Combine Incompatible Ideas to Shift Perspective, with Jonathon Keats
Keats explains how a thought experiment in which he attempts to genetically engineer God allowed him to create a situation in which science and religion became compatible.
Jonathon Keats is a San Francisco-based experimental philosopher who has, over the years, sold real estate in the extra dimensions of space-time proposed by string theory (he sold a hundred and seventy-two extra-dimensional lots in the Bay Area in a single day); made an attempt to genetically engineer God (God turns out to be related to the cyanobacterium); and copyrighted his own mind (in order to get a seventy-year post-life extension.
Keats's bold experiments raise serious questions and put into practice his conviction that the world needs more "curious amateurs," willing to explore publicly whatever intrigues them, in defiance of a culture that increasingly forecloses on wonder and siloes knowledge into narrowly defined areas of expertise.
Jonathon Keats: Science and religion both have very particular ideas about how the world works. Ideas that potentially are not totally compatible, but that are overlapping. Science claims to be a system that can discover absolutely anything that is totally comprehensive. Religion also claims a comprehensiveness that is based in reality where God, whatever that deity may be, is absolutely real, maybe even more real than anything or anyone else.
So I got to thinking that perhaps these two systems needed to find a way to talk to each other or at least to cross paths. And to do that, I took as the basis of a sort of a thought experiment, central beliefs from each of the two systems that seemed, on the surface, to be completely incompatible. Namely, I took God to be as literally real as you and I, as a building, a dog, a cat anything else. And I took science at its word that it could learn everything about everything about anything that was real, anything that had any substance in the world. To do that, I decided that I would attempt to scientifically figure out where on the phylogenetic tree, which is the master map of all the species on Earth, where you might put God. What species is God? That was a question that I asked myself. And then I had to find a way to address it scientifically. So science has many different ways in which you can pursue such a question.
Probably the most obvious would be to obtain DNA for God, but I couldn't get my hands on that. So another possibility I realized was to attempt to genetically engineer God in a laboratory. And so I found collaborators at UC Berkeley and several other institutions who are willing to help me through that process using something known as Continuous in Vitro Evolution. Which essentially is an accelerated and directed version of natural selection in which you apply environmental pressures on a given population of an organism in such a way that you favor certain random mutations over others and you sort of force Darwin's hand. You put evolution in one direction versus another. It works very well, for instance, if we're talking about bacteria making them better able to absorb oil spills, for instance. But nobody had ever tried this in terms of attempting to genetically engineer God. So I set up my experiment and saw where it went.
I took two different candidate species, two species that were based on the best source material that I could find, the Bible for instance and various other religious tracks that, on the one hand, tell us that God came first and on the other hand that told us that God created man in his image. So it seemed that I should look to the earliest extant species, which are cyanobacteria, on the one hand, and I should like to humans on the other. Well humans are very difficult to work with in the laboratory over multiple generations so I worked with essentially a surrogate that was more or less the same when you look at the whole phylogenetic tree, which are fruit flies. So over the course of seven days and nights, the standard biblical period of time, I used Continues in Vitro Evolution in which my environmental pressure was prayer. I figured that since people are always praying to God, maybe there is some way in which God metabolizes worship. So I took leading prayers for each of the major monotheistic religions and as a control group I used exclusively talk radio. So over seven days and nights I ran the experiment. And then I looked for one of the qualities that is often associated with godliness as a way of measuring these two different species against each other in terms of their incipient godliness. That is that God is supposed to be omnipresent, which essentially sounds to me like rampant population growth. So I did population growth studies on both cyanobacteria and fruit flies, statistically adjusted according to their replication rate and various other factors in order to keep this absolutely scientifically on the up and up. And finally was able to publish my research, in which I discover, according to these two very preliminary pilot studies, that God is more closely related, phylogenetically speaking, to bacteria then to us. This is just the basis, of course, for many future experiments that I hope others will undertake having read this research and having figured out far better or certainly different methodologies for pursuing this sort of question.
