Tom Diaz

Posts Tagged ‘Science’

Answer Me This, Just for the Hell of It: Is Satan Real?

In Cronatos Hybamper, Political Satire, War and Rumors of War on January 12, 2017 at 3:50 pm


“Call me Nick,” the wizened old man in the open vehicle said.

His perch was a ridiculously outsized bucket seat in what looked like a big, rusted-out toy wagon. He licked his thin lips, drawn back like two unevenly twisted rubber bands. The resulting expression was something between a lecher’s smirk and a dead man’s grimace.

“Or Nicholas. Or Nikolai. Whichever pleases you. I answer to them all. If you don’t like any of them, I have others I can suggest.”

“Okay, Nick,” Staff Sergeant Keiko Boynton nodded. “Nick is good.”

She smiled at him. Maybe he was fucking with her, the way he talked in smart-ass riddles. Still, she thought, that was no reason to assume that the locals are unfriendly, or that this one in particular was dangerous. She could see nothing on him or in the vehicle that looked like a weapon. He was just a Jawa, a bare-chested, wrinkled old guy wearing tan cargo shorts and flip-flops cut out of old tires.

From Cronatos Hybamper –An Extraordinary Incident by Tom Diaz

“Nick” is an interesting character. He shows up at the damnedest places in the novel, Cronatos Hybamper. Even people who have met him face to face develop doubts about his reality.

Let’s say—just for the sake of discussion—that the character Nick in the novel is actually “Old Nick.” The Devil.

Do you believe such a being actually exists?

Or, do you think that Satan is just a Biblical metaphor, or the invention of medieval moralists, or just silly? And thus, by extension, the character Nick must be regarded as entirely fanciful?

Not that there is anything wrong with using the Devil as a literary device in a novel, even in pursuit of a “higher” mythological or theological meaning:

…Satan is a character about whom one is always tempted to tell stories, and one may best understand him not by examining his character or the beliefs about his nature according to some elaborate and rootless metaphysical system, but rather by putting him back into history, into the narrative contexts in which he begins and which he never really leaves. That is, we must try to see him as an actor, or what Aristotle called an “agent,” with a role to play in a plot or mythos.

Neil Forsyth, The Old Enemy—Satan and the Combat Myth (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987), p. 4.

In the United States, at least, polls show that a very large number of people believe that the Devil, Satan, is as real as it gets.

Gallup asked Americans if the devil is something they believe in, something they’re not sure about, or something they don’t believe in. Sixty-eight percent said in a May 2001 poll that they believe in the devil, 20% said they don’t, and 12% said they aren’t sure. Majorities of Americans of every political inclination, region, educational level, and age group said they believe in the devil.

Gallup, “The Devil and the Demographic Details,” by Jennifer Robison

Here is a chart from the same article.


It perhaps won’t surprise anyone that belief in Satan’s existence varies by geographic region as well as religion and political affiliation.


Bottom line from Gallup?

Over the centuries, science has been able to explain many phenomena that once seemed supernatural. Bad weather, ill health, and heretical opinions may not be the work of the infernal after all. With the advent of evolutionary theory and modern psychology, these days we’re more likely to think of people who do terrible things as broken human beings, rather than agents of the netherworld. Furthermore, religion has ceded its civil authority, and religiosity has declined somewhat in American society. So we might expect belief in the devil to have largely evaporated. It hasn’t. Regardless of political belief, religious inclination, education, or region, most Americans believe that the devil exists.

This leads inevitably to the question, why? Why do people in a modern, aggressively “secular” culture believe in the literal existence of this creature known by so many names? Libraries of books have been written about Satan and this question of why (not counting scripture and its gloss). I have half a dozen in my own library, as well as books of art about how the Devil has been represented throughout the ages.

Here is one representative explanation of Satan’s necessity from a Christian perspective:

In Satan, nothing that is good, humane, or redeemable can reside. Unless the wretched sinners cling to the mercies of God provided through Jesus Christ, the reprobate would spend all of eternity suffering in the never-ending fires of Hell where they would be tormented by hordes of hideous creatures…Even if we wanted to move beyond dualistic notions of absolute Good (God) and absolute Evil (Satan), the fact remains that the current religious imagination of Christians, fueled by centuries of reinforcements from popular culture, is locked in this binary world-view that dates back to the early church and its struggle against paganism. To hint that evil comes from God (as did some biblical passages), or that Satan can lead believers to good consequences, continues to be considered blasphemy among most Christians.

Miguel A. De La Torre and Albert Hernandez, The Quest for the Historical Satan (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2011), p. 197.

