World Transformation    
"We have to face the fact that either all of us are going to die together or we are going to learn to live together and if we are to live together we have to talk. --Eleanor Roosevelt"
 Needs of the Globe
picture From Swanny the Tinker: THE NEEDS AND WILL OF THE GLOBE

GIVEN....... that some of us have ascribed a life or being
to the globe or planet.......
What do we infer or consider the needs of the globe
to be......
if as some infer that it has consciousness as well....
what if any might be the will of the planet?

May 4,2004
[ | 9 Jun 2004 @ 03:11 | PermaLink ]

picture From Ming the Mechanic: Via Dave Pollard. Edge asked a bunch of smart people for their personal laws. You know along the lines of Murphy's Law, Moore's Law, Metcalfe's Law and that kind of thing. Answers are here. These are some of my favorites:
Art Kleiner: Every organization always operates on behalf of the perceived needs and priorities of some core group of key people. This purpose will trump every other organizational loyalty, including those to shareholders, employees, customers, and other constituents.

Stuart Hameroff:The sub-conscious mind is to consciousness what the quantum world is to the classical world.

Sara Lippincott: God is evolving. So if you're an atheist, you'd better hope that the arrow of time only goes in one direction.

Steven Levy: The truth is always more interesting that your preconception of what it might be.

Matt Ridley: Science is the discovery of ignorance. It is not a catalog of facts.

George Lakoff: Frames trump facts. All of our concepts are organized into conceptual structures called "frames" (which may include images and metaphors) and all words are defined relative to those frames. Conventional frames are pretty much fixed in the neural structures of our brains. In order for a fact to be comprehended, it must fit the relevant frames. If the facts contradict the frames, the frames, being fixed in the brain, will be kept and the facts ignored.

Ray Kurzweil: (The Law of Accelerating Returns) Evolution applies positive feedback in that the more capable methods resulting from one stage of evolutionary progress are used to create the next stage. Each epoch of evolution has progressed more rapidly by building on the products of the previous stage.

Frank Tipler: (Tipler's Law of Unilimited Progress) The laws of physics place no limits on progress, be it scientific, economic, cultural, or intellectual. In fact, the laws of physics require the knowledge and wealth possessed by intelligent beings in the universe to increase without limit, this knowledge and wealth becoming literally infinite by the the end of time. Intelligent life forms must inevitably expand out from their planets of origin, and convert the entire universe into a biosphere. If the laws of physics be for us, who can be against us?

W. Daniel Hillis: The representation becomes the reality. Or more precisely: Successful representations of reality become more important than the reality they represent. Examples: Dollars become more important than gold. The brand becomes more important than the company. The painting becomes more important than the landscape. The new medium (which begins as a representation of the old medium) eclipses the old. The prize becomes more important than the achievement. The genes become more important than the organism.
OK, I've gotta stop. Read them yourself. It is a good exercise to boil big complicated phenomena down into simple laws and princples, I think. Even if you don't quite agree, you at least find that out faster.

Damn, I gotta think of some good law myself. Except for that "Funch's Law" sounds a little clumsy.
[ | 8 Jun 2004 @ 17:27 | PermaLink ]

 Square Wheels
picture From Ming the Mechanic: From Roland Piquepaille's Technology Trends. So, you didn't think a bicycle could have square wheels? Well, it all depends on the surface you're riding on.
Stan Wagon, a mathematician at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn., has a bicycle with square wheels. It's a weird contraption, but he can ride it perfectly smoothly. His secret is the shape of the road over which the wheels roll.

A square wheel can roll smoothly, keeping the axle moving in a straight line and at a constant velocity, if it travels over evenly spaced bumps of just the right shape. This special shape is called an inverted catenary.

A catenary is the curve describing a rope or chain hanging loosely between two supports. At first glance, it looks like a parabola. In fact, it corresponds to the graph of a function called the hyperbolic cosine. Turning the curve upside down gives you an inverted catenary -- just like each bump of Wagon's road.
OK, so here's an idea: What about wheels that dynamically change shape quickly enough that they always fit whatever road surface you're going over, so that you can always have a smooth ride. And we might become less attached to smooth surfaces.
[ | 7 Jun 2004 @ 07:34 | PermaLink ]

 Always-on cameras - Sousveillance
picture From Ming the Mechanic: Ton Zylstra recently commented on how the accepted norms around picture taking have changed. At least in a crowd of techies where everybody has at least one digital camera with them at all times. People no longer seem to mind constant picture taking. They mostly don't stop what they're doing and start posing. Which makes it easier to take good pictures of what is really going on.

