Unanswered Questions March 16, 2009

Unanswered Questions

I spent a weekend getting over a cold and catching up on lots of reading. There will be some awesome interviews posted soon enough.

In the meantime, consider this an open thread.

In case you need a leading question…

What questions do you not have the answers to?

Preferably, the questions are ones that *have* answers which another commenter can provide.

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  • Where do all the odd socks go? Is it a punishment from god for not believing in him? Do believers all have full pairs of socks, not a single stray in sight?

  • a bit off-topic, but why can’t people use the same names of foreign countries that the residents of those companies do? I am fully capable of saying Napoli, Deutschland, and even Nihon, why can’t everyone else?

    related: isn’t it just as easy to say “ee-rock” as it is to say “eye-RACK”?

  • Helfrick

    I’m curious about the taxation of churches and free speech. To read about it, the churches were not taxed in American history. Then the 501c3 portion of the tax code was enacted which explicitly gave churches tax free status but required they refrain from political activity or they would jeopardize their status. Does this work to chill free speech? Does free speech only apply to individual speech? One last one. Why is no one looking in to the churches that have clearly and repeatedly violated the terms of 501c3?

  • ungullible

    How does consciousness arise from a collection of neurons? As an atheist, consciousness is the only thing that gives me pause in my belief that everything in nature has a natural explanation. I assume it does, because everything else does, but it’s currently hard to imagine what such an explanation might be. I think anyone who has even briefly studied the science and philosophy of consciousness would recognize it as one of the (if not *the*) biggest remaining mysteries.

  • Why is it considered moral to indoctrinate a child into a religion when free will is so highly valued?

    Where does the idea of a loving God come from? I’ve read the bible and the god described therein is far from loving. Have I missed something in the reading or does the idea come from somewhere else?

  • Why is weird bad? Why are wrinkles ugly? Why is it wrong that I like to be alone and that my dog is my best friend?

    Why is it wrong to like the fact that I don’t have the answer to every question? I love the feeling that, because I don’t know everything, every day is a brand new chance to discover a whole new world.

    Yeah, I’m that much of a geek.

  • Re: ungullible

    While I don’t claim to know anything about neuroscience and the specific scientific details of how the brain produces consciousness, I think the notion that consciousness arises from the very complex patterns of neurons firing is a very plausible one. I highly recommend Douglas Hofstadter’s philosophical views on the subject, particularly Gödel, Escher, Bach.

    Here’s a question: How do you respond when a theist tries to claim that “God is love”?

  • Re: ungullible and Susan B.:
    If GEB is a bit too much, I hear I am a strange loop is basically the same thing, but re-told such that it makes sense.

    Re: Susan B.:
    Then where do hate and evil come from?

    What I want to know is how to kill a caffeine (coffee) addiction without killing my productivity.

  • Where do all the odd socks go? Is it a punishment from god for not believing in him? Do believers all have full pairs of socks, not a single stray in sight?

    Nope, when we were still Christians, we had odd socks all the time. We tossed them in a box in the closet, and every so often went through that to see if any matches had shown up yet. We called it “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Sox Club Box”.

  • We called it “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Sox Club Box”.

    My mom always called it the “Socks Without Partners Support Group.”

  • Mover

    One of my unanswered questions is:

    How did a collection chemical compounds sloshing around in the muck become “alive” with the ability to reproduce?

  • mikespeir

    Cannonball,

    I think I’ve solved your mystery and mine. I’ve lost my even socks.

  • ungullible

    @Mover re: the beginning of life from “muck” – check out this 10 minute youtube clip which attempts to explain the theory of abiogenesis in laymen’s terms: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U6QYDdgP9eg

  • Amy

    Why are the buttons on a drive up ATM also in braille?

  • Kiera

    @ Amy: Most likely because the walk-up ATMs have braille on them, and it’s cheaper for the company to use the same mold rather than using a separate one just for drive ups 🙂

    How do I get in touch with the local police in case of a car accident in an unfamiliar county? No, really. *puts on dunce cap and sits in corner*

  • How can I direct certain applications to run on particular network interfaces (and maybe limit them to specific addresses) on my Debian box?

    Or, more fun…

    What if the “bloop” really is Cthulhu?

