Saturday, February 26, 2011

No Means No, but Does Rape Mean Rape?

A young woman is getting off work from her job as a waitress at midnight one Friday night. She is walking to her car in the parking lot. She fumbles for her keys as she approaches her vehicle. Just as she is about to place the key into the lock, a stranger abducts her and pulls her to the bushes at the side of the parking lot.

He cups his hands over her mouth so she can’t scream. Then he ties a scarf around her head, stuffing part of it into her mouth while he proceeds to have his way with her. When it is all over, he leaves her lying on the ground, half conscious and terrified.

A witness sees the man fleeing the scene and calls 911. An hour later, the suspect is apprehended as he was stalking his second victim of the night. He was arrested, tried, and convicted of rape. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

The victim of his crime was left with the awful memory of what happened that night. She couldn’t work for weeks afterward. She was terrified of the dark and of being alone. She even felt ashamed. After months of counseling, she was able to function normally again, but the memory of that night still haunts her dreams.

Another young woman feels up for a night out on the town. She slips on her barely-there pink dress that is just long enough to cover her thong. She dances out her apartment door and heads for the club.

She hooks up with a guy who was already at the event. He buys her a few drinks as he flirts with her. She flirts back. After about an hour of dancing and flirting, he suggests they go for a walk to his car out back. She puts up no defense. So moments later, they are in the back seat of his SUV, partially undressed, heavily engaged in foreplay. He, wisely, remembers his condom and starts to slip it on. But the young lady has a change of heart and tells him she doesn’t want to go all the way.

At first, he thinks she is just playing. So he proceeds to put his condom in place and then approaches her. But he quickly finds out she wasn’t kidding when she slaps him. He calls her a bitch and a tease. He makes her feel ashamed of herself, so she finally relents. But as he enters her, she again changes her mind and flees the SUV. She calls 911 and tells them the guy forced her to have sex with him.

Police arrive and arrest the man. He was tried and convicted of rape and sentenced to 25 years in prison. The young lady went out to a club the following week, but this time she swears not to take it that far.

Two teenagers are in love. They have been dating each other for more than a year and have been having consensual sex for nine months. She is 15 and he is 17. The next day is his birthday, so she plans a birthday surprise for him. She is going to get dressed up in the sexiest lingerie she can buy from Victoria’s Secret, then after the cake cutting, she plans to excuse herself while she slips it on, then invite him into her bedroom.

She is only a week away from turning 16 and she is hoping for a present from her friend that is commensurate with what she plans to give him.

On the night of his private party, she fulfills her plan to seduce him. But her over-protective mother walks in on them as they are engaged in coitus. In a rage, she kicks the young man out of her house and calls 911, claiming her daughter has been sexually molested. The daughter pleads to her not to take it this far, but the mother continues.

The boy is arrested and charged with statutory rape. He is 18 now, and she is not yet 16. He is tried and convicted and sentenced to 25 years in prison.

The obvious question is: Does rape mean rape?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Why I Once Believed

I think a lot about religion. People have asked me why I care so much that people have faith or believe in the bible. And I give them all the standard answers to that: I care because I’ve discovered reality and I wish others would discover the same thing; I care because people of faith have a nasty habit of moralizing for everyone else; I care because some people of faith put themselves in positions of power and try to influence others using their own, narrow, brand of morality as a benchmark; I care because I know that throughout history, religion has been the biggest obstacle to progress.

I’ve asked myself over and over how people who are otherwise quite reasonable, can accept an ancient myth as true and believe in it to the point of wanting to convert others to their way of thinking. But then I remember I used to be that way myself. So what made ME that way?

First of all, I was never a fundamentalist. I accepted the bible as a good spiritual guide and not as ancient history. I knew that the stories in the Old Testament were allegories and that they never really happened, or were at least heavily embellished. I did believe most of the New Testament stories, but I took with a grain of salt the stories concerning miracles. After all, those were superstitious people back then and what they were reporting was based as much on their emotional state as it was on real circumstances. But I still believed in Jesus and in God and in the Resurrection. I was, after all, a Christian. I was raised that way.

