The Promise of the Multiverse

I’m simply fascinated by the concept of a multiverse. While hotly contested, there is some emerging science to support the idea of parallel universes. Watch the video for an explanation of the multiverse, and follow the Mangled Universe link for a PowerPoint with some dense information about the current mathematical model for the Mangled Universe theory.

The video explains the idea of a 10 dimensional universe in layman’s terms, while the PowerPoint gets into a mathematically dense model for the theory behind the multiverse.

I will discuss why the concept of the multiverse is very uplifting, both for the individual and for humanity writ large.

If you accept the current models of quantum physics that speculate a possible multiverse, this is cause for much hope. The idea of parallel universes is that all possibilities are manifested in infinite expressions of different universes. So there would be infinite copies of our universe, with our Earth, each with a different time path. There would also be different universes with different physical laws, many of which may make life in those universes impossible.

To add some credibility to preempt how unlikely this sounds, consider that Richard Dawkins, a prominent atheist, tentatively supports this view as a response to the “fine-tuning” argument theists use to justify their belief that God created the universe in such a way as to allow life to exist. The worst that Dawkins can say about the concept of the multiverse is that it is “incredibly wasteful”, meaning that it is a kind of messy explanation for the coincidental, relative friendliness of our universe to life.

In theoretical physics, the argument for the multiverse is somewhat strong, though it is still mere speculation. It ties into the concept of String Theory, but I would be unable to explain the latter because it’s a very challenging concept as well as controversial. There is some view that we may find evidence for the multiverse from the Hadron Super-collider. One possible outcome of the undertaking might be to *kind of* ricochet some miniscule amount of energy from our universe into a parallel one.

OK, so I had to set up this a little bit to discuss what I’m really driving at. If you accept that there may be infinite parallel worlds with their own unique time-line, this means that your personal future is uncertain and malleable to your will. Life could be viewed as a kind of holographic video-game, where all possibilities are contained. You can do anything that you want, to bring about any result (given that it is within the realm of the possible). No, you can’t flap your arms and fly to Germany for your spring break. But, yes, you can aspire to reach for your dreams and achieve them.

That doesn’t mean it’s easy. It doesn’t mean there won’t be pain, hard work, or sacrifice. But if it’s possible, it means that there is some expression of the universe in which you accomplish your goals. It doesn’t mean you will find yourself in that universe, unless you’re willing to walk the path that will lead you there.

I find this to be a cause for hope. Because just as the multiverse opens the door for you to set out to achieve your grandest aspirations and discoveries of who you are and what you decide your life’s purpose is, it also means that the direction of our human culture is malleable and expressed in all its forms.

Maybe another Earth developed the reasoned search for truth through science and philosophy in a much more direct path than our own. Maybe this Earth commissioned Michelangelo to sculpt stunning portrayals of the big bang and other scientific concepts. Maybe Socrates had sparked a revolution that spread beyond the borders of Ancient Greece and convinced the world to view themselves as “citizens of the world and not of [Athens] (as Socrates had felt)”. Maybe in that Earth, a mosaic of our galaxy overlooks the hall of the Sistine Chapel, itself a model for reason and truth in the world, instead of theocratic dogma. In other words, maybe the great minds of our past were set to the task of inspiring wonder in the cosmos instead of religious doctrine.

These alternate histories are closed to us, for we did endure the Dark Ages (which weren’t truly dark, there was some innovation after all). But the future is still open to all possibilities. If we have the courage as individuals and as a global society, maybe we can meet the challenges of the next 100 years successfully and create a better world for future generations.

This would take some honest evaluations of the value of our current economic model, which justifies giving 80% of the world’s resources to 20% of its people. Maybe we would have to rework some of our cultural mythologies which place us above the other life-forms we share our planet with. Maybe we would have to be honest about our negligence in creating truly equitable societies, with access to good public education for all, good health-care for all, and a basic right to life’s necessities. These things are all possible.

