August 31, 2010

Plastic to Oil for Real?

Hey, this is another short article that I posted first on Technorati and can be found at Is Plastic-to-Oil for Real?  It is nice to have an editor besides myself, but the limited subject matter and length restrictions are the trade-off. For that reason I'll have some longer posts that will be available only on my blog. So enough with that and onto the true subject matter.

As you may or may not be aware, there is a video going around about a Japanese man who has created a machine that can turn garbage plastic into oil.The video can be seen on Youtube and at first glace it reminded me of the Eternal Cycle of Free Energy 2010 Using Salt Water video that was popular a while ago.

There does seem to be a great difference between these two videos though. The Eternal Cycle of Free Energy is just a video made to entice people to waste money on numerous products based on fuel cells and easy ways to make different chemical fuels from

The machine itself probably works in doing what it advertises, separating the hydrogen and oxygen, but it can be guaranteed that it doesn't do so for free or for a net energy gain. The water doesn't separate itself into hydrogen and oxygen; it takes some input of energy to do so, and as the second law of thermodynamics tells us, energy put in will always result in less energy out. There is always a net loss in energy transfer; often this is in the heat that is given off.

That has been the issue that has plagued perpetual motion machines and the reason why free energy doesn't exist. Which brings up the second video, which isn't trying to offer a free lunch. What it is offering is to take yesterday's leftovers and turn them into steak. The only solid information I could find on the Japanese plastic-to-oil machine were from Big Think and Our World 2.0, but numerous people have blogged about it and it seems to just be making the news rounds now.

Both pages note that plastic waste has a high energy value and that value has begun to be captured. Number 2, 3 and 4 plastics can now be put in a machine to create oil that can be used just like regular oil. To top that off, it does it for "20 cents’ worth" of electricity.

Just like the free energy idea, it seems too good to be true, but unlike the other video, it holds up to scrutiny and doesn't violate any physical laws. In fact, Blest isn't the only company with a machine that is able to turn plastic waste to oil.

The Envion Oil Generator does exactly the same thing, but it may not be as efficient. It turns plastic into oil for less than $10 a barrel, so the days of throwing plastic into the trash or burning it might be quickly running out. These are the encouraging breakthroughs that the environment needs and in fact they are so groundbreaking that it creates some hard work to determine the scams from the real progress.

Thanks for reading,
-the moral skeptic

August 28, 2010

The False Tag-line of the Last Exorcism

I've been looking into expanding my writing and subject matter, so for that reason this article was first published as The False Tag-line of the Last Exorcism on Technorati. The articles there are a little shorter, but I thought it was another good outlet to do a slightly different type of writing, while still maintaining an intellectual and skeptical subject matter. Thanks for putting up with that.

The new movie The Last Exorcism has the tag line, "The bible is filled with Demons, if you believe in God than you believe in the Devil." This is an interesting argument that a lot of people would make, but I disagree with.

As usual there are a few things I have to detail before I get into arguing why that isn't the case. For the sake of this discussion I'm going to use the strictly Christian biblical sense of God, the devil, demons and demonic possession. Now I think that there is enough contradiction within the biblical belief of these terms to really create the reasonable ability to say that belief in the bible doesn't mean belief in a Devil or in demonic possession.

It might have been noticed that I have linked the idea of the Devil to demons and demonic possession and it could seem like I am shifting the argument to a different meaning than the tag line of the movie intended, but that is not the case. The tag line is trying to create the premise to make an Exorcism believable, due to the biblical belief in God and the Devil, so that doesn't change the meaning of what is being argued.

The main point of contention I have is that God is omnipotent and can do whatever he likes. Job 1:6-2:10  demonstrates that standard and so does Matthew 19:26. In the book of Job it is God who is in control the whole time, and Satan does his bidding (aka follows God's plan), while in Matthew it is declared by Jesus that, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."

