ask the universe

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The universe – an incomprehensibly large expanse strewn with billions of galaxies, each full of billions of stars. And it’s expanding. Then toss in dark energy and dark matter, even though no one currently knows what that means. Add gravity and stir. 

Maybe, like me, you have heard someone ask the universe for help. They’ll say something like, “I want to live in a tropical paradise, so I’ll put the intention out there and see if the universe supports me.” However, I’m pretty sure that the actual universe doesn’t care if you live or die, let alone where you live. Go ahead, just ask it if it cares. 

Yet some people believe that an invisible force underlying all reality will “support” them if their wish is in cosmic alignment with … universe energy! Or something vague like that. Years ago, I held a similar belief – everything is made of consciousness, so you can do anything. It’s kind of like “the secret,” which says that if you really want something you’ll get it. After all, you create reality, so the world will rearrange itself according to your desires. 

In other words, it’s magic. Some people will make ridiculous claims that quantum physics somehow supports this belief in magic. It doesn’t. Go ahead, ask a quantum physicist at the nearest university physics department. I’ll wait. 

These beliefs are not different than the old “praying for what you want” gambit. If your prayer (intention) comes true, the lord (universe) has granted your desire, and if it doesn’t come true, it wasn’t just part of the deity’s plan (energies not in alignment). 

Ask the universe to send you a bag of dog chow. Tell the universe you want to meet the love of your life. Ask it to resurrect a dead tulip. Best of all, ask it for something really vague, such as to make everything work out according a plan you can’t know about. That’s the universe’s specialty.

And if the actions of the universe are indistinguishable from random chance, well, maybe that’s how it prefers to operate.

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more words laid to rest

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These are words and phrases to destroy.

“Nestled” when describing the location of a town or village. Examples: “Dogville is nestled at the foot of Wiggly Mountain.” In point of fact, every stinking town in every travel site or brochure and in every human interest story in the world, is nestled somewhere. Stop.

Science-related stories: Never, ever again use any variation of Einstein’s “God doesn’t play dice with the world.” Never. Just tired of it, that’s all. While you’re at it, stop talking about Schroedinger’s cat, and “spooky action at a distance.” I don’t care if the cat is alive or if the action is spooky. Give it up. Think of a new way to talk about quantum physics. In fact, quantum physics is so misused that let’s just say QP for a while and quickly move past it.

Can we give the Fermi paradox a rest for a while? It might seem cool to say or write it, but it’s really just tiresome.

I’ve decided to give up “meme.”  I’ve rarely found it useful in a conversation. “Popular idea” or “viral concept” or even “idea” alone seems to work as well or better in most circumstances. And with those replacements, people don’t respond with, “What did you say? Mean? Beam?” So why bother? For now, meme is out.

Curmudgeon is going to stay. I might have it tattooed on the palm of each hand.

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five tips i’ve learned from fellow motorists

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I’ve gained substantial knowledge from watching drivers around me on the road. Today I’m going to share some best practices that will get you safely and efficiently to your destination.

Be excruciatingly careful when turning

On city streets, please take your own sweet time making a turn onto another street. Even if there is no stop sign, traffic signal, or obstruction, come to a complete stop, then inch-by-inch, gradually edge your car around the corner. If there is a rare albino turtle sitting in the road around that corner, it will have plenty of time to get out of your way.

Assume there are bad guys following you

It’s important not to tip off the people in the cars behind you as what you are about to do regarding turns or lane changes. Do not under any circumstances use signals. This clever strategy will frustrate the government agents, personal enemies, or demons/space aliens who are always following you.

Make sudden moves

A similar principle is especially important for exiting freeways. Best practice suggests driving in the left lane until you are almost at the exit, then veering across two or three lanes of traffic to exit at the last second. It not only frustrates evil-doers following you in your fantasy action movie, but it’s also a fun challenge that will only kill you a maximum of once.

Understand traffic lights

Slow down when you approach a traffic signal that’s green because, hey, it might turn yellow and you want to be ready. In fact, if you slow down enough at green lights, they will always turn yellow before you get there, confirming that you were right to slow down.

Green = “Slow to a crawl.”
Yellow =  “Stop immediately.”
Red = “Rest and look at your phone, read a book, or daydream. Someone will remind you with a gentle honk if the light changes to green.”

Conserve your light bulbs

You can save huge amounts of money and labor on headlight replacements by not using those lights so much. If there is any daylight at all left in the sky, a reasonable person can see you. I mean, you’re driving a big, fat car, aren’t you? Also, if you’re just a few miles from your destination, there’s no point of bothering with lights.

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Those are all my handy tips for today. Study them, save a turtle, and rule the road.  

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… and let the flying spaghetti monster sort ’em out

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In my own corner of the Internet, where skeptics hang out, I’ve been watching sometimes crazed arguments between so-called “social justice warriors” and those opposed to overdone “political correctness.” This little war has played out for a few years now.

For me, awareness of this business started an eternity ago in Internet time, way back with Rebecca Watson’s “elevatorgate.” Yes, I hate that “gate” naming habit, but we’re stuck with it. (We could call the whole trend “gategate,” couldn’t we?). Watson made a moderate, and to my mind reasonable, aside part way through a video. She pointed out something that a man did that made her uncomfortable and said, “Don’t do that guys,” then returned to her topic.

Amazingly, many people responded to that one short bit in a crazed, hyperbolic fashion, with death threats and repellent misogyny at the extreme end. It was like some hillbillies yelling, “We don’t want no advice from no dang woo-man.” Not what I expected from the skeptic crowd, though a hopefully small percent of them.

There have been various wars and “gates” after that, involving different personalities in skeptic as well as atheist social media. Many are about feminism, some are about the limits of free speech or just what is acceptable in public forums. Absurd extremes abound on both sides.

On some sites where skeptics and atheists congregate, there was a ridiculous self-purging of almost all speech that might be construed as offensive. People were booted off sites left and right for the temerity of having a different opinion on one issue or another. For these sites, it seemed like every week another “big name” in the skeptic world was found to have failed a behavior or opinion test and was summarily denounced and shunned.

I found myself ping-ponging between these sides, repelled by the trollish threateners and creeps on one extreme and disgusted by the self-righteous smugness on the other. Sometimes I’d get to the point of thinking, “The hell with all of ’em, and let the Flying Spaghetti Monster sort ’em out.”

Now for a brief detour. Per Wikipedia, the phrase, “Kill ’em all and let God sort ’em out” originated in a Christian crusade in Southern France. An abbot named Arnaud Almaric was said to be speaking to a soldier who was worried about killing true Catholics in the course of the war. Almaric allegedly said, “Kill them. For the Lord knows those that are His own.” Neat way to absolve yourself of blame.

Needless to say, I don’t want anyone to die, but I’m tired of the back and forth and divisions this has created. The best treatment of the issue I’ve heard is Steven Novella’s discussion with Julia Galef on the Skeptics Guide to the Universe podcast, episode #555. It helped illuminate why I’ve felt sympathy for both sides of the issue. When each side cogently and without bombast provides its best argument, there are reasonable points to be found.

More importantly, as Novella points out, there ought to be a middle ground that doesn’t squash free speech excessively, or allow excessively offensive behavior. Defining that “excessively” is a huge sticking point, of course, and complicated by trolls who only want to incite and inflame.

Don’t know if we’ll ever get there, but working toward a middle ground is worthwhile. Imagine having to grow up and communicate like rational semi-adults. Until then, I ask you to remember who boiled for your sins, and who ought to whack the most antagonistic arguers with a heavy meatball.

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