I remember debating a teacher friend of mine back in the ‘80s. He was an atheist. I placed the old Pascal’s Wager in his lap, even though at the time I did not know of the arguments against it. I asked him, “What if you’re wrong?” He said that if there is a god, he would like to believe that he is a forgiving god and one that will forgive him for not believing. I thought in my head, “He obviously doesn’t know his bible because it doesn’t work that way.”

But how did I know it didn’t work that way? How did I know that I was right and he was wrong?

The fact is, I didn’t. I only assumed I did because I believed the bible. I knew there were other religions in the world and I knew they had their own holy books. But I also knew, or believed, that these were the “heathen religions” the bible speaks of. I knew that Christian missionaries were busy trying to convert them to the true religion.

But why did I assume Christianity was the true religion, other than the fact that it was what I was taught as a kid? I was an intelligent science teacher with a master’s degree for goodness sake. Could I not see the fallacy of my beliefs?

Though down deep I was riddled with doubt, I justified my faith in Christianity and my dismissal of other religions because Christianity seemed to have an answer for all objections. You can find a bible verse that seems to dismiss almost any objection you want to throw at a Christian. What about other religions? They are mentioned and dismissed in the bible as being “heathen.” What about all our vast knowledge? The Old Testament warns against thought processes that would tend to lead you away from God. The New Testament seems to understand that there are rational arguments against believing, so it hammers the faith angle. Faith is all that matters; knowledge may be bogus.

I always assumed that a collection of literature like the bible that had an answer for any objection must hold a great deal of validity. If it did not answer these objections, Christianity would not have lasted so long.

But the only evidence I was using to justify my belief was that the bible seemed to know my objections and handled them all. It didn’t register until much later in my life that these answers were bogus and one-dimensional. When people brought up the fact that other religions and their holy books also had answers to the same objections and when I started to realize that the only thing really special about Christianity was that it had more members than other religions, only then did I start looking at religion, all religion, from a truly skeptical position.

It was then that I realized that all religions are bubbles. People see the other bubbles, but only from a perspective within their own bubble. I was beginning to pop out of my bubble. Only then did I realize that, from a vantage point outside of all bubbles, all bubbles are equal. So all religions are equal and, therefore, all religions are equally wrong.

Friday, February 04, 2011

A Philosophical Answer to the Question of Time

What, exactly, is time? Consider its characteristics as we recognize them. Time can be measured. But when we measure time, we do so with an object that changes in a predictable and regular way through a series of cycles: A swinging pendulum, a vibrating crystal, or an atom going through repeating quantum fluctuations. We then define a period of time, such as a second, as a certain number of these repetitions of motion.

In defining time this way, we observe that time always seems to “move” in one direction. We call it the arrow of time. We continually press forward in time, from the past, into the present, and toward the future. We define the past as a period of time that has occurred already. We define the future as a period of time that has not revealed itself to us yet.

It is difficult, if not impossible, to define time precisely because the words we use to define it are words that are associated with its meaning and characteristics: Past, future, present, yet, occurrence, flowing, happened, etc. You can’t define the word “flow” for example without an assumption of time. That time flows is assumed in its definition and is part of the definition.

Time is also defined as the fourth dimension. In our everyday world there are three spatial dimensions, up and down, back and forth, in and out, representing height, width, and depth. Time is a dimension that represents a changing state or position within these three spatial dimensions. In order to get from point A to point B in space, a certain amount of time must pass. We know we have moved from A to B on our way to C because we remember A; we can observe B, and we have no memory of C, thus the arrow of time. It depends upon our memories and perceptions.

But does time actually exist apart from our ability to perceive it? Did the universe really “begin” in a gigantic explosion called the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago and then proceed to evolve into our present universe that we observe today? Or could it be that what we call the past still exists “today”? Could it be that the future is here “already” but we, for some reason, just can’t observe it “yet”?

