Nuclear Disaster – Nothing To See Here, Folks 87


The nuclear industry managed to get an “expert”, whose livelihood depended one way or another on nuclear power, onto every mainstream media broadcast about the Fukushima disaster, to persuade us that an incident ranked by the IAEA as on the same level as Chernobyl, was actually nothing to worry about.

Subsequently they have managed to persuade the media that the whole thing has simply gone away. How many of you, for example, knew that the highest levels of radioactivity so far at Fukushima were measured two days ago?

The highest radiation readings since March 11 [date of the tsunami] were recorded at the Fukushima plant by robots this week. Two robots sent into the reactor No. 1 building on April 26 took readings as high as 1,120 millisierverts an hour, according to Tepco, or more than four times the annual dose permitted to nuclear workers at the stricken plant.


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87 thoughts on “Nuclear Disaster – Nothing To See Here, Folks

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  • angrysoba

    “Interested in the exchanges on drugs. The only drugs I have used are tobacco and alcohol. Cigarettes were given up many years ago (just too late to avoid medical consequences) and alcohol is dwindling to an occasional pleasure, simply for financial reasons (pension doesn’t really stetch to such things).”
    .
    Hi Vronsky. Yes, I think cigarettes are probably one of the best examples of an aggressively marketed substance (with peer-pressure thrown in too) that is also harmful to the environment and those around and which pretty much anyone who “communes” with their body can know is harmful to their health.
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    “As a musician I felt alcohol was occasionally useful, not in performing a piece (plays havoc with the technique) but in perceiving it – strumming through and seeing new phrases and emphases, suddenly seeing the sense of something that previously had been just a couple of puzzling bars. Something important had relaxed and was no longer a barrier to ‘seeing’.”
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    Yes, this is probably true. Alcohol, like some other drugs, breaks down certain inhibitions. My own experience of such things as psychadelics such as mushrooms was that a filter had been removed from my mind and I became unable to correctly prioritize what my conscious mind should concentrate on. Very trivial things suddenly blew themselves up to huge proportions while things I would usually do automatically such as shift in my seat when it became uncomfortable to sit in a particular way for a long time suddenly became a big issue.
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    “So I think it’s possible that other drugs may expand perception in other ways, and it seems unreasonable to suggest otherwise – on what possible basis could we assert that the brain, an electro-chemical machine, is unaffected by chemicals?”
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    I wouldn’t suggest this at all. What I might suggest is that a person can well be tricked into thinking their brain is functioning “better” on halucinogenic drugs or that their mind is “expanding”. In fact, given the nature of halucinogens it seems likely that any perceived benefit is an illusion, no? I haven’t seen any scientific papers on this type of thing and I really have no expert opinion to give on the subject but an idea that I once came up with after one particular trip was that mushrooms may simulate a form of schizophrenia. The explanations of what it is like to be schizophrenic seem very similar to my own (thankfully) short-term experiences while on magic mushrooms. All I can say about the experiences myself is that it would be a living hell to be permanently tripping. I’m sure even Clark would agree to that. I was surprised and quite saddened to hear fairly recently that Patrick Cockburn’s son had apparently developed schizophrenia and that the trigger may have been his son’s use of marijuana. I didn’t think that marijuana could have had such potent effects and yet there does seem to be an increase in studies suggesting that there is such a link. Given this fact I think my suspicion that magic mushrooms simulates schizophrenia may also not be too far wide of the mark. This is merely my two yen however and I don’t claim any kind of authority on this subject.
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    “Is your argument, angrysoba, that any changes that take place are invariably for the worse, like random alterations to computer code? But I think it is fairly undisputed that nicotine enhances the ability to concentrate, for example.”