Science and religion are considered by many, especially those who are adherents of one or the other, to be incompatible systems, systems that are irreconcilable and therefore that those who are the other side have to be converted. I don't think that that's necessarily the case. And so I was interested in this project, in this thought experiment in trying to figure out whether there is a way in which these incompatible systems could coexist in a way that they could each inform the other and could result in a broader understanding. Perhaps one that was more tolerant, certainly one that was more encompassing of beliefs that come over vast periods of time, are highly developed, and are essential to the way in which our world works. So I looked to both science and religion for certain core qualities. Religion tells us certain things about the nature of the universe. Science tells us certain ways to explore the universe. So what happens if we take the scientific method and we apply it to the religious realm that tells us certain baseline facts? We end up, I think, in an interesting place. One in which the scientific method doesn't any longer seem to be so absolutely all-encompassing.
That is to say that perhaps science can be a little bit less arrogant. On the other hand, I think that religion is shown through a process such as this to maybe take a little bit too much on faith. Is there a way in which the received wisdom of religion cannot be so rapidly and so uncritically received? So I'm not interested in converting anyone from one system to another. But rather in finding a way in which each system, by way of delving into the other and learning from the other, can become a better stronger system. A more satisfying and satisfactory one and one also that is capable of coexisting with the other in a way that is at peace because we're never going to convert everyone if we haven't already from science to religion or vice versa. So we need to find ways in which these systems can communicate with each other with due respect for what makes each system its own. The God Project is an attempt at achieving that. By no means perfect, but I think more broadly suggestive of a way in which any two or three or potentially more systems can potentially be brought into some sort of tentative alignment. And also can be strengthened through that process. You can't get through life, even through the day without coming upon incompatible systems.
Simply is the way of the world when the world comes complex as ours is that systems are not worked out to work together. There often is a lot of thought that goes into each system, but they don't naturally communicate because they probably come from different places and they serve different purposes. Yet you need to be able to negotiate all of this in terms of trying to resolve some sort of a personal problem or in terms of trying to take on some new venture in the workplace. These systems are in place and they can't be changed; they can't be supplanted, but have to be worked with. So I think that as I try to do, in the case of the God Project, I think that you can take systems for what they are and you can find ways in which, on the surface, they are incompatible. And you can put them together and try out combinations until you find some way that doesn't necessarily make them consistent with each other, but at least find some sort of a common ground, some sort of a peace that can be reached where each one of them can be true to itself and is not threatened. And yet both of them or all of them can work together in a way that symbiotically, in a way that collectively, they lead to something that is stronger for you and is more broadly, is more broadly applicable to everybody else.
Keats explains how a thought experiment in which he attempts to genetically engineer God allowed him to create a situation in which science and religion become compatible. The experiment further opened up an exploration of where the two seemingly irreconcilable elements can be made to merge.
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Dr. Katie Mack explains what dark energy is and two ways it could one day destroy the universe.
- The universe is expanding faster and faster. Whether this acceleration will end in a Big Rip or will reverse and contract into a Big Crunch is not yet understood, and neither is the invisible force causing that expansion: dark energy.
- Physicist Dr. Katie Mack explains the difference between dark matter, dark energy, and phantom dark energy, and shares what scientists think the mysterious force is, its effect on space, and how, billions of years from now, it could cause peak cosmic destruction.
- The Big Rip seems more probable than a Big Crunch at this point in time, but scientists still have much to learn before they can determine the ultimate fate of the universe. "If we figure out what [dark energy is] doing, if we figure out what it's made of, how it's going to change in the future, then we will have a much better idea for how the universe will end," says Mack.
A unique exoplanet without clouds or haze was found by astrophysicists from Harvard and Smithsonian.
- Astronomers from Harvard and Smithsonian find a very rare "hot Jupiter" exoplanet without clouds or haze.
- Such planets were formed differently from others and offer unique research opportunities.
- Only one other such exoplanet was found previously.
Munazza Alam – a graduate student at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian.
Credit: Jackie Faherty
Jupiter's Colorful Cloud Bands Studied by Spacecraft<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8a72dfe5b407b584cf867852c36211dc"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/GzUzCesfVuw?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Astronomers find these five chapters to be a handy way of conceiving the universe's incredibly long lifespan.
- We're in the middle, or thereabouts, of the universe's Stelliferous era.
- If you think there's a lot going on out there now, the first era's drama makes things these days look pretty calm.
- Scientists attempt to understand the past and present by bringing together the last couple of centuries' major schools of thought.