Personally I always have a problem when taking pictures. I'm in the middle of some experience, and I'd like to capture it. But the moment I pull out my camera, it is already a different experience and the presense of the camera changes it a bit. Just as much because of my own hangups as based on people's reactions. As, really, a lot of people no longer care. But I somehow never have a photographer identity. Somebody who is a "real" photographer doesn't hesitate in walking up front and sticking a camera in somebody's face, and hanging around a bit to get a good shot. But that is often because they don't consider themselves part of the action, but rather an independent observer who can float around as they wish, and who consider themselves having the right to photograph whatever is there. I'm usually a lot more self-conscious and try not to intrude. And I personally have a hard time being invisible. So often I don't get the pictures that were there to be gotten.

What would appeal to me would be an always-on camera on my body that simply recorded everything I was seeing, and then I could go and pick out the good parts later. So I could then concentrate on my experiences, and I could reference the recordings based on my own peak moments, and go back and find the exact picture that best shows it.

There are all kinds of issues in that, of course. Such as privacy. Is it ok to record people covertly? What if there was a light that showed that recording was taking place? See, it doesn't have to be a secret, but I'd like to get around the akwardness of the picture taking moment. If everything is recorded, both I and others will get used to it and not change our behavior.

There's an article on Hewlett Packard's site about always-on cameras, and the various issues surrounding the idea. The privacy issues again. But they're also trying to address the technical issues of how to find the interesting moments. If you record what you did for 8 hours, chances are that most of it was really boring and not worth keeping. So, can some automated software tool help you pick out the good parts? Personally I don't care about that overly much. I'd be happy with the ability to scan through the recordings really quickly, and to reference them by time. I pretty much know what times were worthwhile, so I just need to be able to find them again, which I can do visually, if I can scan through the day in a couple of minutes.

HP doesn't seem to be planning a product any time soon. But somebody will do it. Within less than five years, I'm sure. A tiny multi-gigabyte harddisk can quite well record video of your whole day. A high quality camera can quite well fit unobtrusively into a pair of glasses. The technical problems aren't hard. And if first a bunch of techheads start having these, and others think it is cool, there's no turning back.

Despite that many people will have hesitations about allowing such things, I think there are many advantages and many side benefits. See Britt Blaser's idea of the Personal Flight Recorder. If lots of people have always-on cameras, continuously recording, crime as we know it will change. It is much harder to hide shadey dealings, much harder to deny what really went on. The key point is that these things will be in the hands of individuals, not some authoritarian government. Of course I'm trying to avoid thinking about scenarios where the FBI forces some backdoor to be built-in, so they can tap anybody's feed as they please. The answer is to put the technology into common use before they get around to demanding such things.

