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  • Restorative Readings: The Old Testament, Ethics, and Human Dignity
    Restorative Readings: The Old Testament, Ethics, and Human Dignity
    Pickwick Publications

    Foreword by Walter Brueggemann, my chapter is entitled 'In conversation: The Old Testament, Ethics and Human Dignity'. A superb resource edited by Julie Claassens and Bruce Birch

  • What are we thinking? Reflections on Church and Society from Southern African Methodists.
    What are we thinking? Reflections on Church and Society from Southern African Methodists.
    by Dion A Forster, Wessel Bentley
  • Methodism in Southern Africa: A celebration of Wesleyan Mission
    Methodism in Southern Africa: A celebration of Wesleyan Mission
    by Dion A Forster, Wessel Bentley
  • Christ at the centre - Discovering the Cosmic Christ in the spirituality of Bede Griffiths
    Christ at the centre - Discovering the Cosmic Christ in the spirituality of Bede Griffiths
    by Dion A Forster
  • An uncommon spiritual path - the quest to find Jesus beyond conventional Christianity
    An uncommon spiritual path - the quest to find Jesus beyond conventional Christianity
    by Dion A Forster
Transform your work life: Turn your ordinary day into an extraordinary calling. by Dion Forster and Graham Power.
Download a few chapters of the book here.
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Entries in neuroscience (50)

Wednesday
Oct282009

Do Chimpanzees grieve? And can we exist outside of God?

Some years ago I got quite caught up on reading some of the esoteric 'new scientists', such as Fritjof Capra, Rupert Sheldrake, and of course the quantum physicist David Bohm.  Their understanding of the structure of reality is that everything is ultimately interconnected - some of them even when as far as saying, as Colossians 1:(16)17 says "He [Jesus / God] is before all things, and in Him all things hold together", that all of reality comes out of God's divine nature.

I certainly agree that there must be a binding reality, some may call it a binding creative force, in all of the cosmos.  This is entirely in keeping with the teaching on creation that comes from both the Old Testament and the New Testament.  The Old Testament is much less 'dualistic' than the New Testament.  The Hebrew world view differentiates between God and God's creation (i.e., God is supreme and wholy 'other' or different from creation), yet it does not separate God from God's creation.  There is a continuum of being between the God who creates and existing things that exist because of and through God's ongoing creative action (cretio ex nihilo  and of course creatio continiuum).  The New Testament suffers a little more from the influence of Platonic dualism (well more precisely neo-Platonic dualism.  Plato believed that physical reality was an imperfect representation of a perfection spiritual reality that existed elsewhere.  Of course one reads this very clearly in Hebrews (see particularly Hebrews 10), where there is a clear distinction between earthly priests and the True Priest, the earthly tabernacle and earthly sacrifice, and the True Tabernacle and True Sacrifice.  This dualism, however, must not be mistaken for a break in the continuum between God and creation.

What is certain in both the monism of the Old Testament, and the dualism of the New Testament is that nothing can exist outside of God!  Think about that for a moment!  God is God, everything that is created by God exists within the God who gives it the ability to exist - it can be no other way!  I used to confound my first year systematic theology students with this question.  Many would say that you have God and then you have creation.  But, if that were the case it would mean that there is something that has a seperate existance from the One God who is the source of everything that exists.  I would draw a large circle (and name it 'God') and then ask where creation is in relation to that large circle... Of course everything that exists has to exist within and because of the God who creates it and is its source of ongoing existence.

So, if you take the next logical step from that point you will have to agree that the Bible teaches us that there is a fundamental common ground for all existence - that fundamental common ground is God (the one who makes existence possible)!

I have often pondered this mystery... Of course it means (as I said some 20 years ago in an oral exam) that when I abuse another person, I am ultimately abusing God, and of course even abusing myself...  The same goes for creation... When I abuse creation, I am abusing God, and abusing myself (read Psalm 24:1-2)...

It is for this reason that I am always amused, and blessed, when I read stories like the one below.  I am amused because it astounds me how arrogant humans have become to think that we are the only part of God's creation that feels emotion, experiences pain, and suffers loss.  But, it also blesses me when I see a few people who come to discover that we have a responsibility (I would say a Christian responsibility in accordance with 'The Great Commandment' expressed so clearly in Luke 10:27) to care for animals, the planet, and all of God's creation as we would care for ourselves.
 
This was such a powerful image, and a lovely article (taken from here)

 

chimp.jpg
Look at this photograph and just try to tell me the answer is no.
This incredible image was shot for National Geographic by Monica Szczupider, and shows chimpanzees at the Sanaga-Yong Chimpanzee Rescue Center in Cameroon. They're observing as the body of an elder troop member named Dorothy is taken to burial. She died at 40 years of age, which is pretty old for a chimpanzee.
The photo appears in the November issue of National Geographic Magazine, in the "Visions of Earth" section. [ Thanks, Marilyn Terrell ]

 

Thursday
Sep242009

A man posts an interactive browser of his brain (scan).

I spent quite a lot of time working with Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans during my doctoral research.  In my case I looked at two specific things.  The MRI is very helpful when one wishes to establish the location of some form of damage to the brain (a tumor, cyst, or lesion).  I used this to help me understand how persons processed meaning (and of course how pathology impacted the processing of meaning in the human brain - it is a common occurrence that persons manifest heightened religious or spiritual consciousness when they have some form of abnormality in their brain).  Just as an aside, note that I say abnormality in this instance and not pathology! Of course this is because being different from the norm is not only a neurological phenomenon.  There are many persons who are different from the norm (whatever the 'norm' is!) because, for example, they may be an immigrant in a new country (sociology), taller than the average population (physical attributes), have extra abilities (such as exceptional sports skills) etc.  Abnormality must not be confused with pathology - just because someone, or something, is not 'normal' it does not make it wrong.

Nelson Mandela is an 'abnormal' being - after 27 years in prison the average person (normal) would seek some form of retribution or revenge for their suffering.  He, however, sought reconciliation!  Abnormality can give us a great deal of insight into how things should be!

Other than MRI scans I also made use of magnetoencephalography - this is different from MRI scanning (well slightly different) in that it gives one the ability to view the whole brain (rather than just 'slices' of the brain) to be able to see where the electrical pulses and 'hotspots' of certain cognitive processes are located.  So, for example, one could ask a person to imagine a certain event, or stimulate an emotion through showing them a picture, inducing the sense of smell, or playing a piece of music, and then see where in the brain there is electrical activity (neural activity).  I am STILL working on a rewrite of my doctoral thesis - when that project is done it will present some of my research on how the brain processes religious consciousness (particularly as it relates to identity).  The working title of the book is "Why you're not who you think you are:  Adventures in neuroscience and theology".

Of course the human brain is only one part of the complex array of interconnected elements that makes up who we truly are - however, it is a rather important part of that complex reality!  I found the following post quite interesting (if not amusing!).  If you're interested to see what an MRI looks like in relation to the person who's brain was scanned then follow this link.  Here's the original story from Boing Boing.