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    You may have heard or even used the Allen Carr book to quit smoking in which he disputes this suggestion. Again I haven’t seen any type of studies on this but if there were some then it would be necessary to take two different groups of non-smokers, provide one group with nicotine and the other group with nothing to act as the control group and see which group studies best. If such an experiment were carried out today it might be considered unethical as you would have to run the risk of getting some non-smokers addicted to nicotine. Allen Carr disputes the idea that nicotine itself actually helps people concentrate. All he thinks it does is give the smoker a hit of the drug he or she craves to take their mind off thinking about having a fag. In this way the idea that nicotine truly helps in concentration could also be an illusion. It merely helps those who are already addicted to nicotine because a hit of that drug stops them thinking about nicotine and allows them to concentrate. Then again maybe their are studies on mice which show that nicotine really does assist concentration.
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    By the way, I pretty much agree with you that the brain is an electro-chemical machine although I think Clark is suggesting this is too materially reductive or something.
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    “The subconscious is a curious thing – by ‘subconscious’ I mean mental processes that continue without conscious direction or supervision. If you’re a crossword puzzle addict you will almost certainly have had the experience of waking up at 2 a.m., suddenly aware of the answer to that last clue that had stumped you.”
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    Yes, I know what you mean. In fact the vast capabilities of the subconscious rather suggest that actual consciousness needn’t be as common as dirt as certain philosophers and quantum scientists suggest it may be. Consciousness seems to have a specific function – to highlight and illuminate the ideas that we are giving priority to at one specific time – while the subsconscious can be used as a type of backburner or backroom worker toiling away to come up with questions we have put to it. It actually took a while for the penny to drop for me when thinking about consciousness and intelligence in the philosophy of artificial intelligence to realize that consciousness could well be completely superfluous in a machine UNLESS it was a machine of such complexity that it needed to “know” how to prioritize. Consciousness in a rock or a star or a galaxy doesn’t seem to perform any worthwhile function.
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    “While I was studying maths I used to sleep with a pencil and paper beside the bed, knowing that I would often dream of a route to a proof or solution that had eluded me when awake. In one striking case, I knew before going to sleep that a particular problem could be solved using prime decomposition, but the process would be a very long one – requiring many pages and more time than I felt I had available.
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    That night I dreamed that I set out on the prime decomposition, quite unworried about the time it would take as I had an odd sensation that time did not exist. To my surprise the required result emerged in a few dozen lines. I woke up, wrote down the critical steps that I had not been able to see while awake, and went back to sleep. And it was no illusion – I completed the proof next morning from those sleepy notes.
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    My (very unscientific) theory is that if you get your subconscious interested in something then it will continue to worry away at it even when you are consciously thinking about something else, or even asleep.”
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    There is nothing here I would dispute at all and think you are surely exactly right about your theory of the subconscious. In fact, I think this is almost completely opposite to the theory as expounded on the benefits of “mind-expanding” drugs. I think in the case of such drugs there is an excess of stimulus whereas with the subconcious there is no perceivable stimulus at all. The subconscious turns out to be far more productive suggesting that “mind-expanding” drugs actually do the opposite. (In fact, I seem to remember Arthur C. Clarke saying something along these lines so I may have nicked his ideas only to pass them off as my own.)
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    Of course, there is nothing I can say to those who would argue that their own subjective experience is different and that I simply haven’t had the same experiences and therefore can’t possibly make the claims I do. This is true. And yet my own feeling is similar to the feeling I have when told by people who insist they drive “better” when they’ve had a few drinks or when people say that they’ve had religious experiences and met Jesus or the like.

