Keeping Idealism Alive in a Cynical World

Overcoming Cynicism

Thanks in large part to our modern technology and media, we are constantly bombarded with dire messages concerning our world situation. It’s true that adversity has always plagued humanity in one form or another throughout its history. With our modern systems of communication, however, we are made much more aware of all the great tragedies that occur. Read More →

Are Dolphins More Intelligent than Humans?

Dolphins

Years ago when I was in the Navy, whenever we pulled out of port I’d watch dolphins glide along in front of our ship jumping out of the water in spectacular fashion. Their sheer power and beauty are difficult to describe unless you’ve witnessed them first-hand. As I’d watch them swim along in such a graceful manner, I’d find myself wondering what they thought of our ship and if they were self-aware or could communicate with one another. At the time I knew little about dolphins (I’m still learning today) but I couldn’t help thinking to myself that these beautiful creatures are probably much more intelligent than we are. Read More →

Mind Over Evolution: An Alternative Vision of Humanity

consciousness

Part of the reason why fierce debates rage around the origins of man – in the conflicts between Creationism and Darwinism that we see within many schools, for example – is because our beliefs about where we came from can strongly influence our sense of identity and our feelings of self-worth. It’s impossible to separate our self-image from our life philosophies in that regard. The stories we cling to will paint our inner pictures of who we are, where we come from and what our race can achieve.

Unfortunately, the stories that we’ve inherited in our culture paint a fairly unflattering picture that does little to inspire us to discover and express our true potential in this world.

Science spins its own version of reality. If you believe that the sky is blue because of the chemical composition of the gases that exist up there, and the way that light refracts off of them, then that’s all you’ll ever see. You won’t perceive the unfathomable mystery of it all. What is the true nature of light, or gases, or the color blue? Questions like these are beyond our ken. The theory of evolution teaches us that it’s useless to ask such questions anyhow, though. This theory, which forms the backbone of so much scientific thought and of our very definitions of humanity, maintains that matter came first and consciousness emerged later – almost as an afterthought; and certainly by accident.

consciousness (1)What if the mind formed matter? What if consciousness preceded everything else, and created form? Our scientific indoctrination has convinced us that reality works the other way around, but we’ve been offered little actual proof of this. What is obvious, however, is that the belief that consciousness always comes first would do much more to uphold the beauty, grace and potential of our natures than does the belief that our existence was the random result of accidental evolution.

We would do well to adopt stories that inspire us and offer us a new vision of what humanity can aspire to. When trying to grasp the nature of our reality as human beings, and drawing upon the resources that civilization offers us, we’ve thus far been essentially left with a choice between atonement (the predominant religious thinking of the West), accepting that the world we exist in is illusory (the predominant religious thinking of the East), or the theory of evolution. Typically, we are never taught or encouraged to believe that we are, ourselves, divine.

None of the arguments that uphold a notion of a barren and sterile universe can hold water. Most children know better than to believe in those wet-blanket descriptions of reality. Sadly, though, they eventually learn to accept them. How could they not, when our cultural beliefs make their survival virtually dependent upon it?

Love has to come from somewhere. But within the world’s established religions, love always has its conditions; and within the world of science, love can be explained away in terms of neurological transmissions and chemical interactions. It seems that our race, by and large, is willing to accept practically any belief except for one that maintains that what we are is something miraculous.

Most scientists or religious scholars would dispute that we are miraculous, by virtue of being conscious beings. Could it be that consciousness came first; that we did not become humans by accident? What if consciousness created our world in order to express all that it is, and to become better acquainted with itself? If this is true, how might it change the idea that consciousness will arise in machines once we’ve reverse-engineered the brain?

The Science of Choosing Space Pioneers

Image Credit: NASA Ames

Image Credit: NASA Ames

I often ask others if they would live in space or on another planet if given the opportunity. More often than not, the answer is in the affirmative. But what if you were given the chance and actually wanted to go, but were declined because you weren’t selected by a computer algorithm as one of the lucky space travelers? Or worse, what if you were declined because of your cultural background or because your genetic profile was deemed inappropriate?  What about those that do venture off to live in space or on other worlds…will they suffer the types of loneliness that individuals experience in major cities here on Earth today? These are the questions that I thought I’d delve into today.

