Church and Inflatable Doll Sex

July 2nd, 2010

What do the acts of having sex with an inflatable doll and going to church to worship God have in common?

To be satisfying, you have to fool yourself into believing it’s real.

My Passion

February 9th, 2010

I have been too busy to write much on my blog, so I am cheating a bit by posting here my biography from my author page.

I have always enjoyed science, and more broadly, reason. By shedding superstition and emotionally-based sloppy thinking, humans have made great progress in understanding the universe, from the fabric of spacetime, to clusters of galaxies, and everything in between, including life. Through an understanding of human evolution, we can appreciate our special place in the universe and marvel at the brain’s ability to think. In short, the scientific method allows us to know what was thought unknowable only a few decades ago.

I get obsessed with my interests. I decided to deal with the stresses of being a young faculty member by setting up a fish tank with my daughter. In just a few months, this relaxing hobby turned our basement into a tropical fish breeding facility with a dozen large tanks. Sales of my fish to a local pet store accelerated my acquisition of equipment until the stresses of taking care of thousands of living creatures forced me to sell all of my tanks and take up astro-photography, a more relaxing hobby (or so I thought). I compulsively bought telescopes and equipment until I was forced to build a small room off of our garage to store everything, including a computer system on a desk with wheels.

At other times in my life, I read science fiction, amassing a nice collection of novels, whose colorful dust jackets decorate the shelves in our family room. Yearning for facts, I dropped my passion for fiction to read about history, religion, science, political philosophy, I.Q., etc. To satisfy my appetite for physical activity, I play ice hockey as often as possible.

Yet, I spend most of my time thinking about Physics. No other activity is more satisfying than understanding how things work or more spiritual than pondering the most basic questions. My career spans highly applied research – such as co-developing a process for making polymer optical fibers (resulting in a start-up company), through very esoteric basic physics – using both experimental and theoretical techniques to build an understanding of universal properties of light-matter interactions.

Just Say No To Groups!

August 13th, 2009

Liberal, conservative, communist or libertarian.  Democrat or Republican.  Catholic, Jewish, Born again Christian, Muslim or Hindu.  Millions of Facebook members unabashedly advertise their affiliations.  What are you?

This question is inherently offensive because of its implicit assumption that I would mindlessly associate myself with a group whose members share common opinions on a smorgasbord of topics.  Such wholesale acceptance of a canon without critical evaluation is intellectual atrophy.  Each group has plenty of dogma that is downright silly, so I refuse to join.

Take conservatives who are against giving girls human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccinations, which prevent cervical cancer.  The reason: HPV is transmitted through sexual intercourse, and virtuous young woman should abstain from sex.  Is getting cancer a just punishment for promiscuity?

Liberals are no better.  Anti-smoking zealots used reports of the dangers of second hand smoke to push for legislation that bans smoking from public places.  When those studies were shown to be flawed, the liberals resorted to ad hominem attacks on the scientists who pointed out the errors in the methodology.  Though I am not a liberal (nor anything else), I support a ban on smoking in public places based on my own selfish reason that smoke literally makes me sick.  I don’t need a flawed study to validate my cause.  We should all be honest about our motives, and judge issues solely on their merits.

Rather than seek the truth, groups fervently bend and remold the facts to further the cause.  Rather than consider each issue logically and unbiasedly, group members are energized by their unquestioned faith in the broader agenda.  It’s comforting to associate with a group whose members share the same viewpoint.  Our minds conveniently filter out conflicting data and uncritically accept group dogma – a sure recipe for belief in the absurd.

Imagine all of the resources that would be set free to combat killer diseases if we didn’t waste money on homeopathic cures and alternative medications that are known to be ineffective.  Imagine all the time wasted debating ideology when we could be solving real problems.  Reason and honesty, applied to one issue at a time, would lead to sensible ideas and efficient solutions.  Real progress requires that we divest ourselves of our present group membership, and start fresh.

You’ve probably heard, “I am a pro-choice Catholic who really doesn’t believe in transubstantiation.”  “I go to Synagogue for cultural reasons.” “I’m liberal but understand the benefits of capitalism.”  You might as well be a vegetarian who eats meat.  Just say no to groups!


Free markets take advantage of the wisdom of crowds

January 13th, 2009

The recent near-collapse of the financial markets has lead to a call for tighter regulation; and, a higher proportion of news pieces mock of free markets.  There is comfort in the thought of a kind and wise government that protects its citizens from harm.   As a result, support is growing for the belief that free markets have soured and that government should take a more active role in controlling the economy.  Paradoxically, the root cause of our problems may be that our markets are not free enough.