This creates a situation where everything is subject to God's plan or mercy, so if a person was to think that God's plan didn't involve demons or Satan they wouldn't have to exist.  This opens up the existence of demons and Satan to be testable in empirical ways, to look for God's plan ourselves. So the existence of Satan and demons, while shown to exist in the past in different biblical texts, is still contingent on what you think God's plan is, because God, the all powerful, could have banished them from existence. To say that belief in God necessitates belief in the Devil or demons is to deny Gods omnipotence over the universe.  

The best way to see if Demons or Satan still exist is to look for solid evidence of their existence, and so far I haven't came across anything that could reasonably be referred to as real evidence. Through the lack of evidence and the unknown nature of the inter workings of Gods plan, the tag line for The Last Exorcism is false. A person can believe in God and still should be skeptical about the existence of demons and Satan.

August 24, 2010

Addiction: How Should It Be Defined?

Well for the short term future I'll be back to posting on a more regular basis and with that I'll get to the titled topic. How to define addiction is a question that has drawn my interests for a long time, but I never really begin to appreciate the complexities of what was actually going on until recently. There seems to be a growing body of work that refers to addictions as a disease, handicap, disability or various other things. The pronouncement comes from a variety of places which each has a somewhat different take on what makes up an addiction. To address the question of what an addiction is, I’m going to look specifically at alcoholism and use it to create an understanding of the many descriptions of addiction and then try to pick out the understanding that works best.

To start the search for an accurate description it would be handy to look some of the pitfalls other descriptions have had. The American Medical Association for instance seems to be a little wishy-washy in their understanding of Alcoholism stating first that the AMA, "Believes it important for professionals and laymen alike to recognizing alcoholism is in and of itself a disabling and handicapping condition." They go on to call Alcoholism a handicap or disability 9 more times and sating in conclusion that, "Hopefully, this language clarification will reinforce the concept that alcoholism is in and of itself a disabling and handicapping condition."

Well that is a clarification is great until you get to the very next paragraph where the AMA states it,

"Endorses the proposition that drug dependencies, including alcoholism, are diseases and that their treatment is a legitimate part of medical practice," and "Encourages physicians, other health professionals, medical and other health related organizations, and government and other policymakers to become more well informed about drug dependencies, and to base their policies and activities on the recognition that drug dependencies are, in fact, diseases."

So in one short address of the issue the AMA has called Alcoholism a disease, handicap, disability, and condition. It consistently claims that it would be fair to characterize alcoholism in any of those terms. This trouble is not unique to the AMA, because addiction’s is a hard term to define. That difficulty makes it seem like a shotgun approach would be the correct way to look at addiction.  Throw a bunch of different terms at the problem and you’ll get a usable framework for what it is. That being the case it would be handy to see what the shotgun was loaded with.

It is quasi-handicap because there does seem to be a genetic predisposition to addiction that leads people to become addicted more easily.  Researches have even have gone so far as to claim that they have identified what the alcoholism gene is. That gene is the CREB and it is linked with both alcoholism and anxiety. When rats were bred without that gene they drank 50% more than usual, showed a higher preference rate for alcohol over water compared with normal rats, and displayed more anxiety than normal rats that decreased while they were drinking. So there is evidence that addiction can be a natural handicap a person has, at least in some cases.

Alcohol could also be described as a disability, although it wasn't included in the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 nor is it a covered disability for Social Security. The World Health Organization describes a disability as,

"An umbrella term, covering impairments, activity limitations, and participation restrictions. An impairment is a problem in body function or structure; an activity limitation is a difficulty encountered by an individual in executing a task or action; while a participation restriction is a problem experienced by an individual in involvement in life situations."

So this definition is vague enough for alcoholism to be included, because when a person is drunk they are impaired, but disability, like the term handicap, is a rough description and it might be a miss-characterization.

The third term, disease, is probably the most controversial of the terms listed to describe addictions, but it is also the best documented. There is also a good body of evidence for calling addictions a type of disease. Yet, before that evidence can be looked at it a useful definition of disease should be given. Medline Plus gives the definition of disease as,

"An impairment of the normal state of the living animal or plant body or one of its parts that interrupts or modifies the performance of the vital functions, is typically manifested by distinguishing signs and symptoms, and is a response to environmental factors (as malnutrition, industrial hazards, or climate), to specific infective agents (as worms, bacteria, or viruses), to inherent defects of the organism (as genetic anomalies), or to combinations of these factors."

