A rare disorder, congenital insensitivity to pain deprives the individual of the ability to feel pain. The infant cries less and has a happier attitude than her healthy sibling but is nevertheless profoundly disabled

A scientific paper is by necessity boring: the author’s explicit intention is to preclude alternative personal interpretations of results and to explicate — to punish imagination with point-by-point verification and control experiments. A scientist ought to make no claim before she shows how to see what she saw. The mind dislikes being shown how to see: it delights in a fleeting glance provoking elaborate imagination with multiple hues and meanings, it revels in art — far-reaching strokes and the liberty to confabulate: it seeks to avoid painstaking effort of seeing the world in the world’s own detail preferring that which it itself synthesizes.

Are you a believer or atheis†? If one reads a page from a textbook that explains a clear concept, one’s mind will absorb that concept and one will return to that page no more. A sensible God quickly loses its appeal. A strictly sensible religion will not capture minds. A charismatic politician speaks in broad strokes freeing the listener’s imagination to paint her own fitting image of perfection. The mind desensitizes to that which it has understood deprived of rewarding surprise whereas assuring consonance infused with mystic dissonance arouses cognition. Brazen incongruity shrouded in unabashed fatherly certainty shake perceptions awake and make one return time and again for an electrifying helping of addicting titillation.

I am puzzled by that question and say no. Are you agnostic then? Non sequitur. False trichotomy. No. Am I without knowledge? Am I with less knowledge than the gnostic? A lesser kind of knowledge? Perhaps we mean different things by “knowledge.” I seek to know, I recognize the limitations of my knowing, my understanding changes and shifts, but I shall not be called without knowledge.

And God by any other name is still a name, a concept evading definition in order to stay relevant and to survive, a dopaminergic ambiguity clutching attention and begging you to return. Am I an atheist or believer? I used to be, and then I stopped. Stopped using. Stopped assuming that concepts by which we operate bear on immutable reality. As God must refuse to be sensible to stay relevant, I refuse him my denial.

Does your faith deprive you of the pain of your finiteness and insignificance to give you unencumbered bliss?

I think therefore thought am I. In a common-sense worldview, I is the most basic elemental indivisible atom, simplest of all concepts, the starting point, the building block. In science, consciousness is the most complicated system ever studied, emergent from billions of cells of various types and functions through interactions with the organism, its peers, and the environment. Which do you choose? Is consciousness complex or elemental?

The term atheist comes from a native language of common sense where I is elemental and the universe is imbued with consciousness, the simplest path for a mammal to making sense. While striving to master the bewildering precepts of the foreign language of emergent I, I find relief in familiarity. Then why would I deny the native common sense from which we all start, the ambiguous presumptions that enable all to be part of us — where God is? Still, I must challenge attempts to concretize divinity and to name the height of heaven and to declare a path to significance, to make faith a virtue and doubt vice. Finally, as a person, I consider myself fortunate to feel pain and anguish in all their forms and occasionally I will feel compassion toward someone who cannot experience the their full gamut.

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Seeing patterns

2008/04/30

The entire universe looks very much like a neuronal network! observes Mark Miller, a doctorate student at Brandeis University. As far as I can tell, his observation is original (please correct me). I can predict with some confidence that a New-Age or religious author/leader will appropriate this observation to support her metaphysical view and imbue it with spiritual meaning: we are but cells in a big brain, man!

Indeed, the largest known structure in the universe is the galactic filament: galaxies and clusters of galaxies are not distributed uniformly but, strangely, are organized in filaments. Direct imaging of such macrostructures is difficult and they are often visualized in computer simulations based on statistical analysis of observed structures.

Figure shamelessly borrowed from Michael J. West at Saint Mary’s University, who, in turn, borrowed it from Hugh Couchman.

Such appropriation was the fate of the cell adhesion protein laminin that forms much of extracellular connective tissue. It had the misfortune to be shaped as the crucifix:

And now, it is a pillar of the Christian faith. Our entire bodies are held together by the Cross of Christ, man!

Now, we just need to find a molecule that spells “This pattern carries no spiritual significance.”

Still, we see substantial progress in the science of interpreting patterns: from faces in the clouds and virgins on tortillas boldly forward to electronic microscopy and computer simulation.