  • @Amy

    A back seat passenger could be using the machine. Also, it’s cost prohibitive to produce two different types of buttons.

  • Rsanders

    How did a collection chemical compounds sloshing around in the muck become “alive” with the ability to reproduce?

    Check out Reasomism.org and the book “The Tyranny Of God”

  • The answer to Life, the Universe and Everything is 42.

  • jasonorlandohawk

    to mollishka: I don’t remember where I read this, but a long time ago, I recall being told that it takes 21 days to break a habit. I once decided to deliberately break my addiction to sodas, and I remember noticing that day 21 was absolutely horrible, but after that, it got progressively easier to go w/o sodas.

    Granted, in the nature of full disclosure, I consider that decision to be one of the worst health decisions that I ever made. Turns out… increasing your milk intake 2 or 3 times over is a really good way to discover a family history of kidney stones.

    Choose your replacement drink very, very carefully.

  • mikespeir

    The answer to Life, the Universe and Everything is 42.

    You cheated, Andrew.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    What is the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?

  • Reginald Selkirk, African or European?

  • P

    Obviously, implicit in this sex-boom is the idea of a contest; an ‘us’ versus ‘those other heathen bastards’ mindset. The Quiverfull movement aims to beat the opposition sheerly by numbers. Would it not better (if not more honest) to gain a majority based on the merits of your faith alone, i.e. the beauty of your scripture, the apparent love of God, etc.

    Also, does the comparison between the procreative process between Quiverfull woman and bacteria make you at least a little ashamed? Especially when considering the bacteria always die off after consuming the bait of the petri dish?

  • I think I’ve solved your mystery and mine. I’ve lost my even socks.

    I think I love you 🙂 Going to start an even sock support group for those which have lost their odd partners. Why does no-one ever think of the evens?

  • Richard Wade

    Mollishka,

    What I want to know is how to kill a caffeine (coffee) addiction without killing my productivity.

    The first thing is to really question your assumption that your productivity will actually suffer. We tell ourselves all sorts of reasons to not stop an addiction. The subconscious can be a shameless liar.

    Try being scientific and methodical about it. Write up a daily coffee intake taper-off schedule for a whole month, and see if you can quantify and document your productivity during that month. Follow your pre-planned detox from coffee, perhaps one cup or one half cup less per day, (do not switch to using a larger cup) and make notations about your emotions and physical sensations during each day. Notice and record which times of the day are where you miss it the most. See if your productivity completely crashes, dips slightly or stays the same. At the end, it may even go up. Taking a “Hmmm. That’s interesting.” attitude toward your desires for the caffeine fix can reduce their power over your behavior. It’s a tug-of-war between your frontal lobe that says “I must stop” and your limbic system that says “Gimme what I want now.” Tell a friend what you’re doing so they can be supportive. When you’re successfully free of the addiction, the celebration is more fun when you can share it. Perhaps post about the on-going process on your blog.

    Do not compensate with tea, colas, chocolate or sugar. Otherwise, you’ll eventually go right back to the coffee and keep using those others as well.

    You can do it.

  • Jim

    arkonbey, because they’re ferners!!! Didn’t you see/hear the outrage over the way Obama pronounced Pakistan *correctly*?

  • GullWatcher

    What flavor is red licorice based on? It’s definitely not fruit. I have come across it other places, I just wonder what it is….

  • benjdm

    In case any physics geeks are reading this:

    1. Does our best idea of the early history of the universe – the big bang – include a conservation of energy violation or not? I always thought not until I read this:

    The reason for bringing the big bang into this is because in every version of the big bang theory, matter and energy were created in the big bang. That is, they are not infinitely old – they do have a starting point – the starting point of time.

    Last time I read the wiki article I thought it did not involve the creation of energy and matter. Unless the author is using ‘created’ differently than I understand it…

    About the physical forces: There used to be four – strong and weak nuclear, electromagnetic, and gravity. If gravity is the bending of space-time, why is it still considered a force? Wouldn’t there be only 3? Are the other forces also similarly considered to be bending space and time (I thought no)?

    Also, if the universe is accelerating outward, doesn’t that imply that there has to be another fundamental force? None of the known ones can account for it, right?

