Thursday, September 15, 2011

On the use of emoticons in email messages

One of my favorite comic strips, “Pearls Before Swine” recently seemed to imply that the use of “LOL” for “laughing out loud”, is annoyingly trite. And, further, I have often happened across blogs and editorials by otherwise sane people that are highly disdainful of the use of the related so-called emoticons such as grin (in brackets), and the wink and smile made from the semicolon and colon and the closed parenthesis.

As much as I love, and identify with, the curmudgeonous Rat, who bashes with a stick his friend “Goat” for responding with an LOL to a joke that the Rat had emailed him, I cannot agree with my good friend the Rat on this. Of course, it “Pearls” is a comic, and a great one (the only one I regularly read these days), so one might say, “come on Tom, it is just a funny strip”. Yes, but I cannot help but think that many people are, like the Rat, inlined to dislike the use of such emoticons, and fail to see their usefulness.

I feel that emails necessarily lack the body or voice language that live person to person contacts have, and hence it is very easy for an email respondent to flame back at the sender, having mistaken humor or gentle teasing for something much more viscous and even hateful. I have the lumps to prove it. But I now know that a well placed wink can help pacify many a potential stick wielder. And as much as I would mostly like to discourage people from sending me every joke and funny video they find on the internet, I feel that usually an LOL properly acknowledges the ones that are at least a little bit funny. Admitted, that while I tend to be easily amused, and do “laugh out loud” quite often, it is usually not something I have actually done in response to the received email.

So, speaking for myself, I intend to continue using the wink, the LOL, etc. I will just lay low whenever the Rat come around with his big stick.

What's the harm of believing?

A good friend of mine, who has been reading some of the recent books by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, etc ---the group that is being called the "New Atheists (NA’s)"---recently asked me "Why do they seem so aggressively intense on persuading me that my comforting beliefs are mistaken?" (he is a Christian). He wonders, in effect, "What is the harm of leaving me to my comforting believes, even if you NA's believe I am mistaken?"

My first reaction was surprise, since I have long assumed that truth is the only consideration in religious matters. In that regard, I have been in agreement with the NA's, who have stressed the importance of truth over social or psychological utility.
But on thinking it over more deeply, I realized that my friend's question does not have such a simple answer after all. It requires some in depth analysis. I emerge from this still believing that for me, truth is still of primary importance. However, the answer to the question becomes much less obvious when we consider whether we agnostics and/or atheists or should try to dissuade others from a belief we deem to likely be false.

On that question, I give a qualified "No, in many cases we should not".

But let me proceed with a few considerations:

I think that a great deal of both Dawkins and Harris's polemics are aimed at the social institutions of Christianity and Islam, that I think they correctly perceive as being damaging to humankind at large. This being because the more fanatical factions of these religions become active and influential in trying to dominate society in political issues, lobbying to get their religious  positions encoded in the laws of their nations, and in some cases even resorting to violent, terrorist tactics. Of course, in Islam, where there are so many theocracies, the religion has already been made part of the state, and they apparently are more aggressive in trying to spread their religion into laws of other nations.

Now, my friend might correctly point out that Christians are not so inclined to use violent means, terrorism, that is. And this is largely true today (not so much true in the past though).

Evangelicals still seem to be active politically, and seem to want to insist that this is a Christian nation (which it is most certainly not, at least not in a political sense). They are certainly not noted for being proponents of the separation of church and state, a principle I for one hold very dear. In consideration of this, I would suggest that the aggressive attack my friend refers to is a form of self defense, or at least an attempt to persuade religious zealots to be more tolerant of us non-believers.

One also has to ask, to what extent a religious belief is in fact comforting? I wonder if it always is. In the case of Christianity (and I think Islam also), the believer might subscribe to the notion that a great percentage of the human race will be condemned to eternal torment for having beliefs and engaging in practices that are not sufficiently in line with what he or she believes is true. How could one find that comforting, I must ask?

However, I can see where certain aspects of a religion that holds out hope of a better, or even supremely wonderful, life after death, would be comforting. Of course it would, although I don’t recall ever seeing a plausible depiction of what such everlasting existence might be like. Furthermore, surely one of the most hurtful aspects of our existence is that in many or even most cases, justice is not realized. People can do evil deeds and get away with them, often even profiting splendidly by them. Surely it is a wholesome attitude to want such evildoers to have to atone for the misdeeds, and to eventually feel true remorse for having committed them (although the desire for such punishment to be eternal seems to me to be one of the greatest evil desires to have ever been imagined by humans).