 

Mribrainnnn
In September 2009 my doctor recommended an MRI to rule-out a couple of potential conditions. The scan came back completely normal, which was a great relief! As a kind of cathartic exercise, and inspired by Dustin Curtis's brain tour I decided to do something with the images. I spent most of a fun weekend writing this MRI explorer. I hope you enjoy playing with it! Inside Bill Moorier's Brain


For more of my posts on the brain and neuroscience please follow this link, or simply search for 'brain' or 'neuroscience' in the search box on this blog.

 

Tuesday
Aug112009

Turing machines, one kind of stuff and artificial consciousness.

This is an older post (dating back to the 20th of April 2004!). Someone sent me a note about it and asked me to repost it here... So here it is!
____


Computers seem to be so good at so many things. They are able to calculate with accuracy and efficiency
that very few humans could ever hope to match. They foster communication and connection in a manner which even some of the most complex social structures find difficult to attain. This has set me wondering whether there will ever come a time when computers are able to outperform humans in that third type of knowledge, spiritual intelligence.

 

In their superb book SQ Danah Zohar and Ian Marshall suggest that there are three types of intelligence. Firstly, there is IQ (Intellectual Quotient). This is the kind of intelligence that has to do with logic and reason. It applies certain rules in a very linear way to come to particular conclusions. In fact they suggest that this kind of intelligence operates within the human brain through a series of neural connections (neurons are the cells in the brain that fire the electric charges, or currents, that make the brain work) that are connected in a linear fashion. People who posses a high degree of this kind of intelligence can do calculations quickly, the operate well with rules, and are able to make fairly concrete, black and white, decisions. Of course computers can do this very well. They operate according to preset (or preprogrammed) rules e.g. if this happens then do that, if that happens then do this, if neither happens then do this or that (this process has become known as the Turing process, after it's designer Alan Turing). Because of the fact that this kind of intelligence works well with rules it did not take too long for computers to be programmed that could do things, which required an ability to operate within the constraints of certain rules, very well. For example the chess playing super-computer developed by IBM, Big Blue, which beat Gary Kasparov, the world champion chess master at Chess. Give a computer enough accurate programming and it will be able to adequately figure out what response makes the most sense. Add to that the processing power to perform these calculations with great speed and you have a machine that will outperform a human, within the ambit of it's programming, every time! However, change just one variable and the computer will be stumped. You see it can only operate within the limited confines of the program that has been fed into it.

The second kind of knowledge that Marshall and Zohar identify is EQ (Emotional Quotient). Of course, anybody who has read recent works in corporate culture and personal development should be familiar with this kind of the knowledge. This is a kind of knowledge that allows one flexibility to make creative and diverse choices within the confines of certain preset rules and conditions. Whereas linear, IQ, only allows one to make the choices of the program, EQ allows one to make choices within the scope of the program. So, if this isn't so, and that isn't so, it doesn't mean that I crash and stop working. Rather it means that I find another answer that works in order to solve the problem. This kind of knowledge is not linear, it is parallel. Within the brain it is suggested that humans have the capacity for this kind of knowledge because of extremely complex parallel neural connections. For example, I am learning to ride a bicycle and fall off. A logical thought process would say "you cannot ride a bicycle so you should not climb on one, since because you cannot ride, you will fall each time you climb on the bicycle". However, a complex, or parallel, thought would ask "are there any other instances that I can draw on, from other experiences that I have had, where I have learned how to do something that I could not do before? Yes there are, here is how I learnt these skills and abilities, so apply something similar from another context to this context [e.g. trial and error, perseverance, drawing on the knowledge and skill of others etc.] and I will learn how to do the thing that I cannot do know." Thus, even though it is logical and reasonable that I may fall off the bike again, because I cannot ride, my mind tells me that through processes that I already have some experience of I can learn how to ride. So I climb on the bike again. Computers are able to do this task well. They have two things in their favor. Firstly, they are able to store, or remember, things well. If information is stored it remains usable as long as it is made available to use, and of course as long as nothing goes wrong with the machine and wipes out all the data (a.k.a use a Mac, not Windows!) Neural networks and Artificially Intelligent (AI) machines that are programmed with the ability to alter their own code, or programming, in response to certain circumstances, are examples of this. For example, some companies use AI machines such as those mentioned previously to manage trades on the stock market. A machine may be programmed to automatically sell all stocks, or buy on more stock, if the stock level reaches a certain level. However, the machine also stores 'experiences' of the outcomes of previous trades. For example, the machine may store that three out of four times when the stock price suddenly dropped below a level when it had been programmed to sell off all stocks, it suddenly rebounded to a much higher level than it held before the fall. Thus, because of this 'memory', the machine alters it's programming to say something along the lines of "don't immediately sell when the stock reaches this level, first wait a day to see whether it rebounds, if it does not then sell, if it does start to rebound then buy". You can see that it is issuing itself and instruction which may be contrary to the initial instruction that the human programmer has given. But, at the end of the day the computer's new, or changed, instruction makes more fiscal sense. Where as a human trader may panic or grow impatient and make the wrong decision, an AI machine should become more and more accurate in it's decisions to sell or buy, the more experience and data it has to store. Again, add to this process increased speed and you have a very accurate, highly efficient, machine that could outstrip a human being in EQ.

The third kind of knowledge that Zohar and Marshall speak about is an integrative knowledge, which they call SQ (Spiritual Quotient). This is a knowledge that works not only with the rules (like IQ does), and not only within the rules (like EQ does), it works the rules themselves! Let's use another hypothetical, and very simplistic, example. A person lives in an oppressive society. If such a person only had IQ, they would either have to obey, or not obey the rules of the country. If the person had EQ as well, they would have to try and find ways of living within the rules (finding exceptions and flaws in the rules which to exploit). However, a person with high SQ would seek to live outside of the rules, maybe even creating a new set of rules. IQ asks, "How can I do it?" EQ asks, "What can I do with it?" SQ asks, "Is this what I want?"

Now clearly, this kind of 'transcendent' knowledge is not yet a capability of the computers that I use (although, I must confess that my MAC does seem to defy many rules!) However, the question that one needs to ask is why is it not possible, and just because it is not possible today, does it mean that it is impossible? Think about it, just 150 years ago it was not possible to phone another person, to fly, to drive a car, and a myriad of other things which are commonplace today.

One of the strongest set of arguments that are given for why this kind of intelligence will not be possible for machines are arguments which are based upon variations of the understanding of human consciousness. Many argue that machines will not be able to do this kind of thinking since they are not conscious. They are not creative, they are created. Many argue that the reason why we can apply SQ within our lives is because we are conscious beings, we can think, but more importantly we can think about ourselves. In other words, I can ask myself, "how do I feel about this, can I do anything about it, do I have to live this way..." More importantly I have something which is known as 'metacogition', the ability to think about my thoughts. A computer can only 'think' this, or 'think' that. It may even be able to alter it's 'thoughts' in some way (as mentioned above). However it cannot think whether the thoughts themselves are valid or not valid.