  • Clark

    Angrysoba,

    I apologise. I didn’t know that the label “material realist” was a slur. I shall use “physicalist” from now on. It’s not so much quantum physics’ implications for consciousness as the necessity of recognising consciousness within quantum physics. Without observation to collapse wave functions there would be no physical objects for physicalists to study, and no physicalists to study the objects. There would just be a big field of uncollapsed potentialities.
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    A problem with the term “consciousness” is that it is so broad. Not only do we not know what it is, we’re none too good at defining it. It seems clear that it can’t be individual consciousness that collapses wave functions (cf the paradox of Wigner’s Friend).
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    Yes, I’ve noticed the ill-temper you mention, and I suspect that it flows from the arrogance I mentioned. Many people are frightened by the idea of a god, or a creative [principle / entity / no adequate term], or a Universal Consciousness, or indeed anything greater than themselves which if existant, it would be wise to align ourselves with. For me, it’s a two-way street. Yes, the greater Reality (or Nature if you like) imposes some moral duties upon me, but it also gives me my life and all I experience. Such “fear of something greater” is probably a direct consequence of some of the nastier dogmas, of which there are plenty.
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    Pain (hanging from hooks, etc) can probably induce expansion of consciousness by causing the experiencer to disassociate from physical experience for a time. Psychedelic substances are probably valued because they work without producing injury. But appropriate guidance is a vital ingredient, too.
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    Vronsky,
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    your experiences with alcohol are similar to my own. It seems to switch off a process in the mind that would otherwise obscure novel or unfamiliar interpretations of creative work. Penrose mentions the type of “seeing” you mention in connection with intuition and creativity in mathematics – see The Emperor’s New Mind.
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    Consciousness, sleep, etc:
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    Vronsky’s observations on sleep are very interesting. My own guess is that “Universal consciousness” is indeed a fundamental aspect of Reality, and that evolution has adapted brians to use quantum non-locality for survival advantage, and thus personal consciousness has been developed. I think that personal consciousness uses temporal non-locality to help us predict the future, for instance. While awake, our self-observation keeps collapsing the wave functions of our own brains. When we sleep, the wave functions are permitted to propagate towards the Universal consciousness (the Great Spirit?), and can thus reach “fuzzy knowledge” that is beyond reach while awake. But we have to wake up and make records at just the right time to collape such wave functions, ie in order to “real-ise” them.
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    Rampant consumerism and nuclear power both give me very unpleasant feelings and/or intuitions. I’m aware of the rational arguments for both, but my bad feelings keep me suspicious of such arguments, and inspire me to develop rational arguments against them and for the alternatives. My intuition supports these arguments; I feel “right” about them, the feelings and the numbers match. I therefore believe that we can have a better world if we abandon both, and embrace the alternatives.

  • Clark

    Angrysoba, if you’re starting from the premise that certain drugs are “hallucinogens”, you’re already assuming that one’s mental model cannot be improved upon, or even that the mental map does not exist, and that what we experience is what is “really” there. Our mental model of the world already bears important similarities to an hallucination.
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    Here’s an example. When tripping, a common experience is that “the walls were bulging in towards me”. Now think about this. You’re facing the centre of a wall. The point of the wall to which you are perpendicular is indeed the closest point.
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    Conventionally, we imagine the border between the top of the wall and the ceiling to be a straight line. We imagine the same of the border between the bottom of the wall and the floor.
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    Now think of a long wall that runs in front of you. Imagine looking to your left. The top and the bottom edges of the wall converge to a vanishing point on your left. Now consider looking to your right. The top and bottom edges converge to a vanishing point on your right.
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    So now we have three views of the SAME wall, that we conventionally think of like this:
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    Looking left: < Looking straight ahead: = Looking right: >
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    Something is wrong in our map of the world, isn’t it? These three representations are incompatible, the lines would have to bend. When we see walls with straight borders, are we not “hallucinating”?

  • Clark

    Bloody software removed my diagram. I’ll have to spell it out:
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    Looking left looks like a “less than” symbol.
    Looking straight ahead looks like an “equals” sign.
    Looking right looks like a “greater than” symbol.

  • Clark

    Angrysoba, I don’t think the brain works “better” while metabolising a drug. It works differently. It is the change that expands the consciousness. It’s much like “travel broadens the mind”; you don’t think +better+ because you’re in a strange place. It breaks up your mental routines and introduces novelty.

  • angrysoba

    “I apologise. I didn’t know that the label “material realist” was a slur. I shall use “physicalist” from now on.”

    Hi Clark, no need to worry. I was actually joking somewhat as the winking smiley was supposed to signpost. “Material realist” might not actually be a slur but that or “materialist” is not exactly accurate. This is because “physicalists” can indeed believe in things that are largely uncontroversial and yet may not be of material substance. Having said that I suppose the term “materialist” is sometimes used as a term of abuse so maybe I am right about that after all. 😉
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    I’ll have to get back to you on the Schrodinger’s cat territory because I never really understood it.
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    “Pain (hanging from hooks, etc) can probably induce expansion of consciousness by causing the experiencer to disassociate from physical experience for a time. Psychedelic substances are probably valued because they work without producing injury. But appropriate guidance is a vital ingredient, too.”
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    This is probably true. I expect that this is also one of the appeals of things such as auto-erotic asphyxiation. It just happens to be a way of bending the mind a bit. I still have to question the value of such experiences but if people do it because they simply enjoy it then I suppose I shouldn’t stand in their way.
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    “Yes, I’ve noticed the ill-temper you mention, and I suspect that it flows from the arrogance I mentioned. Many people are frightened by the idea of a god, or a creative [principle / entity / no adequate term], or a Universal Consciousness, or indeed anything greater than themselves which if existant, it would be wise to align ourselves with.”
    .
    I think that could be reading too much into it. Scientists and philosophers are fundamentally no different to the rest of us and can become highly defensive of their own pet theories. They stake their egos and reputations on ideas which could potentially turn out to be foolish nonsense and they get very upset with people who disagree with them. I don’t think it’s necessarily a fear of God which leads people to become dyspeptic.
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    “your experiences with alcohol are similar to my own. It seems to switch off a process in the mind that would otherwise obscure novel or unfamiliar interpretations of creative work.”
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    Well, we seem to generally agree on that then.
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    “Penrose mentions the type of “seeing” you mention in connection with intuition and creativity in mathematics – see The Emperor’s New Mind.”
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    Ah! You’ve read that book. I only ever read small extracts from it and never got round to the whole thing. Do you recommend it?
    .