Loneliness in Space

Overcrowding is a major concern in many parts of the world today. People often feel like they’re being shoved into boxes that they don’t really fit into. Since the early days of the Industrial Revolution, a great number of individuals have felt as if they are all alone in the world. Large cities don’t make for the best of neighbors. Even though other members of the human race surround people, they’re seldom able to make any genuine connections with those who live close by. This sort of a problem is only worsened by the prospect of space colonization.

The feeling of loneliness is usually portrayed as being experienced by those who are truly without anyone near them. However, individuals can actually become lonelier when other people that they don’t connect with show up within their circle of friends. Of course, in many cases, these people don’t even really have a circle of friends in the first place.

While one person adrift in space might be able to comfort him or herself with the idea that others are back home on planet Earth, ironically the same cannot always be said of someone who were to live in a colony habitat. If other people surrounded that same individual, he/she would probably end up experiencing increased feelings of loneliness — just as so many do in cities around the world today.

This is something that’s been observed by Earthbound psychologists for decades, but it would possibly worsen in orbital complexes and on colonized worlds. Sci-fi writers have long stressed the importance of choosing the right colonists for space missions based on genetic profiles. But it seems that culture and the ability to work together are actually more important indicators of who should go off together into the great unknown.

Un-natural Selection

Using some sort of computer algorithm to select candidates for space travel is probably the worst idea I can imagine. This is a common trope in many pieces of fiction, but engineers working on global cities might have actually found a better way to psychologically equip generations of space pioneers. They have suggested that those who are culturally similar to people they live with might very well make the best partners. Seems like common sense, right?

Source: NASA

Source: NASA

While this sounds reasonable, it opens up an entirely new thought process for those who are planning generational space missions. If colony ships are set out on extremely long voyages, people will want to be with those that they have bonded with or care about. Letting a community choose who they want to be with the same way that they always have on Earth might be the best idea.

Genetic selection might sound logical and some people have suggested that it could produce the best stock for other worlds. However, this is a throwback to the sort of eugenic thinking that predominated the early 20th century. It was a mistake here on Earth and the same holds true of space. If space colonies are ever actually going to solve population problems, they need to be able to function much like regular cities do today. By letting people live in space the same way that they always have on Earth, the average citizen is far more likely to adapt to others in an acceptable manner.

There are those who would say that this limits diversity, but in reality it doesn’t. Genetic selection programs and the like would actually seek to create a race of space colonists who are in some way similar to one another. This would limit diversity, and would also have the side-effect of making a civilization less resistant to disease or similar catastrophes. For instance, one colony of microbes could wipe out an entire colony if it were built in such a way. The same could be said of a generational space mission attempting to reach another star system.

Humanity has never been perfect. It is these imperfections that very well may help our species to survive in space in the future.

Reference:

Yusof, N., & van Loon, J. (2012). Engineering a Global City: The Case of Cyberjaya Space and Culture, 15 (4), 298-316 DOI: 10.1177/1206331212453676

Saaty, T., & Sagir, M. (2012). Global awareness, future city design and decision making Journal of Systems Science and Systems Engineering, 21 (3), 337-355 DOI: 10.1007/s11518-012-5196-z

ResearchBlogging.org

The Possibility of Cetacean Civilizations

Some people have proposed that planets composed mostly of water could serve as cradles for advanced cetacean civilizations. There may be some truth to this. Research proves that cetacean brains have changed considerably throughout the 55 million years that they’ve inhabited the Earth. That’s one of the reasons that they’re so often cited in academic research involving astrobiology. Cetacean species represent the only real alternative evolution to intelligence that’s currently recognized by a majority of scientists.