This is where the theorists fall into two camps. In his book God and the mindmachine John Puddefoot speaks of the monists and the dualists. Let's first talk about the dualists. These are people who say that mind and matter are two different and distinct things. Like the philosopher, Descartes, they say that mind is something separate and distinct from the physical works (res cogitans versus res extensia). Plato, of course, was one of the earliest recorded thinkers along this line. He believed that people were souls that were trapped in physical bodies. Within the Christian tradition we have many such neo-Platonic ideas (particularly those of the Gnostics). I have also noticed that forms of neo-Gnosticism are prevalent in many modern Charismatic Churches that emphasis the importance of the spirit over, and against, 'the flesh' (which is regarded as weak and sinfull). Anyway, the dualist argument holds that machines, which are matter, could never become truly conscious since they are a completely different 'stuff' to mind. They are physical and not spiritual.

The other camp are known as the monists. They are people who believe that everything is one and the same 'stuff' (see some of the papers that I have written on this website at http://www.spirituality.org.za which refers to such thinkers as the Quantum Physicist, David Bohm, and the monk Dom Bede Griffiths). There is a fare amount of current scientific theory that suggests that mind and matter come from the same common spiritual source. Of course as Christians we should hold to such a view if we take texts such as Ephesians 1:10 and Collosians 1:16-17 seriously. In short, the proponents of this view, whether Christian or from other faith traditions (particularly faith traditions that are not dualistic - such as Hinduism and Buddhism) hold to the notion that since all reality is of the same 'stuff' there is no reason why consciousness is not possible for something that is material. After all, we as human beings are matter and we are conscious. Thus, some theorists have applied variations of this view to suggest that machines (whether electronic, mechanical or biological) have the same capacity for consciousness, and thus transcendent or spiritual existence, as we do. Sure, this is a very strong view of Artificial Intelligence, it borders on manic optimism, but it is logical if one agrees with the underlying principles and thought processes.

So, it could be possible that machines could one day be better than human beings in all three spheres of intelligence, IQ, EQ and most importantly SQ. Popular films such 'The Matrix', 'Dark City' and of course the Stanley Kubrick classic '2001 a space odyssey' have all speculated to the outcome of such an eventuality. If evolution continues to operate, even at the level of consciousness, then it could be possible that humanity would become the inferior species. Thus, at worst we could face extinction, or at best be harnessed (ala The Matrix and Dark City) by machines for some menial task to sustain their life.

There is of course a far more optimistic approach to this possibility. This approach is based, in large, upon a variation of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin's notion of evolutionary cosmology (I have written something on that which you can find on my website at http://www.spirituality.org.za). de Chardin suggested that the whole of the cosmos is in a process of complexification, this evolutionary move can be traced from the dawn of time right into the future. In essence he postulated that the cosmos is evolving from the less complex, gross or material levels of reality (biogenesis) to the more complex and subtle spiritual levels of reality (noogenesis) to a point of ultimate consciousness which he called the Christ Omega or Christ consciousness.

Within such a model it is possible to assume that any move in complexification is a positive evolutionary move. Thus, any increase in consciousness is of benefit to the cosmos as a whole. Of course this view is non dualist, in that it supposes that everything (persons and the rest of creation) are all of one and the same stuff. Hence, it may be plausible, if one supports a notion such as this, to suggest that even if humanity does become extinct, or the lesser species in creation, this may be part of the evolutionary plan of the cosmos as it moves to a higher plane of consciousness.

I'm not so sure about all this. However, the one thing that we cannot deny is that the boundary between technology and human persons is quickly diminishing. Not only are we becoming more dependent upon technology for our very survival (and here I am thinking both of life saving technologies such a biomedical, mechanical lifesaving devices such as pacemakers etc. and simple technologies like computer that control currencies, electricity, and other day to day functions).

The one other question that is prominent in my thoughts is the question of when the crossover takes place between machine and person. The movie 'Bicentennial man' clearly illustrates the difficulty of judging this from the machine side. It asks the question, because a machine looks like, behaves like and has emotions like a human person does that make it human? The question is also asked very pointedly by Ray Kruzweil in his book The Age of spiritual machines, when he asks how far must a human person go before he or she is classified as a machine. For example, a person who has a Cochlear implant to assist them to hear would be regarded as human. A person with artificial limbs would be regarded as human, even a person with an artificial heart and vital organs is regarded as human. However, if we were able to take this technology to its extreme (which of course is not yet possible, but could at some time be a possibility) and do something along the lines of what some theorists suggest could become possible, i.e. downloading our brain and all it's thoughts, ideas, memories, feelings etc. into a computer, would that mean that the computer becomes human? Or does it mean that even though 'I' may still be the conscious element of the machine, because I am not biological, or largely so, that I am no longer human? What then if one uses a computer that is biologically based, using enzymes to process the code of 1' and 0's, rather than a silicon based machine? Does this make a difference?

These are some of the thoughts that occupy my mind in the wee small hours of the morning. I suppose I won't mind too much, as long as I don't become a Windows box!! ;-)
_____

What are your thoughts and ideas!?

By the way, I eventually completed my Doctorate in a subject not to different from this. You can download a copy of my Doctoral Thesis here.

For more posts on Artificial intelligence go here, and for some of my posts on neuroscience please go here. And, for a few of my posts on the 'New Science' please go here.

 

Sunday
Aug022009

Cheating at life! Avoiding some of life's greatest temptations.

What is life's greatest temptation? Think about it for a moment - what are some of the greatest temptations you face? Let's come back to that in a moment.

One of the most perplexing texts in Luke's Gospel, for me at least, is Luke 4:1-15. This is a very unique text for a few reasons.

1. It is one of the only accounts of the sayings and life of Jesus that was not witnessed by anyone other than Christ himself! Think about that for a moment. Just about every other incedent and story in the Gospels would have been witnessed by others, except this one. Yet, it made its way into the Gospels. For those who believe that the texts of the Bible were carefully put together not only by their authors, but also by God, to serve a clear purpose, this is quite remarkable. Jesus must have shared the narrative of these events with a number of persons so that they eventually became part of the 'oral tradition' that informed the Gospels directly and indirectly (through 'Q source').

2. What was the point of the temptation narrative? Well, there could be may reasons for Jesus having to go through this series of temptations. But, perhaps the two simplest reasons were to test his personal commitment and resolve to serving God's will in the world (i.e., he had to show himself to be selfless and strong otherwise he would certainly not be able to face the greater temptations of power (the triumphal entry into Jerusalem - celebrated as 'Palm Sunday' in many contemporary Churches) and safety (taking himself off the cross, or escaping from the Garden of Gethsemane to aviod death). That's one reason. The other reason for his temptation could of course be to show his obedience to his Father's will - God had intended him to understand hunger (a hunger that could not be satisfied by simply turning stones into bread), to understand the struggles with power (particularly the enticing power of evil that esnares so many of us to seek fame and authority by means other than care and grace), and the desire for excitement and the need for safety (many people fear for their safety, and Jesus himself would experience that fear).

