I recently read a series of articles dealing with conscience and culture posted under the Questions for a Resilient Future project of the Center for Humans and Nature. At about the same time, I also read a briefing in The Week on the CRISPR technique that has vastly simplified gene editing – the headline is titled “Editing the human race.” (See also the post in this forum: “Engineering Better Babies” November 20, 2015.) CRISPR is one among many technologies that, by their very existence, test our collective conscience. (more…)
Like millions of others this past holiday season, I thoroughly enjoyed the latest Star Wars movie, “The Force Awakens”. The movie brought back fond memories of the first wave of Star Wars movies in the late ‘70’s and ‘80’s (when my kids were young), and rekindled that sense of yearning and pride associated with the valiant underdog and the heartfelt joy in the triumph of good over the evil dark side. Yet, the Economist magazine also points out (Leader and Briefing December 19, 2015) that the movie is a financial tour de force for the Disney empire, which has become modern society’s master myth-maker and increasingly controls the stories told to our children. What if Disney turns to the dark side? (more…)
Modern humans tend to be afraid of fire, as it can be such an uncontrollable and destructive force. At the same time, our modern comforts all depend on the energy of controlled fire, and we retain a romantic fascination with fire, whether it’s a cozy fire in the living room, a campfire in the woods, or the pyrotechnic display of fireworks on July 4th. Only rarely do we think about fire as a creative, inspirational and transformational force. Yet that may be its ultimate, defining characteristic in nature, in economics and in human spirituality.
As the recent flap over the remarks of Presidential aspirant Ben Carson demonstrates, the controversy between science and religion is alive and well. As usual, it is focused on the theory of evolution, which postulates that the world, and man, is the result of evolution by Darwinian natural selection and not the ordination of God. While many, myself included, affirm both perspectives as true — evolution is simply the natural unfolding of divine order — there are those in both religious and scientific communities that reject one or the other. These opposing polarized views continue to dominate the controversy. However, there are other aspects of the God vs. evolution dialogue that are worthy of discussion. There may even be room for common ground. (more…)
For more than a century, physics has been confronting the demon of indeterminacy in the quantum structure of the universe in the search for a Theory of Everything (TOE). Theoretical physicists have struggled for a century to close the gap – unsuccessfully. The esteemed Sir Roger Penrose (age 84) has a different idea that may move us closer to a TOE, but in an unexpected way: his theory also explains the mechanism of consciousness and free will. By implication, it forces each of us (and every quantum state) to make a choice. (more…)
How often have we been admonished to “condemn the behavior, not the person?” Yet this seems to be incredibly difficult — how do you confront a bad behavior without also confronting the person who is doing it? There is a subtler version of this conundrum in New Church Theology – based on the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg. Swedenborg teaches that it is the intent of a person, their truest inner love, which ultimately defines whether a person is good or evil. Yet we can never know another person’s intention – only God can do that. While we can name an action as having a positive or negative outcome, we cannot judge whether the person that made the action is good or evil. (more…)
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…)
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.
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…)
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…)
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…)
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.
Investigating perceptions to build understanding between scientific and religious communities.
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…)
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…)
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…)
This is the final Chapter in the series on The Human Race and The Technology Race. The previous Chapters include:
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…)
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.
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).
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.
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…)