.. Whaddya know, no sooner have I written the above before a couple of synchronistic and very related items show up. So, for more exciting stuff on that, see Britt's recent post on "sousveillance", and Joi Ito's mention of an International Workshop on Inverse Surveillance in Toronto April 12th. Exactly on these kinds of subjects. See this topic list:
* Camera phones and pocket organizers with sensors;
* Weblogs ('blogs), Moblogs, Cyborglogs ('glogs);
* Wearable camera phones and personal imaging systems;
* Electric eyeglasses and other computational seeing and memory aids;
* Recording experiences in which you are a participant;
* Portable personal imaging and multimedia;
* Wearable technologies and systems;
* Ethical, legal, and policy issues;
* Privacy and related technosocial issues;
* Democracy and emergent democracy (protesters organizing with SMS camphones);
* Safety and security;
* Technologies of lifelong video capture;
* Personal safety devices and wearable "black box" recorders;
* Research issues in "people looking at people";
* Person-to-person sharing of personal experiences;
* End of gender-specific space (e.g. blind man guided by wife: which restroom?);
* Subjectright: ownership of photograph by subject rather than photographer;
* Reverse copyright: protect information recipient, not just the transmitient;
* Interoperability and open standards;
* Algebraic Projective Geometry from a first-person perspective;
* Object Detection and Recognition from a first-person perspective;
* Computer Vision, egonomotion and way-finding technologies;
* Lifelong Image Capture: data organization; new cinematographic genres;
* New Devices and Technologies for ultra miniature portable cameras;
* Social Issues: fashion, design, acceptability and human factors;
* Electronic News-gathering and Journalism;
* Psychogeography, location-based wearable computing;
* Augmented/Mediated/Diminished Reality;
* Empowering children with inverse surveillance: Constructionist learning, creation of own family album, and prevention of both bullying by peers and abuse by teachers or other officials.
And here, from Britt is a comparison of surveillance and "sousveillance". Splendid word.
Sur-veiller is French for "to watch from above".Sous-veiller is French for "to watch from below".
God's eye view from above.
(Authority watching from on-high.)
Human's eye view.
Cameras usually mounted on high poles, up on ceiling, etc.Cameras down-to-earth (at ground level), e.g. at human eye-level.
Architecture-centered (e.g. cameras usually mounted on or in structures).Human-centered (e.g. cameras carried or worn by, or on, people).
Recordings of an activity made by authorities, remote security staff, etc.Recordings of an activity made by a participant in the activity.

"Inverse surveillance is the imminent device-driven tsunami whereby we commoners take back our commons. We will be using our always-on videophones to capture the passing scene. The result will be that our blanket, overlapping and corroborating public record captured by our high-res private devices will overwhelm the spotty, lo-res record of incidents captured by so-called public surveillance devices."
Yeah, let's turn it all around. I love it. There's nowhere to hide from the people.
[ | 6 Jun 2004 @ 18:56 | PermaLink ]

 The Singularity and the Fifth Dimension
picture From Ming the Mechanic: The concept of "The Singularity" is all the buzz amongst certain types of futurists. Mostly it fits in with transhumanist thinking. It is based on the observation that a lot of technological trends are accelerating, even faster and faster. And there are a number of them that in and of themselves have the potential for deeply transforming our collective lives. Take nano-technology, which ultimately might allow us complete control over physical matter, so that we can build any physical object we might desire, at essentially zero cost. Take artificial intelligence. What happens if a computer becomes smarter than you are? What happens if computers are a million times smarter than any of us? What would they do that we wouldn't even be able to comprehend? Or, take genetic engineering. What happens if we're able to understand and design genetics freely? If we can make bodies or new life forms with whatever attributes we want.

The Singularity is both a potentially wonderful, but also terribly scary idea. The "point" of the Singularity is essentially when all of these trends go out of control. They move beyond our event horizon, and we can no longer follow along in any linear manner. Technological change is instant. And what if the machines decide we are no longer relevant?

Now, if one is well versed in other metaphysical models than the materialist transhumanist ones, there are some striking similaries to find. The Singularity is potentially like a technological ascension. It is like the Rapture. Many adherents will even deal with it in a rather religious way, even if they would deny any such thing.

However, the connection I particularly wanted to call attention to is with the model of "dimensions" or "densities", which is found in various mystical traditions, and which is common in new age thinking and often occurs in channeling. If we de-mystify it a little bit, it is simply a chart of how things change when they accelerate, and what stages the world is likely to go through as the frequency of everything is increasing. The story is usually told in a person-centered way. I.e. the focus is on how the world changes for people. But, as a corrollary, how the world actually changes. And the model shows some of the potentially dangerous pitfalls in an accelerating world, as well as the necessary answers. And it gives some hope that this sort of meta-patterns have built-in safeguards that means that vastly increased power has to somewhat go hand in hand with mental development.

Just notice for a moment that a number of the technologies that are envisioned simply couldn't be released into the world today. The world would be destroyed very quickly, mostly because there would be some wackos who would push the wrong button. Imagine if the plans for a do-it-yourself hydrogen bomb were available on the Internet, and anybody who could use a screwdriver could build one out of $50 worth of parts from Home Depot. It would be a matter of days before some crazy guy would decide that it is a cool idea to nuke your city, just to see what would happen. Nano-tech can be like that too. One big mistake with self-replicating nano-machines and you turn the whole world into grey goo. Humanity at large is obviously not of a mental state to be able to handle that kind of power and responsibility.