I think that is a fair description of what characterizes a disease and Nora Volkow and Joanna Fowler show how addiction meets that criterion. In Addiction, a Disease of Compulsion and Drive: Involvement of the  Orbitofrontal Cortex, they show how addiction not only works with the reward centers of the brain, but also has an affect on the part of the brain active in people who are obsessive compulsive. They argue that

"Intermittent DA stimulation secondary to chronic drug use leads to disruption of the orbitofrontal cortex via the striato-thalamo-orbitofrontal circuit, which is a circuit involved in regulating drive (Stuss and Benson, 1986 Go). The dysfunction of this circuit results in the compulsive behavior in addicted subjects and the exaggerated motivation to procure and administer the drug regardless of its adverse consequences. This hypothesis is corroborated by imaging studies showing disruption of striatal, thalamic and orbitofrontal brain regions in drug abusers (Volkow et al., 1996a Go)."

Basically, chronic drug use subverts the brains thinking and creates a compulsion for use, which would be near the same level as other compulsions. Volkow and Flower go so far as to conclude that, 

"It would therefore appear that during addiction the chronic drug administration has resulted in brain changes that are perceived as a state of urgency not dissimilar to that observed on states of severe food or water deprivation."

So the body/mind would have cravings the way that starving people would crave food. This is a diseased state where choice is subverted to the drives of reward and compulsion. It is due to this that the AMA and virtually every other drug treatment site can say that addiction is a disease. Addiction follows a pattern that is like that of a disease, it can be debilitating and leads to impaired brain function, especially in how it creates a compulsion in some people.

Yet a certain word is left out completely of Volkow and Flower's article. 'Choice' is never mentioned once, that is the word that breaks the disease line of thinking. All the above is true about how an addiction to something like alcohol works, but it still doesn't account for how a person becomes a chronic addict before the compulsion is created, at some level the word 'choice' has to be addressed by anyone who supports the disease model of addiction.  The role of choice is often overlooked by supporters of that model, but their critics often fail to understand that there is a credible background for referring to an addiction as a disease.

In the end I think it is somehow perverse to put alcoholism in the same category as HIV, cancer, and numerous other afflictions that don't have the same level of control. I admit that some addicts don't have total control, but it still seems like a miss-categorization. There has to be a more fair and accurate way to describe addiction.

Why can't an addiction just be referred to as an addiction? If it was we would be rid of the vague yet all encompassing definitions that addictions are trying to be squeezed into. It would be an apt characterization of what is going on, while also bringing none of the extra baggage that comes with those other terms. While it might be fair to describe addiction in disease like terms, it isn't the best description, and it does a disservice to disease.

Set down your shotgun and be more direct. Addiction doesn’t need the other labels and instead of spending time worrying about where it fits and how it can be defined worry instead about the actually affects of addiction socially, physically, and personally.

Thanks for reading,
-the moral skeptic

August 15, 2010

Gay Marriage is Not an Issue of Morality it is a Political Issue

First off, thanks for voting on my poll. The votes seem to be headed in the direction I thought they would, but they are still interesting, and after a few more votes I'll take the poll down. I think the results have given me enough to write a small post on, and I can also throw in some of my job searching experience. Don't worry though, I'll put a new poll to fulfill your voting needs, and was debating the idea of putting a list of topics up and having you choose what I write about. I've got ideas for 8-10 posts and deciding what to write about that way would be an interesting change of pace for a little while, assuming I get enough votes to make an actual decision.

That said, I've been asked to write a couple opinion pieces on political issues, but haven't written them because I've either felt indifferent about the topic, or considered my knowledge base on the topic too limited to give an accurate and fair discussion. Gay marriage is not one of the political issues I am indifferent about or lacking in knowledge.

