultly,
(5) receives informative feedback, and
(6) is given opportunities for repetition to correct errors and polish the skill before moving to the next task

The best way that know how to describe this is to talk about my piano playing. I can sit down and just practice without trying anything hard. I simply play pieces that I've played before. Or perhaps, I simply play through a couple of pieces that I've done before. The problem with this is that is in NOT deliberate practice. This is junk practice.

To gain skills, I do something that makes my brain hurt. This is how I do this.

1. I go to a new section of the music that I have not mastered.
2. I practice with one hand until I can play the passage correctly. Right now it is Bach's "Little Clavier Book" and will be a phrase which is a measure or two. This is very often very difficult in the tough passages, and my brain almost feels like screaming as I hit the wrong notes or sit at one key trying to figure out what key to press next.
3. I then go through the passage with my other hand on the section of music designed for it. Again, this is very difficult and my brain almost hurts.
4. I then slowly go through the section with both hands until I get it correct.
5. I then increase the speed of this passage until I can play is through.
6. I then back back a few bars to see if I can transition into the passage.
7. Finally, I start from the beginning of the piece to see if I can get to the new section.

This process is very painful, and I can't do it all day. I can feel my brain saying "I'm full, why are you pushing more in?" However, after a while, I have gained the section, but it also helps me in other sections. I have done the deliberate (painful) practice.

Let's go back to the telegraph operators. What they did was take the operators and challenge them in speed tests and contests--very similar to the way that I might practice the piano. They encouraged them to push harder and practice on words that might slow them down. Then did individual drills.

The outcome? Everybody got better. Even the ones at the top of the pack.

You can apply this to work.

1. Do you use Excel? Are you trying to figure out Pivot tables?
2. Do you do presentations? Are you reading books on how they should flow and the pictures that should be inserted?
3. Are you responsible for giving out prices? Are you trying to memorize all of the prices that are in the book so you don't have to look up a price when somebody ask you, but you simply know them?

All of the above require practice, practice, practice. Have you ever thought really, really hard and you couldn't quite get something? This isn't bad. This is the act of "cramming in the extra paper towel" to compress the garbage in the garbage can. The struggle to learn shows that you are in the process of rearranging your brain.

Now here is the rub. I believe that there are two things that go into your ability to do deliberate practice.

1. Some people are just naturally geared toward stuffing things into their brain.
2. Some people have the ability to be disciplined.

If you are not in boat #1, you need to be in boat number two.

Now, let's be clear, you need to have something to aim at. If somebody hands me 50 pounds of flour and asks me to stuff it into a small garbage can, it just isn't going to work. You need to make goals that are reasonable. This can be summarized in the following:

You can often do much more than you think, and often less than you want. To maximize your potential you need realistic goals and the willingness to suffer a little.

You must sit back and make some goals for yourself. How do you do this?

a. Measure where you are at.
b. Make a goal to get a bit better that you perceive as a stretch
c. Do deliberate practice
d. Retest to find how close you have gotten to your goal.
e. If you get close to your goal, reset the goal higher.

For example, let's say you type 40 words per minute. However, you know that if you type faster that you'll be able to communicate at work much better. You should do the following:

1. Buy a typing program
2. Measure you current speed of typing (lets say 35 words per minute)
3. Set a goal for 50 words per minute
4. Practice the skill tests they have in the program (boring, but needful)
5. Test and reset the goals once you are at 50 words per minute

It often helps to understand what is the fastest typist in the word. Right now it is about 150 words per minute. I would suggest setting a goal under this, since you should always measure on a curve to avoid setting goals that are unrealistic.

Finally, what about the Minnesota twins study? To me, the answer is pretty simple.

There is one thing separate people, their desire to work hard.

While you can get people to similar skill levels (regardless of the talent idea), you need to review the list of items that are necessary for deliberate practice. Number one on the list? A highly motivated student.

Now here is the final irony. There is one talent that is critical for skill acquisition.

The talent for accepting hard work.

It seems that the desire to work hard, to deal with the pain of deliberate practice, the intrinsic interest in an area is all tied to our ability to work hard.

In the end, perhaps it is nature. Luckily, we can often raise ourselves beyond our normal desires. As a Christian, you can ask the Lord to help you.

Luke 11:9 (New International Version)

So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.