I suppose we must, to be fair, turn this around and ask whether non-believers receive some degree of comfort from their non-belief, and that actually tends to induce them to turn from honestly considering whether a particular religion might be true. Indeed, I think that a person’s motives for his or her beliefs often contain some degree of wishful thinking, and I can see where there are comforting and discomforting aspects to both sides of the issue. Indeed, the aforementioned threat of Hell is absent in atheism, and usually in agnosticism as well. So I suppose one could say it was comforting to adopt that position with respect to any religion that espouses the threat of eternal punishment.

I must admit that I think most (but certainly not all) followers of any religion have suspended critical thinking, and that most people the world around seem to just follow what their parents and their indigenous culture told them was true.

Organized religion is arguably usually---not always, of course--- primarily a social group or clan cohesive thing, in my opinion. When Protestants in northern Ireland bomb Catholics, or vice versa, it is not over differences in theology. It is simply a way to group into my our clan versus their clan. This is the aspect of organized religion that I believe is really what the NA’s are mostly protesting so aggressively.

I cannot speak for the NA’s, but I suspect they would largely agree with me, when I say I can respect the views of someone who maintains his religion is actually true. While thinking that he is, on most counts, mistaken.

But let us not forget that there may in fact be some harm done by trying to convince yourself you believe something that you really do not. Not to mention the wasted time of your precious life (assuming, as the NA’s believe, that it may well be all you have) following what may be the many rituals and requirements of a particular organized religion.

Friday, May 13, 2011

More about the Agnostic Position

A recent comment on one of my earlier posts (“Agnostic or Atheist”) arrived just as the Google blog site experienced technical trouble, and was unavailable. It appears that the comment has been lost on the blog site, but I did retain a copy in the form of the gmail notification I received.

I deemed the comment sufficiently interesting and insightful that I want to devote a new blog entry to it. The writer of the comment was one “Rufus Otis”, who has visited and contributed good comments (some tinged with humor such as his hyperbolic likening of one of his own essays to “Principia Mathematica”) to my blog on other occasions.

Here he wrote:
“I don't consider agnosticism as partway to theism or atheism -- but rather an end position. In my opinion, you can't get past the question of what it is that one does or does not believe in. As you said, it's easy to profess disbelief regarding Zeus, Odin, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, Man In Robe in Clouds, etc. I also reject any "God" with whom one can talk, ask favors of, expect to intervene in human affairs, or help my team win the big game. This very concept is offensive to me. I'm not so sure I can equally and summarily reject an "ultimate reality" to which all is connected.”
“But as a human with the limits of human consciousness, I can neither believe nor disbelieve what can't be expressed in terms relative to my experience. In my essay, "What is Faith to an Agnostic", (now considered, of course, one of the primary documents of Agnosticism - much as Principia Mathematica is to classic mechanics), I can accept "that which is", without being able to enclose it in some "ism" that may be believed or rejected. All of our knowledge amounts to explaining one concept with another one, or a collection of concepts... defining words with other words.”

While there is not a lot here that I can take issue with, there are a few places where I have subtle disagreements with Mr. Otis’s position.

In my earlier blog discussing agnosticism, I believe I made the classical, long accepted distinction between two kinds of agnostics. There is one camp, which he appears to belong to, which maintains that not only do they not know whether there is a God, but they further deem that it is impossible to know. However, a second type merely asserts that they do not, at present, know whether there is a God, but they leave open the possibility that they may later decide that sufficient evidence has come to light allowing them to swing one way or the other.

Philosopher Robert Nozick has made the interesting, even to me stunning, observation that there does not seem to be any way that a Deity could demonstrate his existence within the confines of this universe. Anything such as huge writing across the heavens asserting his existence would be plausibly ascribed to some super advanced alien life forms, or to simple trickery on the part of clever humans. So maybe the second type of agnosticism is untenable, that is, no possible definitive data could ever emerge,and Mr. Otis is right in ignoring that branch of it. And as I recall Bertrand Russell, in his famous essay “What is an Agnostic” , also only considers the first type of agnostic.