If you accept the multiverse idea, then these things will happen, but in accordance with their relative probabilities, which means these outcomes are highly unlikely. It’s as Morpheus says in The Matrix, “there is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.” Technology won’t save the day unless we have the cultural revolution which David Icke called for. It needs to be peaceful, with the world’s elite volunteering to join for the collective interest. A forced Soviet style revolution will fail every time because a small group of revolutionary elites will eventually have to despotically seize power and push for change. Hannah Arendt once said that, “The most radical revolutionary will become a conservative the day after the revolution.”

What we need to do to make this happen is promote the consciousness raising which Richard Dawkins talks about in The God Delusion. This will be quite a challenge when a majority of Mississippi Republicans think that inter-racial marriage should be banned and the Church of Fred Phelps thinks that everyone outside his congregation is damned and going to their version of a fire-and-brimstone Hell. The Westboro Baptist Church’s website: contains songs like “God Hates the World” and “God Hates the Jews”.

The challenges are nearly insurmountable. But if those in a position to do so have the courage to act then maybe it is just barely within the realm of possibility. But it takes the courage of conviction for truth and justice to be ready to be martyred by those who fear change. There is so much hate in the world, so much fear of there not being enough, that the status quo won’t go down without a fight. Look at what happened to Martin Luther King Jr. and others to see what the world does to its prophets and true leaders.

I will close with one of my favorite quotes of all time from Martin Luther King Jr:

Cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe?’
Expediency asks the question, ‘Is it politic?’
Vanity asks the question, ‘Is it popular?’
But, conscience asks the question, ‘Is it right?’
And there comes a time when one must take a position
that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular,
but one must take it because one’s conscience tells one that it is right.”

— Martin Luther King Jr.

© David Metcalf

Why Bill Maher was right about Oprah

If you don’t know, Bill Maher posted a video of his criticism of Oprah. Now before you get upset at the idea of someone taking a pot-shot at Oprah, hear me out on this.

Oprah certainly is a nice person, and I believe she tries to do right on her talk show. I mean, who could disagree? Since she gives out so much stuff! Trips to Australia, brand-new cars, iPads. . .

There is something subtler and darker at work here. Bill Maher caught it and bravely (and humorously) pointed it out. He expressed that watching another Oprah audience go ape-shit over getting free stuff was “one of the most disturbing things [he’s] seen on television.” What did he mean by that?

He means that there is more to life than shallow materialism. Our lives are more than the value of our possessions. The things that matter most are the relationships we build, and the love and charity we show to friends and family (and yes, even strangers). You can’t take an iPad with you beyond the grave, but *yes* you can be buried with it (and yes, there is an app for that).

Now, I’m not denying that it’s fine to get pleasure from your stuff. I have an Xbox 360, a nice TV, and I love my computer and the Internet. These things are all great. Let me elaborate a defense of limited materialism. Philosophically, your possessions represent the aggregate of your labors. Since you own your body, and you therefore own your time, you are allowed to give your time to labors that allow you to buy. . . well, stuff. It’s fine to enjoy the fruits of your labor. That’s good, in fact.

What gets excessive is that we begin to start deifying the almighty dollar. Look at shows like Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous and you see an almost pornographic obsession with living in enormously cush homes. It’s all part of that golden American dream: work hard, and you too will one day “make it”. I’m not going to get into the merits of the American Dream.

What I will say is that Bill Maher may be correct in saying that money is the new God. If we somehow manage to join the rich club, then everything will be fine. On the other hand, Leo Rosten was quite correct when he said, “Money can’t buy happiness, but neither can poverty.” So again, I’m not disputing whether a certain level of material comfort is good or bad. It’s definitely good.

But shows like Sweet Sixteen tick me off because they illustrate another example of how the sweat and toil of the laboring classes filter up the pyramid to the richest of the rich. When a son of a producer can be bestowed with a jewel-encrusted jacket and get a new Bemer and that $4,000 specialty off-roading bike that he absolutely must get to know his parents love him (and, of course, have P Diddy do a private performance at the party), you have to recognize the essential Ponzi Scheme nature of market capitalism.

