The Three Faces of Science and Religion

Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a way to resolve disagreements between people using just logic and evidence?  I think there is.  I believe that the best way to form opinions about the world and the things in it is to use the scientific method, that is, to use evidence to test claims about truth.

Furthermore, I believe that religion and spirituality are specifically bad ways to form such opinions about reality, precisely because they do not provide a way to resolve disagreements.  The end game in religious disagreements is usually either “I agree” or “well, you believe whatever you want, we cannot say for sure.”  Or maybe things get really ugly and a fight breaks out.

Unfortunately for me, while making my case, I have noticed that “science” is a word that has three different meanings.

  1. Science:  The scientific method.  The use of reason and evidence to test and DISPROVE claims about the real world.  Also the method of communicating and describing such claims.  Using this method requires a willingness to reveal methods and data, if you want to persuade anyone else.  Note that science is NOT about proving things!  It’s about disproving them.
  2. Science:  the body of “knowledge.”  This means all observed and verified data and observations about the world, plus the accumulation of claims which have been tested by the scientific method, and seem to make accurate, verifiable and measurable predictions about the world which do not contradict available evidence.  A theory is disproven by showing it does not accurately describe the real world. Note:  items here are not “proven to be true” by the scientific method.  They just have not been shown to be false, they just don’t contradict any evidence, and ideally predict new evidence which subsequently appears as predicted.
  3. Science:  All scientists lumped together.  A “scientist” is a person who uses the scientific method.

When I say “Science is the best way to learn new things that you can trust to be accurate,” I am talking about science in the sense of the scientific method (category 1).  And I’m open to learning about better ways.  Anyhow, notice how I’m not saying “scientists are the best at learning” or “science has all the answers.”

When having discussions about the merits of using science,  I often hear the argument, “There are many examples of so-called scientific ‘knowledge’ being shown later to be false.  Therefore, science is seen to be a flawed method.”  This confuses the scientific method (category 1) with the body of scientific knowledge (category 2).  When things in category 2 are shown to be false, it is in fact done by the scientific method, and this is a vindication of science, not a repudiation of it.  Again, science is a method for disproving, not proving, claims.

Another argument I hear is, “But scientists are biased!  They believe in science like a religious person believes in religion.  Therefore religion is just as valid.”   But this confuses scientists (category 3) with the scientific method (category 1).  If a scientist is biased, and carefully uses the scientific method, she will discover her bias and correct it.  The assumption that scientists have biases is built into the method.

Interestingly, I find the same three categories to be found in religion:

  1. Religion:  The methods for confirming religious claims about reality.  There are four that I have noticed so far.
    1. Prayer:  ask “God” for help.  I put “God” in quotes because it’s a slippery subject.  Whenever I try to find out what God is, it gets crazy
    2.  Authority:  a trusted priest, high authority or book says it’s true, so it probably is.
    3. Emotion:  I feel good about this, so it’s probably true.
    4. Reason and evidence:  Sometimes religion tries to use reason and evidence to substantiate its claims.  However, reason and evidence that seem to argue against any particular religious belief are usually met with anger and hostility.
  2. Religion:  Religious belief, dogma, theory.  The practices and rules of religion.
  3. Religion:  The various sects and the people in them.  For example, one can speak of Islam or Mormonism to mean the people that believe in these religions.

The trouble as I see it with religion and “spiritual beliefs” is that category 1 relies on a flawed and broken foundation that does not produce consistent truth that can be tested by others.  Mormons and Muslims (category 3) share these methods, but heartily disagree about the nature of reality (category 2) in important ways.  Most crucially, they have no way to come to an agreement about which is correct.

I hope these distinctions are useful to others and can serve as a basis for further progress in discussing how to move society forward in good ways we can all benefit from.

I also look forward to corrections from sincere readers looking to improve this article.

Amazon finally fixes their Kindle app; support remains oblivious

I’ve been emailing and phoning and chatting with Amazon’s enthusiastic but helpless staff and dealing with their amazingly bad tech support system for a while now.

Today, I’m happy to report the horror show has ended.  Amazon released an update that fixed my problem.  I can now log in and get the books I paid for and read them.  Yay.  Of course, I’ve already switched to iBooks and decrypted ePubs.  It’s only a matter of time before Amazon abandons the mac platform altogether I suspect.  At any rate, being tied to one platform is a bad idea.  Open source is the way.