OK, so now let's talk about the 3rd, 4th and 5th dimension. Calling it "dimension" is maybe confusing, as we're not necessarily talking about dimensions in the geometrical sense, even though that might be a sub-part of it. Think "Buckaroo Banzai in the 8th Dimension". It is more like a place or a world or a level where the rules are different. More down-to-earth, the world doesn't necessarily go anywhere - it is simply that the rules change, as things move at a faster click. Instead of "dimensions", some people say "density". I'm not sure that makes it better, except for that it implies that more stuff is packed into the same space as we count up in the numbers.

So, humanity starts off in the 3rd dimension. Which is the world as we know it, or rather, as we knew it. The best way I heard of making sense of it is that this is the way that you get things to happen in 3D:

spirit -> thought -> emotion -> effort-> manifestation

I suppose you could replace "spirit" with something else if you don't believe in spirituality. "The sub-conscious" could fit somewhat, although not exactly. Regardless, the idea is that an urge or inspiration to make something happen forms at a deep, or high, non-verbal level. Then it gets formed into a thought. Then one gets into the right mood for doing it. Then one actually works on carrying it out. For some amount of time. And finally one gets the result. That might potentially have taken years.

For example, you might get the inspiration to make it big in the vacuum cleaner business. You then form the thought. I.e. you think about it, and you get clear on what your plan is. "Selling vacuum cleaners door-to-door - there's a huge market there!". And then you get excited about it. That's the emotion part. And it might include stubbornness, and various other kinds of emotions that support this project. Then you start working on it. You maybe start yourself, selling vacuum cleaners door-to-door. You have failures and successes, and you learn. Maybe in a couple of years you're really good at it, and you make enough money to hire another person and have a bit of inventory. And over 20 years, maybe you built an empire, from hard work and dedication and 16 hour days. And you have 10,000 people working for you, and you can buy a yacht. And there's your manifestation: making it big in vacuum cleaners.

Duh, you might say. Or your parents might say. That's just how things are done. Work hard, and get a good education, get a solid job, and work hard some more, and maybe you'll make it to something someday. But it takes time.

So, to contrast it, let's move on to 4D, the 4th dimension, or 4th density. Here the sequence that leads to manifestation looks like this:

spirit -> thought -> emotion -> manifestation

You'll notice right away that we took out the part about effort, hard work, and long time. So, the way it works there is:

An inspiration appears, to make something happen. You formulate the thought of what that is. And then, if you can get into the right mood about it - if you can feel it, taste it, smell it, and you're excited about it, and certain about it - what you're asking for might just happen rather quickly.

So, here we're talking about a world where things move faster and where everybody's exposed to a lot of information. Now, what something looks and feels like suddenly is more important than how many years it took to make it. If you look the part, you can have the role. Doesn't really matter you didn't go to acting school. If a new product or idea or person is exciting enough, inspiring enough, and makes us feel enough - they might spread like wildfire into the public mind, and make a lot of money. This is where a one year old company of hackers doing software might buy out a venerable fortune 500 company that produces really substantial products and has existed for 100 years. Doesn't really matter any longer.

From a personal perspective, the trick is that if you really feel it, in a positive way, you can have it. If you obviously feel right about it, there will be someone you can go see who can get you what you want, like tomorrow. But one of the pitfalls is that you need to agree with yourself. It is not necessarily enough to act excited about your "bright" idea. It is more important that you're in alignment, in congruence with yourself than that the idea is really bright. It is more important that your emotions are real. So, your hidden negative emotions will come up and bite your ass. If you're not really sincere, people are more likely to notice, and it is much less likely you get where you want to go.

OK, on to 5D, the 5th dimension. What happens there is:

spirit -> thought -> manifestation

So, we cut out the emotion part. No longer necessary to get into the right mood, and broadcast the right vibes before you get things to happen. You just need to form the thought clearly enough, and, bing, there it is.