There is a mythology at work here. One that seduces people into thinking that the super rich create all the wealth we enjoy. They don’t. To understand this, I’d have to go into an analysis of what really allows our civilization to thrive. Put succinctly, it’s surplus food. This allows specialized labor that produces goods. Viewed this way, you see the success of our modern life is built from the ground up. But, yes, you do need venture capital to build a factory. But you’re better off building a factory in Latin America because American workers cost too much. You can even shut-down an American plant that is still making profits for your corporation (because, hey, you could make more profits somewhere else).

OK, so back from my digression. Why is Oprah’s show disturbing? I admit, it was rather touching when she gave cars to all those people who were struggling to get to work and live life without transportation. That’s all very nice.

But look at things the way Helen Keller would have (the damned socialist); she looked to root causes of social ills rather than slapping a band-aid over a mangled limb and doing high-fives.

Side note here: we all know that Helen Keller was deaf and blind and that she learned to read, write, and communicate because of the extraordinary efforts of a teacher. Teachers love to tell us the story of the water-pump, and how—if Helen Keller could overcome adversity—gosh darn it, we can too. Then they move onto the next subject without talking about the sordid details of what Helen Keller did when she grew up: she became a socialist. The admiring public turned against her and decided that she was being manipulated by her “handlers”.

You know an event that led Helen Keller to socialism? She grew up to advocate for proper education of the blind, and she discovered that blindness disproportionately affected poor people. This had to do with the fact that if you were poor you were more likely to be born of a Syphilitic mother. That’s when she recognized that being poor kinda sucked and became a Socialist. Remember, root causes.

So when Oprah gives shit away and the crowd goes wild and the viewers shed that single conceited tear, realize that Oprah is just slapping a band-aid on a festering wound and basking in the warm glow of a proper do-gooder. She doesn’t use her considerable influence to highlight why people need cars so badly to get to work and can’t afford them. She doesn’t deal with root causes, but she’s busy doing the Mexican hat-dance when she gives out iPads like she just solved every problem in the universe; as if life will somehow get better because they can go home with another expensive toy.

Bill Maher caught on to this; and I, for one, think he’s right.

© David Metcalf

A Return to Lex Talonis

Every Sunday, millions of Christian’s recite the Lord’s Prayer. They call upon God to “forgive us our trespasses, just as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Being raised Grace Lutheran, I wonder if these words hold any sway over American Christians anymore.

It is striking when the death of Osama bin Laden leads to jubilant celebrations upon hearing the news of the 9/11 architect’s death. I’m not saying he shouldn’t have been brought to justice, but I did challenge on my Facebook page whether the deliberate assassination of bin Laden without a formal trial really connotes the kind of justice that democratic countries promise.

I know, criticizing the Obama administration for a technical grievance about the execution of laws in such a matter isn’t very popular. Even if a 1976 U.S. law prohibits the targeted assassination of foreign citizens, why not just be happy with the death of a mass-murderer?

Never-mind that since the administration had carefully parsed their statements the Monday following the raid, they have now admitted that Osama was naked and unarmed when special forces blew his head off. Or that the intelligence gathered was not the result of torture “light”, and this might have some bearing on the debate about the disturbing justification of torture to achieve certain ends.

Referring back to the Lord’s Prayer, I’m not suggesting that we just forgive and forget what bin Laden is responsible for. But I do worry about the brutalizing of the nation. During my days in Lincoln-Douglas debate, the debate community paid a lot of attention to policies that “barbarize” a nation. I think this is exactly what’s happening in America these days.

Refer back to the magazine cover of a bulls-eye on Sadam Hussein. Amy Goodman observed that a more appropriate choice would have been a sniper-scope on a little child, because that’s who dies in war. Our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are no different. Granted, Americans aren’t exposed to the thousands of images of kids with their limbs blown off, or mothers crying over their dead husbands and children (though the rest of the world has seen such images).