  • Curtis

    It must be possible to convert CO2 into a harmless carbon compound such as graphite. How much energy would this require compared to the energy produced from coal that creates the CO2?

  • Jeff Satterley

    Here’s a question: How do you respond when a theist tries to claim that “God is love”?

    I say: “Thanks for making the definition of God completely superfluous. I’ll just still with using the word ‘love’, rather than a word which suggests an anthropomorphic supernatural creator skydaddy, kthxbai”

  • Josha

    How is the scientific community split on the whole Pluto, is it a planet or not issue?

    How do I respond to the religious people who say that I never was a real Catholic so that’s why I’m an atheist now?

  • Todd

    @ Josha

    Depending on your age and what decisions you have made for yourself, you might as well just agree with them. You may very well have simply been born with no inherent religious underpinnings (as we all are, of course). Perhaps it was your parents who were the Catholics, and you were just along for the ride.

    On the other hand, maybe you really were, in your mind, a Catholic. Then later you made the decision to leave it all behind. In that case, you should have a litany of reasons for their enlightenment and possibly a few good examples of how you really used to be a Catholic.

  • Skeptibanker

    I have been unable to find out the yearly “cost” to taxpayers of churches being exempt from property and income taxes. A link to a finding would be great. Thanks

  • @Richard Wade:
    The afternoon cup of coffee is the worst, because the few times I do have coffee in the afternoon, I do notice a huge increase in productivity immediately afterwards. In fact, I’m considering getting some now so perhaps I’ll work instead of reading blogs…

    @Joshua:
    As an astronomer, I can say that the scientific community spends much more time contemplating how the solar system was formed rather than the nomenclature surrounding her objects. And it has been evident for a long long time that Pluto (and the other Kuiper Belt objects) are very very different and formed in a different way altogether than Mercury through Neptune.

  • cicely

    As it is written in Ambush Bug’s 4-part mini-series ‘way back in ’85, odd socks go to the Bureau, where Argh!Yle plots his sinister plots.

    My question: Do sinuses actually serve some useful purpose aside from as a crude pollen sensor or pressure-change detector, and as a means of enriching pharmaceuticals companies?

  • mvanstav

    To benjdm: I’ll take a stab at some of your questions (I’m a physical chemistry grad student), as I’ve asked my astrophysics boyfriend a lot of them.

    1. Probably. An important thing to note here is that our best models do not go back to the moment of the big bang. All of them stop something like 10^-20 or 10^-30 of a second after the big bang. We can only model from that instant until now, and not before then. This means that the laws of thermodynamics, and other physical laws, might not even hold at the instant of the big bang. Space, time, and matter are very weird at those early times, and so there is no particular reason that laws we see as true today should hold then.
    Secondly, most models I’ve heard of usually involve the creation of a gigantic amount of anti-matter during the big bang, which then annihilated with a gigantic amount of matter, and it turns out there just happened to be a bit more matter than anti-matter, so what’s left is our universe. With random bits of anti-matter still running about. It looks like tiny big bangs can happen all the time actually, with a matter/anti-matter pair being created and then annihilating all the time.
    Maybe (and this is a guess by someone who doesn’t know enough to say anything with authority) there’s actually an equal amount of anti-matter out there to counter all the matter we know, it just happens to be separated enough in space that the universe still exists.

    2. I don’t really know about if other forces are considered to be a bending of space time. I do know that gravity is very weird compared to the other forces, and theorists have a hard time making it mesh with the others. We don’t really understand it well enough to be too sure about it. Wait ’til the LHC discovers the Higgs boson, and see what science comes out of that for more information.

    3. As for the acceleration of the universe implying another force, that’s what dark energy is. While astronomers talk about it very seriously, what they mean is that there’s something out there, that they really have no idea. They can tell you a lot about what it does, but so far there’s pretty much no clue what it is. It could be something really mundane, or something really exotic.

    Disclaimer: Like I said, I’m not a physicist. This is my best attempt to explain what I understand in laymans terms, and I do apologize if I got something wrong.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    What flavor is red licorice based on? It’s definitely not fruit.

    Licorice flavor is based on anise. In the USA, soft “rope” candy can come in different flavors; usually the black stuff is licorice flavor, and the red stuff is “cherry twists” or “strawberry twists” (e.g. Twizzlers brand). Many people mistakenly refer to even the red versions as “licorice.” I have read the ingredients on read Twizzlers product, and there is no licorice involved. Twizzlers is therefore correct not to label this stuff “licorice.”

