Life After Death – An Eternal Mystery?

October 2nd, 2015

Of all the questions dividing science and religion, the question of whether there is life after death is one of the most important, as the answer defines our ultimate and eternal state.   The physical death of our body has always been fundamental and unavoidable. What comes next, if anything, for our conscious mind or soul, is a compelling mystery; one that humanity has grappled with since culture began. (more…)

The Curious Mathematics of Nothing – and Why It Is So Important.

July 28th, 2015

Abstract:  We usually think of mathematics as something kids have to learn in school – we rarely or only dimly comprehend that it provides the foundation for virtually all of modern science and the ubiquitous technological infrastructure that nurtures us. Mathematics is a marvel, and the greatest minds have not been able to explain why it works as well as it does in explaining the way the world works. Curiously, one of the more incomprehensible features of modern mathematics is – nothing.

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Exploring the Flip Side: Irrationality

June 24th, 2015

In our series on rationality, we have attempted to understand our cognitive limitations and to improve our effectiveness in being rational, but we have not discussed what it means to be irrational. Lisa Bortolotti has written an excellent little book, Irrationality (2015), that does exactly that. Bortolotti, a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Birmingham, reviews the current thinking in philosophy and psychology about when and how humans are not rational, and offers some notable conclusions that add significantly to our understanding. (more…)

On the Curious Life and Fate of the Neanderthal

May 20th, 2015

Lydia Pyne, in her article “Our Neanderthal Complex – What if our ancient relatives did “human” better?”, published in Nautilus online in May, offers an intriguing fresh look at the mythology of the brutish “cave-man” that roamed Europe tens of thousands of years ago. While Neanderthals were first identified some 150 years ago, they were promptly relegated to inferior status, a failed and dead species when compared to modern humans. (more…)

Bugs in Our Mindware – Being Rational is so Hard!

May 20th, 2015

Nautilus magazine this month has provided another well-documented summary of the pitfalls to being rational, providing further confirmation of our discussion On Rationality last fall.  Richard Nesbitt, in The Bugs in our Mindware, provides a good overview and some detailed examples of where the human mind can go wrong. (more…)

Reflections on “Perceptions” – the AAAS Conference on Science and Religion

March 16th, 2015

On March 13, 2015, the AAAS held a national conference in Washington D.D. on “Perceptions: Science and Religious Communities”.  The AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) is one of the largest member organizations in the world (some 10 million scientists) with a weekly readership for Science Magazine of more than 1 million.

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Investigating perceptions to build understanding between scientific and religious communities.

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The Moral Hazard of Doing Good

March 4th, 2015

Last year we reported the interesting finding that ethics professors seemed to behave somewhat less ethically than other academics, likely as a result of their greater practice at rationalization. (see link)  A new study at the Harvard Business School has been reported (see link) that finds another example of the amazing human power of rationalization. (more…)

Postscript: Tech Company Manipulation of the Human – Technology Interface

January 5th, 2015

This week (January 3, 2015) the Economist magazine posted a review of a new book by Nyr Eyal called Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products (2014) that documents the way online companies seek to manipulate our minds in the effort to build users and ad revenues. Remarkably, it is estimated that 4/5ths of smartphone users check their device within 15 minutes of waking up – and check it as much as 150 times a day.   (more…)

Epilogue: Technology and the Art of War

December 31st, 2014

In the eight weeks since I gave the presentation on The Human Race and The Technology Race at the Wayland Great Presenter Series, the issues of artificial intelligence and computers vs. humans have been prominently featured in a variety of public media. (more…)

Chapter IV: Practical Advice – Responding to Technological Change

December 17th, 2014

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This is the final Chapter in the series on The Human Race and The Technology Race.  The previous Chapters include:

Chapter I: The Human – Technology Interface

Chapter II: What is The Human Race?

Chapter III: The Technology Race – to Super-intelligence?

1.   Introduction

The last three Chapters have taken us on a journey from our use of digital technology in the present moment, to the deep question of human qualities and aspirations, to the far frontiers of digital technology and potential super-intelligence. This journey has left the question – how should we, as humans, respond to the digital transformation? (more…)

Chapter III – The Technology Race – to Super-intelligence?