  • Clark

    I do recommend The Emperor’s New Mind, but it is rather laborious, especially the chapter about Turing machines. Then there’s the sequel, “Shadows of the Mind”. Both are worth the undoubted effort. Godel’s theorem has really important implications.
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    “..but if people do it because they simply enjoy it..” – I never regarded tripping primarily as a recreational experience. Trips must be planned and prepared for. They can be emotionally exhausting and/or very frightening.
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    Both Einstein’s relativity and quantum physics are necessary because classical physics and determinism are incompatible with free will and consciousness. Look into those quantum paradoxes; they will tell you much about Mind. I’m currently reading “The Self-Aware Universe” by Amit Goswami (Ph.D. physics). You could try “The Conscious Universe” (the one By Minas Kafatos and Robert Nadeau; I haven’t read the book with the same title by Dean Radin); I found it pretty heavy going, but you’re more into philosophy than me.
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    Oh, and Persig’s “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” and “Lila”, of course.

  • angrysoba

    “Both Einstein’s relativity and quantum physics are necessary because classical physics and determinism are incompatible with free will and consciousness.”

    In fact, while you say that, there is a doctrine in philosophy known as compatibilism in which its advocates do indeed believe that determinism and free will are compatible. This is something that incompatibilists think is a category error. David Hume was a compatibilist and I think Daniel Dennett is one too.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compatibilism

    Thanks for the book recommendations. I’ll have to look into them. I have heard warnings from others that Penrose’s book is hard going.

  • Clark

    Penrose isn’t so much hard going as over-explanatory. He describes some of his difficulties in communicating with people who think in less geometric modes than himself in one or the other book. I get the feeling that he over-compensates, and ends up describing concepts at too great a length.
    .
    Thanks for the link. A glance was enough for me to know that I reject compatibilism. Do you believe that the future is already determined? I don’t. I have to accept freedom of choice – I have no choice in the matter!

  • Clark

    Look, we’re well off-topic. Put your rational arguments on hold for a bit, and tell me how you +feel+ about uranium reactors. Are you glad you live in Osaka and not near the disaster? Would you be happy to live near a reactor, or would you feel ominous about it? Do you intuit that building these things is the right way to go?

  • angrysoba

    “Thanks for the link. A glance was enough for me to know that I reject compatibilism. Do you believe that the future is already determined?”
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    Yes but I was somewhat disappointed to find out that I wasn’t the first person to come up with it. I was thousands of years too late.
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    “I have to accept freedom of choice – I have no choice in the matter!”
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    I think you’re right about that. Of course sometimes determinism is confused with fatalism which most determinists and compatibilists reject. Of course they have no choice in that matter either.

  • angrysoba

    “Look, we’re well off-topic. Put your rational arguments on hold for a bit, and tell me how you +feel+ about uranium reactors. Are you glad you live in Osaka and not near the disaster? Would you be happy to live near a reactor, or would you feel ominous about it? Do you intuit that building these things is the right way to go?”
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    I would live near a reactor, yes. I am not NIMBY about nuclear power. I’m also not SEP-ist about the other things you mentioned earlier. In fact there are nuclear power plants fairly close by Osaka. They’re in Fukui.
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    Japan probably has little choice for now but to have nuclear reactors. Although it is often said that nuclear power is cover for nuclear weapons programmes Japan has no nuclear weapons programme. Officially anyway. The engineers I teach a couple of evenings a week told me that something like 60 per cent of the IAEA’s resources are spent on Japan’s reactors. I found that figure to be incredible and this was before the disaster at Fukushima.