Now there may be some contention that this is more of a moral issue than political, because supporting a gay/lesbian lifestyle is a corruption of morality, but I don't buy this at all. Even if it was the case the being gay was immoral it doesn't necessarily mean that allowing gay marriage would be a moral issue; I say this strictly because the institution of marriage has moved far beyond the linking of two people together under the eyes of god. There are many eyes that look at marriage now, including those of the state and private business. points out a few of the 1400 rights that are given to heterosexual married couples, and points out they include the essential rights to parental rights of children, joint adoption, status as next of kin, sick leave to take care of a partner or child, crime victim recovery rights, and many others. Wikipedia, also gives a good overview of the rights given to married people in the United States, and includes things left off the other list such as, spousal privilege in court cases,  right to inherit property, funeral and bereavement leave, and something as simple as the right to change your surname upon marriage.

Yet private businesses also treat married people differently. Legal Help Mate in its summation of the benefits of marriage points out the insurance (auto, health and house) benefits of marriage , tuition discounts, and discounts and incentives that are only offered to married people.

So marriage between gay people is more of a political/social/equality issue, and the fact that people are homosexual altogether is further towards the moral side of the debate (If you think that sex and love between a man and a man or a woman and a woman is wrong).

One of the answers to the legal issues of marriage that people who support only heterosexual marriage have come up with is an attempt to 'take marriage back', the leading website on the issue, has some interesting quotes and arguments about marriage are insightful to address. There list of recent arguments starts with,

1. "Marriage is of religious origin; it should remain there.[...]"

This is a variation of the argument from antiquity and it doesn't hold water. This argument denies or blatantly ignores how marriage has changed since it was first developed. How it has gone from a simple symbolic/religious union into a useful classification for government and legal use ingrained deeply into how a society is performs. An acorn can become a mighty oak, and it can no longer be addressed as the acorn it once was. 

2.  "Some faiths accept same-sex relationships and others profoundly object. As a matter of religious freedom, both must be accommodated, but how? Separate state and church.[...]"

Yes, indeed, separate church and state and keep them apart! Hear hear! But, just because some people, as a matter of religious/intellectual freedom, abhor the idea of same-sex people being allowed to marry doesn't mean that the state has to choose their strict religious definition or stay out of the issue of marriage altogether. Heterosexual only marriage O' supporters  (H.O.M.O.'s as I like to call them) can deny the legitimacy of homosexuals marriages privately and religiously as much as they want. Any H.O.M.O. can say 'My god doesn't see your fag marriage!' and it would be a fine statement of personal belief.  They can hate lesbians being allowed to marry until the cows come home and that would be fine.

There can be a separate legal definition that has no impact on any private religious beliefs. The H.O.M.O's can keep their 'intellectual' definition while the state has a separate legal definition. To attempt to say there cannot be a separate definition is putting religion back into the governmental realm. The argument is violating it's own premise. 

3. "...The only real solution to the controversy over same-sex marriage is to get government out of the marriage business. It is not only more equitable, but it also falls in line with the American tradition of separation of church and state. It is the only solution that all sides should be able to agree on."

This falls on the same sword as the last argument, its own. By saying that the church and state should be separate, and then arguing that the state can't have an independent definition of what it recognizes as marriage, is not only intolerant, it is self defeating. The only solution that all sides should agree upon is that there needs to be a legal definition of marriage that encompasses committed consenting couples of any sex, and by creating a narrower definition it is making a large segment of the population unequal.    

Regardless of your personal stance on gay/lesbian lifestyle marriage is no longer a private matter between two people, it has a very dramatic legal and financial consequence. To privatize the word 'marriage' and make it only a description of heterosexual couples would only further stigmatize an already unequal part of the population.

Is it really necessary to concede to the H.O.M.O's the meaning of word marriage? To come up with a new word for homosexual marriage and change all the laws and benefits of the union to include that group? If your church and your buddies want to define marriage as a union between a man and woman fine, but the legal definition should not have to be biased by your narrow-minded standard. Marriage means far to much legally and socially to be taken away from committed couples no matter what there sex is.