So, as I have pondered this text I have come to realise that perhaps one of the greatest temptations that Jesus faced was the temptation of cheating at life. Getting bread without ploughing the soil, planting the sead, tending the crop, harvesting, milling, and baking... You get my point? Work is honourable, and it is part of a complex system of activities that teach us responsibility, stewardship, the value of the resources we work with, our respect for others who do the same task... The list could go on and on.

Jesus was being tempted to cheat at life.

I have faced this temptation frequently in my life! People have tried to involve me in 'get rich quick schemes' (just this week someone called me to ask if I would like to join a network marketting business where the hard work of others would make money for me...) I have often faced the temptation to push my way to the front of the line, to speak when others could make a better contribution, to take credit for the creativity and labour of others... I'm not sure if this ever happens to you? But it sure happens to me.

Don't get me wrong! I have been fast-tracked in my life and carreer! I started in the ministry when I was just 19 years old (almost 20 years ago). I have spent thousands of hours studying and understanding the core of the message of the Gospel. I have many almost as much time understanding the intricasies of the Bible, systematic theology, and the complexity of the human condition. The years of formal and informal learning have helped me to understand the message (the Christian Gospel) and my audience (particularly from the perspective of neuroscience)...

It has been quite a revelation to read Malcom Gladwell's book 'The outliers'. I would truly suggest that you get a copy if you can (ask someone to buy it for you as a gift at your next birthday or Christmas!) Interestingly, I have been reading the book for some weeks now (and bought it as a gift for one or two friends), and this Sunday Malcolm Gladwell will be discussing his books Outliers and Tipping Point on the South African version of '60 minutes', called Carte Blanche.

Here are one or two thoughts (read all the questions and answers on his site) from Gladwell on the concept of the Outliers:

 

 

1. What is an outlier?

"Outlier" is a scientific term to describe things or phenomena that lie outside normal experience. In the summer, in Paris, we expect most days to be somewhere between warm and very hot. But imagine if you had a day in the middle of August where the temperature fell below freezing. That day would be outlier. And while we have a very good understanding of why summer days in Paris are warm or hot, we know a good deal less about why a summer day in Paris might be freezing cold. In this book I'm interested in people who are outliers—in men and women who, for one reason or another, are so accomplished and so extraordinary and so outside of ordinary experience that they are as puzzling to the rest of us as a cold day in August.

 

Here's some input on his research and the suprising findings of his sociological and historical work on success in life:

 

 

 

3. In what way are our explanations of success "crude?"

That's a bit of a puzzle because we certainly don't lack for interest in the subject. If you go to the bookstore, you can find a hundred success manuals, or biographies of famous people, or self-help books that promise to outline the six keys to great achievement. (Or is it seven?) So we should be pretty sophisticated on the topic. What I came to realize in writing Outliers, though, is that we've been far too focused on the individual—on describing the characteristics and habits and personality traits of those who get furthest ahead in the world. And that's the problem, because in order to understand the outlier I think you have to look around them—at their culture and community and family and generation. We've been looking at tall trees, and I think we should have been looking at the forest.

4. Can you give some examples?

Sure. For example, one of the chapters looks at the fact that a surprising number of the most powerful and successful corporate lawyers in New York City have almost the exact same biography: they are Jewish men, born in the Bronx or Brooklyn in the mid-1930's to immigrant parents who worked in the garment industry. Now, you can call that a coincidence. Or you can ask-as I do-what is about being Jewish and being part of the generation born in the Depression and having parents who worked in the garment business that might have something to do with turning someone into a really, really successful lawyer? And the answer is that you can learn a huge amount about why someone reaches the top of that profession by asking those questions.

 

The simple point that struck me was that we need to be aware of where we can add value (what is there in your context, and in this age of history, that your skills, training, and ability are particularly good at? Please see my second comment on this post for a more details description of these points). Then, once you know where you can add value, don't try to cheat at it! Do your best to hone your craft!

 

I remember Bishop Peter Storey once commenting in one of our homeletics classes that the sad thing about good preachers is that they neglect what they're good at because it comes so easy to them. So instead of becoming the very best at something only they can do, the slowly drift into mediocrity to take up their place with everyone else who had given up on their passion, dream and gifting. Gladwell points out that people who have been the best at their craft have spent on average 10 000 hours developing their skill!

So, here's a little video that I made where I bring together both Luke 4 and the concept that Gladwell talks about:

And here's a sneak preview of my next Radio Pulpit broadcast (MP3, 6MB) which is a much more detailed exposition of Luke 4 and the temptation of Christ.

I'd love to hear more of your thoughts and ideas about this - also please let me know if you've read 'Tipping point' or 'Outliers'.

Sunday
Jul262009

On being blessed and being a blessing...

Have you noticed that Lions never go on a hunger strike! This post will tell you a bit more about that - you see it comes down to consciousness and choice. These are but some of the privileges of human sentience... Read the post below for more detail on these thoughts, and if you feel like it, download the audio recording for a different perspective on freedom, choice and mediocrity.

Being blessed and being a blessing! A sneak preview of my next Radio Pulpit broadcast. You can download the MP3 recording here (6MB).

So much of life is about choices. I find that I can so easily slip into mediocrity. Do you struggle with the same? I either slip into the routines and expectations of my context - simply responding to the most urgent and necessary things that are taking shape around me each day. It would seem that Newton's laws of motion apply to so many aspects of reality! Inertia is a very powerful force in movement. It takes a lot of energy to break free from the direction in which one is traveling (or not traveling) at any moment. My studies in neuroscience have shown a similar trait in the manner in which our brains (perhaps the most powerful organ in our bodies) operate. The brain is not only geared towards survival (see this post for more on the three basic questions that all human brains operate on). Rather, it is geared towards the conservation of energy as a means of survival. Since energy is a fundamental aspect of our physical survival our brains make all kinds of choices (some that we're not even aware of) in order to ensure our most likely survival in a world of pressure, choice, and obstacles.

Think about this, your brain will increase or decrease your body's temperature, slow or increase your heart rate, and at times even cause you not to hear, see or smell things in order for you conserve energy and survive (women call it selective hearing, us men call it survival! ha ha ;-) But there are many other examples of how our brains, a part of our own bodies, fit into the wider set of systems that make up life in and around us.

Of course unlike animals we humans have the power and ability to control our bodies and minds. Have you ever noticed that Lions don't go on hunger strikes? Only humans have the capacity to consider what is MORE important than the momentary urges of survival. So, we may choose starve for some greater cause - of course even that often comes down to the survival of the species (if not our own survival, then at least the survival of our kin and kind).

We can choose! We can choose to become conscious of what truly matters in life. We can choose to become conscious of ourselves and others, and we can adjust our choices and behaviour in order to do more than just what is necessary! We can do what is Christlike, and in so doing find blessing and be a blessing.

So, the reality is that it becomes easy to just 'go with the flow'. The Philips translation of Romans 12:2 says something like 'Be careful that you do not get squeezed into the mold of this world'.

Energy, that's what it takes to be more than just ordinary! It takes a few radical choices, a few small victories, and a couple of little course adjustments and changes to begin to gain mastery over your life, your context and the 'mediocrity' of the world. We can choose to be more than just ordinary.