  • Clark

    I wasn’t really suggesting that you are particularly SEPist. I know that you look into things. I think we are all somewhat SEPist; we all care more if it is us or our loved ones affected by an injustice, that is just natural. But I think SEPism is what permits such employment practices to continue. Out of sight, out of mind. If it was happening up the road, there’d be protests and boycotts.
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    On reactors, you’re still offering me your rationality. How do you +feel+ about them? How have your feelings changed over time? How do you feel when you visit one?

  • angrysoba

    “On reactors, you’re still offering me your rationality. How do you +feel+ about them?”
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    Very excited.
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    “How have your feelings changed over time?”
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    I used to be indifferent and only slightly concerned that I didn’t tremble in fear at the thought of them. One of my relatives was a Green activist who was always protesting nuclear power. My memories of hearing about nuclear power all through the eighties and pretty much ever since has been unrelentingly negative which is why I find it curious to hear that “the nuclear lobby is always manipulating the media to give a positive spin to nuclear power”. Or words to that effect. In my experience the general consensus of the media is that nuclear power is dangerous and bad.
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    “How do you feel when you visit one?”
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    I’ve never visited one.

  • Clark

    Hmmm… Aren’t excitement and fear the same body chemical with different mental interpretations? Like on a roller-coaster. We feel fear, but our rationality says it’s safe, so it’s exciting. Then again, I was permitted to open the sluices at a hydro-electric power station when I was a lad, and that felt exciting.
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    As for media manipulation, the WHO certainly seems to have given the lower estimates of detrimental health effects after Chernobyl, and I don’t know of that warning from CRIIRAD getting much publicity. And I definitely saw a BBC Horizon programme a few years back that played down Chernobyl and claimed that small radiation doses could be harmless or even beneficial.

  • Clark

    Vronsky, thanks for the WideShut link, that’s a good article with lots of links. It led me to a Wikipedia article about geothermal electricity generation:
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    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geothermal_electricity
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    “A 2006 report by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), that included the potential of enhanced geothermal systems, estimated that investing 1 billion US dollars in research and development over 15 years would allow the creation of 100 GW of electrical generating capacity by 2050 in the United States alone. The MIT report estimated that over 200 zettajoules (ZJ) would be extractable, with the potential to increase this to over 2,000 ZJ with technology improvements – sufficient to provide all the world’s present energy needs for several millennia.”
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    So if we’d started at the same time as construction on the Fukushima reactors began…

  • angrysoba

    “Hmmm… Aren’t excitement and fear the same body chemical with different mental interpretations? Like on a roller-coaster. We feel fear, but our rationality says it’s safe, so it’s exciting. Then again, I was permitted to open the sluices at a hydro-electric power station when I was a lad, and that felt exciting.”
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    Clark, I think you’re using sophistry here to arrive at a pre-determined conclusion. I.E: “Your excitement is actually fear that has welled up from the intuition of a universal consciousness that you have turned your back on in your pursuit of arrogant rationality.” Or something like that.
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    “As for media manipulation, the WHO certainly seems to have given the lower estimates of detrimental health effects after Chernobyl, and I don’t know of that warning from CRIIRAD getting much publicity. And I definitely saw a BBC Horizon programme a few years back that played down Chernobyl and claimed that small radiation doses could be harmless or even beneficial.”
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    Well, the BBC were big purveyors of nuclear fears for a long time. Panorama, Threads, When the Wind Blows and Edge of Darkness. All very entertaining too.

  • Vronsky

    Having read all the Penrose I had much the same feeling as reading Hoftstadter’s ‘Godel, Escher, Bach'(GEB). It goes nowhere near its objective of explaining, or even just saying something about, consciousness. GEB is a quite unmissable read for all sorts of other reasons, of course.

    Looking at what you say, Clark, about walls and equals signs, I was reminded of a perfectly ordinary ‘expanded perception’ experiment which doesn’t require ingesting potential toxins. Look at a scene. Now turn your back to it, bend over, and look at it through your legs. It’s now upside down, but all the colours all look much mnore intense. The explanation usually given for this effect is that the upside-down scene is difficult for the brain to interpret, so it processes more information in order to make sense of it.