Thanks for reading,
-the moral skeptic

August 14, 2010

The Immortal Jellyfish and the Jellyfish Invasion

Well this topic is a great bridge between the past posts of the infinite to a topic with a more biological and science based topic. The immortal jellyfish, Turritopsis Nutricula, has a potentially infinite lifespan because of a neat trick it has evolved. It has found the fountain of youth. National Geographic explains how the fountain is in the creatures to turn back the clock and actually reshape itself. National Geographic then gives a detailed account of the process described above. In a situation where the jellyfish encounters starvation, physical damage or another type of crisis.

"The jellyfish turns itself into a bloblike cyst, which then develops into a polyp colony, essentially the first stage in jellyfish life. The jellyfish's cells are often completely transformed in the process. Muscle cells can become nerve cells or even sperm or eggs. Through asexual reproduction, the resulting polyp colony can spawn hundreds of genetically identical jellyfish—near perfect copies of the original adult."

In that process it shows that the jellyfish can create copies of itself, but the jellyfish can also reproduce normally with sperm and egg, it has two options for reproduction. There is a great chart of the process described above on Developmental Biology Online.

So the question inevitably comes up, 'Is there any implications for future human anti-aging?' Well the answer this far seems to be a universal no. The human fountain of youth still seems to be a far way off, unless your Ray Kurzweil.

This news comes on the heels of a bloom of other jellyfish stories in the recent past. Like the story of an army of billions of small jellyfish, Mauve Stingers, invading a salmon farm and killing 100 000 fish in Northern Ireland. While the previous article many not have gotten too in depth Spiegel Online goes a bit further as it noted that the Mauve Stinger can't really swim and generally goes where the ocean currents take it, and the fact that they made it all the way to Northern Ireland from their normal Mediterranean home is another sign of Global Warming. 

Japan's Nomura's Jellyfish can grow to 6.5 feet and 440 lbs and has become much more active recently.

A third intriguing jellyfish story has been developing in Japan over the past decade or so. The Nomura Jellyfish has become a blooming menace, and has caused problems not only in clogging fishing nets, but also poisoning the fish that are caught with the jellies.

The Nomura didn't used to be a problem because of the amount of time between blooms, every 40 years,  didn't cause a dramatic effect, but recently the blooms have had an accelerated pace. The increase has been dramatic, every year between 2002 and 2007 there was a bloom.   Nomura Jellyfish, like the Turritopsis Nutricula, have a strange breeding process and only breed when they are injured, so activities like the one shown above, or being caught in nets might be causing them to breed much more frequently then they have in the past. It has gotten to the point that a biological oceanographer at Hiroshima University, Shin-ichi Uye, stated that, 'Right now giant jellyfish outbreaks are like typhoons—they can't be controlled, but they can be predicted.'

Making the blooms worse are the amount of dead zones and the decline of sea turtles, the jellyfishes main predator. I guess the previous solution of just blowing up sea creatures doesn't solve everything. So while the fish seem to be floundering the jellies are taking over.

While the news stories generally portray a real sense of alarm about that is going on, there just isn't much that can  be done until more research takes place and their is a greater understanding about these strange creatures. Then even when we know more I still am not very hopeful for any real change, as the not much has been done to steam the tide of the decline in any other areas of our oceans.

Thanks for reading,
-the moral skeptic

August 4, 2010

An Admission of False Beliefs: The Start of an Examined Life

Many people have heard Socrates famous assertion that the unexamined life isn't worth living, and while I believe that to come close to the truth, it is produced in a vague fashion. What does it mean to examine life? It doesn't mean to simply know who you are, this would be a good first step, but it would only be superficial as an actual examination. As for what it truly means no one was able to put it in better or more eloquent terms than Friedrich Nietzsche did in The Gay Science.

