Home > Uncategorized > Scientist receives $1.4m religion prize

Scientist receives $1.4m religion prize

March 19, 2006

British astronomer John D. Barrow has won a $1.4m Templeton Foundation prize that rewards “discoveries about spiritual realities”.  In books, lectures, and the theatre, he has sought to help science and religion find “common areas of understanding”… “challenging the belief that either science or religion have all the answers”.

Man, I am in the wrong business.  Let me get this straight; you say “how parochial are our attempts to find or deny the links between scientific and religious approaches to the nature of the universe” and they give you a $million-four? 

I can write blather like that, too.  Here, let me try:

The boundaries of science are sharply defined at the edges of “is-ness”, or describing the natural world as it can be perceived by our senses.  Scientists are outside their art if they approach questions of meaning, in short, if they ask’ “Why?”  This is where the numinous sense – call it the “gut feeling” if you like – takes over and guides scientist and dock worker alike into another realm altogether. 

And yet this inspiration flows both ways, as science boundarifies and illuminates the spiritual.  The expanded appreciation for our natural universe excites our spirit in much the same way as the visual and auditory environment of a cathaedral.  It is this very human habit, of looking beyond the curtain, that enters the ocean of ethical thinking as surely as a small stream finds its way to larger waters…
- George Wiman, Some Book that won’t be written

See?  Anybody can do it.  It doesn’t have to mean anything; it only needs to sound sort of impressive or failing that, at least be nonsensical enough to be difficult to argue with.  Once you get started it just rolls off the keyboard and goes on and on and on…

Reading Barrow’s statement, his main beef seems to be that science doesn’t address meaning.  Fine – point taken.  So made-up meaning is better than no meaning at all?  No thanks, I already bought one of those and it was defective.

Hey Templeton foundation – I know it isn’t much, but those two paragraphs must be worth something!.  Maybe a C-note?  A twenty?

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. George Filippenko
    March 20, 2006 at 12:09 | #1

    Way to go George.

  2. March 22, 2006 at 14:07 | #2

    Compare and contrast with this presentation by Bruce Sterling:
    I’m not sure if it’s brillantly insightful or complete nonsense. I didn’t hear him use the word ‘numinous’, but he did say ‘discourse’ more than once.

  3. March 23, 2006 at 21:49 | #3

    The presentation is a suspension of particles of insight in a matrix of nonsense.  I did like his concept of avoiding the premature optimization (and consequential straightjacketing) of conceptual frameworks by terms like ‘artificial intelligence’ and ‘computer’ but he seemed to be ignoring the potential for the meaning of the words to be shaped by the evolution of the things to which they are attached.  Then he goes on to invent the term, “spime”, which lacks phoenemic rhythm; I wish people who try to invent terms would study the mechanics of human vocalization. 

    I was particularly irritated (though I might be nitpicking) by his misunderstanding of the term, ‘hyperlink’ – he seemed to think it was a superlative.  Rather, it derives conceptually if not verbally from the Greek ‘upo meaning ‘under, or beneath’.  A hyperlink underlies the visible object with a connective function – a link to another object or action.

    With his prognostications about the nomenclature of future data systems, he reminded me of an old BC cartoon.  Thor invents a fish spear, and demonstrates it to Peter.  “I call it a ‘fizgig!’, says Thor.  Peter replies; “A word of advice, Thor – you invent things, let others name them.”

    Finally I was bothered by the notion of hyperlinking (OK, ‘thing-linking’ ) all the physical objects in our world then asking the computing matrix where they are.  Since each object’s metadata would have to be input by somebody, and the interpretative process of inputting that data may not be transparent to the one who will eventually access it, a process of diminishing returns could emerge. 

    The economics of mental energy would not indefinitely support describing everything so a computer can relate it to all other things; people who made a habit of paying attention to the physical world would be at a startling advantage then as now.

    Of course having said that, I am a hypocrite, because I spent an hour this evening looking for a 3/8” drive, #4 Philips driver.  If I could have said out loud; “Computer!  Where’s my 3/8” drive, #4 Philips driver?” that would have sped things up considerably.  But suppose the RFID tag on the driver had been damaged and the computer couldn’t ‘see’ it?  Or suppose I said; “Computer, where’s my, uh…  uh…” and wasn’t able to remember the name of the thing?  I could visualize it, even draw a picture of it, but not retrieve the key that would make the computer instantly say; “It’s in the third drawer of your tool chest, George”. 

    Though Sterling sounds like he might be from Texas, his delivery is pure Tennessee Tent Revival, which may not be incompatible with insight but occasionally masks the lack of it.  That may be the case here.

  4. March 24, 2006 at 13:00 | #4

    “…may not be incompatible with insight but occasionally masks the lack of it.” Another aphorism for my collection. I noticed his accent but I couldn’t place it. I wondered if maybe it was some Pacific Northwest variant.

    ‘each object’s metadata would have to be input by somebody…’

    What I thought was interesting was what he said about ‘blog-jects’ (another awful word) – Blogging objects. I think there’s potential for our stuff to keep some kind of log that we could access on demand. (Preferably a flat text file; I bet if we get anything it will be some lame proprietary format.) I wouldn’t want to query individual sockets, but it would be nice if the closet could say, ‘It’s not in here. It was removed last Thursday. Try the garage.’ Then I’d go out to the garage and say, “Computer, what did I come out here for?”

  5. March 24, 2006 at 14:28 | #5

    It would make an interesting science fiction story about a futuristic cop querying the blogjects for forensic evidence, only to question if the suspect had hacked the record of each blogject to create an alternate, exculpatory reality for the time in question.  Then he’d have to turn to the physical forensic evidence, a nearly forgotten art…

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