    Clark, would you consider your view Jungian (collective unconscious)? Have you read Colin Wilson? – he was awfully trendy for a while.

    angrysoba: remember Doomwatch? Take a squint at this.

    http://isohunt.com/torrent_details/130428681/DOOMWATCH%3A+WINTER+ANGEL?tab=summary

  • Clark

    Angrysoba, such questions about the interpretation of emotions; well, I also ask them of myself. Sometimes I don’t find an answer for months or years. Some answers are still outstanding. That’s why I included the bit about the hydro-electric power station. I’m not trying to enforce any viewpoint upon you. But we DO enforce viewpoints upon ourselves sometimes, usually without really realising it.
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    Vronsky, realising the impossibility of conventional perspective doesn’t require psychedelics either, though it was through tripping that I happened to notice it. Our mental map is basically an “hallucination”, but people get very protective of their preferred model of reality, and deride others without really thinking. That’s the value I see in tripping; it promotes changes in the model, thus drawing our attention to the model’s existence. That’s why I use the term “psychedelic”, which means “mind-revealing”.
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    I’ve only read one Jung book, The Undiscovered Self, and I haven’t read Colin Wilson. I came at all this from “outside” rather than “inside”; physics is my thing. At first, classical physics seemed to me to be real. As I learned more advanced physics, I realised it was all just a model which people had made. Then I started questioning where one “object” ended and another began, which lead me to the unity of all things. Then came computer programming, and hence my questions about determinism and free will.
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    Angrysoba, you claim above to have thought about “consciousness and intelligence in the philosophy of artificial intelligence” – have you done any programming? Specifically, have you ever tried to make a computer do anything creative? I have, and I suspect that it’s impossible. it’s more than a matter of mere complexity. Computers are designed to be deterministic. They can’t even generate random numbers.
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    I think that there has been a change in the mainstream media’s depiction of nuclear and radioactivity issues; it seems to have become a lot less alarmist since the end of the Cold War. I’d say that nuclear’s image has improved considerably, which is odd considering all the accidents.

  • Clark

    Vronsky, Penrose didn’t seem to be trying to explain what consciousness “is”. His books basically just put forward his case that consciousness is fundamental to Reality itself, rather than some process that brains are capable of. I haven’t read Godel, Escher, Bach, so I can’t comment on that one.
    .
    For a book about what consciousness “is”, see my earlier recommendation, The Self-Aware Universe by Amit Goswami. If you’ve read Persig’s Zen and the Art.., you’ll find some suggestive similarities here.

  • Vronsky

    @Clark

    Strongly recommend Godel Escher Bach. I’ve read and enjoyed the Persig, but can’t say that I found it particularly meaningful. I’ll pick up the Goswami when I can – thanks, always appreciate recommended reads.

  • Clark

    Vronsky, the important bits in Zen and the Art is the stuff about “Quality” being primary, with subjects and objects both subtending from it as secondary phenomena. He goes into lots of detail about our mental model and its relationship to “reality”, ie the physical realm.
    .
    OK, Godel, Escher, Bach goes on my reading list. Did you read Pynchon?

  • Clark

    Some updates in my outlook regarding nuclear technology…

    * The reactor safety aspect isn’t uranium versus thorium, it’s pressurised using solid fuel versus unpressurised using molten fuel.

    * Civilian nuclear power is not supported to produce plutonium for weapons. For decades there has been far more plutonium than required for weaponry and storing it securely has become a liability.

    * The environmental radioactive contamination potential from a single nuclear power reactor is comparable with or exceeds contamination from an entire global nuclear war, and there are already 440 nuclear power reactors on Earth.

    * Dilemma – humanity may need to build molten salt reactors to dispose of the actinide waste already produced. But such a project would take centuries, a time-scale comparable with the lifespans of empires; can necessary maintenance of reactors be assured over such a time-span?

    * If human energy production continues to rise at 3% to 5% per year as it has for the last two centuries, within another few centuries humans will be producing as much energy as is incident from the Sun. Obviously, we’d roast ourselves before then, and this has nothing to do with greenhouse gasses.

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