In the lead up to the quotes that follow there is a question of why someone would think that an action would be correct, and a response is given that it is that the 'never immoral conscious' that tells a person what is right and it alone determines what is moral. To this answer Nietzsche responds,

"But why do you listen to the voice of your conscience? And what gives you the right to consider such a judgment true and infallible? For this faith--is there no conscience for that? Have you never heard of an intellectual conscience? A conscience behind your 'conscience'? Your judgment 'this is right' has a pre-history in your instincts, likes, dislikes, experiences, and lack of experiences. 'How did it originate there?' you must ask, and then also: 'What is it that impels me to listen to it?' You can listen to its commands like a good soldier who hears his officer's command. Or like a woman who loves the man who commands. Or like a flatterer and coward afraid of the commander: Or like a dunderhead who obeys because no objection occurs to him. In short, there are a hundred ways in which you can listen to you conscience. But that you take this or that judgment for the voice of conscience--in other words, that you feel something to be right--may be due to the fact that you have never thought much about yourself and simply have accepted blindly that what you had been told ever since your childhood was right; or it may be due to the fact that what you call your duty has up to this point brought you sustenance and honors--and you consider it 'right' because it appears to you as your own 'condition of existence' (and that you have a right to existence seems irrefutable to you)."

And this is only half of the explanation and right after Nietzsche goes on to say,

"For all that, the firmness of your moral judgment could be evidence of your personal abjectness, or impersonality; your 'moral strength' might have its source in your stubbornness--or in your inability to envisage new ideals. And, briefly, if you had though more subtly, observed better; and learned more, you certainly would not go on calling this 'duty' of yours and this 'conscience' of yours duty and conscious. Your understanding of the manner in which moral judgments have originated would spoil these grand words for you, like 'sin', and 'salvation of the soul' and 'redemption' have been spoiled for you...Let us therefore limit ourselves to the purification of our opinions and valuations and to the creation of our own new tables of what is good, and let us stop brooding about the 'moral value of our actions'! We, however, want to become those we are--human beings who are new, unique, incomparable, who give themselves laws, who create themselves."

Through those to quotes Nietzsche has explained the essence of the examined life. Yet this is to monumental of a task to happen all at once, and also a task that requires constant maintenance. Although it might be fair to then criticize the 'examined life' as being unobtainable, a standard of perfection to great to reach, it wouldn't displace any of its meaning. It would still be a great standard to strive for even if it was always out of reach.

So what can be done to examine values and beliefs. The answer is a healthy skepticism inwards and outwards. To have everything you know to only be contingent on new evidence that may or may not be forthcoming and to examine core values so that you are the one making your values instead of being a reaction to them. Which brings up the question, why is there a picture of a spider at the top of the blog?

Well, while I know it isn't like admitting that a core value I had was wrong, I am now aware of a few beliefs about spiders that I held before were false and admitting that simple things you know were mistaken is a great way to build up to questioning bigger, more firmly held beliefs.

So here it is, I used to be one of those people who sleep covering there mouth for fear that the one of the average of six to eight spiders a year were going to crawl into my mouth that night. My greatest fret was that of the deadly daddy long legs, which I could only hope I wouldn't wander and wade into my mouth (It was known to me than that the daddy long legs was extremely poisonous, but that it couldn't open its mouth enough to bite people). I know how silly this sounds now ( I really didn't try to cover my mouth when I slept), but those were beliefs floating around around and I didn't question them, just believed them. I still hear them repeated from time to time now as pure fact, which they aren't as Snopes points out for both (Myth1 & Myth2)

I found away to change some of those obviously flawed beliefs thought. The answer was a system to work on those beliefs. It involved my roommate and I making small bets on opinions we differed on and then doing the research to find out which one of us was correct (The spider bet was one I obviously lost). We were both honest enough to accept credible information about the subjects we bet on and losing the bet was fine with me because it was better than carrying around a thought that was demonstrably wrong. It was a beginning to openly questioning many of the beliefs I've held, and while it may not be feasible for it to work with core values, it still remains a viable starting line to work out facts leading to being able to be honest about different beliefs; the start of an examined life.

