Our world seems to be mired in anxiety and fear, and civic discourse has degenerated to accusations, outright lies and rhetoric. While we hear calls to “drain the swamp,” any common understanding of what that means, and a willing consensus required to achieve it, seems to eludes us. Perhaps we are looking at the situation from too narrow a perspective. It is not just our politicians that are lost in the marsh. It is our spiritual life, too.
Science has been losing its mojo. Two generations ago, scientists were revered as truth tellers and bringers of progress. Today, science is often viewed as fallible, obscure and, in some cases, untrustworthy. Many factors are blamed for the falling star of science including failures in science education, religious superstition and broader social changes. Yet much of the problem rests with science itself.
“We have met the enemy and he is us” – Walt Kelly 1970
Sexuality seems to be a simple binary characteristic of human and animal physiology. But modern science has begun to unravel some extraordinary complexities in the way male and female physiology and behavior develops, and reveals a wide variety in how individuals experience their sexuality. Many of our cultural ideas about sexuality need to change.
Privacy is not a simple concept, as we discussed in our previous post. The moral implications of privacy are complicated — “it depends.” In a spiritual context, privacy, or the illusion of privacy, is an invitation to the temptations to lie, cheat or steal! So how are we to decide between the claims of law enforcement and the claims of the tech industry when it comes to the Bentonville and San Bernadino cases? The answer boils down to a simple question – what do you fear most? (more…)
In 2016, two high profile police investigations triggered major fights over privacy with two of the world’s biggest tech companies, Apple and Amazon. In both cases, one a terrorist attack, the other a murder, investigators requested access to data from digital devices potentially relevant to the investigation. The Tech companies refused the court orders secured by investigators on grounds that this was an undue intrusion into personal privacy. There’s a lot going on here, and it’s worth taking a closer look. (more…)
On November 16, the Oxford Dictionary announced it had chosen “post-truth” as the 2016 Word of the Year. After Brexit, the recent US election and the increasingly isolated and polarized nature of online communities where fake news stories get equal play or better than the real ones (see: Buzzfeed Facebook Probe), the choice seems entirely appropriate. This forum has posted 13 articles on the difficulty of knowing what is true and an extended series on the challenges of being rational. So perhaps being “post-truth” is no big deal? Nothing could be further from the truth! We ignore true facts of our experience, our science, and our spiritual teachings at our peril. The fate of the world, and the fate of our souls, hangs in the balance.
Human beings are often credited with intuition, the capacity of knowing something without being able to explain where the knowledge comes from. Intuitions are inherently inscrutable, even to ourselves. Interestingly, as Artificial Intelligence researchers have tackled the challenges of interrogating big data with “deep learning” algorithms, they are finding the algorithms great at scouring through masses of data to make good predictions, but programmers can’t explain how the algorithms reach their conclusions. Like their human creators, algorithms are becoming inscrutable. <MORE>
I’m a big believer in science and the significant benefits it has brought to human civilization. However, I’m also a skeptic when it comes to the “science knows all” attitude that has been so prevalent in modern culture. Ancient cultures and practices have great wisdom to share, as well. We should be willing to question the conventional modern “scientific” mythologies — and be open to the possibility of finding truth in ancient wisdom.
On August 29th, the Working Group on the ‘Anthropocene’ (AWG) reported its summary of evidence and provisional recommendations to the 35th International Geological Congress. They conclude that this new epoch has replaced the Holocene (which started approximately 12,000 years ago), and is characterized by the dominant influence of human activity on the earth’s geology and climate.
Recently, I’ve wondered about the way humans relate to the things of the material world – including each other. There are two ways of approaching these relationships. One way focuses on the value the relationship provides to the human – what is the good that accrues to me from my relationship with that person, or that thing? The second approach is to consider the value, if any, of the person or thing independent of its usefulness to me – the value of the thing-in-itself. The first could be called the instrumental value and the second the intrinsic value. I’d like to suggest a thought experiment: What if humanity refocused its collective attention away from the instrumental value of things and people to their intrinsic value?
I read some shocking news recently about the rising epidemics of compulsive hoarding and obesity, and I wondered – are these related? It is hard to dispute the significant benefits of material and technological advancement and convenience. In much of the world today there is an abundant supply of relatively cheap and high quality food, housing, transportation and a vast array of goods and services. While there continue to be pockets of terrible deprivation and hardship (due more to political factors than technical ones), the world is, overall, a significantly easier and healthier place to live than in centuries past. Yet, there are negative side effects of material success – side effects that more “stuff” will not solve. (more…)