What is time? Isaac Newton described it as absolute, but Einstein proved that time is relative, and, shockingly, that time and space are intricately interwoven. Now recent work in string theory and quantum gravity suggests that space and time may not be fundamental. If this is true, what new picture of reality will emerge? These questions and more were explored in the 2015 World Science Festival program “Time Is of the Essence … or Is It?” moderated by author Jim Holt and featuring physicist and philosopher David Z. Albert, theoretical physicist Vijay Balasubramanian, theoretical physicist and cofounder of the loop approach to quantum gravity Carlo Rovelli, and theoretical physicist and founding faculty member at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics Lee Smolin.

Blindsight: the strangest form of consciousness


Some people who have lost their vision find a “second sight” taking over their eyes – an uncanny, subconscious sense that sheds light into the hidden depths of the human mind.

Daniel was adamant that he could not see a thing, yet somehow his unconscious mind was guiding him correctly”

The non-conscious mind acts as the puppet master, pulling the strings without their knowledge.

Some philosophers have gone as far as to claim that we could be little more than “zombies” acting on mostly unconscious impulses.

This, in turn, begins to cast doubt on some long-held assumptions about the very nature, and purpose, of consciousness. After all, it is by no means certain that other animals have a rich inner life like us, so it must have emerged for some reason. Previously, psychologists had proposed that we have a kind of “spotlight of attention” that sweeps over our vision, and when it lands on an object, the object pops into consciousness. In this way, our heightened awareness helps highlight the most important parts of a scene, giving us the chance to respond.

Except Robert Kentridge at the University of Durham has evidence to suggest this too may be wrong. His insight came when he was talking to a blindsight subject in between some of the basic visual tests, in which he flashed different images at different parts of the blind spot. The subject had said that he thought he would do better if we were told where, in the blind spot, the image would appear. “It seemed very strange,” says Kentridge – since they have no awareness of what is in their blind spots, they shouldn’t be able to focus their attention there. “It’s as if you were trying to direct attention around the back of head – you shouldn’t be able to do it,” he says.

Islamic position on Slavery

Slavery had been prevalent and accepted in all past religions and cultures. Islam is the first and the only religion to say that a free person cannot be taken as slave. Prophet Muhammad (as) said that he will the opponent of a person on day of judgement who sold a free man as slave (Bukhari).

The concept of Slavery as practiced in America before abolition has no parallel in Islam. In those days in America, any free person could just be captured and made a slave with no rights at all. What we have in Islam is the custody of prisoners of war.

The reality of war is very harsh. Even in today’s modern and civilized world, when an army runs over a village or a city, there is no one to protect the women and others inhabitants from their wrath. Islam devised rules to protect people in such situations.

Before we go into details of Islamic rules about dealing with Prisoner of War, let’s keep realities of that era in our mind.

– Wars were fought by able citizens not by armies. There were situations when most of the men from a group may be killed, leaving women, children and old behind. What should have been done with those left behind?

– It was not always possible to simply free the Prisoners of War as they would come back for revenge.

– There were no institutions comparable to modern era which could hold and incarcerate captives and provide for their food and shelter.

Given these conditions and Islam being the universal religion valid for all times and places, what is the Islamic way of dealing with prisoners of war? Islam doesn’t insist on any specific approach, rather leaves it open for the believers to make a call based on the situation of battle. They may accept ransom or take captives, both have precedents in Islamic history. What Islam does instead is to put limits on the believers as they engage with the prisoners of war.

When the question of slavery in Islam is raised, it is about this practice of taking captive in a battle and then distributing them among the fighters who were required to provide for them. This was the only possibility in absence of modern institutions and may be more humane one in some respects. Prophet said your slave is like your brother and you should feed them from what you eat and cloth them from what you wear. Messenger of Allah (as) said: “Whoever slaps his slave or beats him, his expiation is to free him.” In short, they should be properly provided for and never mistreated. This was not only talk but was practically implemented by Prophet Muhammad (as), as evident from the fact that some of the Caliphs during Umayyad and Abbasid era were from slave origins.

Islam made it one of the most rewarding deeds to free a slave. So, idea was to deal with the harsh realities of war and not to create a permanent slave class in society. That’s why all children born out of a slave were considered free in Islam.

Islamic Law in no way requires this institution of slavery. As slavery in all forms are abolished in the modern world, Islamic law is complete without it and doesn’t need it in anyway.

New Atheist Critiques of Religion (Discussion on The Partially Examined Life)

Discussing selections from Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Daniel C. Dennett.

Should we be religious, or is religion just a bunch of superstitious nonsense that it’s past time for us to outgrow? Does faith lead to ceding to authority and potential violence? Can a reasonable person be religious? We say lots of rude things about these authors, and at times about their targets in this listener-requested episode featuring Mark, Wes, Seth, and Dylan. Read more about the topic.

Buy/read what we did:
-Ch. 1-2 of Harris’s The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason(2004)
-The last three chapters of Hitchens’s God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything(2007)
-Ch. 4, and some of ch. 2, from Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion(2006)
-Ch. 8 (and skimming 3 and 7 to get context) of Dan Dennett’s Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon(2006)
-Chapter 14 of Anthony Kenny’s 2008 book From Empedocles to Wittgenstein: Historical Essays in Philosophy(which we read as a response to Dawkins).

To Explain the World: A Conversation with Steven Weinberg

World Science Festival: In this program, Nobel Prize-winning physicist and revered public intellectual Steven Weinberg speaks about science and history, drawing from his book “To Explain the World: The Discovery of Modern Science.” Beginning with a short account on where science and intellectual thought rank in modern society compared to other modes of thought, Professor Weinberg goes on to paint a new and compelling picture of the development of scientific thought and exploration in a conversation moderated by Peabody Award-winning journalist John Hockenberry.

This program was presented in collaboration with the New-York Historical Society.