Thanks for reading,
-the moral skeptic

August 3, 2010

The Infinite Continues: A Look at Paradox's and Problems From The Previous Post

Well, I am fairly sure that the topic of the infinite isn't one of my strongest subjects, but this has still been and continues to be an interesting learning experience. I've learned a fair bit since my last post by reading up on Supertasks, and taking the advice of a commenter to read The Infinite Book: A Short Guide to the Boundless, Timeless, and Endless by John Barrow. I look forward to reviewing the book and blogging about it in the future, but today I'm just going to go over a few things that have been pointed out and talk about a few interesting paradox's involving the infinite.

I'll start with just clearing up a couple things. 

1. In the last post, before I edited it, I made false causal relationship between density and mass that really isn't there and I had to adjust it, as it was a mistake. Density is somethings mass divided by how much volume it has, while mass can be a bit more complicated, but is commonly looked at as how much something weights. The mistake was obviously pointed out by the example that a car could crushed and it would have the same mass, but the density would have changed.

2.This is just a matter of clarification.My thinking is so far still in line with Keith Mayes who is of the opinion that, "Infinity exists only as a means of description, such as found in mathematics for example, or any other thing that exists only in the abstract. I do not believe that it has any real existence in the universe such as infinite mass or infinite size. The word 'infinity' is a descriptive term and not a measure of size, and I therefore do not see how it can be applied to anything 'real', as real things can be measured." This is, like any view I hold, is still open for further evidence to be weighted, so if you think there is something I should look at let me know.

3. The idea of distinction without a difference really helps to understand larger and larger sets of infinite's. There isn't a difference because when you hit the infinite you have hit the upwards limit, there is no going any further. Yet there can be infinite series that involves larger numbers, and therefore larger a larger infinite (A better way to think about it is that it would approach the infinite more quickly). This is where it becomes hard to understand because two sets can be at the highest possible limit, but one can still greater than the other. There seems to be a logical inconsistency that's contained within that idea, but that's how it works.

It's that type of inconsistency created by the idea of the infinite, that makes many a paradox. Take for instance something infinite in size and infinitely full, yet still has room for you. That is the summation of what makes up the first paradox created by the infinite that I will talk about today.

The Grand Hotel Paradox -  This problem comes from David Hilbert, and is a neat and counter-intuitive problem created by the use of infinite. The set up is described exactly as it was above, there is a hotel with an infinite number of rooms, but each of those rooms is full. So if the hotel had a number of new guests arrive looking for a room it would at first seem that, there would be no way for the hotel to accommodate the new guests due to it being full. This is where it gets slightly mathematical and interesting. To make room for the new guests all the desk clerk has to do it make an equation for room changes, like every new guest is put in room two. But then what happens to the guest that was in room two before? The guest originally in room two would be put in room four, the guest originally in room four would move to room six which would cause the guest from six to be moved to room eight and that series would continue infinitely, thus making room for any new guest that arrived. This process could then be repeated with any new guest that arrived, so the hotel would be infinitely full, yet still have room for everyone. William Lane Craig, gets a lot further into this idea and uses it to say that infinite's are impossible and therefore the universe had a first cause, which I don't agree with but find interesting.

Zeno, not to be confused with Xenu
Zeno's Achilles and the Tortoise - This is a classic paradox that is brought up from time to time and really never goes away. Like the previous paradox this one involves only a very simple idea that when applied creates a counter-intuitive situation. Zeno's idea was that motion can be broken down into sections seemingly without end. For instance a Tortoise starts 100 meters ahead of Achilles and for Achilles to catch the Tortoise he first has to go half the distance to the Tortoise then he has to go two thirds the total distance then he has to go three fourths the total distance....This continues so that Achilles gets fractionally and fractionally closer to the Tortoise, but he never reaches it. Simply there are an infinite number of points for Achilles to travel in a finite amount of time (This is also referred to as a Supertask).

Zeno relies on either time or space being divided up into infinite pieces. A question arises from this, is it possible in a finite amount of time to accomplish an infinite amount of tasks? That question could be answered or the problem can be dealt with by there being a bottom limit of divisibility which breaks the cycle. A few people have posited a Planck Length as that bottom limit, but I have yet to see that really flushed out in detail.

