From Mathematician to Futuristic Celebrity: Meet Freeman Dyson

Most fans of science fiction are familiar with the Dyson Sphere concept, but fewer people are familiar with the man who developed that concept. Freeman John Dyson (1923- ) is the son of a famed composer. His parents were always concerned about his interest in mathematics when he was growing up. He didn’t seem like much of a social child, and his interests were at odds with his family’s role in the performing arts. Read More →

Overpopulation & Implications for the Future

As the world’s population grows, the world’s problems seem to be growing right along with it. Many of these problems were poorly understood in the past. Few people could have predicted the problem of agricultural emissions, for instance.

Growing enough food for a burgeoning population is becoming increasingly difficult. Fewer researchers have commented on what resource consumption to produce that food is doing to the world’s environment. Moreover, there is a theoretical limit to the amount of food that can be produced. The world may very well reach a peak population before it finally begins to level off.

Another major issue comes from the total amount of human waste produced at any given time. Humans consume oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. Sewage is a major issue. In fact, many researchers have predicted that wars will soon be fought over access to clean drinking water and other basic necessities.

Many systems of controlling the population have failed. However, it’s interesting to note that many wealthy nations have aging populations. Falling birthrates are actually a major problem in some of the world’s richest countries. While the population continues to boom in newly industrialized powers as well as the third world, nations that have had massive economies for a long time are aging rapidly. We’re seeing this in the U.S. right now.

As smaller nations become wealthier, they are less likely to become overpopulated. People living in an industrialized society are less pressured to have large numbers of children. Moreover, the stress of having other obligations limits their amount of time to develop massive families. While unnatural methods have seemingly failed to control the spiraling populations of third world countries, economic development and technology may do it organically.

Other mitigation efforts are starting to be discussed as well. While extraterrestrial migration has long been seen as science fiction, it’s a realistic proposal. Space colonies and terraforming techniques are genuinely within the realm of possibilities…if we can only get started! That means that people might be living amongst the stars much sooner than anyone may have thought. Until then, however, more drastic control methods will remain in place. Most of these, with the exception of economic development, are highly undesirable.

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Battle of Los Angeles: the Real Story

Few students of history spend much time examining the Battle of Los Angeles. Some people might have visited the Fort Macarthur Museum and seen the reenactment. Others might have dismissed it as an act of mass hysteria. However, there are individuals who feel that the events that took place February 24-25, 1942 involved extraterrestrial forces from another world. Read More →

The Connected Society

A few commentators have focused on Singapore as an intelligent island that has been developed through modern technocapitalism. Singaporeans have ready access to computer technology, and IT has penetrated many aspects of their society. The country has a unique culture, and seems to be relatively peaceful.

Recommended Reading (PDF): Intelligent Island Discourse: Singapore’s Discursive Negotiation With Technology

This has led some to wonder whether or not the Singaporean model of development is the direction other societies may take in the future. One could also use the Singapore example to show how people become peaceful when they have connections that they don’t wish to sever. This is true even when the connections are digital.

That’s not to say that Singapore doesn’t have any problems. Where there are humans, there will be problems…always. But the country’s success is often cited in journal articles discussing the theory of technocapitalism and is at least worthy of further examination/discussion. These principles will probably vary for each society due to customs, traditions, history, etc. Nevertheless, the idea that building connections lessens social deviance is a valid theory. Most people will avoid ruining their lives when they have a good thing going for them in the interest of self-preservation. Since technology is helping people to build connections at a rate far beyond anything in prior history, most individuals are likely to cause trouble when their actions are spotlighted (or perhaps even predicted with enough data).

This is one reason the connected society may be a good thing. Take away criminal acts and society benefits greatly. On the other hand, with a truly connected society (I’m not talking about Facebook here…but REAL connectedness), invariably there will be increased governmental monitoring.  Whether people are willing to accept this in exchange for a more peaceful world and greater efficiencies…well, things will likely have to get much worse before this ever happens.