December 10th, 2014

This is the third installment of a four-part series on the Human Race and The Technology Race. Chapter I and Chapter II have been published.   Chapter IV will follow.  This link –  Chapter III The Technology Race – provides a PDF copy of Chapter III.

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Chapter II: What is the Human Race?

December 5th, 2014

This is the second installment of a four-part series on the Human Race and The Technology Race.  Chapter I has been published:  The Human – Technology Interface.   Chapter III and Chapter IV will follow.

This link provides a full PDF copy of Chapter II (which in my opinion is much easier to read).

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Chapter I:  The Human –  Technology Interface 

November 25th, 2014

This is the first installment of a four-part series on the Human Race and The Technology Race.  Most of the material was covered in the November 4th, 2014, presentation in the Wayland Great Presenters Series at the Wayland, MA Town Library.  I am grateful to all those who were able to attend the presentation.  The written presentation benefitted from the participation and comments from that very polite and attentive audience.

The full series will include four Chapters:

Chapter I:  The Human Technology Interface

Chapter II: What is the Human Race?

Chapter III: Will Digital Technology Produce Super-intelligence?

Chapter IV: Practical Advice for Responding to Technological Change

For a full PDF copy of Chapter I (which in my opinion is much easier to read), please click here:  Chapter I PDF.

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Conclusion: Meta-Principles for Becoming Rational

November 15th, 2014

The exploration of rationality (see: Journal) has led us into a number of difficulties. Our logic is flawed, our biases inescapable, and the foundations for our evidence have crumbled.  Even the world we live in is not rational.  So, it’s time to extract ourselves from the quagmire by elevating our focus to a few “meta” principles. Rationality is an ideal that can never be fully realized.  Yet the goal of being rational is integral to who we are as human beings and to the notion of consciousness itself. Rather than drifting in the sea of experience, it is rationality that provides both anchor and sail.  (more…)

Bias Goes Deeper Than We Think

November 10th, 2014

The November issue of Nautilus is dedicated to Illusions, and three of its articles in Chapter One (“Made You Do It”) are particularly interesting. (more…)

Arguing about Evidence

October 14th, 2014

Our simple exploration of the concept of rationality has so far dealt primarily with the last two parts of the three part model for rationality: choosing the optimal outcome and reasoning logically. In neither case have we found clarity. Choice requires valuation, which engages our emotional faculties – and emotions are notoriously difficult to integrate with conscious thought, as so much remains hidden. And while reasoning logically and consistently may be feasible, the complete truth will never be accessible – and the universe itself does not appear to be consistent. (more…)

The Challenge of Bias to Rationality

October 9th, 2014

In our discussion of rationality, we began (September 15) by reviewing the three elements of rational decision making: reliance on evidence, focus on desired outcomes and logical reasoning. The following week (September 22) we questioned whether the universe was rational (it does not seem to be). Last week (October 1) we looked at emotions and concluded that they are integral to rationality, both as evidence and more importantly as the guide by which we weigh and choose among desired outcomes. Our consideration of emotions was, however, incomplete. (more…)

Can we be Emotional and Rational at the Same Time?

October 6th, 2014

In the first post on rationality (September 15, 2014), I mentioned the controversy over whether emotions, among other things, could be part of being rational. This statement deserves further explanation. We can start with a discussion of the role of emotions in each of the three parts of our model for rational decision-making: evidence – outcomes – reasoning.

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How can There be Order in Randomness?

September 22nd, 2014

Thomas Pynchon, in his sprawling novel Gravity’s Rainbow (1973), exhibited a fascination for the peculiar mathematics of the Poisson Distribution, a pattern exhibited in certain random sequences (including the location of German rocket strikes in London during WWII). Sometimes referred to as a “law of rare events”, the Poisson distribution has proven to apply to such disparate phenomena as: the volume of Internet traffic; deaths per year in a given age group; DNA mutations resulting from radiation; goals scored in sports with two competing teams; etc. (more…)

Is the universe rational?

September 22nd, 2014

Last week (September 15, 2014) we established a framework for being “rational”, and talked about the importance of consistency. To be rational, we need to avoid inconsistences and contradictions. At the same time, we expect that being rational provides the confidence that we can reach the complete truth. But at the frontiers of knowledge in mathematics and physics, things do not appear to meet the criteria of consistency and completeness. The universe may not be rational.

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