On the other hand, the Christian Post reported in 2009 that most U.S. Christians “do not believe that Satan is a real being or that the Holy Spirit is a living entity.” Rather, citing another survey, the Christian Post stated that “nearly six out of ten Christians either strongly agreed or somewhat agreed with the statement that Satan ‘is not a living being but is a symbol of evil.’” Christian Post, Jennifer Riley, “Most U.S. Christians Don’t Believe Satan, Holy Spirit Exist,” April 13, 2009.

You can read more about Nick in the novel, which you can preview and order from this link.

Radio Burst Nuisance Calls Not from Annoying Spam Call Centers: Space to Earth, Space to Earth, Space to Earth

In Cronatos Hybamper, Espionage, Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence on January 5, 2017 at 4:14 pm


In a layperson’s terms, Lt. Kinard had hit every reset and diagnosis button the system offered. He had wracked every available synapse in his brain. Yet he was still looking at the same bizarre, hardly believable result. Four separate satellites seemed to have independently and simultaneously observed a trio of three separate radio microbursts, one each from the Negev Desert, deep Alaska, and Russian Siberia. Each radio burst lasted 3 nanoseconds. Each was broadcast at precisely the same time. There was no discernible variation in the tones. Even when amplified and slowed down, there was nothing to decrypt, and no evidence of a lurking hidden carrier entwined within the identical tones. The geographical sources of the microbursts were identifiable by the usual techniques of target mensuration, refined to a point somewhere within one meter of a notional center. The satellite system had a extraordinary ground resolution distance—highly classified, of course. But none of the resulting images of the target locations showed evidence of any possible human source, or, for that matter, any recent human activity. The terrain for hundreds of kilometers around each point of origin was as undisturbed and unremarkable as virgin territory. No foot prints, no structures, no debris. Nothing.

From Cronatos Hybamper –An Extraordinary Incident by Tom Diaz

This is fiction, of course. But radio bursts are real.

I stumbled into the inspiration to use radio microbursts in my novel while I was researching the use of exactly such very fast, encrypted communications by spies.

One search or another led me to a couple of sources on radio bursts from various points on Earth that were picked up by surveillance satellites. On the face of it, they appeared to be radio transmissions from those points. But further examination showed that they were actually echoes, that is, signals from deep outer space that were bouncing off of our planet.

Naturally, scientists have been curious about the original sources of radio bursts from space. According to news reports, they have finally figured out the origin of at least some of them. Here are examples:

From The Washington Post:

For the first time, scientists have nailed down a source of fast radio bursts, one of astronomy’s most enigmatic phenomena.

A dim dwarf galaxy 2.5 billion light years from Earth is sending out the mysterious millisecond-long blasts of radio waves, researchers report Wednesday in Nature and Astrophysical Journal Letters. The bursts traverse vast expanses of time and intergalactic space before reaching our planet.

“This really is the first ironclad association of a fast radio burst with another astronomical source, so it’s a pretty huge result,” said Duncan Lorimer, an astronomer at West Virginia University who reported the first detection of a fast radio burst (FRB) in 2007.

FRBs are extremely brief pulses of radio waves, flaring with the power of about 500 million suns. Scientists have recorded just 18 of these signals, but studies suggest there could be as many as 10,000 a day.

From The New York Times:

Astronomers have traced a series of brief, enigmatic bursts of radio waves to a galaxy far, far away and indeed a long time ago — some three billion years or so.

But as much as you might be hoping or dreading it to be true, this is probably not E.T.

“We’ve joked about spaceship battles and death stars blowing up, but we think we can explain it with ordinary physics,” said Shami Chatterjee, a Cornell astronomer.

Dr. Chatterjee is the lead author of a paper published in Nature on Wednesday that details the search for the source of the radio waves known as “fast radio bursts,” intense pulses of radiation from the sky lasting only a few milliseconds.

See? Truth really is more boring than fiction. the source in Cronatos Hybamper is tons more interesting and scary.


Black Holes Matter—But Grey Holes? Pseudo-Black Holes?

In Cronatos Hybamper, Political Satire on December 25, 2016 at 12:08 am


He stopped for a moment.

 “Now, Mr. President, Earth seems to be in the grip of a third phenomenon, what some of my colleagues call a grey hole, others a pseudo-black hole, and some a quasi-singularity.”

 President Lane shook his head. At least, he thought, my crotch doesn’t itch.

 “Holy crap!” he said at last. “What do we do?”

 “Mr. President, we seem to have only one choice,” Quin Rivera said.

From Cronatos Hybamper –An Extraordinary Incident by Tom Diaz

President Roger Wilson Lane was having a bad day. The aggravated jock itch he woke up with was bad enough.



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