While it might seem arrogant to say, cetaceans are not currently thought to be as intelligent as humans. Aquatic mammals are brilliant, and they sometimes seem to have psychological processes that resemble those of humans. In fact, they have many of the same psychological issues that humans do. However, they aren’t quite the same here on Earth.

Still, it seems that aquatic mammals could reach an even higher level of development if given enough time and/or the right environment. Proposing worlds where this is true is an interesting thought experiment. Tools and technology have evolved on Earth to be useful to those with hands and feet. This makes it hard to believe that aquatic mammals could construct civilizations resembling those on Earth.

Nevertheless, it’s possible for dolphins and whales to use many tools adapted for them by human handlers. They might very well have developed similar adaptations in their own cultures. No colony of such animals on Earth has ever created such things by themselves, so for now it’s merely an interesting concept. However, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible for this to occur on a planet where there was little or no threat to survival.

Some research has provided fantastical solutions for problems involving the use of tools by aquatic mammals. For instance, writers have sometimes suggested that machines could be manipulated by some form of telepathy. For now, that sort of thing is completely beyond our comprehension or understanding. Regardless though, the idea that aquatic beings could have developed superior intelligence and capabilities on other planets is a pretty cool one in my opinion. What do you think?

Cosmocentric Thoughts Among Policymakers

While there are several different philosophies that focus on the benefits of space exploration, they all agree that cosmocentric values are important to the survival of the human race. Extraterrestrial contact may still be far off, but it makes sense for major powerbrokers to be prepared to deal with the issue. Rather than considering the issue from the viewpoint of a conspiracy theorist, policymakers could take the same scientific perspective that they take when dealing with any threat.

Communications data is one of the major points that seem to go by the wayside in any serious discussion of the search for intelligent life. Much has been written about the Voyager plaque and signals sent to the stars. However, most of this isn’t much better than throwing a message into the ocean and hoping for someone to find it.

Scientists need to consider more realistic methods of getting in touch with otherworldly beings if humanity is ever going to have a shot at meeting anyone from another planetary world. Some researchers believe that traces in a particular meteor are the fossilized remains of unique microbes. If this were true, it only proves the fact that preparing for contact is a pressing matter.

Exploring Cyberspace Sociology

I recently watched a documentary called Life 2.0 and was fascinated by the notion of Second Life and the societal implications that virtual reality is having on people today. While I’m more interested in the implications this will have on humanity in the future, a current look at this evolving area is intriguing nonetheless. Read More →

Biological Responses to Cyborg Life

While there have been a number of compelling essays on gender equality, physical differences continue to define human beings. Cyborg life forms would be without these constraints. Certain feminist authors have actually focused on this as a radical way to achieve gender equality, though other commentators have held less optimistic views.

Computer culture is probably a good indication of the way that society is moving as it approaches a technological singularity. Even though Internet technology has continued to shape the way people think, it seems that people are still slaves to their genetic code. Role-play characters are an excellent example of this.

Gamer culture focuses heavily on the ability to take on the roles of different characters. While players can create any sort of being that they wish to in a freeform role-play, many of them seem to be uncomfortable playing characters that completely lack gender roles. Neuter characters must seem alien to the human psyche.

While it is a primitive desire, humans are currently still required to reproduce to survive as a species. Cyborg life is somewhat unsettling in this respect. Few people are ready to throw away their ability to reproduce organically for instance. Mass production is frowned upon in many circles, and it might be difficult to find people who would like to apply that technique to humanity as a whole.

Image Credit: Zalas on Deviantart.com

Confronting the Unknown

I try my best to keep a close eye on developments within science and technology to share on here (and for school/work purposes as well). For instance, I closely follow the current debate regarding the legitimacy of climate change happening within the U.S. The current debate over the legality or morality of gay/lesbian marriage is another one that fascinates me. Theories I’ve researched and written about regarding the technological singularity and human evolution each have proponents and opponents.

What causes seemingly rational individuals to ignore actual facts or scientific proof? What might cause some individuals to hide behind their religious beliefs or other belief system to form an opinion on something? Conversely, what might cause individuals to simply form an opinion simply because it “feels right”?