The 5 eras of the universe<p>There are many ways to consider and discuss the past, present, and future of the universe, but one in particular has caught the fancy of many astronomers. First published in 1999 in their book <a href="https://amzn.to/2wFQLiL" target="_blank"><em>The Five Ages of the Universe: Inside the Physics of Eternity</em></a>, <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fred_Adams" target="_blank">Fred Adams</a> and <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gregory_P._Laughlin" target="_blank">Gregory Laughlin</a> divided the universe's life story into five eras:</p><ul><li>Primordial era</li><li>Stellferous era</li><li>Degenerate era</li><li>Black Hole Era</li><li>Dark era</li></ul><p>The book was last updated according to current scientific understandings in 2013.</p><p>It's worth noting that not everyone is a subscriber to the book's structure. Popular astrophysics writer <a href="https://www.forbes.com/sites/ethansiegel/#30921c93683e" target="_blank">Ethan C. Siegel</a>, for example, published an article on <a href="https://www.forbes.com/sites/startswithabang/2019/07/26/we-have-already-entered-the-sixth-and-final-era-of-our-universe/#7072d52d4e5d" target="_blank"><em>Medium</em></a> last June called "We Have Already Entered The Sixth And Final Era Of Our Universe." Nonetheless, many astronomers find the quintet a useful way of discuss such an extraordinarily vast amount of time.</p>
The Primordial era<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjkwMTEyMi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNjEzMjY1OX0.PRpvAoa99qwsDNprDme9tBWDim6mS7Mjx6IwF60fSN8/img.jpg?width=980" id="db4eb" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="0e568b0cc12ed624bb8d7e5ff45882bd" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1440" data-height="1049" />
Image source: Sagittarius Production/Shutterstock<p> This is where the universe begins, though what came before it and where it came from are certainly still up for discussion. It begins at the Big Bang about 13.8 billion years ago. </p><p> For the first little, and we mean <em>very</em> little, bit of time, spacetime and the laws of physics are thought not yet to have existed. That weird, unknowable interval is the <a href="https://www.universeadventure.org/eras/era1-plankepoch.htm" target="_blank">Planck Epoch</a> that lasted for 10<sup>-44</sup> seconds, or 10 million of a trillion of a trillion of a trillionth of a second. Much of what we currently believe about the Planck Epoch eras is theoretical, based largely on a hybrid of general-relativity and quantum theories called quantum gravity. And it's all subject to revision. </p><p> That having been said, within a second after the Big Bang finished Big Banging, inflation began, a sudden ballooning of the universe into 100 trillion trillion times its original size. </p><p> Within minutes, the plasma began cooling, and subatomic particles began to form and stick together. In the 20 minutes after the Big Bang, atoms started forming in the super-hot, fusion-fired universe. Cooling proceeded apace, leaving us with a universe containing mostly 75% hydrogen and 25% helium, similar to that we see in the Sun today. Electrons gobbled up photons, leaving the universe opaque. </p><p> About 380,000 years after the Big Bang, the universe had cooled enough that the first stable atoms capable of surviving began forming. With electrons thus occupied in atoms, photons were released as the background glow that astronomers detect today as cosmic background radiation. </p><p> Inflation is believed to have happened due to the remarkable overall consistency astronomers measure in cosmic background radiation. Astronomer <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IGCVTSQw7WU" target="_blank">Phil Plait</a> suggests that inflation was like pulling on a bedsheet, suddenly pulling the universe's energy smooth. The smaller irregularities that survived eventually enlarged, pooling in denser areas of energy that served as seeds for star formation—their gravity pulled in dark matter and matter that eventually coalesced into the first stars. </p>
The Stelliferous era<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjkwMTEzNy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMjA0OTcwMn0.GVCCFbBSsPdA1kciHivFfWlegOfKfXUfEtFKEF3otQg/img.jpg?width=980" id="bc650" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c8f86bf160ecdea6b330f818447393cd" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="481" data-height="720" />