Now, I believe Mr. O’s “end” position of agnosticism is that the concept of God is sufficiently lacking coherence that he cannot even ascribe belief or disbelief to the existence of such a being. To consider an example that might illustrate his position: suppose Bob asserts “I believe in the ‘Marpled Fleezer’”, and he then fails to give any of this being’s characteristics. Or maybe he does try to, but they lie well outside of any known combinations of properties that we can imagine. Or maybe the properties are nonsensical, or even seemingly contradictory, such as “The Marpled Fleezer can make an unstoppable force that moves an immovable object”. We can see, I believe, that Mr. O. would be quite right in asserting that he neither believes or disbelieves in the existence of the Marpled Fleezer. He might well say something like, “Well perhaps there is a mighty being that might be recognized as constituting the Marpled Fleezer, but I deny that he can have the contradictory and/or incoherent properties that Bob claims he possesses. But as described, I am not even going to dignify the concept by saying I believe or disbelieve its existence.”

But does this really apply to the concept of God, held by the theistic religions Christianity, Judaism, and Islam (perhaps others to that I do not know about)? They do not, to my notion, provide a detailed or definite description of God, only claiming that such a being is infinite (in some sense), good, omniscient (in some sense), and eternal. I see nothing contradictory or incoherent in this. And, it is definitely part of their concept, as far as I know, that such a being does intervene in human affairs, and can bestow certain favors on humans that entreat him to do so, and that further, this being created the universe and us humans. It is not clear to me that these added beliefs involve any inherent contradictions or vagueness (although the idea of communication with God does seem to have an element of hubris in assuming that such an august being would have any interest in us).

Now I am certainly not saying that I believe in such a being. In fact, my belief is that such a God probably does not exist. However, I am by no means certain that he does not, and it is conceivable that such a being does exist having at least some of the above properties. When i say I am an agnostic I mean that I do not know if such a being exists, and feel that I understand the general concept of God well enough to assert that. So when I state my lack of belief in the Judeo-Christian God;s existence, i am asserting something along the lines of saying that I disbelieve in the existence of purple tigers, but can sufficiently well imagine what a purple tiger would be. This is where I appear to differ with Mr. O.

When Mr. O. says he rejects as “offensive” the idea that such a personal God exists I fear he may be confusing his aesthetic ideas of what a God might be like with what might actually exist. The question should be, not whether we find some particular concept offensive or appealing or agreeable, but whether it is in fact true. By the way, Mr. O. is in good company here, as Albert Einstein is on record as asserting something to the effect that he found the idea of a “personal god” as distasteful, and as representing the egotistical imaginings of “feeble souls”. But at the risk of blaspheming one of my intellectual heroes, maybe it should be noted that Einstein also rejected quantum mechanics based partly on preconceived notions of what truth must be like (“god does not play dice with the world”). So incredibly brilliant though he was, he was not always right (unless it turns out that in the future scientists find that quantum mechanics is wrong).

Oddly, a closely related mistake is made by some Christians when they seemingly convince themselves to believe Christianity because they find it comforting, that is, agreeable, not because they deem it true.

I largely agree with his claim that a concept, to be considered respectable, should relate to the common sense level that we humans inhabit. However, it should be realized that most all ideas of modern physics and cosmology involve ideas way beyond the common sense level. Of course, the experiments that must be done to verify these ideas must at some point “come down” into the realm we inhabit. That is, to verify the concepts we must measure a wiggle on an oscilloscope, a flash of light in a detector, a click in an ionization counter, trace in a bubble chamber, and so on.

Mr. O. wades into deep and troubled waters when he asserts that “All of our knowledge amounts to explaining one concept with another one, or a collection of concepts... defining words with other words.”

I do not agree with this. Consider the humankind’s understanding of quasars, laser, DNA, quantum mechanics, evolution...we could go on and on. True, these theories or ideas do have some circularity in that they assume or rely on, in our explanation or understanding of them, other ideas or hypotheses. But there is real knowledge there, it is not just a bunch of word games. While a lot of philosophy (not all!) might involve such word games, science does not. But to be fair to Mr. Otis, he may have intended his remark to apply to only to the realm of metaphysics, where we probably do not have any real knowledge, and it is indeed mostly a word game.

When he says “But as a human with the limits of human consciousness, I can neither believe nor disbelieve what can't be expressed in terms relative to my experience.”, I have to quibble. Take an electron. We have no way of even dimly comprehending what these little entities are like in experiential terms. They are believed to be point particles (having no spatial extent), and all electrons are exactly alike. We only know of these indirectly through theories that seem to hang together and make overall sense. But can I say I “believe” in them. yes, I think so---but I would not be devastated or upset in any way if tomorrow some rival theory and experimental result came along to cast doubt on their existence. My only point here is that we must be careful in insisting that our concepts relate directly to experience. In this case, the idea of an electron does relate to our experience, but in a most indirect way.