I’ve written quite a bit on the probable existence of intelligent life beyond our own and even explored UFO phenomena and alien abduction accounts. Naturally I think quite a bit about the future of humanity as well (I’m dedicating my life to this in fact), and I often worry that perhaps we’re regressing at the intellectual level in spite of the many wonderful technological and scientific advances occurring all around us. When exploring issues such as climate change (or any other controversial issue for that matter), I try to look past the banter and determine what exactly may be causing individuals to choose one side over another. Is it a lack of education? Perhaps their religious beliefs are influencing their thought processes one way or another? I believe that the answer most often lies within a fear of the unknown. Granted while these other things mentioned may influence our beliefs to an extent, I propose that when one delves down to the true heart of the matter, our fear of the unknown is the true culprit. Today’s post explores this hypothesis further.

Introduction
Each of us exists at the crossroads between darkness and light, knowledge and the unknown, existence and non-existence. At a conscious level, we primarily remember only a fraction of our own experiences and dreams. We cannot even trust the blood flowing in our veins and we know less about the after-life that we are heading towards than about the pre-birth from which we first appeared in the world. In our futile flight from darkness we often fall back on erotic love, of which the instinctive goal is most often to fight the unknown with new birth. Even in the short moment of an orgasm lurks the dark possibility of betrayal.

Pre-historic Man and the Fear of the Unknown
In Pre-historic times, when man did not yet understand the wonder of birth, it was attributed to female magic. In those days, the rituals and festivals attributed to a mysterious and occult female deity was connected to the fear of being destroyed by an unpredictable nature. Fear of the unknown was the underlying motive for rituals and sacrifices marking the end of winter and the beginning of summer. Mid-winter rituals that would in Christian times become the very Christmas celebrations of today were intended to satisfy the spirits of the ancestors. People prayed to the ancient earth goddess presiding over life, death, prosperity, disaster and jealously. They pleaded to the earth goddess, responsible for hiding the future of mankind under a veil of the unknown, to reveal the more merciful side of her nature to them. These pre-historical rituals along with sculptures, rock drawings, words, songs, fairy tales, and customs each would plan an influential role in the evolution of modern civilizations and religions in the years ahead.

Ancient Philosophers Confronting the Unknown
The ancient Greeks confronted the fear of the unknown through rational reasoning long before their “barbarian” neighbors came along. The philosophy that underlies the history of knowledge and the birth of Western Civilization is in reality based upon man’s early confrontation with, fear of, and wonder at the unknown.

The Greek Philosopher Thales, who lived in 624-546 B.C.E., was the first to discuss the secrets of the origin of the cosmos. Thales regarded water as the origin of all things and believed that everything was born out of the ocean. According to Thales, everything must have moved from water into some other form, which is why he viewed movement as the soul of all things (Dreyer 27, 28).

Xenophanes was the first to state that the human soul is not capable of obtaining complete knowledge (Dreyer 38).

Medieval Man and the Fear of the Unknown
It was widely believed during medieval times that Christ would return to Earth ten centuries after his departure, that all humans would be judged, and that each person would consequently go to either heaven or hell. During medieval times the fear of the unknown was manifested in an unprecedented fear of God, by which philosophy, art, science, religion, politics, law, and social life were regulated. People who worshipped foreign gods were subjected to the wrath of the Christian doctrine, whose word was the only law, and to which all human behavior was expected to conform.

While the medieval Roman Catholic Church would not tolerate any scientific discoveries contradicting the Christian doctrine, it ironically paved the way for scientific discoveries that took place during the Renaissance and later periods. By forcing the Western mind into obeying a single law, the scientific method that is based upon the reduction of things to a single principle, was eventually created. The emphasis on the inner life also trained mankind in the practice of abstract thought that would form a vital part of scientific thought from the Renaissance onward (Hoffding 3).

Scientists Confronting the Unknown during the Renaissance and Enlightenment
While Renaissance scientists confronting an unknown universe were still restricted by the Church, scientists believed during the Age of Enlightenment (or Age of Reason) that human reasoning could save mankind from fear of the unknown.