Image source: Casey Horner/unsplash<p>The era we know, the age of stars, in which most matter existing in the universe takes the form of stars and galaxies during this active period. </p><p>A star is formed when a gas pocket becomes denser and denser until it, and matter nearby, collapse in on itself, producing enough heat to trigger nuclear fusion in its core, the source of most of the universe's energy now. The first stars were immense, eventually exploding as supernovas, forming many more, smaller stars. These coalesced, thanks to gravity, into galaxies.</p><p>One axiom of the Stelliferous era is that the bigger the star, the more quickly it burns through its energy, and then dies, typically in just a couple of million years. Smaller stars that consume energy more slowly stay active longer. In any event, stars — and galaxies — are coming and going all the time in this era, burning out and colliding.</p><p>Scientists predict that our Milky Way galaxy, for example, will crash into and combine with the neighboring Andromeda galaxy in about 4 billion years to form a new one astronomers are calling the Milkomeda galaxy.</p><p>Our solar system may actually survive that merger, amazingly, but don't get too complacent. About a billion years later, the Sun will start running out of hydrogen and begin enlarging into its red giant phase, eventually subsuming Earth and its companions, before shrining down to a white dwarf star.</p>
The Degenerate era<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjkwMTE1MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNTk3NDQyN30.gy4__ALBQrdbdm-byW5gQoaGNvFTuxP5KLYxEMBImNc/img.jpg?width=980" id="77f72" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="08bb56ea9fde2cee02d63ed472d79ca3" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1440" data-height="810" />
Image source: Diego Barucco/Shutterstock/Big Think<p>Next up is the Degenerate era, which will begin about 1 quintillion years after the Big Bang, and last until 1 duodecillion after it. This is the period during which the remains of stars we see today will dominate the universe. Were we to look up — we'll assuredly be outta here long before then — we'd see a much darker sky with just a handful of dim pinpoints of light remaining: <a href="https://earthsky.org/space/evaporating-giant-exoplanet-white-dwarf-star" target="_blank">white dwarfs</a>, <a href="https://earthsky.org/space/new-observations-where-stars-end-and-brown-dwarfs-begin" target="_blank">brown dwarfs</a>, and <a href="https://earthsky.org/astronomy-essentials/definition-what-is-a-neutron-star" target="_blank">neutron stars</a>. These"degenerate stars" are much cooler and less light-emitting than what we see up there now. Occasionally, star corpses will pair off into orbital death spirals that result in a brief flash of energy as they collide, and their combined mass may become low-wattage stars that will last for a little while in cosmic-timescale terms. But mostly the skies will be be bereft of light in the visible spectrum.</p><p>During this era, small brown dwarfs will wind up holding most of the available hydrogen, and black holes will grow and grow and grow, fed on stellar remains. With so little hydrogen around for the formation of new stars, the universe will grow duller and duller, colder and colder.</p><p>And then the protons, having been around since the beginning of the universe will start dying off, dissolving matter, leaving behind a universe of subatomic particles, unclaimed radiation…and black holes.</p>
The Black Hole era<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjkwMTE2MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMjE0OTQ2MX0.ifwOQJgU0uItiSRg9z8IxFD9jmfXlfrw6Jc1y-22FuQ/img.jpg?width=980" id="103ea" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f0e6a71dacf95ee780dd7a1eadde288d" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1400" data-height="787" />
Image source: Vadim Sadovski/Shutterstock/Big Think<p> For a considerable length of time, black holes will dominate the universe, pulling in what mass and energy still remain. </p><p> Eventually, though, black holes evaporate, albeit super-slowly, leaking small bits of their contents as they do. Plait estimates that a small black hole 50 times the mass of the sun would take about 10<sup>68</sup> years to dissipate. A massive one? A 1 followed by 92 zeros. </p><p> When a black hole finally drips to its last drop, a small pop of light occurs letting out some of the only remaining energy in the universe. At that point, at 10<sup>92</sup>, the universe will be pretty much history, containing only low-energy, very weak subatomic particles and photons. </p>
The Dark Era<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjkwMTE5NC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0Mzg5OTEyMH0.AwiPRGJlGIcQjjSoRLi6V3g5klRYtxQJIpHFgZdZkuo/img.jpg?width=980" id="60c77" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="7a857fb7f0d85cf4a248dbb3350a6e1c" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1440" data-height="810" />
Image source: Big Think<p>We can sum this up pretty easily. Lights out. Forever.</p>
People often make a killing in stocks, but there are other ways to potentially turn major profits.
- Outside of stocks and bonds, some people make money investing in collectibles and make a fair amount on them.
- One stamp even sold for a billion times its face value.
- The extreme dependence on future collectability, however, limits the potential of most of these opportunities.