I was appalled several years back when the Pentagon was publicly defending its choice to bomb an Iraqi wedding because “insurgents were present. Therefore it was a justifiable military target.” Never-mind that during the early years of the war with the Taliban, the U.S. Air Force elected to bomb a Red Cross Hospital not once but three times.

Or consider that once upon a time we believed in rehabilitating criminals in the penal system. No one hears about that anymore. Nor do we give convicted criminals a proper chance of an honest living once they emerge from their cells.

When the Bush Administration released the bloody photographs of Sadam’s sons, you can similarly see the brutalization of the American public. And again, we see this effect in the prostrations of the American public at the altar of vengeance with the death of Osama bin Laden. Did you know that within a week of Osama’s death the U.S. conducted a drone attack to assassinate an American-born Muslim? Not concerned that targeted assassinations are now used to target American citizens—maybe because he is a Muslim and a leader in radical Islam?

I argued on Facebook that the extra-legal assassination of bin Laden is an abandoning of a principle that began with the Nuremberg Trials. Though we knew the Nazi criminals who helped carry out the Final Solution were guilty, we held them accountable in the courts to show the world our commitment to international laws and to democratic ideals. We didn’t just execute them without maintaining our dedication to courts of law.

No one can argue that bin Laden’s crimes exceed those of the Nazis. The Nazis were brought to justice after WWII, but America rejoices in the Old Western justice of just shooting a naked, unarmed bin Laden on sight. That’s not how a civilized country operates. The Obama Administration openly violated a well-established law from 1976. It demonstrated to the world that it goes beyond the law in seeking its vengeance.

I refer to the Old Testament law of Lex Talonis, better known as “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” Despite the presumption of fundie Christians that we are a Christian nation, we refer back to the old Babylonian tradition of vengeance as our precept for “justice”. Hatred is a sure way to hollow out a person.

But not if you hate the right people, I suppose. I myself don’t hate those who I view as leading us on the path to an unpleasant and volatile future. I merely think they are operating based on what they know having been raised in a very deceptive culture. Our culture is the thing that whispers in our ear our whole life and has us accepting assumptions about the world that we’re not even aware of.

But that will be a discussion for another day. I just want to say that seeking vengeance is not the highest good or the most evolved action for “civilized” people. Holding people accountable is fine, but it should be done within the limits of international and domestic laws which maintain the public order and the responsibility of maintaining democratic principles. Such as, no one shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process.

© David Metcalf

What you DON’T know about Jesus

If you think I’m going to write scathingly about Jesus, I’m sorry to disappoint you. This is not an attack piece on the central figure of Christianity. Jesus is easily an admirable person, as Douglas Adams humorously stated, “[Jesus] was nailed to a tree for basically asking people to be a little nicer to each other.” But I will tell you something very few people know about the man who has tremendously influenced the Western world for two millennia.

The New Testament doesn’t reveal much about Jesus’ early life. There is a story that Mother Mary lost track of him at some point, and he was found giving a lecture to Judaic priests at the temple at (roughly) age six. But after that, the Bible is surprisingly silent on the time spanning that event and his arrival to Palestine at age (30?). So where was he, and what was he doing during that time?

Most accounts say that Mary and Joseph took him into hiding through a circuitous route through Egypt. Most people fairly knowledgeable of the Bible are aware of this. What almost all Christians don’t know is that there is an account of this missing period. But it isn’t in Egypt, it’s in south-east Asia.

I had once speculated on this to a college professor when I was writing a paper on Mo-Tzu, whose doctrines (pre-dating the days of Christ) are strikingly similar to Christ’s teachings. He replied, “that’s an interesting idea, but you’ll never find any evidence for that.” It turns out there is such evidence. It’s buried in ancient Sanskrit texts. German philologist Max Müller (1823-1900) claimed that he found this evidence hidden away in a remote temple.

He discovered an old text that claimed a man named Jesus did travel to India in the appropriate period and was exposed to Hindu and Buddhist teachings. As Jesus was apt to do, he got into a tough spot with Hindu priests over the Caste system, which he condemned. Deciding not to passively wait to be murdered, he fled India and eventually returned to Judea.