Well, that's kind of like the holodeck in Star Trek. "Computer! Give me ..." And, indeed, maybe technology is a way it will manifest.

One way or another, it means that the brakes have been removed. It doesn't take work to make things happen. It doesn't even take sincerity and dedication. You just have to form the thought.

You might realize, with the way most human minds work today, that it could quickly be a complete nightmare. Like, think about the humorous situation you have seen on film, where somebody's granted 3 wishes, and they screw them up, by lack of control over their thoughts or emotions. "I wish that hotdog was stuck on your nose", "I wish I was the pope". And you usually have to use the last wish to put everything back to normal, after which you're sort of relieved that you can't just go around wishing for things anymore.

So, imagine that you could. It suddenly becomes absolutely vital and essential that your thoughts are clear, and in alignment with what you really want. And that you don't let stray negative emotions suddenly decide what you think. One "I wish he was dead" can have fatal consequences that can't be undone.

This is where you again might imagine that anybody could build a nuclear bomb. "Computer! Give me a 50Megaton nuclear warhead!" ... and there it is in the matter compiler in your kitchen.

That would never ever work unless all humans are sane on a totally different level than today. Humankind would have to evolve and mature, mentally and emotionally, for that kind of world to be possible.

Even if we're not talking nuclear bombs, most humans of today would go insane rather quickly if whatever they were thinking or asking for continously would happen to them more-or-less instantly. You'd be bouncing against the walls, trying to undo the misplaced wish you did five minutes ago.

We could go on the same way to 6D:

spirit -> manifestation

which in more materialistic terms would mean that the whole contents of your sub-conscious will just be manifested, without you particularly having to voice it. That would be wall-to-wall nightmare. Or it will be nirvana and paradise. The cold drink appears before you realize you could use one. If your sub-conscious mind is very mature, or we could say, if you're aligned with yourself on all levels, it would be marvelous. If you aren't, it would be even worse than 5D. Think about a nano-tech matter compiler/VR/Holodeck thing mapped directly into your brain and into your sub-conscious. The slightest under-the-surface hint of something would immediately be manifested in front of you. Uaaarrrgh.

7D would be that you no longer need the manifestation even. Pure spirit. Or, if you want to look at it materialistically, it could be if you had uploaded yourself to a computer, and you were perfectly happy with simulated experiences, rather than "real" ones. And anything you might ever want is instantly available to you. All at the same time, if you want. You can be anybody you want. So maybe you move on to a different kind of meta-perspective that no longer seeks human kinds of experiences.

As to where we are now .... A lot of people think that humanity has moved from 3D into 4D. I.e. it is no longer a world where hard work and time invested is the most likely thing to pay off. More important what things look and feel like. Media exposure is more important than the facts. What you radiate is more important than what experience you've actually had.

And, one way or another, one of the next steps will be what is described as the 5D. We can easily lay out how it will happen with technology alone. But it is much more than that. It is a total change in how the world works. And it requires some substantial evolutionary changes in humanity to be able to deal with it without short-circuiting and self-destructing.

Luckily there's a bit of an inherent training program built-into accelerating change. You'll have to continuously run a little faster, and there will continously be more stuff to deal with, in terms of information, thoughts, emotions, ideas, people. The only way of surviving and staying sane is to somehow keep up with it, processing it along the way, which means that you evolve, and you become much better at handling the faster action. You might not notice, and you might think you're way behind, but if we compare what you deal with every day with what people were required to deal with in their lives every day 20 years ago, there's just no comparison. You're vastly more able to deal with fast-moving complexity than you've been before. And that will keep going. Some people will crack along the way, but if you make it, you'll someday take for granted that we can all comfortably deal with capabilities that would have frightened us out of our skulls before.

And, somehow, it is all not happening faster than we can (barely) keep up. It is probably because the change is generated collectively by us, ourselves, here, and there are some feedback loops in place. So things tend to not happen before we're somewhat ready for them. We might not think we're ready for them, but there's something in our collective super- or sub-conscious evolutionary mind pattern that's smarter than any of us.
[ | 5 Jun 2004 @ 05:31 | PermaLink ]

 Robot house printer
picture From Ming the Mechanic: According to New Scientist, a Southern California engineer, Behrokh Khoshnevis, has been working on a robot that can "print" houses. There are devices that are quite a bit like inkjet printers, but which output 3D models in plastic by building them from the bottom up, layer by layer, by spraying out little globs of plastic. This would be the same kind of idea, but it would be a bigger machine, and it might use a kind of concrete. They haven't actually worked out the perfect material yet, and he's collaborating with a company in Germany to find it. However, ironically, it seems that adobe, a traditional mix of mud and straw, could be quite suitable for this process. Wouldn't that be something.