    I have seen foreign stuff labeled “red licorice,” but have not taken the time to peruse the ingredients to check whether this is simply verbal sloppiness, or whether the product actually contains licorice.

  • Jen

    Who saw the Mormon Temple thing on Big Love? Any reports as to how it went down?

  • Reginald Selkirk

    What flavor is red licorice based on? It’s definitely not fruit.

    “Red Vines” brand labels their product as “red twists,” although their web site casually refers to the product as “licorice.” The ingredients they list for their original red twists does not mention licorice, only “artificial flavor.”

    Meanwhile, their “black licorice twists” not only contains “licorice” in the name, but the ingredients include licorice extract and anise flavor.

    This is consistent with my hypothesis that “red licorice” is a misnomer caused by over-generalization of the name “licorice” from anise-based black twist product. However, it does not rule out the possibility that some other manufacturer is doing something wild and crazy.

  • I think the answers to both ungullible and Mover’s questions have to do with emergence.

  • GullWatcher

    I have seen foreign stuff labeled “red licorice,” but have not taken the time to peruse the ingredients to check whether this is simply verbal sloppiness, or whether the product actually contains licorice.

    It may be a misnomer, but that’s what it is commonly known as. And while some types are strawberry or raspberry flavor, the standard ‘red licorice’ (Red Vines from the American Licorice Company) is a unique flavor that is definitely not fruit based. I’m usually really good with finding out stuff on the internet, but this one mystery has eluded me.

  • Luther Weeks

    I have been unable to find out the yearly “cost” to taxpayers of churches being exempt from property and income taxes. A link to a finding would be great. Thanks

    I cannot answer your question, but clearly other costs to believers and non-believers dwarfs the tax losses.

    The tax losses are sort of like being concerned about getting mud on your odd (or even) socks as you sink in quicksand.

  • Indigo

    Mollishka: maybe you could switch to tea instead of coffee, especially for that afternoon cuppa? It’s about half as much caffeine but still gives some lift.

    My own questions about life:
    Apart from the usual “what is consciousness?”, “how can there be a beginning to time, and what came before?” and so on, I would like to know how “Mexican Cooking for Beginners” wound up in the cupboard with the pots and pans, why my cat insists on sleeping on my clean clothes, and what exactly I’m supposed to do with a degree in creative writing and philosophy now that I’ve got one.

  • sc0tt

    How would we perceive the world differently if our sense of smell were as good as a dog’s? Humans have about the worst sense of smell of any mammmal… is that somehow an evolutionary advantage? Did our ancestors have to sacrifice smell to make brain space available for better language or something?

  • mikespeir

    benjdm’s question reminded me of one of my own. Has there ever been nothing? I know astronomers use words like “out of nothing” when they talk about the Big Bang, but do they really mean literally nothing? How could there ever be nothing?

  • Devysciple

    What is the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?

    Reginald Selkirk

    You can have an outright answer, or you can have a more detailed description.

  • It must be possible to convert CO2 into a harmless carbon compound such as graphite. How much energy would this require compared to the energy produced from coal that creates the CO2?

    I’m new here. Is this a real question, or does Curtis do this sort of thing often?

  • ““how can there be a beginning to time, and what came before?””

    This depends on the curvature of spacetime which isn’t known yet.

    I read a book that described one of the possibilities using the metaphor of a globe. If you point yourself north (ie, back in time) and start walking in a straight line you will eventually find yourself walking south (ie, forward in time) once you’ve passed the north pole.

    My question:

    Can linguistics tell us where (and when) in the history of language did concepts of god, good and evil (as absolutes), etc, enter the memepool?

  • Deuce

    I am Agnostic. I have been wanting to take the leap to Atheism, but I need the answer to this question: What do you say when someone sneezes?

  • GullWatcher

    Can linguistics tell us where (and when) in the history of language did concepts of god, good and evil (as absolutes), etc, enter the memepool?

    Not really. Linguistics usually looks at words, not as an end in themselves, but to see what they can tell us about language as a whole. Even then, it’s not so much about what the words mean as about how they relate to each other.