In this radio recording for my radio show on Radio Pulpit I discuss this notion in more detail.

I would love to hear your thoughts and feedback!

Rich blessing,

Dion

Original Tweet: http://twitter.com/digitaldion/status/2754585458
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Friday
Jul172009

Peace and belonging...

 

If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other. - Mother Teresa

Please see this link for more on 'identity', belonging, community and identity (ubuntu).  

Please aslso see this article, entitled, 'Do South Africans exist?'.  It is an academic article on identity, relationship and the African philosophy of ubuntu that I prepared for the Theological Society of Southern Africa.  It gives a fairly good introduction to the African philisophical and theological perspective on identity. 

I would love to hear what your perspective is on the notion of belonging and peace!

 

[You may have arrived here from a link on Ron Martoia's VelocityCulture site - if not, then please visit Ron's site for the context to my comment written below on 2 March 2010]

Hi Ron,

This is a challenging question indeed!

I think that part of what has made the Church such a significant place of community is the reality of life’s diversity. Joy, sorrow, life and death. When I was still a pastor of a local church I often used to stand in front of the communion table in the sacramental area and marvel at all of the stages of life that are marked in that space.

I would celebrate life and baptise the children of my members there, I would confirm the faith of young people who had discovered Christ since their baptism, I married many of those young people in that same space, and I even had occasion to bury one or two who had passed away at far too young an age.

However, the gravity of that sacred space was seldom recognised. I certainly overlooked it frequently, and I think the members of our congregation (much less the members of our city) hardly ever saw its significance!

In Africa there is a wonderful saying ‘umuntu ngumuntu ngamantu’ [roughly translated it says 'a person becomes more fully human through other people', or 'I am who I am because of who you are']. I have written about the African philosophy of ubuntu extensively (see this link for an introductory articlehttp://www.dionforster.com/blog/2009/7/17/peace-and-belonging.html ). I think there is a critical link between relationships and true identity. We can only become more fully human when we live our lives with others.

In this light I have found the following quotes encouraging and challenging:

- ‘My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.’ – Desmond Tutu
- ‘The holy task is not about becoming “spiritual” nearly as much as becoming human.’ – Richard Rohr

I agree that congregations are often bad at creating community – a lot of contemporary Christianity tends to present Jesus as a combination of my personal therapist and a stock broker… This is a common thread in just about every country I have visited in the world! Christians tend to seek entertainment rather than truth, we want comfort rather than companionship.

However, what is certain is that we need some form of community to tie our lives to the lives of others. Such ‘intersubjective’ interactions make us more fully human, and in so doing help us to become more like the archetypical person, Jesus.

I suppose that like you I am more committed to helping people connect meaningfully than I am about getting people to join churches. But, I am still committed to a local church.

Your insights are challenging as always!

Dion

 

 

Sunday
May242009

Preparing for the next two weeks... Busy times, but good planning and lots of love!

In the previous post I wrote about the great ride that I did this morning. It was a 40km ride in the Hottentots Holland and Helderberg Mountains (all on Lourensford farm). Here's a google image of the route (on the left). And if you have Google Earth installed on your machine you can open this file to see the exact route (and how slow I rode in most parts!) Lourensford_ride_05_Apr_09.kml

I enjoy these times - first, the exercise does me a world of good! I can feel my leg strengthening with each ride. And of course it also helps me to release a lot of stress. Second, it is an opportunity to bear a subtle and worthwhile witness to Christ among a group of guys who have not been in contact with Christianity or the Church in some time. Each time I ride I always seem to end up riding with a different person who opens up, shares some of their hopes, dreams, aspirations and struggles, and I have a chance to offer a listening ear, an open and affirming heart, and of course the hospitable love and hope of Christ. I have spoken (when I have breath!) with guys about their marriage relationships, we've talked about struggles at work, the death of loved ones, and in some instances just had a good laugh.

These are valuable opportunities for ministry, and their valuable times for me to grow and live out my calling to serve Christ and those whom Christ loves.

In an earlier post (last week) I wrote about managing stress, struggle and hardship from the perspective of neuroscience (the science of the brain). You can read about that perspective here.

That post came from the recognition that I have a deep and significant need for an active, lived, spirituality - a relationship with Jesus that helps me to gain some control over myself, and some perspective on my life.

Today's ride was necessary - over the next two weeks we shall have quite a busy time in the Forster household!

Later this week I shall be leaving for Hong Kong for the Global Day of Prayer (which takes place on 31 May 2009 - this year EVERY SINGLE nation in the world will be involved! So do look out for us on GodTV where we will be anchoring our broadcast from the Hong Kong GDOP stadium event. It is estimated that approximately 400 million Christians from the world's 220 nations will participate on Pentecost Sunday! What a remarkable thing to think that a Methodist lay person, Graham Power, initiated the world's largest prayer gather. We hear so many wonderful stories of communites that have been united and transformed through their participation and preparation in the GDOP. Out of this have come millions of projects (mostly concentrated on the 90 days of blessing that follow Pentecost) which have built schools, fixed hospitals, created jobs, and done a host of other social transformation projects!) Indeed, I give thanks to God for this incredible event, and for the small part that I play as chaplain to the Global Day of Prayer.

So, do check back here (and also follow my twitter stream @digitaldion) for photos, news, and updates on GDOP and the Call2All conference from Hong Kong.

I will arrive back from Hong Kong on the 5th of June, and then Megie (my darling wife!) leaves for Korea for the central committee meetings of the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization. It is an opportunity of a lifetime for her! We almost ended up there together since Graham Power (whom I serve as chaplain) and our team were to be there (Graham is the director of the arrangements committee for the next Lausanne Congress on World evangelization, and I serve on the Theological Working group). But, because of other pressures back in South Africa we decided not to go (it would have meant two weeks away from the office). But, Megie, who is the project manager, is going.

So, spare a prayer! From the 6th-13th of June I'll be flying solo with the kids. Fortunately I have no travelling to do during that week. And, I've managed to shift my evening meetings and find some good friends who'll help with fetching the kiddies from school.

It is important to create an environment for our children in which they feel (and know) that they are cared for, that their lives are a priority, and that their needs come first in our family. Yet, at the same time it is important for me as a husband to create every opportunity for Megan to show her full gifting and potential in the great work that she's doing!

So, this weekend has been almost entirely spent on family things. We've made sure to get as hands on as we can with our kids and their programme for the weekend. Megan and I have also made quality time to be together (something that is important when I travel so much). We watched two movies together and enjoyed each other's company on both Saturday and Sunday evening.

At the end of the day I have come to realise that the best joy in life comes from very good planning, and enough space for spontaneity and quality!

We love each other, we love our children, and we love the opportunity that we have to serve Christ in different ways!

PS. today we went to the 'Spur' for lunch, and who should we run into? Gus, Heather and Zach! Such special friends! This week Gus will be doing his final assessments for Ordination, so please do spare a prayer for him!