The free market operates on the principle that complex information can be better processed by large numbers of people, each person being a tiny social neuron, that when combined into a crowd, can out think even the brightest individual or think tank.    The wisdom of crowds is not just an abstract idea.

Michael Shermer’s essay in Scientific American ( gives compelling evidence for the wisdom of crowds.  The gist of the thesis is that when a large group of diverse and independent individuals are given a problem, their solution will on average be optimal and superior to a consensus view of experts.  The free market, be it a market of ideas or a system of trade, works most efficiently when individuals make decisions by applying their unique expertise to the available information.

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Does IQ affect how we vote?

November 23rd, 2008

How do voter trends correlate with IQ?  To answer this question, I used the published average IQ per state from Social Quotient web site and the 2008 presidential election results from CNN.  The results are shown below.  (For details about the plot, see the website on Faith and Science.)

Voting VS IQ

What does this all mean?  You tell me!

Is the media biased?

November 23rd, 2008

Claims of media bias increase during presidential elections, and the 2008 election is no exception.  The stories that a news organization choose to cover is one form of bias.  The difficulty with assessing such bias is having knowledge of what stories were not covered.  Tim Groeling designed a simple study whose results are published in the December issue of the Presidential Studies Quarterly.

Groeling determined the percentage of in-house presidential approval polls that were aired by network news programs relative to the number of polls that were conducted by the major networks.  The study spanned an 11 year period ending in February 2008.   ABC, CBS, and NBC were found to have a democratic bias while Fox News was found to have a significant pro-Republican bias.

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Given the frailty of memory, how can we trust in the accuracy of the Gospels?

November 13th, 2008

In her book “The Myth of Repressed Memory,” Elizabeth Loftus describes Ulric Neisser’s experiences with what are called flash-bub memories.  The morning after the shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after take-off,  Neisser asked students at Emory University to write about how they learned about the disaster.  Two and a half years later, he asked the 44 students to recall that same experience.

While most of the students described their memories of the event as vivid, not one of the students gave an account that was completely in accord with their description that was recorded the morning after the Challenger disaster.  And a third of the accounts were widely inaccurate.

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The beauty of the Electoral College

November 8th, 2008

In a recent book by Michael Moore, he describes the Electoral College as a ploy by the founding fathers to safeguard our nation from the ignorant masses who might elect the “wrong” president.  While this accusation may be true, I argue that the system has benefits.  (The history of the Electoral College can be found at the US Elections web site.  More information can be found on the Federal Register archives.)

The Electoral College emphasizes the role of the states in selecting the president.  On the surface, this smells of disenfranchisement; but, not if we view the real source of power as residing in the state and local governments.  The United States is too large and diverse for a top-down government.  Political compromises often lead to ineffective and wasteful legislation.  It is most practical to deal with local problems at the local level and let the federal government deal with the big issues such as civil rights, regulating interstate commerce, and providing national defense.

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God fares poorly in 2008 elections

November 7th, 2008

The election is over and the votes are in.  Despite all the prayers from the religious right, Obama has prevailed.  As a consolation, California’s Proposition 8 passed, making gay marriage illegal.  However, the new law is being challenged by opponents who charge that it is unconstitutional.  Although about $70 million was spent on P8 (according to the San Francisco Chronicle), in the end, the issue may be decided by the courts.

God did not do so well in other state initiatives.  South Dakota voters turned down Measure 11, which would outlaw abortions but included exceptions for rape, incest and pregnancies that threaten the life or health of the woman.   Colorado’s Amendment 48 was defeated by a 73% to 27% margin.  It would have amended the Colorado constitution to define the term “person” to “include any human being from the moment of fertilization” and would have applied that definition to laws providing protection for natural and essential rights.

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How will God vote?

November 1st, 2008

Pam Olsen, co-pastor with her husband of the International House of Prayer in Tallahassee, Fla. is praying to God to influence the election.  On MSNBC, she is quoted as saying, “We have just days to pray that someone who upholds the sanctity of life and marriage between one man and one woman will win.” Olsen supports Republican John McCain.  She is organizing a marathon of prayer, fasting and Bible reading at the Capitol starting Saturday until the state’s polls close. “The outcome is up to God,” she said.

In California, voters will be considering Proposition 8, a constitutional amendment that would make same sex marriage illegal by defining marriage as only between a man and a woman.  Religious groups from around the nation have been mobilized in support of Proposition 8; and some religious leaders have been asking the faithful to pray for its passage.

If Proposition 8 fails, it’s clearly a sign from God that He endorses same sex marriage, or maybe that God does not have the power or the will to sway the election.

Can’t wait until November 4th to find out how God’s will will be done…