    The earliest writing we have found goes back about 5500 years, and we can’t even read it. I think (could be wrong) that god concept is a lot older than that, but the evidence would need to come from another field – maybe archaeology?

  • gribblethemunchkin

    Deuce:

    I say Gesundheit. Its recognisable that people don’t think i’m talking nonsense, few people know what it means so its an instant conversation started and its a nice sentiment to express.

    I admit to occassionally saying bless you. This is more an artifact of my society than a choice, i try not to do it but it doesn’t really bother me when i do. Drives my (ardently atheistic) girlfriend up the wall though 🙂

  • Not really. Linguistics usually looks at words, not as an end in themselves, but to see what they can tell us about language as a whole. Even then, it’s not so much about what the words mean as about how they relate to each other.

    The earliest writing we have found goes back about 5500 years, and we can’t even read it. I think (could be wrong) that god concept is a lot older than that, but the evidence would need to come from another field – maybe archaeology?

    Not a linguist (though I fancy myself cunning) but from what I’ve read on the subject, I’d have to say linguistics is what might provide some of these answers. If we can deduce Proto-Indo-European and various genetic relationships between languages then surely we can look for terms or concepts with “religious” overtones to see when and where they creeped into our psyche. They already use reconstructed words for plant and animal names in an attempt to pinpoint locations. They can also use the reconstructed words for technological phenomena to develop a relative timeline between a technological advancement (ie, horseback riding) and dialects that contain related terms (ie, words for “saddle”.) I don’t see how the same methodology couldn’t be used for cultural phenomena as well.

    Frankly, I don’t believe the god concept is that old at all. I’d wager it came about during the time of the agricultural revolution.

  • Ubi Dubium

    Back to the socks: The answer is easy. The Invisible Pink Unicorn has raptured your worthy socks directly to Sock Heaven. You can tell if she’s been visiting your laundry, because she will leave holes in it from poking it with her horn, and sometimes she will bless your whites with her holy color! Missing socks are a blessing from Her Holy Hoofiness!

    Now my question: When you jump into a swimming pool, it feels really cold at first, and then you get “used to it” and it doesn’t feel cold anymore. When you go outside on a cold day, it feels really cold, but you never get “used to it”. You just stay cold. What’s the reason for this?

  • Reginald Selkirk

    More on “red licorice” –

    I happened to notice some “Wiley Wallaby Australian Style Gourmet Red Liquorice” in a vending machine so I bought it.

    First of all, it is a phony import. On the back it says: Manufactured by: Kenny’s Candy Company, Perham, MN… MADE IN U.S.A.

    Second of all, It contains no licorice (no liqourice, even). Here is the complete list of ingredients: sugar, corn syrup, wheat flour, water, cane syrup, cornstarch, sunflower oil, citric acid, artificial flavor, malic acid, sodium citrate, glycerol monostearate, potassium sorbate, salt, artificial color (FD&C red#40).

    It tastes vaguely fruity, but I can’t pin down one specific fruit. Since it’s artificial anyway, it might be a futile effort.

    BTW, Dr. Pepper swears that its soda does not contain prune juice.

  • Pool Boy

    Now my question: When you jump into a swimming pool, it feels really cold at first, and then you get “used to it” and it doesn’t feel cold anymore. When you go outside on a cold day, it feels really cold, but you never get “used to it”. You just stay cold. What’s the reason for this?

    It’s probably because around your skin there is a thin layer of warm water, and therefore you don’t feel cold anymore. Ever noticed, that if you are doing swimming motions it gets colder again…

  • newbee

    How would we perceive the world differently if our sense of smell were as good as a dog’s? Humans have about the worst sense of smell of any mammmal… is that somehow an evolutionary advantage? Did our ancestors have to sacrifice smell to make brain space available for better language or something?

    don’t really know but couldn’t it have just become rudimentary (I have no Idea if that is the correct english word)? I mean who needs a super nose if you are walking upright, have pretty good eyesight, and the brains not to walk in “lion territory” unprotected…
    And btw: If any of you knows German, D.Dörner (Bauplan einer Seele) shows how to build consciousness out of Neurons (in fact he constructs a “human” out of a simole machine by just jusing two or three kinds of “neurons”)