Just wanted to close the loop on it.  It’s over, for now.  God help anyone that tries to get tech support from!  🙂  Peace out.

An atheist’s take on the value and meaning of spirituality

As an atheist, I have long struggled with the word “spirituality.”  To my rational mind, it connotes a realm reason and physical laws, a place where magic beings called “spirits” roam around.  To me, this is a fantasy cooked up to avoid having to face the uncertainty and finality and inevitability of death.  I know to many people this is a positive thing, this spiritual aspect, but I could not relate to it.

I find often as an atheist that when people speak of religious or spiritual things, I have to translate into what I think of as “the real world.” This is a world where there are no superheroic beings in the ether controlling our fates, where things happen because they are caused, and causation can only occur when there is a set of rules shaping how things happen in the world.   But I could not find a way to interpret this word “spirituality” as it seems to explicitly connote a magical world where peoples’ escapist fantasies come to life.

Recently I was reading a book called “The Art of Happiness” written by Howard Cutler but with the author given as the Dalai Llama XIV when I came across a definition of spirituality that really opened my eyes and softened my heart.  In the book, the Dalai Llama speaks of spirituality in two senses, one is religious and involves faith.  This is the spirituality which I still cannot sign onto.  This is the one where you pray to God and he saves your son from cancer.  Good luck with that!

But there is a second sense, that he calls “basic human spirituality,” which he defines as “basic human qualities of goodness, kindness, compassion, caring.”  He says that “true spirituality should have the result of making a person calmer, happier, more peaceful.”  He then states that “whether one leads a spiritual life depends on whether one has been successful in bringing about that disciplined, tamed state of mind and translating that state of mind into one’s daily actions.”

In this sense, I can completely sign onto spirituality.  This is the mark of an elevated person, someone that understands deeper ideas and goes beyond narrow self interests.  So when you tell me now you are a spiritual person, I can translate that into “I am a person who uses practices and ideas from some tradition to bring me to an understanding of calmness, happiness, and connection.”   At this point I can nod and support you in something important to both of us.

I can think of another useful translation of “spiritual” as well. This one has to do with the human spirit, a deep essence of our being human, which can be noticed, trained and cultivated.  Some aspects of this spirit are limiting and harmful, some are neutral, some are empowering and helpful.  In this sense, I would say that spirituality would be more Buddhist, in the sense of noticing the various qualities of our human spirit and taking care to promote the better aspects.  This would involve meditation and the types of practices noted above.

Of course I’m still a scientist, so you can claim to be a “spiritual person” all you want, but I’m going to be waiting for some evidence.  🙂  Jesus is supposed to have said, “by their fruits you shall know them.”  So, tell me, are you really spiritual, or do you just want to believe in spirits?  Do you just need Jesus for comfort, or are you willing to comfort others and use your strengths for good purposes?


Incompetent support continues to struggle with my simple request

Wow, this is interesting, how many ways there are to not help someone when you have a giant corporation dedicated to the worst customer support on the planet.  This has been going on so long I’m running out of clever ways to title my posts.

Click here for a video of my original issue.  Here is my latest exchange!

Your Account
Message From Customer Service

Thank you for contacting Amazon.

I’m sorry that you’ve had trouble in login with your Kindle app. I understand how disappointing it is.

I’ve checked the detail from my end and found that our technical team is still working on this issue so that you no need to explain the issue again an again.

I’ve check the master ticket status for this issue and our technical team request you to please send the screen shot of the registration screen (basically the screen which has the issue).

In this case, I’d request you to please cooperate with us and try to register the device and send the screen-shot of the registration screen (basically the screen which has the issue) so that we can forward it to the technical team to resolve this issue as earliest as possible. You

It usually takes 1-2 business days for this sort of research, but in this case it’s taking a little longer. I’m very sorry about this delay.

You can provide the screen shot with the help of below link.

Please visit the following link to provide the information we requested:

Of course, I’ve already provided a complete movie of my problem.  I clicked on the link and was amused and not at all surprised to find out it does not have a way for me to provide a screen shot with my message!