The process is called "Contour Crafting". Other, more detailed, articles are here and here.
[ | 4 Jun 2004 @ 09:41 | PermaLink ]

 Materialism as Science Dogma
picture From Ming the Mechanic: Paul Hughes has an excellent article on FutureHi, "Defending Psychic Experience", arguing for the fundamental validity of inner experience, and discussing the difficulty in providing "objective scientific proof" for the same. Which gives rise to the various kinds of heated discussions that can happen between people who address the subject from different angles.
[S]ince objective reductionist science has served us so well, so unbelievable well, it's become an addiction we can't let go of when it fails. Rather than blame objectivity itself, we instead say that anything that cannot be objectively verified is false. Which is why it comes as no surprise that many leading thinkers in the fields of cognitive and neuro-science actually believe that the inner experience is an illusionary falsity that doesn't exist!

This is where most often any further dialog on the subject comes to a grinding screeching halt. Because now they are resting on dogma. And once dogma enters the picture, there is no way to have a reasonable disucssion going forward. The basic assumptions are so different (i.e those who say they have an inner experience, and those saying it is doesn't exist), that dialog going forward becomes almost impossible. The same as if you were to argue about if God exists or not with an fundamentalist Christian. For those of you who've tried, you will understand what I mean by this.
Yeah, I've tried arguing with various kinds of fundamentalists, and also with materialist fundamentalists, so I understand very well what he means. This is what I wrote in a comment:
It is kind of a weird situation: arguing with people who believe they don't really exist, but that they nevertheless are right. To me, practices such as science and reasoning have to be based on a firm foundation of what you irrefutably can know by personal observation. Just about the only thing I know for sure is that I exist and that I perceive and think. The rest is guesswork which always will build on those primary factors, but it might be very useful guesswork if you don't lose your way. If somebody else decides to instead start off with some abstract theory, and they end up concluding that I don't exist, then I'd say they've done a bad job of reasoning, largely by starting in some arbitrary place, with data that they can't prove.
This argument is an important one to me. I must admit that I once in a while write a long article about it, and half the time I don't post it. Because in reality I don't have the argument in person very often. I.e. an argument with a Fundamentalist Materialist Skeptic about the validity of subjective experience, particularly as it pertains to "psychic" phenomena of any kind. And it seems sort of strange to have a heated argument with somebody who isn't there. So I usually decide against posting it.

Anyway, from another comment to Paul's article comes a link to an absolutely excellent paper by Neal Grossman, Dept. of Philosophy, Univ. of Illinois at Chicago: "On Materialism as Science Dogma". He makes the arguments better than any of us could hope to do. Long and very readable article. He chooses to use NDE (Near Death Experiences) as a reference point, but as he says, it could well be about UFOs or a bunch of other "weird" subjects that happen to be extremely well documented and scientifically verified, but still generally ridiculed by both materialist and religious fundamentalists, who still, maybe for a while longer, are the ones with the most say and the most power in academics, in government, and, somewhat, in the media.
Fundamaterialism is so deeply ingrained in the academic establishment that most researchers on the NDE fall prey to it. For, after presenting case after case which would satisfy any reasonable standard of empirical evidence against materialism, even sympathetic researchers almost always deem it necessary to add the disclaimer that their research does not prove that there is life after death. But no scientific hypothesis is ever proven in this sense. Theorems in logic and mathematics can be proved. In science, hypotheses are not proved; rather, empirical evidence renders a given hypothesis more or less probable. There is no such thing as logical, or mathematical certainty in science. The fundamaterialists are correct in that the hypothesis that consciousness exists independently of the body cannot be proven with mathematical certainty. But neither can any other scientific hypothesis, because empirical science deals with evidence, not proof. Evidence never "proves" a hypothesis, it just makes it more probable. And, when evidence for a given hypothesis accumulates to a certain degree, we accept the hypothesis as true. But "true" in this scientific sense never means "proven"; it means very very probable. In science there is always the possibility that a given hypothesis may turn out to be false. The fundamaterialist will not accept the hypothesis of an afterlife until it is "proven" beyond a logical possibility of being false. That is, he is using a concept of proof which belongs in logic and mathematics, not in science. And NDE researchers are playing the fundamaterialist's game when they utter caveats that their research does not prove the hypothesis of an afterlife. What researches should say, in my opinion, is simply that they have amassed sufficient evidence to render the hypothesis of an afterlife very probable, and the hypothesis of materialism very improbable.

