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High Tatra Mountains, Slovakia

I walked out of the pension and turned right. I walked up the hill, past two small churches and several hotels and pensions, to the cable car station, where there are a load of snack bars, a tourist information office, and bureau de change, and the ticket booth for cable cars that go up the mountain, which is where I was going. It had clouded over but it wasn’t raining like it was yesterday. In my bag I had my waterproofs, just in case, along with my camera, a bottle of water and some sandwiches.

I bought a ticket to SkalnatĂ© Pleso, 1751m above sea level. It’s possible to then get another cable car all the way to the top of the highest peak, Lomnike Stit, about 2600m above sea level, but I wasn’t planning on doing that. The top of the mountain would be covered in clouds anyway, and it would be cold up there. 5 degrees at Skalnate Pleso according to a sign down at the bottom.

I have my sandwiches and a coffee at the cafe at the Skalnate Pleso cable car station, which is full of people. Then I take a walk, heading up a railway track leading to an observatory then along a path that appears to be going up, over rocks, some of which are loose. The path is quite busy. I pass someone every minute or two, but then it gets a bit quieter, until I catch up with the choir singers. They passed me when I was taking a break. Six or seven women and three men, in their early twenties. A couple of the women are singing hallelujahs as they walk along. I overtake them and accelerate.

The place I’m heading for is Velka Svistovka. It turns out to be the top of a mountain. Down below, on the other side of the mountain from the town, is a lake and a house, which must get pretty cut off in winter. It seems like there’s only a rough road leading to it.

As I was taking photos the choir passed me and got to the top, so by the time I arrived there wasn’t a lot of room up there. The choir gathered around the Velka Svistovka 2037m sign and started singing. Religious songs. They sung quite well, with harmonies, some doing high notes, some doing low notes, it was just a shame their songs had to be about how great they thought their god was because he’d created things like mountains and whatever. There ought to be songs about more modern cosmologies, such as the M-brane cyclic universe theory in which two parallel 10 dimensional M-branes collide resulting in a big bang and the creation of matter on both branes, which then expands, becoming less and less dense until there’s a virtual vacuum and then the branes come together again and there’s another big bang and new matter is created, and so on. It could be a song without an end.

Or a song about the simulated universe theory, which posits that our universe is a computer simulation built by an advanced civilization, perhaps one wanting to study its own evolution by re-creating it in a highly sophisticated computer model. Perhaps that song wouldn’t be endless, because at some point they may decide to turn off the computer. If the simulation ceased to interest them they would probably just end it and start a new one, or if its inhabitants realized they were part of a simulation, or started creating their own simulations then perhaps there would be some kind of infinite loop and the computer generating our universe would crash. Instead of all these hallelujahs the choir could be singing game overs, or “An application is not responding. Do you want to end it now? If you chose to end it now you may lose any unsaved data.”

The choir took the path down to the lake on the other side of the mountain, whereas I went back the way I’d come. It was starting to get dark and I wanted to catch the cable car before it stopped running, which was at about 6:45 – otherwise it would be a two hour walk down to the town in the dark. The path was deserted and I was able to go quite fast, though in some places the path disappeared and there were just rocks. But then the path reappeared again, often with red and white stripes painted on a rock to let you know that was the path. As I walked I wondered whether people like the choir really believed all the religious things they were singing or whether they just liked the songs. Some of what they were singing was in Slovakian so possibly some of it wasn’t religious, but everything they sung in English was, and most of the Slovakian songs sounded quite religious.

If I’d spoken to them and had gotten into an argument over the existence of god I imagine they would have asked me if I really thought all these beautiful mountains could have just happened by accident, and I would say what do you mean, by accident. Who says they just happened by accident? And they would say, well, if you don’t believe in god how do you believe they got here, and I would say something about continental plates crashing into one another, or glaciers – I’m not sure what caused these mountains, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t any god, and it wasn’t an accident either. But sometimes religious people use that word, accident, to describe anything that wasn’t caused by their god. Often they put the word just in front of it, so they’ll say something like: so you think all this is just an accident? you think human beings just happened by accident? making numerous intricate processes that took millions or billions of years equivalent to stepping in dog shit.

I downloaded the Richard Dawkins God Delusion, Root of All Evil? videos recently so this kind of thing has been on my mind a lot. I think it’s in the first one of those, The Virus of Faith, where he meets American evangelical preacher Ted Haggard and in an argument over the evolution of the eye Ted Haggard suggests that Dawkins believes the eye just formed by accident, which pisses Dawkins off quite a bit.

I’ve also been having an email argument/discussion with someone on the existence of god, which has not been like any of the arguments I’ve heard Richard Dawkins have with anyone, but then I’m not Richard Dawkins. Though the choir seemed harmless enough I do agree with him that religion and the whole thing of believing something out of faith rather than because of evidence is very dangerous and a proponent of one of these religions will probably end up doing something very destructive, much more destructive than 9/11. more destructive than Iraq even, in the not too distant future. It looks like Bush wants to deal with Iran before he leaves, so maybe he’ll go out with a Big Bang or something.

If you’re in an argument with a god-believer and they ask what caused the Big Bang, that’s always a difficult one to answer. You can try to explain the cyclic M-brane theory, but until a few months ago I didn’t know anything about that. In the traditional inflationary model of the Big Bang, the bang was not an explosion into space and time, as people generally imagine it, since that’s the way most explosions are, but it’s supposed to be the explosion of space and time, so space and time came into existence at the Big Bang. Therefore, the question of what caused it is meaningless. Causality only makes sense when you have time, so to ask what caused time is a bit like asking what caused causality. Still, it is a bit dissatisfying to have no cause for something, though there’s no reason why the truth should be satisfying. Often it isn’t. There was an article I read recently about retro-causality, suggesting that cause need not necessarily precede effect. Sometimes cause may come after effect, so the cause of the Big Bang could be things that are happening now, and the reason why the universe and the laws of physics such that conscious beings can evolve – if certain physical constants were only slightly different atoms would be unstable and hence life would be impossible – may be because conscious beings have evolved, that our existence has retrocausally caused the conditions necessary for our existence, which sounds like a circular argument but that’s what happens when you mess around with time.