Have a great week, and remember that your work can be worship if you choose to do everything to the glory of Christ and the blessing of others.

Friday
May222009

Why you're unhappy, and what you can do about it!

Here's another post on the brain... Please don't give up reading this as soon as you see that it's about the brain!! In this post I have attempted to share some explanation for why you do some of the things you do, and why you feel some of the things you feel. And, I hope that when you understand how powerful your brain is in shaping your conscious mind that you will begin to take deliberate measures to manage your mind. It is possible, and it will make your life a lot better!

The inspiration for this post came from a hilarious skit by Bob Newhart... In the video Bob Newhart acts something like a Rogerian Gestalt therapist with a woman who suffers from claustrophobia. Each time she expresses her fear he simply yells at her to 'STOP IT' (i.e., stop being afraid). Of course that is not good psychotherapy practise! But, it did stimulate some thought about whether one is able to understand and control one's reactions to experiences and internal struggles that one may face?

I think you can (to some extent at least!)

The human brain is the most complex of all of the organs of the human person. We understand very little about its actual functioning, although we are able to understand some of the more basic electrical and chemical processes that can be related to certain actions and feelings. In some senses we're able to understand the processes of the brain without truly have a handle on the brain itself.

The simplest explanation for explaining how the brain functions is to say that it is an organ that is designed to ensure survival. The brain is a in fact a fairly primitive organ that has evolved in complexity throughout the ages - yet at its very base it has the same basic purpose - ensuring that you (and we as a species) continue to survive. In order to to this the brain has three basic functions.

1) The brain receives input from the senses (we see things, hear things, feel things, smell things and taste things).
2) The brain processes the input that it gets from the senses and then decides what to do with it.
3) The brain sends messages and instructions to different parts of the body to respond to the exogenous and endogenous inputs it has received.

The receptive part of the brain is a complex science all of its own. Each of the senses is routed primarily to a certain area of the brain where it fires up the dendrites and we can measure electromagnetic activity in that particular area (or at least we can measure a dominance of magnetic activity in a particular area). For example sight is directly connected to the lower brain - interestingly the eyes are the only part of the brain that is visible to other persons! The nerves in the eyes are directly connected to the brain and in fact form a direct primitive function of the brain. The right eye is connected to the left hemisphere and vice versa. I chose vision as the example for input stimuli since vision takes up to 1/3 to 1/2 of brain function. When I share the few points about the primal functioning of the brain it will become clear why this is the case. However, it will suffice to say at this point that vision is not a function of the eyes, rather it is fundamentally a function of the brain!

The simplest way to explain this is to say that we don't 'see' everything that our eyes take in. There is common experiment that brain science lecturers us to show this to their students. It is known as the pictorial superiority effect. The students are shown a video of a group of persons standing in a circle throwing a ball to one another. They are then asked to count the number of times the ball is passed between two (or more) of the participants. What happens in the brain of the observer is that their reticular activation sensor is activated to only process the persons they're watching and the movement of the ball. In the video a person dressed in a guerilla suit walks into frame, walks between the persons and then moves out of frame. When one asks the viewers what they saw almost none of them will report seeing the guerilla! Surely a guerilla among a group of people playing with a ball should be something noticeable? Well, in this case it is not. The brain has 'tuned out' that particular stimulus input because it either does not fit the frame of reference for what the brain expects to see, or simply because it is not necessary to complete the task that was set (counting how many times particular persons pass the ball to one another).

So, how does vision work?

  1. Stimulus received through the retina and is transduced (i.e., turned into an electrical pulse so that it can pass along the nerves into the brain)
  2. From the retina it is sent to the Lateral Gerniculate nuclease in the middle brain, there it is sorted before it is processed.
  3. Next the signal is passed on to an area that is known as Broadman 17 version 1 (in the back of the brain in the occipital lobe to be precise) where it is parsed out (i.e. sent to shapes, faces, objects area of the brain…) There is, for example, a section in the brain that detects horizontal lines, a section that detects colours, another that detects faces and so on…
  4. Finally it is sent to the area of the brain where it is judged, edited and sent as a response for action or emotion.

We must remember that the brain does not deal with reality! It deals with survival as I said earlier. It will take an input, edit it and then rework it to cause the rest of the brain and body to process it towards survival.

 

So, what are these 'survival' instincts in the brain that I have been referring to?

Well, once again as with all aspects of the brain they are fairly complex, but they can be roughly explained using some analogous examples. In this case the example refers to primitive life - in days of yore (and here I'm not talking about before the advent of cell phones or microwaves... I'm talking even before the advent of the wheel!) the primary concern of very human person was mere survival.

Sometimes my daughter, who is 9, is rather surprised to discover things such as the fact that eggs don't come from grocery stores, and that there is a direct genetic link between the hamburger she's eating and the cows we saw grazing in the fields... Survival was tough! And so the brain was designed (if one could use that word without causing too much of a storm) to help humans survive.

The three basic survival instincts (that are a link between the functioning of the brain and primitive human life) are:

 

  1. Can what I am sensing eat me? OR can I eat what I am sensing? This has to do with short term survival of the individual or family unit and naturally has to do with sustenance and safety.
  2. Can I mate with what I am sensing? OR does what I am sensing want to mate with me? Don't start laughing (or blushing) now! The brain is hard wired to find a mate in order to procreate to sustain the species in the longer term.
  3. Do I recognize what I am sensing? This is a slightly more complex phenomenon, but it has to do with learning. For example, if I have been burned by fire I my brain will recognize it and make the link with pain and so caution me to stay away from it. But, this is also just a basic function of spatial recognition (i.e., I can remember where I live, I know where to find water and food, and I know the difference between humans and other life forms...)


Now amazingly these simplistic analogies can help us to understand quite a lot about human behavior. These primal urges are hard wired into the very primitive parts of our brain (over which we have very little conscious control) and so a great deal of joy and pain can be associated with trying to work out these simple things in a much more complex contemporary world. For example, the loss of one's job can be directly related to the need to survive through having the means to gain sustenance (even if it is a McDonalds burger that you're buying at the Mall!) Or, it explains why contemporary advertising and action movies always seems to have three common elements... Fear of death (survival), beautiful people (the intrinsic urge to mate), and simplistic repetition of concepts to enforce behaviour (i.e., a catchy slogan or jingle that the brain can recognize and process without much conscious effort).

 

So, if you took some time to consider what some of the elements of your life are that are making you unhappy I'm sure you would find that they stem either of an external (exogenous) circumstance or event that enters through your senses, or some endogenous (internal) struggle within yourself that gets sent to the brain (such as a 'hunger' for something, or the 'fear' of something, or the inability to recognize meaning or a discernible direction or pattern to your life).

The simple answer to most of these struggles is to begin by changing either the context or the content of your life.

If you live in a threatening relationship, find yourself under unmanageable stress, or are not having your most basic needs adequately met it is probably an indicator that you should plan to find some other context in which to exist. That's context stuff.