Two very important Renaissance scientists and philosophers were Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) who discovered that the earth revolves around the sun (Höffding 173), and Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) who invented the telescope and scientific method (Höffding 103). Both were severely restricted by the Roman Catholic Church during their lifetimes.

Isaac Newton (1642-1727), arguably one of the most important scientists of all times, discovered the workings of the law of gravitation throughout the known universe (Höffding 407).

Scientists Rediscover the Strangeness and Unpredictability of the Unknown
The Law of Relativity discovered by Albert Einstein (1879-1955) posed serious challenges to the mechanical Newtonian world-view. According to the Special Law of Relativity, weight and time are changed by motion. Additionally, the General Law of Relativity states that the movement of starlight is influenced by gravitation. Einstein’s work would later lead to research of black holes and many other areas of astronomy/physics (Henbest 147).

Newtonian physics were also radically challenged by discoveries at the sub-atomic level by Werner Heisenberg (1901-1976). Heisenberg believed that the less a researcher knows about the momentum of a particle, the more he/she knows about its position, and vice versa (Hilgevoord 1).

21st century scientist Stephen Hawking (1942-) is trying to reconcile quantum physics with the rules of gravity and relativity dominating the macro-universe. Ultimately, his conclusions play havoc with the singularity of Newtonian physics by stating that the universe was created in many different ways and that many different universes (multiverses) may exist. To be able to shed light on why our specific universe is the way it is, a theory of wave functions at the sub-atomic level will be required (Highfield 1).

Conclusion
After more that five thousand years of research and scientific discovery, we are still confronted with universes that can’t be viewed and were created in ways that can’t be imagined. This conclusion is a subtle reminder that despite phenomenal scientific discoveries thus far, the unknown is still as impenetrable as ever.

Being confronted with a fear of the unknown is an integral part of the human condition at all times. We can either allow ourselves to be paralyzed by that fear, or we can react to it by bringing our own individual set of religious, philosophical, scientific, or creative contributions to life for the benefit of humanity. Perhaps in the process we will discover that elusive part of the unknown potential that lies hidden within each of us, while simultaneously confronting our fear of the unknown in our own individualistic way.

Reference:

  • Dreyer, P.S. Die Wysbegeerte van die Grieke:  Hollandsch Afrikaansche Uitgevers Maatschappij, 1975
  • Henbest, N. The Exploding Universe: Marshall Cavendish, 1979
  • Highfield, R. “Stephen Hawking’s Explosive new Theory”: Telegraph.co.uk, 2008. Web
  • Hilgevoord, J.  “The Uncertainty Principle”: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. First published 8 October 2001, revised 3 July 2006. Web
  • Höffding, H.  A History of Modern Philosophy, Dover Publications, 1955
  • Lehane, B. The Enchanted World, Time-Life Books, Amsterdam, 1986

Social Constructs Vanish in the Virtual World

Everything seems to be moving to the Internet these days. Regions of the web don’t necessarily correlate to any real geographical regions and the Internet doesn’t physically exist. It’s interesting to note that virtual reality itself is a social construct.

Virtual philosophies are heavily influenced by science fiction. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Fiction is something that most people can relate with. While it’s unlikely that the present reality actually exists in another virtual universe, virtual philosophies still raise some important questions.

People in a virtual community start to develop the same sorts of social bonds that citizens of physical communities do. Technological innovation is one of the driving forces behind social change. Society itself may very well be moving towards a less concrete reality.

While it seems that human beings are moving towards a technological singularity, individual collective consciousnesses are actually starting to develop. Individuals with special interests are often unable to find people near their homes that share their hobbies.

Forums on the Internet have successfully given people with every interest a place to discuss their hobbies with like-minded folks. Knowledge flows dynamically among people with such interests. A lack of hierarchy has made the flow of knowledge considerably more democratic than it is in the real world. Therefore, it’s safe to conclude that a virtual world already exists today.