His remark “I'm not so sure I can equally and summarily reject an "ultimate reality" to which all is connected” is an interesting one, though I must confess i do not understand exactly what he means from such a short sentence. Let me try to establish a common ground with him here, and say that my own position is what atheist Victor Stenger derides as being “Something-or-other-ism”: That is, I believe in a very vague notion, without being able to prove or support it, that something is behind the universe, and there is some reason, probably least as unfathomable to us as quantum field theory is to a dog, for why consciousness (e.g., us and perhaps other forms of it) and the universe exist. I believe it did not “just happen”, though I recognize that as being a possibility. To what extent this is “wishful thinking”, I do not know, as I have trouble looking at my belief objectively. I’ll leave this to the psychologists, who might indeed, in the spirit of a certain Gary Larson cartoon, decide I am “just plain nuts”.

To conclude, I want to thank Rufus Otis for adding a provocative and insightful comment to my blog. It is to be hoped that he will make many future contributions. And I intend to carefully read his (touted as highly influential) “Principia Agnostica” essay as soon as I can locate it on the web (no success so far).

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Do Atheism or Agnosticism require "Faith"?

In critiques of their books, and in public debates, atheists such as Richard Dawkins seem to often hear statements such as "Sure, we Christians believe in God simply through faith....but you atheists have faith too, faith in there not being a God". If one watches, for example, the debate between Dawkins and Oxford math professor and Christian John Lennox on YouTube, you will hear Lennox make this assertion about half way through the debate. Dawkins vehemently denies it, and I think he is basically correct in doing so.

But this claim about atheists having faith in the nonexistence of a God is heard so often that it seems worthwhile to examine and analyze it in some detail.

Classical logic would hold that if someone, let's call him/her "A", asserts the existence of X, the burden of proof is on A. Here "proof"can simply mean evidence that makes A's assertion plausible, not of course a rigorously logical proof, as these are only possible in formal logic or mathematics.

For example, if I assert that there is an elephant in the next room, you might quite rightly be skeptical unless I can give you some plausible reason as to how I know that, or why I believe that. Of course, to the extent that such a beast would represent a trampling threat, you might well decide to play it safe and act quickly as if it were true by fleeing the scene. This would not be the same as believing the claim of the elephant, and when a safe position is reached you might well ask for what evidence I had for the claim.

The situation between asserting X exists and X does not exist are in general not symmetric in that sense. Our legal system recognizes this with regard to the guilt of a suspect, where the existence of guilt in a defendant is assumed not true unless it is established beyond reasonable doubt by a judge or jury.

Let us digress a little to ask what does faith really mean? I think it is quite complex. There is a cynical definition that it means "believing something that you have no good reason to believe". It is in fact a rather slippery word that is commonly used to mean different things. It seems that in the Bible, for example, it is used not to mean faith that God exists, but rather trusting in God or Jesus doing the right, loving things for us. In other words, it is simply assumed that such beings exist. As we might say of a person, "I have complete faith that Jane will do the right thing---I know her, and she will not let me down".

But it is clear that this meaning of faith cannot be used to justify belief in some being or person actually existing. So Lennox cannot be using Faith in this way when he states in the debate that he believes in God and Jesus on faith. And of course it makes no sense to say something like "Atheists have faith too", when using faith in this sense.

It seems that the term Faith is often used as almost synonymous with hope----that is, if a person asserts that he believes in God on faith, he or she may really be saying that he/she fervently hopes that God exists, and has decided to convince himself that it is true. It must be admitted that an atheist might hold similar hope that God does not exist, so Lennox's claim might be plausible here. (Indeed, regarding the God as described in so much of the Old Testament, I admit to having the hope that such a God does not exist).

I rather understand and admire a definition given by Mr. C. S. Lewis, to the effect that faith is a sort of steadfastness in a position, where one does not allow oneself to be swayed by mere mood swings, once one has in ones best, most rational moments, decided on a position. When defined this way, it can of course be a precept to be followed by agnostics and atheists as well as by theists. In fact, it would seem to be a really a good mental strength to cultivate in any intellectual context. But I must add that I do not think very many people intend this meaning when speaking of their faith.

