Tuesday, March 26, 2013

What is a religion? What isn't?

By Aaron Sherman

Today, I tried to participate in a conversation where someone mistakenly asserted that atheism is a religion. Sadly, I didn't have enough time to truly engage the conversation, so let me address it here for posterity:

There are quite a few different definitions of religion, but unless you get into the really abstract sociological definitions, here are three common elements that almost everyone agrees on:

  • A religion is a cultural context that...
  • relates to a set of supernatural or spiritual beliefs and...
  • asserts a means for connecting the two (e.g. through ritual, prayer, customs or other means)

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The hard lesson of Google Reader

Google Reader logo
By Aaron Sherman

Google is learning some new lessons of late. Specifically, that the user base of a product doesn't map 1:1 to the impact that removing that product will have. In the case of Google Reader, the company's recent announcement that they'll be discontinuing the service in July first met with the usual round of "noooo! I use that!" from what few users the service still had after it was gutted to remove its social features and replace them with Google+.

That was probably no more or less than Google expected. But since then, there have been some interesting secondary effects:

Sunday, March 3, 2013

On Consciousness and Creation

James Hopwood Jeans
from Wikimedia Commons
By Aaron Sherman

Tonight I was browsing Google Plus and came across a post by Kevin Clift of a lecture by Richard Feynman as a video clip. The lecture itself is well worth watching. However, at about 7 minutes, 30 seconds he says, "I would use the words of Jeans ... 'The Great Architect seems to be a mathematician.'" That phrase struck me as kind of interesting, but I didn't recognize the name, so I googled for Jeans... not terribly useful. Then I googled that phrase, which lead me to the specific Jeans: James Hopwood Jeans.

Among the many fascinating things that this man said and did, I found this quote:
"I incline to the idealistic theory that consciousness is fundamental, and that the material universe is derivative from consciousness, not consciousness from the material universe... In general the universe seems to me to be nearer to a great thought than to a great machine. It may well be, it seems to me, that each individual consciousness ought to be compared to a brain-cell in a universal mind."