Zeno's Arrow - Like the race above this paradox involves breaking up motion into a series of points and looking at it from that perspective. Instead of breaking up and worrying about the distance that the arrow has to travel Zeno instead breaks up motion into a series of time. He goes so far in his break up that he looks at the arrow flying through the air in instants, the way a camera would take a picture of a moment in time. As it can  be seen in a picture the arrow isn't moving, at any precise instant in time the arrow is at rest. Since the arrow is at rest at any instant you look at it, it never moves and makes motion impossible.

This last paradox has been solved, and if you'd like to learn more about it or other paradoxes look for Michael Clark's Paradoxes from A to Z.

Well, I hope I have instilled a greater appreciation of the depth of infinity and the problems/disagreements it creates.

Thanks for reading,
-the moral skeptic

August 1, 2010

A look into the Infinite: How it works Conceptually and In Reality

Well I’m both a little surprised and impressed with the reception my last post received and am glad to continue with a topic with many similarities with the last one. This post will look at the concept of the infinite by looking at a couple of paradox’s and in the end it will show how and idea can work in theory, and in reality. Now as a forewarning I am firstly a philosopher and only further down the line a mathematician/physicist, but I’m going to play those roles for this post. If there are any mistakes or clarifications that are needed, feel free to post the information in the comments and I’ll make the corrections as soon as time permits.

First, I’ll just introduce the subject matter through an illuminating argument I had with a former professor a few years ago. He brought up the topic of the infinite and how it worked as a mathematical concept, and in doing so he pointed out that in math you could have a number that was infinite ( Z for example) and also a number that was double that infinite (2Z). Fair enough it does make sense within the framework of mathematics, but a problem arose when I was asked to define what the infinite meant.

Now when asked I said that the infinite is really a concept that is irrational when applied to the world around us (Look back that may be going a bit to far, but it points out how much the meaning changes when applied to real world issues). The infinite really breaks down and can’t be used in real applications, except as a concept that doesn’t exist in reality. Take for instance the simple equation above, and try to put that into an example that makes sense.

There is an infinite number of apples, but there are twice as many oranges as apples. Try to prove that statement is true. It makes sense as an idea when the sentence is read, but to really prove it all the apples and oranges would have to be counted, which cannot be done. Yet there is also a problem with being double the infinite of another infinite, because as soon as you hit infinity you’ve reached the limit, there can no longer be anything more. It is the equivalent of saying that something is more unique than another unique item. Unique means one of a kind, and once you’ve hit the status of one of a kind there can no longer be anything more unique. If there was something more unique it wouldn’t exist.

Now it could be argued that a circle or something caught in a loop is doing something perpetually, and that is an infinite. For example someone running in a circle on a track never really comes to an end point, but instead has to pick on arbitrarily.

So, what if someone is running on a circled track and there is another person running twice as fast as the other person. Couldn’t it be said that the one person is traveling twice the distance of the other, while they are both in an infinite loop? Well I think that would be a fair but inaccurate description of that is going on. The relative speed is the important part, while noting the infinite distance, just implies that it isn’t known when or if they will stop. It doesn’t add any information.

Now this seems to be an example of the infinite, and in a way it is. The problem comes with trying to find a home for the infinite within out observable universe, without there being a loop. The earth, due to it having a curved surface, has no endpoint. A person could fly around the earth and end up in the exact same spot they were in, but it wouldn’t be fair to characterize the earth as having a surface of infinite size.

This brings up how the infinite is a supernatural answer to some questions. How far can the universe expand? How long will space/time exist? How dense is a black hole? If the answer to those questions was given as infinite, it just means that the answer really isn’t known, but there is no reason to think that there is an upward limit.

The infinite is a placeholder when used to talk about most real things, and an effective tool when used conceptually.

Sorry I didn’t get to some of the interesting paradoxes, but I will in my next post.

Thanks for reading
-the moral skeptic