Lawrence Henderson’s Views Examined

Professor Lawrence J. Henderson (1878-1942)

Professor Lawrence J. Henderson is a fairly well known scholar in some circles. This might have to do with the fact that his lecture on astronomy was included in the Harvard Classics (1909-14). That work has now passed into the public domain, which means that readers might start to explore his work once more. Read More →

Carl Jung’s Archetypes

Carl Jung (1875–1961)

One of Carl Jung’s most compelling and unique contributions to the understanding of human psychology was his idea of the collective unconscious and the archetypes within it. It was through this insight that Jung made the ancient and archaic relevant to the world of today. The collective psychological experiences of humanity were suddenly seen as impacting and shaping the way every human being saw the world.

In order to understand archetypes we must understand the nature and function of the collective unconscious. According to Jung, the collective unconscious is not like the personal unconscious as first introduced by psychoanalysis. It is detached from the personal unconscious because it belongs to the human species as a whole. It is inherited, just as physical aspects of our bodies are inherited. Because of this, a human being does not enter the world as a blank slate but rather with the innate and inherited tendencies of the collective unconscious. These tendencies are what Jung termed “archetypes.”

The word “archetype” can be defined as a model, a prototype, something which serves as a pattern for other things. Jung’s usage of the term meant much the same thing. He envisioned archetypes as enduring patterns and models within the collective unconscious which act as a matrix through which the world is experienced. It is helpful to liken archetypes to instincts. Instincts result in the “fight or flight” reaction in response to startling stimuli just as archetypes of the feminine and masculine help us to organize and divide the world. Both of these processes happen at an unconscious level, the difference being that Jung saw instincts as physical and archetypes as psychological/psychical.

There are many archetypes, perhaps even in infinite number of them. However, there are a few that seem to stand out for encompassing much of our experience and for their presence in almost all cultures throughout the world. Two of these are the already mentioned masculine and feminine images. The archetype of the hero is also one that is common to almost all people. Though everyone might have slightly different image of what makes a hero, it is generally embodied in the person who struggles, fights, and wins against adversity.

The most important archetype in Jung’s psychology was what he termed “the self.” The self is the ideal form of a person. It is the whole and complete personality, the integration of a person’s conscious and unconscious life. Jung thought that most people could not properly relate to the self because their weak and fragmented egos could not handle it. For this reason, the archetype of the self is usually seen as something other than oneself. It is projected into the world in the forms of gods and saviors. These god and savior figures represent the whole, complete, and perfect image of the self.

There are many forms which archetypes can take. Close friends, warriors, politicians, or brilliant scientists can all be images of the hero to different people. The self is not necessarily only projected onto gods and saviors, but onto anyone who is perceived to be a whole and integrated person, such as a strong leader. Though the images of archetypes may vary in the real world, what they have in common is that they are all influenced, shaped, and filtered by the dynamic, archetypal patterns found in the collective unconscious of humanity.

Konosuke Matsushita’s Role in the Singularity

Konosuke Matsushita (1894-1989)

While people today may bicker back and forth about the question of humanity’s future relationship with technology, Konosuke Matsushita (1894-1989) developed a management technique that answered the question (in many ways) decades ago. As a scientist and an inventor, Matsushita developed countless products that people still use today. He invented the modern bicycle lamp, and founded the company that Westerners know as Panasonic. Matsushita was apparently even involved with the development of the modern space heater.

His work as an applied scientist isn’t what he’s most famous for, however. When people discuss the culture of Japanese management, they often comment on Matsushita’s research whether they realize it or not. He carefully studied the way that people work and organized techniques around it. While it might be said that he tried to graft mechanical principles onto human beings, history actually remembers him as an honorable man who gave people fair jobs.

Philosophical and scientific essays by Matsushita were collected into a book that’s usually called The Pathfor those of you that might be interested in reading more of his workWhile modern researchers may discuss the technological singularity today, Matsushita was bringing humanity and machinery closer back in the mid-30s. What makes his story all the more impressive is the fact that he didn’t receive any formal education after the age of 9.