In the above paragraphs, I have been using the terms "science" and "scientific" in its epistemological sense. Science is a methodological process of discovering truths about reality. Insofar as science is an objective process of discovery, it is, and must be, metaphysically neutral. Insofar as science is not metaphysically neutral, but instead weds itself to a particular metaphysical theory, such as materialism, it cannot be an objective process for discovery. There is much confusion on this point, because many people equate science with materialist metaphysics, and phenomena which fall outside the scope of such metaphysics, and hence cannot be explained in physical terms, are called "unscientific". This is a most unfortunate usage of the term. For if souls and spirits are in fact a part of reality, and science is conceived epistemologically as a systematic investigation of reality, then there is no reason why science cannot devise appropriate methods to investigate souls and spirits. But if science is defined in terms of materialist metaphysics, then, if souls and spirits are real, science, thus defined, will not be able to deal with them. But this would be, not because souls and spirits are unreal, but rather because this definition of science (in terms of materialist metaphysics) has semantically excluded nonphysical realities from it scope.
So, obviously it is hard to discuss a subject matter with somebody who has the fundamental, unshakable belief that it doesn't exist at all and that it is impossible. Like my comment above about the difficulty of discussing existence and inner experience with a person who believes that they don't really exist.

I believe it will all turn around, and before very long. And that will change our lives and our societies immensely. We might indeed find that we can very well understand a large chunk of life, the universe and everything - material as well as non-material - inner as well as outer, and we can understand all of that in a rather unified and very rational way. And we might realize that we had been lead astray from time to time by high priests who made us believe they had a direct line in with universal truth, when really they were just listening to their own voices in their own heads. Which will all be quite forgivable at that time. It is a noble and formidable goal to try to understand how existence works, and not hard to get stuck in a blind alley along the way.
[ | 3 Jun 2004 @ 06:24 | PermaLink ]

 Library of Alexandria Found?
From WorldChanging: Another World Is Here: A Polish-Egyptian archaeological team has uncovered ruins which appear to be the lecture halls of the Library of Alexandria. The 13 lecture halls, each with a central podium, could hold as many as 5,000 total students. The president of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities called it "perhaps the oldest university in the world."
[ | 3 Jun 2004 @ 06:24 | PermaLink ]

 Pay it forward!
picture From Ming the Mechanic: The Pay it forward site was created by Catherine Ryan Hyde, author of "Pay it forward". I haven't read it, but I saw the movie, which was fabulous. And of course both open the door for a movement and a site where people can share their stories. In brief, the idea is that you pay "forward" (as opposed to paying "back") spontaneous acts of kindness you've received. I.e. instead of doing something in return for somebody who did something unexpected and helpful for you, you will do the same for a stranger you run into later. Like random acts of kindness. Here are a couple of stories:
Lela: "When I was 15 years old,I was on a bus to my dads,who lived 2200 miles away.I had no money and was getting pretty hungry. A lady on the bus asked me if I was hungry and I admitted I had not eaten for two days. She proceeded to feed me at every meal stop. At the end of her journey,she gave me $5 and told me.."always remember this time,if you see someone in when you can". I am now pushing 60 and have never forgotten her or her words. I have never passed someone who was in need without helping them if I was able to do so. I have tried to instill this in my family as well and we are ALL ..great believers in paying it forward."