Consider the arrow of time again. Time always moves forward. Or does it? Maybe it doesn’t “move” at all. What would happen, for example, if the flow of time suddenly came to a halt? What would we observe?

Well, to start, time can’t come to a halt, by definition, because our definition of time is that it is always a progression, from the past to the future. And how long would time be halted for? If time is stopped, by what measure would determine how long that state would exist? And even so, we would not notice a thing, because if time has stopped, then all our thought processes would also stop in time and with time. So whenever time started again, our thoughts would continue from that precise moment.

But what if time moved backward? Surely we would notice that, right? Well, probably not. Our thought processes, including our memories, are connected to the time frame in which they occur, so if time moves backwards, all our brain functions, thought processes, and memory accumulation would also move backward. That means we would remember the future and have no recollection of the past. The future and past would take on reverse roles. So if we remember the future but because time is going backward, we are heading into the past, our perception of events would be precisely the same as what they are now. Again, we would not notice.

What if time sped up or slowed down? Again, our thought processes, the events taking place in our brain on an atomic level, would speed up and slow down as well. So we still would not notice. The speed with which time flows and its direction will always appear the same. Our perception of time will always be that time moves forward and always at the same rate (unless you are watching a pot come to a boil).

So what does that say about what time really is? Well, what if time actually didn’t flow at all? What if time, like space, is simply a fabric within the 11-dimensions of the multiverse? What if time is simply another dimension of space but one which we perceive differently? One postulate of M-theory is that, at the moment of the Big Bang, time and space were equivalent, which helps explain the inflationary period of the universe. What if it still is but we, our minds, simply perceive it in another form?

Consider a large throw rug composed of concentric rings of yarn. Imagine each strand of yarn is an entire universe and the rug itself is part of the multiverse. All the spatial dimensions are compressed into the thickness of the strand of yarn. The time dimension is its length. But the full length of the yarn is there all the time. It doesn’t flow or move; it’s just there. At some point along the length of the strand of yarn is the Big Bang. Another point along the strand is what we call the present time.

You might imagine us as moving from the Big Bang to the present along the strand of yarn. But what if that is not the case at all. Maybe the entire time continuum has been there all along. What if it is only our perception that is moving along the strand from place to place, but maybe not even in a regular direction or at a constant speed? Maybe our place in time is determined by random quantum fluctuations? I’ve already discussed the notion that our perception of time would not change regardless of what direction time flowed, how fast it flowed, or even if it stopped. So what difference does it make whether or not time is always flowing forward at a constant speed? It would all look the same to us anyway.

But, you might ask, why do we all agree that this moment is the present? Why is it the present for everyone? What is so special about this moment in time that we can call it the present?

Perhaps this moment is only the present to me. Maybe you are at a totally different point along the time continuum strand of yarn. It still would not matter to what I perceive, or what you perceive. I would be perceiving you as you are (or will be or have been) at the precise point that my perception is located along the strand. Remember, it is a strand of time that contains every moment at all locations simultaneously. So if I am perceiving events at Point A and if you exist in time at that point, I will perceive you doing what you will be doing at Point A, even though your own perception might actually be at Point B. In addition, I will perceive you as perceiving me at Point A, even though, again, you are actually at Point B in your time. In fact, maybe everybody has there own unique place of perception along the time continuum. To everyone, it’s as if everyone else is at the same juncture in time. It’s all a matter of personal perception.

Yes, I know this discussion is highly esoteric, but it would explain a lot in terms of metaphysics, and even real physics if it were true. There would be no more wondering about time paradoxes. There would be no more wondering about a creation event. The universe was not created; it has always existed and the entirety of its time continua have existed with it. Time doesn't flow or move at all, only our perception of it.

Of course, such a scenario might bring up many more questions. Does the strand of yarn representing time branch out or is it a single strand? M-theory seems to suggest a branching thread of yarn. Is there a mathematical formula for the rate at which we perceive time to pass? And, if we extend the metaphor of the throw rug, one might ask, how was the rug created?