If that is not possible then you need to get more of what I have devoted my life to, spirituality and faith, the content of one's life (what regulates and consciously engages our senses and shapes our minds, thus managing our responses) is a valid and necessary aspect of every human life! I don't know a single person who is free from fear, hunger (even in it's subtler forms), the need for survival and a longing for some sense of higher order and purpose. Do you? This is the content stuff.

What do you think? Can spiritual exercises like meditation, prayer, regulated disciplines like exercise, fasting, service of others, etc., help to overcome the 'primal' struggles that we face in our brains? If you have an example to share that would be wonderful!

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Tuesday
May122009

How computers can replicate (but not replace) scientists...

Strong Artificial Intelligence formed a large part of my doctoral research - yes, I've heard most of the jokes about being an 'artificially intelligent' doctor... And, the good news is that most of them are true! ha ha!

I proposed a hypothesis, among other things, based on a mathematical model for the exponential growth of representational and emulative intelligence in machines (showing an exponential increase in computing capacity from data retention, to information processing, to knowledge management, and then to intelligence and finally sentience). In order for this to take place Moore's law would need to be exceeded (which has happened), and we would need to harness the accuracy and computational power of artificially intelligent machines to create even more intricate and powerful machines (much to complicated for a human person to create in the limited space of our lives, and with the clumsiness of our knowledge and skill). These are likely to be quantum computers, or possibly some form of enzyme based biomechanical machines...

The long and the short of it was that we could see the rise of truly intelligent machines by as early as 2029 (as per Ray Kurzweil's suggestion).

Well, some of this is already taking place in credible scientific research. Simply linear (and some more complex parallel) emulative processes are already being reproduced using super computers. However, as this post below suggests, whilst computers can perform comparative tasks between existing models, they are not yet at the place where they can fathom the creative mustre to develop new models by themselves... But, who knows, that may not be too far off! All that we need is to find some realiable self agregating code that gathers knowledge, tests it through a simple Turing test (in comparrision to other valid data - of course both of these processes are already possible), and then agregates and adjusts its code base for increasing accuracy and complexity. If a machine can do this faster and more accurately than a human person it may just be able to develop more stringent and previously unfathomed models of knowledge and perhaps even wisdom!

But for now, here's what is possible:


In his first column for Seed magazine, my Institute for the Future colleague and pal Alex Pang looks at efforts to create software that doesn't just support scientific discovery, it actually does new science. From Seed:
Older AI projects in scientific discovery tried to model the way scientists think. This approach doesn’t try to imitate an individual scientist’s cognitive processes — you don’t need intuition when you have processor cycles to burn — but it bears an interesting similarity to the way scientific communities work. (Cornell professor Hod) Lipson says it figures out what to look at next “based on disagreement between models, just as a scientist will design an experiment that tests predictions made by competing theories.”

 

But that doesn’t mean it will replace scientists. (Cornell graduate student Michael) Schmidt views it as a tool to see what they can’t: “Something that is not obvious to a human might be obvious to a computer,” he speculates. A program, says Schmidt, may find things “that look really strange and foreign” to a scientist. More fundamentally, the Cornell program can analyze data, build models, and even guess which theories are more powerful, but it can’t explain what its theories mean — and new theories often force scientists to rethink and refine basic assumptions. “E=mc2 looks very simple, but it actually encapsulates a lot of knowledge,” Lipson says. “It overturned a lot of older preconceptions about energy and the speed of light.” Even as computers get better at formulating theories, “you need humans to give meaning to what the system finds.”

Why We're Not Obsolete: Alex Pang in Seed

From boingboing

.

 

I would be interested to hear your thoughts. Do you think that sentient machines could be a threat to humanity? I once postulated that perhaps the extinction of the human race was part of God's evolutionary plan for the redemption of the cosmos... It would seem that humanity has two radical problems. First, we have a tendancy to displace God from the centre of the universe (so much popular theology goes around humanity, the needs and will of humans and the actualisation of human desire)... Surely that can not be right!? Second, humans are clearly a destructive force in the greater scheme of cosmic reality. We fight, we consume, we destroy and generally seem to be quite bad for the cosmic ecosystem.

Of course the converse argument is that the Gospels show that Jesus died for BOTH humans and the cosmos... But, I could be wrong (or right)! What do you think?

Monday
Jan052009

An auspicious week for Science (in history)

This week is quite special for the natural sciences... On the 4th of January we commemorate the birth of Sir Isaac Newton, the brains behind 'Newtonian physics'. Without it we would not be able to build bridges, dig tunnels or even drive motorcars.

In two of my books I discuss the significant role that Sir Isaac Newton played in the development of our understanding of the Universe. Some persons have challenged my positive view of Newtonian physics, questioning whether it has any relevance in the light of quantum mechanics and quantum physics.

My answer to them is quite simple - Newtonian physics is as valid and important to physical science as my childhood is to my adult life! Simply because one's knowledge and ability has complexified and increased, it does not mean that one completely rejects where one has come from, what one has gained from those early experiences, and even the manner in which one gained those experiences and insights. Value is a somewhat subjective measurement. For example is the song 'Jesus loves me this I know' less valuable than the magnificent Wesleyan hymn 'O for a thousand tongues to sing' (written by Charles Wesley in 1739)? Or, to state it differently, is the simple and sincere confession of faith by a 9 year old any less valuable than the complex and systematic confession of faith by say, John Calvin or ? No, each has unique and special value within its context, and each enriches the value of the other.

I discuss this notion of integrative, holarchic, interdependent value in my book 'Christ at the centre' - you're welcome to download a copy here, simply read from approximately pages 45 to 53. In short, one could ask whether a letter of the alphabet is more valuable than a page of a book? Well the answer is that neither is more valuable than the other in the context of a story - letters make up words, words make up sentences, sentences make up paragraphs, and paragraphs make up the narrative of a story on a page. Without individual letters of the alphabet one would not have any words, and without words (into which the letters are arranged) the letters themselves are not all that informative. So, one can see that each component is related to the others, both giving and receiving value through that relationship.

So, quantum physics is essential but it does not exclude the value of Newtonian physics. Try to build a bridge using only quantum physics and you may just find that it is not possible!

So, happy birthday Sir Isaac Newton!

Then, this week commemorates the death of the African American scientist George Washington Carver (5 January 1943). He did a great deal to improve our understanding of argriculture and alternative crops. What is particularly significant about his contribtion to science and the academy is that he was a significantly positive role model to counteract the stereotype of African Americans in the late 1800's in America. He did so much to show that any person, regardless of race or background, can make a significant contribution to scientific endeavour.

Well, it sure is a scientific week!

Saturday
Nov012008

Create multiple Universes for just US $20!

I have always been intrigued by the possibility of the existence of multiple Universes (is that even marginally correct grammar!?) A large portion of my Masters degree research in Systematic Theology considered the influence of 'the new science' (mainly quantum theory, but also microbiology) on our vision of reality. I read persons such as Einstein, Rosen, Podolsky, Talbot, Bohm, Russel, Heisenberg, Sharpe, Capra, Schroedinger, Tipler, Zukav and Keepin; oh, and of course the converging point was Ken Wilber...