Interesting no? Well, if Max Müller discovered this over 100 years ago, how come no one knows it? He did write a book about it, you know. In academic fashion, his book was ignored for several years. Eventually the Catholic church caught wind of it and were appalled. Christ didn’t arrive at a seemingly Buddhist philosophy on his own, you say?

Another interesting point about this is that this Sanskrit record also details what happened to Jesus in Palestine. Its claims challenge the New Testament teaching that the Jewish priests were the architects of the crucifixion. In this account, the priests actually tried to intervene to spare the life of Jesus.

This would be news to the scores of Christians who condemned historic Jews by association for the crime of murdering the only son of God and messiah to Christian peoples. I would be rather cross on that point if I belonged to a people who have faced persecution and endless suffering for a crime a handful of their ancestors didn’t even commit.

Now, before we glorify Jesus, we need to understand—like all historical figures—he was more complicated and not so perfect as people think. He is quoted as saying that no man may follow him “if he doesn’t have hatred in his heart towards his mother and father.” Doesn’t sound like the Jesus Christians are acquainted with; you know, the one who adheres to the honor thy father and mother commandment?

He is also widely known to have said not to “cast pearls before the swine.” This has the obvious implication that wasting words of wisdom on the dull and ignorant is no different than taking precious pearls and throwing them into a crowd of barn-yard animals. Some take this quote to mean that Christ intended his message for Jews only. And that, like Buddha, maybe he did not intend to start a new religion but instead to reform an old one. But suppose that we assume that Christ had a world-wide message he intended for everyone, I’ll grant that. You still have to consider the story of the money-changers at the temple:

The loving Christ is biblically documented as giving the money-changers at temple a severe beating. We’re not talking about a mere slap here, we’re talking about a genuine ass-kicking. Arguably, he viewed the sacrilege of conducting business at the temple as defiling the house of God. This may be excusable (as I suppose a man who takes God seriously could understandably do this), but it does paint a different picture from the peaceful Christ familiar to Christians.

Christ was no doubt a complicated person. I won’t even get into the accounts of dozens upon dozens of other messiahs with the same attributes of Jesus (you know: virgin birth, twelve disciples, the death and resurrection in 3 days, forgiving your enemies, etc), or perhaps the apparent plagiarism of Christ’s miracles from the earlier Egyptian god Horus. I also won’t mention the scores of people who challenge that Jesus even existed. I’m willing to accept that a man named Jesus did exist.

But gosh, wouldn’t it be good to finally apologize to all Jews for laying the crime of all times at their doorstep?

It’s like a pen I once saw a manager with at JcPenny’s, “Why doesn’t anyone blame the godless Romans?” Isn’t it time we lay the responsibility with the Roman law that dictated that Jesus should be crucified (a Roman punishment) for the act of disrupting public order by violently attacking several respected merchants in front of a temple? And, just maybe, issue an apology unto all Jews for the tremendous suffering they have endured by prejudiced–and misinformed–Christians?

*Edit 6/1/11: I have received some thoughtful criticism of this post. Mostly, that it needs citations and some evidence. I quite agree, and will now post some preliminary evidence, hope to add more later.

Also, I was mistaken about Max Müller, it appears that it was actually Nicolas Notovitch and Levi H. Dowling who primarily argued that Jesus traveled to India in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Here is a 8 minute video from a longer 1 hour video which I could not locate:

© David Metcalf

Education and the Humanities

Schools are failing in their primary mission. The reasons are complicated in some respects, but in others it’s quite simple. Children should complete public education with three main understandings:

o Learning is life-long
o Thinking critically is fun and rewarding
o Knowing the trends and patterns of human history and where
power in society lies

Take history for example, history is much more than names, dates, and events. Knowing history is about understanding how power is used to organize society and how it is also abused. It’s about understanding the undercurrent of civilization and the foundations of what binds humans together in cooperative effort.