So I clicked “Send e-mail.”  I got the following response from Amazon.  You can’t make this stuff up, folks:

Hello from Amazon,

You’ve written to an address that does not accept incoming e-mails, but we have provided links to help answer some common questions.

Where’s My Stuff/Order:
Cancel Items or Orders:
Problem with an Order:
Marketplace Order Problems:
Gift Certificates:
Returns & Refunds:

Your move,!  I can’t wait to hear back from Earth’s most Customer-Centric Company with a solution to my now months-old issue.

Another extremely silly support email

I think that by the time Amazon gets around to even understanding what my issue is, self-driving cars will be commonplace and I will have a neural implant and will have seen my first Terran Eclipse from the surface of the moon.

The background to this post can be found here:  The buffoonery continues.

Here is the latest message from Amazon support.  It demonstrates again the following aspects of their customer support:

  1.  Nobody at amazon talks to each other directly.  Everything goes through a stifling and byzantine, opaque system involving lots of techno-bureaucracy and spanning multiple continents.
  2. No customer is tracked as a person.  An issue ticket is created, and if it’s not solved in one email, it is hopeless.
  3. Technical support has very shallow technical understanding, and developers are completely insulated from actually talking to customers about problems in their software.

I’m imagining the Amazon support and development team meetings look like this:

Here is the latest email I got yesterday from them.

Hello Rich,

I wanted to let you know that I’ve received a response from our technical team regarding the screenshot you sent in, and they need some additional information from you:

First, we’ll need your complete system information. Below are the instructions for how to obtain that information:

Windows 7
To start the diagnostic, click on Start \ Run and type in “dxdiag” and click OK. If this is the first time your running this diagnostic windows will ask you for permission to check for WHQL Digital Signatures. Click Yes to this. You will then get the DirectX Diagnostic Tool.

Windows 8
To open the Diagnostic tool, press the Windows button to open the main menu and type run. In the Run prompt, enter dxdiag, hit Enter and the tool will open.

Windows 10
Bring up the Start menu and start typing dxdiag (or dxdiag.exe) in the search box. After the dxdiag (or dxdiag.exe) icon appears under the ”Best match”, click it to run the DirectX Diagnostic Tool.
Click on the “Save All Information” button to save the system information as text file and send it to Amazon.

We’ll also need the log files for your Kindle for PC application. You can pull those and submit them by following the instructions below:

1. Close the Kindle for PC application.
2. Open File Explorer or My Documents. On the left-hand side, click: C: > Users > your username > AppData > Local > Amazon > Kindle > Cache > Logs
3. Click Logs.
4. The log files are labeled “1” and “2.”

Once you’ve located the log files, drag and drop each of the log files to your desktop. Reply directly to this e-mail with the log files attached.

The total size of the attachment(s) must be less than 6 MB. You will need to send a separate e-mail for each log file if the total size exceeds 6 MB.

We’ll also need the crash reports initiated by your Kindle for PC application. You can provide those by following the steps below as well:

1. Open Event Viewer by opening Control Panel. Then click on Administrative Tools. Then Event Viewer.
2. Navigate to Windows Logs, then click on Application. Double click on the Application icon.
3. Chose Event Level as “Error” in the Filter and navigate to the one created for Kindle.exe, take a snapshot of it or copy & paste in a text file and save.
4. Include this saved file in your response email as well.

Thanks again for your patience!

I’m relieved to find no false apologies in there.  That’s cool.  My response is short and hopefully sweet.  It’s hard not to be sarcastic at this point, but I wish to be careful to maintain some level of respect commensurate to the effort of the people working there.

Please tell your technical team that I’m on a Mac.  I can’t help thinking that if they had actually watched my “screenshot” (I believe I sent a movie) they would have noticed that.
In fact, I’ve already informed various people at Amazon about this multiple times.
Anyhow, now what?
Soon I get another incredibly dense email from amazon.  In this they show that they are unaware completely that I have even heard of the very software that I am writing for help with.  It’s just mind-boggling.  Who are these people?  Note that the first sentence begins with a lie:  “I’ve reviewed our previous correspondence with you….”
Your Account
Message From Customer Service

Thank you for contacting us.

I’ve reviewed our previous correspondence with you, and I’m very sorry about the incomplete information you received.