Cosmism in Ancient Rome

While some individuals might try to tie cosmism to the theory of cosmic evolution that was interpreted by John Fiske, ancient civilizations were equally interested in this vital next step of human development. Ammianus Marcellinus (325/330–after 391) was a 4th century Roman historian who had a deep interest in both classical and Christian philosophy. Read More →

Sigmund Freud and the Primordial Murder

Sigmund Freud, the founding father of psychoanalysis, is well known for his strange and controversial theories on such topics as personality development, sexuality, and the unconscious. His theory about the basis of all religion, as presented in the book “Totem and Taboo,” is no less contentious. In this book Freud presents the idea that all religion stems from a primordial murder.

Freud begins his discussion in “Totem and Taboo” by considering a primal, savage tribe. In this tribe there existed a violent and cruel father who drove his sons away from the hoard so that he could keep all of the females for himself. The banished brothers joined forces and worked together to kill the father. To celebrate the accomplishment of their task the brothers threw a feast and ate their murdered father.

According to Freud, this cannibalism was an attempt by the sons to identify with a father who they feared and yet envied. They were ambivalent to the father. They hated him for being jealous and cruel but they also respected him for his strength and power. Upon eating the father, the brothers were able to symbolically take his strength and power for themselves. This feast, said Freud, marked the beginning of religion.

Once the brothers completed their identification with the father and satisfied their hatred of him, the tender impulses that they had previously suppressed began to surface. Now they felt a sense of remorse and created a father substitute, a totem. To assuage their guilt they forbade the killing of this totem. By treating the father substitute in this way they attempted to bring about reconciliation him.

Freud argues that the primal murder went on to determine the character of every religion. To him, all religion is an attempt to alleviate the feelings of guilt. As time went on, humans created the various gods of the various faiths in the world today. All of these gods remained at their core an exalted image of the father. It was to this image that one could offer conciliations as apology for the long forgotten but psychologically embedded murder.

Freud, in his usual fashion, throws the reader for a loop by admitting that this hypothetical primordial murder may have actually never happened. He contends that all that was necessary for the creation of religion was simply the longing to kill the father, but not the act itself. Just the thought of patricide may have been enough to create what he saw as the hallmark of religion – an exalted father figure.

Most people are not likely to agree with Freud in this day and age. Still, it is sometimes said that once you read Freud you begin to see him everywhere. An exalted father figure does seem to be present in many religions, as does an attitude of ambivalence towards a god who is feared and yet loved. Whether this really came from the murder and cannibalization of a primordial father is speculative at best. Freud himself backed away from the literal truth of this idea. His main purpose seems to have been to show that the unconscious psychological conflicts which influence everything else in our lives have also influenced and maybe even created religion.

Christiaan Huygens: Early Astronomer

Christiaan Huygens (1629-1695) was a Dutch polymath who is well known in some circles to this day. While he spent some time in France and England, Huygens lived the latter portion of his life in his native Holland. Having commented on religion while living in many different countries, Huygens espoused a personal philosophy similar to many aspects of modern science.

The modern pendulum clock was among his more illustrious inventions. Horology is the study of measuring time, and it became something of an obsession for him. Nevertheless, he’s also well remembered among astronomers for discovering the moon Titan. His contributions to the field of optics made modern telescope construction possible as well.

While his calculations regarding stellar distances weren’t always accurate, they were always interesting. Huygens made a screen facing the sun and from measurements taken with this device, he figured out that the sun was approximately the same intensity as that of Sirius. By taking the angle and diameter of the hole, Huygens surmised that Sirius was 30,000 times further away from the Earth than the sun is. However, Sirius is actually around 500,000 times further away. Huygens didn’t realize that Sirius was several times brighter than the sun. Strangely enough, his calculations were accurate for the data he was working with.