Schools have become very good at teaching kids to despise reading, view learning as boring, and think in lazy ways. Whether a student memorizes the “day of infamy” for a test and then performs a memory dump is irrelevant to understanding our heritage. History is about having access to the collected wealth of knowledge, both technical and philosophic.

We live in an age of easy access to information, yet we have raised generations of children who would rather watch TV or play video-games than read up on the humanities (after all, that’s what we’re doing). Mind you, I’m not saying video-games are bad; I’m rather fond of them. But I view them as a past-time at best and not something that should occupy all of your spare time.

The roots of all this lie with the founders of American public education. In the 1880’s, a debate was taking place about what should drive education. Should we embolden students to challenge the status quo and think independently, or should we train them to be successful and productive in a market economy. I think you know how this story ends. . .but it starts with an architect boldly stating, “We have enough doctors and lawyers and politicians. . . what we need is productive workers working in dark, dank places.”

There were opponents to this view, like John Dewey, who felt that students should leave education with the mind of challenging accepted cultural values and taking a proactive approach to challenging societal injustice. Although Dewey failed to appreciate the social ills of the Soviet revolution (he was an admirer), he may have been correct that we should rear our children in the task of challenging the world, instead of joining it.

A similar thing happened with the hippy generation. A counter-culture that challenged the world of work and cultural norms, ultimately failing because the hippies graduated from college and had to settle down to take on jobs and raise families. Owning stock gives you a stake in the capitalist economy. It’s hard to remain a radical once you’re watching MSNBC so you can get your news along with a stock ticker at the bottom of the screen.

I’m not saying that market Capitalism should be eradicated, or that it hasn’t met with some success. But you also have to recognize that much of that success was and is built on the backs of exploited laborers.

But returning to the issue of education, how should it be modeled? Perhaps the ancient Aryan culture (no, not that one) had the right idea with the Upanishads. The Upanishads translate to “come near and sit down.” The Aryan tribes which moved out of the Caucasus mountains in all directions–some of which settled in modern-day India–created a list of unanswerable questions to be discussed by successive generations of youths. These were philosophic, with no certain answers. The child’s role was to discuss and arrive at his/her own conclusions. The key is that this is what we would think today as critical thinking: teaching children how to process information and arrive at their own conclusions.

If our education does nothing else, it should rear children in the ways of thinking for themselves, loving new ideas and learning, and loving literature and the humanities. As mentioned, schools have done a lot of the opposite: kids think reading is boring (mostly), that learning is boring, and that learning stops once they get their diploma. Though trite, knowledge truly is power. But it’s hard to have it when you’re grinding it out for less than a living wage and your spare time is spent recuperating from a depressing job.

What should we teach our children about the notion of success? That it is earning good money, paying your bills, and nevermind whether you actually love what you do? It’s natural that parents want their children to be financially well-off. But what about pursuing their dreams and finding ways to contribute in meaningful ways? I shudder when I think of teachers warning students that if they don’t like school, then they will hate the world of work even more. If a student decides to do something artistic for less money and no job security, shouldn’t they be encouraged to do so?

We all have to deal with responsibility sooner or later. I would love to throw myself into writing, but I find that I have to concentrate on work to pay my bills, keep my health insurance, and earn the right to a warm bed and food in my fridge.

It wasn’t always this way, you know. Your membership in the tribe once guaranteed you access to those things. Humans didn’t trade paper notes for the right to the basic necessities. They traded energy in a Star Trekian mode of, what is good for all is good for me. I’m not saying we should desert the cities and try to live off the land. But I’m agreeing with Einstein when he stipulated that our human culture hasn’t evolved as rapidly as our technical prowess.

In fact, you could question whether we’ve actually regressed since the dawn of civilization, since our view of human dignity is essentially that it is earned rather than inherited. If you disagree, then consider the state of American politics when those who have health insurance are aghast that it could/should be given away to those without it. Usually it’s the have nots that get upset about their lot, but now we see that the haves are the ones who are truly enraged.

© David Metcalf