I’ve checked the details and found that Kindle for Mac is not registered under your account. I can also see that you have deregistered Kindle for Mac
on Jun 29, 2017.

Please be informed, Kindle for Mac is a free application that lets you read Kindle books on your computer. Amazon’s Whispersync functionality automatically synchronizes your last page read so you can easily switch between Kindle devices and applications and pick up from where you left off.

Kindle for Mac is compatible with Mac OS X 10.9.5 or higher, but isn’t compatible with Power PCs.

To download Kindle for Mac, go to:

If you’d like, you can also access most Kindle books on a PC or Mac using Kindle Cloud Reader. Kindle Cloud Reader is free, and allows you to access your Kindle content from a web browser. For more details about using Kindle Cloud Reader, see:

All books available for download in your Kindle for Mac appear in your Library in the tab “All.” This tab is located on the left menu. The content that has already been downloaded has a check on the cover.

If you’re connected to the Internet, you can double-click on any item to download it to your Kindle reading app. Your book will open automatically after it’s downloaded.

If you were reading the book on another device, you can choose “Sync to furthest page read” from the Go To or Tools menu to start reading again where you left off.

More information about Kindle for Mac can be found in our Help pages here:


Best regards,
Thank you for your inquiry. Did I solve your problem?
Yes No
Your feedback is helping us build Earth’s Most Customer-Centric Company.
Ah, Amazon thinks that it is Earth’s most Customer-Centric Company.  ROTFL.  I guess that lack of self-awareness goes along with their complete lack of interest in improvement.  And I’m supposed to buy groceries from these people?  My response to them is again simple:

Wow.  Just wow.  Good lord.  The reason Kindle for Mac is not registered with you is that I CANNOT LOG INTO AMAZON WITH IT.  That’s the reason for these emails to you.  That is my question.  I have said this dozens of times.

And Earth’s most customer-centric company sends me this reply:


This is an automatic e-mail to confirm we’ve received your e-mail
and a Customer Service associate will be in touch within the next
6 hours. In the meantime, please visit our Help Pages:

Please note: This e-mail was sent from a notification-only
address that can’t accept incoming e-mail. Please don’t reply to
this message.

Customer Service Department

The amazon buffoonery continues! Kindle continues to not work, customer support still flailing.

I recently wrote about amazon’s terrible Kindle support in a post called “Amazon Kindle is a hopeless mess, as is user support” and put a followup called “Follow up: in the end, failed to deliver the goods.”  So in the interest of documenting the endless parade of really crappy interactions with Amazon’s support team, I’m back.  Unsurprisingly, amazon again failed to make any progress, while pretending to make progress and keeping the drones busy.

In the latest exchange, today I got an email and a voicemail from Amazon.  The email went like this:

Hello Rich,

I wanted to let you know that I’ve received a response from our technical team, and they indicated your issue with logging in to the Kindle application on your Mac has been resolved.

If you’re still having trouble, please provide as much information as possible, including any new error messages. We can be reached using the following link:

I hope this helps! Thanks again for your patience!

Best regards,
Marlyna R.

I went to my computer with zero confidence.  I tried the Kindle app again and nothing has changed.  The behavior is identical.  The reason I knew this would be the case is that as far as I can tell there is nobody at Amazon that has even bothered to really understand my problem.

So I sent this reply:

Nope, it’s not fixed.
It behaves in exactly the same way.

And of course, got the usual reply:


This is an automatic e-mail to confirm we’ve received your e-mail
and a Customer Service associate will be in touch within the next
6 hours. In the meantime, please visit our Help Pages:

Please note: This e-mail was sent from a notification-only
address that can’t accept incoming e-mail. Please don’t reply to
this message.

Customer Service Department

I 100% guarantee that will go nowhere.  I’ll get a message saying I need to call them.  Or a request to supply more information.

What about the voicemail?  The voicemail said this:  “Hi there this message is for rich. This is Marlena calling from Amazon Kindle customer service Department. We were recently made aware that you had not been notified that our kindle for PC applications salt login issues were resolved. We wanted to go ahead and let you know and follow up with you to see if you are particular issues. Have been resolved if you still need assistance. Please give us a call back at 1 866 321 8851 again that number is 1 866 321 8851. I’ll also be emailing you as well just to confirm. Hope you have a nice day.”