Perhaps, however, in this regard David Deutsch was one of the most influential contributors to my understanding of the possibility of the existence of a 'multiverse' (as opposed to a 'universe'). See Deutsch, D 1985. Quantum theory, the Clark-Turing Principle and the universal quantum computer. Proceedings of the Royal society of London A400. You can take a peak at my Bibliography from my research proposal here: Bibliography science religion.rtf.

Simply stated, in a quantum universe, is it feasible to think that we are the only true existence (and here I'm not talking about aliens!) that operates in a linear fashion filling all of reality? Is it not possible, even plausible, to consider that the EPR paradox operates on a vastly more complex and real manner, allowing for the existence of an infinite number of parallel Universes where each decision made by each person causes a split in reality that allows that set of events to run their course to their conclusion? It is a little like streams branching of the primary tributary of a river, with each split an infinite number of new possibilities come into being - the radical complexity of these splits may appear chaotic, but when one traces them recursively one is able to observe some sense of order.

Of course there are some astute theologians who have considered similar possibilities. Take for example Teilhard de Chardin (who wrote in the early part of the last century about such reailities, even before the EPR paradox was even considered in the mainstream scientific community).

Creation, incarnation, and redemption constitute the one movement, which Teilhard calls 'pleromization'. It is a movement towards the 'pleroma', the fullness of being, in which God and his completed world exist united together (Lyons commenting on Teilhard in Lyons 1982:156).

The notion of increasing complexity, of 'collapse' in order and a movement towards the radical complexity of Christ (what Teilhard calls the 'Christ omega'), is in keeping with Christian scripture and Christian tradition (see for example Col 1.16-20 (see esp. v.20), Eph 1.10 - which is, of course, the verse that inspired the 'Father of the Church' Tertullian to formulate his doctrine of recapitulation of creation in Christ and Christ in salvation (anakephalaiosis about which I'm sure Steve Hayes could tell us a whole lot).

 

Anyway, I had two thoughts about this whole thing of 'alternate' Universes. First, I was thinking, if this is true, which one of the multiple Dion's am I? And, in relation to this, I wonder if the other Dion's experience as much blessing and joy as I do? Of course, in relation to God, I was also thinking how incredibly wide and deep the love of God would need to be in order to incorporate not only the complexity and potential of this universe, but the complexity and potential of an infinite number of Universes! A great mystery of love indeed!

Well, here's something to think about - with just US $ 20 you can emulate a multitude of universes! Of course this is just an illustration of the concept (and not a creation of it). But, I thought it was quite interesting regardless! From boingboing.

 

200810311417

Are you willing to take on the responsibility that comes with bringing trillions of universes into existence, each teeming with sentient life? That's something to ponder before plunking down $20 for this make-your-own-universe kit, created by artist Jonathon Keats.

If two events are possible, quantum theory assumes that both occur simultaneously - until an observer determines the outcome. For example, in Schrodinger's famous thought experiment, in which his cat may have been killed with a 50 per cent probability, the cat is both alive and dead until someone checks. When the observation is made, the universe splits into two, one for each possible outcome. For example, Schrodinger's cat would be alive in one universe and dead in the other universe.

According to the theory, any kind of measurement causes the universe to split and this is the basis of Keats' new device. His universe creator uses a piece of uranium-doped glass to create a steam of alpha particles, which are then detected using a thin sliver of scintillating crystal. Each detection causes the creation of a new universe.

The make-your-own-universe kit

 

 

 

Thursday
Oct092008

So here's what I'm thinking...

Life can be messy, and I'm glad that it is this way. The sorrow of one moment becomes the joy of the next. Being separated from a loved one for a short while creates an intensity of love and appreciation that breaks the regular ebb and flow of life that can so easily lead one into a position of taking your most precious relationships for granted.

This week has been a truly remarkable week of learning and growing for me. I am pleased that there is still so much to learn about life, loving God, and serving Christ. For some years I was treated as 'a font of knowledge' for others - I was approached for counsel, sought out to teach and preach, and asked to participate in various think tanks and meetings. These things flattered my ego, but they also covered a great truth - the truth is that I don't know very much! Titles can be deceptive, they tools of social engineering, employed to create a perception that may or may not be true (or is true in varying degrees). I have two titles, Reverend and Doctor. The one denotes an office within the Church, the other an achievement within the academic arena. For some time these titles were a cause of secret pride (and sometimes not so secret pride!) However, in recent months they have been the cause of great humility and struggle. You see, with a title comes an expectation - the title Reverend seems to carry the social and religious expectation of Godliness, maturity, wisdom, and care. I am not particularly good at any of these, although I do strive to do my best in each. The title Doctor carries with it the expectation of great learning, exceptional insights, and deep thought. Well, with the exception of a few very esoteric and rather eclectic subjects (neuroscience, applied mathematics, artificial intelligence, quantum physics, African philosophy and certain areas of Christian doctrine) I don't know much at all! Well, at least I don't know much about the things that truly count in life!
I am learning.
Before going further, I am aware that some would dispute that 'The Reverend' is in fact not a title, but rather a style of prefix used to address Christian clergy. The point is, I cannot live up to the social expectation of either of the titles that I have, just as little as I can truly be a perfect husband or father. I do my best, but there is tremendous room for growth.
Well, this week I sat in meetings, conference halls, Churches, offices, and around tables with people who were often much more interested in my titles than in my person. What I am learning is that I need to be as patient with them as I hope they are with me! You see, they too are subject to the pressures of socialization. So I guess I could state it more accurately by saying that this week I was learning to learn. I was having to think not only about what I was learning about people, but also about how I was learning what I was learning - for example when I met the head of the Ugandan Revenue service (she jokingly calls herself the 'Chief tax collector' of Uganda) I had to take time to separate the person from the title. The office that she holds is one of immense responsibility, power, and of course respect. But, when she spoke with me (a minister) she was looking for support, affirmation, encouragement, and prayer. I had to make the distinction between the person and the title and ask God to give me the grace to be sensitive to minister to her felt needs as she felt them, not as I perceived them. I am learning to learn!
Well, this was a good week!
I have learned a lot! I have learned a lot about myself, I have learned a lot about others, I have learned a lot about Argentina, and Uganda, and Japan, and Thailand, and Australia, and Iran, and Spain, and Denmark, and a host of other countries and regions...
The meetings were remarkable, my intellect was stimulated, my heart was touched, and my spirit was renewed.
Amazingly though, the highlight of this week came from a town called Paarl, thousands of Kilometers away. The highlight of this week for me was the gift of a child for my friends Angus and Heather, you can read about that gift here: http://gruntleblog.blogspot.com/2008/10/zachari.html
We continue to learn... That's what I'm thinking!

 

Tomorrow morning I shall be leaving Mar del Plata, driving to Buenos Aires and then catching a boat to Uruguay. There I shall have further opportunities to learn. I do feel that this 'season' of my life is a season of service. I am trying to learn how to serve those that I work with, and serve those that I encounter. It is not easy to serve when almost all of western culture tries to teach one to rule and direct. So, do say a prayer for me. I am learning.