I think that there is arguably some evidence for theism, however slight, in the sense of the "prosecution" having some exhibits on their behalf (I am going back here to the analogy of a guilty verdict corresponding to the assertion that God exists). Maybe not "good enough" evidence, but not "no evidence". But it is evidence of a subtle nature, and mostly subjective. Indeed, if I did not feel that there was some evidence, I would call myself an atheist rather than an agnostic. Indeed, I think one mistake Lennox made in the debate is that he fails to stress that Christians do have, or believe they have, evidence for their belief. But it is largely subjective.

What is this evidence you might ask? Well, it is the seeming fine tuning of the universe, the awesome subtlety of the universe in terms of physics and life, and the yearning I think we all have to see things eventually be "put right". Of course, as I have argued elsewhere on this blog site, none of these are strong defenses of theism, rather just what might be called "inklings". Not necessarily of Christian theism, but perhaps of some sort of non-Christian deism or theism or even polytheism. Or, it could even suggest some kind of transcendent realm beyond human understanding.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Agnostic or Atheist?

I want to consider theistic agnosticism, which, loosely defined, is the position of being uncertain on whether there is a God.

I am seeing a lot of claims these days to the effect that one should get off the fence and be either a believing theist, or an atheist. This has probably been stimulated in part by the New Atheist movement. Personally, I have a great deal of sympathy with this movement, and I am an avid reader of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and Daniel Dennett, these four likely being its most prominent and most articulate spokesmen.

I happened upon a certain website recently that seems to represent the typical "ixnay to the agnosticyay" view, and I would like to briefly analyze what I think is wrong with it, and why I continue to think of myself as an agnostic.

Now, Dawkins frequently makes the valid observation, in debates with theists (usually Christians), that most everyone today is an atheist with respect to Zeus or other gods of the ancient world. In other words, one must specify the gods one does or does not believe in. I agree with him on this. Indeed, I would be an atheist regarding not only Zeus, but also Allah, the old testament depiction of Jehovah, the Hindu pantheon of gods, and surely a great many other gods from the past and present that I have never even heard of.

However, there are two types of theism that I am uncertain about, and there could well be some degree of overlap between these two: one is the Christian God, as depicted in the writings of people like John Polkinghorne, C. S. Lewis, and G. K. Chesterton. These make a good case, and go a long way toward giving plausible "apologetic" arguments for Christianity. I remain unconvinced, but can see their points, and think them worthy of serious consideration. No doubt these views represent relatively "liberal" theological positions, and I might well consider myself an atheist with respect to the God depicted by more Bible-literal sects, such as evangelical and other conservative clergy and religious writers. I come close to being an atheist even with regard to the deity put forth by the Polkinghorne et al writers mentioned above, but would deem their arguments sufficiently weighty and plausible that I suppose I stop short of being virtually certain they are wrong. Perhaps I am not looking in the right places, but I have yet to come across arguments anywhere near as convincing for the gods of Islam and Hinduism.

The other type of theism I consider plausible might blur a bit with Deism.....the argument that the universe seems a mighty big coincidence, never mind the question of why there is a universe anyway. Of course the literature is teeming with claims about how the "multiverse" is an alternative, and better, explanation of the apparent fine tuning of the world (I will not go into this here, but just give the Wikipedia reference). While the multiverse idea seems plausible, and could be right, I have a nagging suspicion that a deistic or theistic explanation might be as least as plausible.

One may discern two seemingly different forms of agnosticism. In one type, one says simply that he or she does not know if there is a God. In a second type, a stronger claim is made, that one cannot know whether there is a God or not. The first type leaves open the possibility that one might later make a more definite move into theism or atheism based on evidence or metaphysical insights.

Consider the analogy of a police detective: a certain person is a suspect in a murder. Some are convinced that the person is very likely the guilty culprit, while others are convinced that he is not. In neither case are these people absolutely certain, say, it is just that they are strongly inclined toward their belief. But the police detective is not sure either way. He can, let us say, imagine that the suspect committed the crime, but at the same time see that there are things that do not quite seem to add up to the suspect's guilt.

Let us say that the people reasonably sure of his guilt are in the position of the theist, while the ones fairly certain of his innocence are the atheists (the labels can be reversed here). But the police detective is truly agnostic on the issue. He can imagine plausible arguments either way. He may even be of the second kind of agnostic, and feel that it will be impossible to make the determination of his guilt or innocence. Or, he may be of the first type, and feel that further investigation into the case will tip the scales one way or the other.