So, I called the number she provided.  I was put on hold for less than a minute, thankfully. A nice lady with a Philippines accent answered.   I could tell this was front-line customer support, the usual clueless people I’ve been talking to over and over about this issue.  Sigh.  OK, so I told her I was returning a call by Marlene about an ongoing issue I was having with my Kindle.
I then asked “Do I have to explain my situation over again and start at the beginning?”
She answered “Yes.”
So I said, “OK, that’s not going to happen, good bye.” and hung up.  I am not falling for that runaround any more.

This is really fascinating, how bad is at helping its customers resolve their problems.  It’s just a huge corporation with little concern for me.  So what I do is convert their books to a decrypted format and then use iBooks, which actually works, to read it.

I’ll keep engaging with amazon’s terrible tech support as long as they want to pretend to care, just to see if they ca actually produce a result, but there is absolutely nobody there that even understands my problem yet as far as I can tell, so there is little hope they can solve it.

The saga continues, stumbling, bumbling, fumbling along in a pathetic corporate display of inefficient helplessness!

Racism is real, and is a distraction

I recently encountered a post on Medium bemoaning America, seemingly seeing us as hopelessly divided along racial, cultural or tribal lines.  People like this often place a lot of emphasis on skin color in analyzing America.  President Trump has created an hysteria, or at least a real worry, among some of my fellow liberals about the rise of racism in America.  Here is my response to that line of thinking.

“Black Christ,” Guatamala ca. 1750, oil on canvas Tue Dec 24 08:44:32 -0700 2013 1387899867 FILENAME: 164448.jpg

Dear Hopeless in America:  I’m sorry you are feeling bad, but I think you’re part of the problem. You are declaring war on everyone that looks different than you, or who doesn’t fit your cultural type or however you define yourself. The people holding the whip are not a racial group, they are not the majority, they are an economic group and are a tiny minority but dangerously powerful.

Yes, there are people like you that judge everything by race, and that’s a shame and works to the detriment of racial minorities for obvious reasons. As long as race is the focus, there is nothing you can do to help yourself if you happen to have the wrong skin color. There are plenty of disenfranchised whites, that’s what got Trump elected you might say. But I am guessing probably you see them as jerks and have no compassion for them. That’s why you just might be a racist. Skin color is just sooo important to you.

I’m sure it sucks to be called racial epithets, and knuckle dragging white racists are horrible, but my lack of concern for the exact right phrasing and sensitivity levels to make you happy is not the problem. The real problem is class class class. It’s Jeff Bezos and Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton and seemingly every Republican ever elected. It’s the concentration of political, economic, military and police power in a smaller and smaller set of hands, regardless of their ethnicity or culture. That would be bad even if they were not mostly white people, believe it or not.

I believe that if we change our lens to focus on the real issue which is that insiders and corporations run our government, and that education, infrastructure and health care have taken a distant back seat to endless wars and stock market profits and real estate bubbles, we can make real progress.

Amazing Thailand! Picking up a package

So in March I ordered some FYF socks for $80.  Hoping for some volleyball magic, who knows.  They look cool.

They finally arrived at my condo in Bangkok.  The process for receiving them was so amazingly inefficient.  Amazing Thailand!

  1. I got a slip in my mailbox at my condo saying there is a package at the Pra Kanong post office for me
  2. Take the BTS to Pra Kanong and find the post office
  3. come and take a number and sit and wait
  4. A guy at desk takes my number and tells me to follow him
  5. We go to another office outside and he leaves me there
  6. A man in that office looks up my information in a binder. Nope not that one, gets out another one, ah there it is.
  7. He tells me to go back into the main area and take another number and wait.
  8. I do so and am called to the same window as before.
  9. The man there enters my information into a computer.
  10. I pay him 1000 baht tariff on my 2500 baht package.  Yes that’s 40%
  11. He gives me a slip of paper and tells me to take it back outside to the outside area office
  12. I give the slip of paper to the guys in the second room.
  13. They make me sign something and give me my package

Next time you chafe at the US Postal service, remember Thailand is out there…  🙂

Follow up: in the end, failed to deliver the goods

I have talked to so many people at about my issue with my kindle.  I documented the incredibly bad experience I had in a previous post.   Here is a partial list of the people that have promised to look at it and follow up:

Harish on July 10
Prashant on July 10
Emie S. (supposedly a manager or higher level) on July 8
Thakur. Rawat on July 8
Ravinder S. on July 8
Prakash on July 3
Kaviya T. on July 3
Richa S on July 3
and numerous others that I have not documented here on phone and chat.
Each one has apologized repeatedly for my inconvenience and made empty promises to follow up.
End result?  It’s two weeks after the latest empty promise and guess what?  Zero response.
Amazingly awful support you have there, amazon!  The one good thing I can say about all this is that if I were training a company on what to avoid and mistakes that can be made, I’d find this to be a useful case study.
So what I’ve done personally is stopped using Amazon for books.  I used Calibre to convert my Kindle copyright protection to an open source format and am now using iBooks to read them.  iBooks works better than the Kindle app anyhow.

A Weird Breakthrough: Focus Meditation vs. Insight Meditation

So, I’ve been meditating on and off for a few years now.  Had a 90 day streak going in 2014, experimented with binaural beats to enhance my brain waves, studied some Buddhism, have noticed some benefits from meditation, but never was really wowed with it.  I just tried to keep with it because so many people swear by it and more importantly there is really good science that shows that it has a host of mental, emotional and physical benefits.

Most of my meditations have been in the category of “insight meditation.”  Instead of focusing on a single object as in focus meditation, with insight meditation, you simply sit with a broad awareness and notice things.  This technique has really built an understanding of my mind for me, and that has been beneficial in seeing how my mind works and so helps me indirectly.  But I really never got wowed myself by it.  Until this week.

Even though I’ve read from sources that you really should build your insight meditation on top of an already good focus practice, I kind of skipped that step.  Now I can see I made a mistake.  But this week I made a shift to focus meditation in a way I never have before.  I committed to it.  This came from noticing for the thousand millionth time how unfocused my life and mind are in general.  I had never really succeeded at focus meditation.  My mind always wandered, I couldn’t keep with it.

But this past Monday, I went to a local Sangha in Bangkok and the monk as he was preparing us for a half hour meditation mentioned something I had never heard before and it struck me with force.  He said, when you sit and watch the breath, don’t sit with the idea of the breath, but rather notice and experience the physical sensation of the breath.  That seemed interesting, so I decided to try it out.

As I sat that night, I had a fantastically focused experience for a half hour.  I stayed watching my physical experience, and that almost completely divorced my mind from thought.  I was able to simply sit and watch my breath with my entire mind most of the time, fascinated by the nuances of each moment of every breath.  The translation from thinking about focusing on my breath as a mental exercise to actually focusing on my breath as a complete experience, crucially including the feeling of the air moving through my body in each moment, brought me incredibly present.

This was a huge breakthrough.  Not only am I able to “succeed” at staying focused throughout the meditation, but I am now actually seeing the much vaunted benefits of meditation appear in my life firsthand.  My mind is incredibly more focused and clear after meditating in this way.  It feels rested and sharp.  And by developing this insane focus for 20 minutes each day in the morning, the rest of the day I stay on task much easier.  The ability to leave my thoughts and go into my body even makes sex better, I noticed today.  Way better.

This evening as usual, at around 7:30pm, my brain was tired and I felt like tuning out and going into the downward “going to bed” mentality that usually eclipses my evenings.  So I tried an experiment.  I sat down with my little Buddha candle in front of me and did another 20 minute session.  When I came out of it and sat down in front of my computer to finish watching Bill Maher, I realized I would rather study Thai.  I did so for a half hour, and then I stopped and poured a glass of bourbon.

Then I remembered I was going to blog about meditation.  So I just banged this post out too.  This is remarkable for me, these two small bits of productivity, because they both involved concentration at some level and focus, something that normally at this time of night, just aren’t there for me.  And the motivation, forget about it normally.  But after round 2 of meditation, bang, there it is.  Hmm.

Remarkable!  I recommend you add this trick to your meditations if you are not already experiencing success in focus meditation or find your mind wandering excessively.  Just watch the breath as a full experience, and stop thinking about watching the breath.  Get fascinated by it.  I’m excited!  I feel like meditating more and more… quite interesting.