The web site referenced above seems to dwell a lot on whether atheism or agnosticism is the more socially well-regarded position. I reject that consideration as being irrelevant. I simply point out that agnosticism with regard to some given theistic position is reasonable, being as it is analogous to the position of the police detective.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

How Much Energy is in a Jelly Bean?

Consider the question, “If all of the chemical energy stored in a jelly bean (JB) were converted to mechanical energy of a projectile, at what vertical height could the projectile reach if it were shot off at ground level?”

We shall make a few reasonable assumption and approximations, being content to generally be within “factors of 2”:
Food energy in an average JB, E ~ 10 “food calories”*.
Mass of the projectile, M = 10 kg (just a little more than the mass of a typical bowling ball)
We make the assumption also that the chemical energy is 100% converted to mechanical energy (this will never be strictly true, but for purposes of illustrating how much energy is in the little JB, we shall go with this).

We also note that a “food calorie” is really a kilocalorie, as conventionally defined in physics (for example, see this site).

So, E = 10 “food calories” x 1000 cal/(food calorie) = 10,000 cal

There are 4.2 Joules per cal, so, converting to Joules, E = 42,000 Joules.

Now the projectile, if launched off at ground level with kinetic energy E, will reach its maximum height at a value h, where E = Mgh, with g = the acceleration of gravity near the earth’s surface = 9.8 m/s^2. Solving for h, we find, to the nearest 100 meters,
h = E/Mg = 4.2E4/(10*9.8) ~ 400 m
Since 1 yard ~ 1 m, we see that the height h is equal about 4 football fields. Pretty impressive, and I think surprising.

To fully appreciate this, consider the speed of the ball when it returns back to ground level (Man, get out of it’s way!). By conservation of energy, v = sqrt(2gh) = sqrt(2*9.8*400) ~ 90 meters/s, or about 300 ft/sec. We probably all recall the old conversion factor of 88 ft/sec = 60 miles/hr, so this is v ~ 200 miles/hr.

How can we understand this 42 kJ being stored in a tiny little ol JB? Well, if it were all Carbon (Z = 6, A =12), the number of C atoms would be N = Avogadro’s number divided by A, or
N = (6E23 atoms/mole)/12 g/mole = 5E22 atoms per g.
Sugar is of course a hydrocarbon molecule of C, O, and H, but for simplicity just consider it to be C, as representing an average atom. Typical energy differences in such a complex molecule are on the order of dE = 1 eV, so if the mass of a JB is m = 3 g (*see below), and if we assume that each atom can release about 1 eV as the sugar is “burned”, this is a total chemical potential energy of
E = 3 g x (5E22 atoms/g) x 1eV = 15E22 eV.
But 1.6E-19 J = 1 eV, so E = 27E3 Joules, or 27 kJ, in the ballpark of the 42 kJ used in the projectile height calculation. Of course, only a slight readjustment of dE is required to make the 42 kJ, so this shows how 10 food calories is about what we would expect for a typical JB.

It is amusing to consider two other energy levels associated with our little JB, although these might make it seem a bit more sinister. But that would not really be fair, as these energy levels are not extractable from the JB in a practical sense.

The energy difference levels in the nucleus of any atom such as carbon are on the order of 1 MeV, six orders of magnitude larger than the chemical energies of eV’s. This can be traced to the relatively large strength of the nuclear, or “strong”, force, relative to the weaker force of electro-magnetism. The latter is what is involved in chemical transitions, the former in nuclear transitions. Hence if the nucleus of each atom in the JB were to undergo a typical transition, this would correspond to 42 kJ x 1 million, or 42 Giga-Joules. To relate this to mechanical energy: this is for example the kinetic energy of a 20 ton ( ~ 20,000 kg) object moving at 4000 miles per hour (~ 2000 km/s).

Suppose our JB encountered an “anti matter JB”, and annihilated into energy. Each of the two colliding objects would release an energy of E = “M x c-squared” = (3E-3 kg) x (3E8 m/s)^2 = 3E14 J, or 300,000 GJ. A 1 megaton bomb is ~ 4 E15 J , so if just one JB completely annihilated, it would release an amount of energy within about 10% of that.

So these last two examples show that the chemical release is really just a modest amount of energy compared to what is potentially represented by that little lump of matter.

* I just purchased some jelly beans (“Palmer’s Select”) at a local 7/11. The package claims that each JB weighs about 3 g, and contains 12 “food calories”. These JB’s are the traditional JB, similar to “Brach’s”, and are much larger than the newer “Jelly Bellies”.