Sarah: "I noticed that there aren't any stories about kids in college doing this movement. Recently, at Southwestern College in Winfield Kansas, our Mind/Body/Universe class watched the movie Pay it Foward. The class has about 50 students in it and the teacher, Julie Conrade, decided to make Paying it Forward an assignment. We split up into about 10 groups and were instructed to find some way to Pay it Foward to our community and then present our projects to the class a month later. Some of the things the groups did included: visiting nursing homes, helping a working family renovate their house, helping a man who had a stroke clean his house because his wife was getting treatment for leukimia out of state, and recycling thousands of bottles and cans. I am in the class and noticed that all of the students took the assignment seriously and got a lot out of the experience!"
And they're not all sweet and cuddly:
Geoff: "I was living in Buffalo, New York, last year, in a section of town that everyone called the ghetto. I was 21 years old, and every day I had to walk for half an hour through the worst streets just to get to work. I usually got stares for being one of the few white guys you'd see on the street. It made me really nervous, despite the fact that I'm 6'2 and a weightlifter. I've always been a pacifist, and haven't been in a fight since 9th grade. One day, I was heading down Bailey Avenue, and five black teenagers started following me, yelling insults and laughing at me. I was trying to ignore them, but they started circling around me while I walked. I told them to leave me alone, which only got them more riled up. Finally, one shoved me, and another one grabbed my backpack. Right as I was about to get a really bad beating, one of the guys gets clocked in the head with a soup can, and falls over. We all looked, and an old black man was standing at the back of his store about twenty feet away, holding another can. The teens started swearing at him, and he yelled for them to go away, and that he'd called the police. One of the teens started coming towards him, and gets the other can right in the face. The other three looked like they were going to rush him, but he reached behind the door and pulled out a *big* shotgun. He didn't even have to point it at them. They ran for it, practically dragging the first teen that got knocked over with them.

The man came over and checked to be sure I was okay. His name was George, and I waited with him until the police arrived to file a report and give descriptions. In private, George told me that his church, which was going to be closed for lack of funds, had recently received an anonymous donation for $5000 that had "pay it forward" written on the envelope. All the members had decided to do their own PIF's, and I was really glad to have been one of his."

[ | 2 Jun 2004 @ 14:11 | PermaLink ]

 The Rosetta Project
picture From Ming the Mechanic: One of the projects of the Long Now Foundation is The Rosetta Project:
The Rosetta Project is a global collaboration of language specialists and native speakers working to develop a contemporary counterpart of the historic Rosetta Stone. In this updated iteration, our goal is a meaningful survey and near permanent archive of 1,000 languages. Our intention is to create a unique platform for comparative linguistic research and education as well as a functional linguistic tool that might help in the recovery or revitalization of lost languages in unknown futures.

We are creating this broad language archive through an open contribution, open review process and we invite you to participate. The resulting archive will be publicly available in three different media: a micro-etched nickel disk with 2,000 year life expectancy; a single-volume monumental reference book; and through this growing online archive.
See, it is a bit of a problem to plan how you can leave a legacy of knowledge for future generations that actually lasts long enough for them to be able to access it, and that will be meaningful to them. A CD-ROM has a shelf-life of maybe 10 years. Most binary encoding formats would be pretty useless in a couple of hundred years, as they're just a bunch of zeros and ones, and unless somebody remembers what the encoding scheme was, it is no easy task to play them back. Their answer is to actually engrave regular letters into disks that will last a long time, and to include the text in multiple languages, just like the actual Rosetta Stone, which allows the decryption of Egyptian hieroglyphs, because a text was given simultaneously in hieroglyphs, Demotic writing, and Greek.
[ | 1 Jun 2004 @ 11:41 | PermaLink ]

 What could you do with a chainsaw?
picture From Ming the Mechanic: BlackBeltJones writes:
From an amazing story about a woman who moved to a small island off the coast of Finland:
"I had to build a new jetty. I modelled it after others that I had seen. I cut down trees from the forest, and built a chest - a wooden frame - at the end of the jetty, which I filled with stones", she says on the shore. "It isn't hard to build a jetty. All you need is a chain saw and a brain."
Which got me to thinking, what would I be able to reverse-engineer in my mind from memory? Anything? I'm going to try and give myself a quiz, and ask Foe to name 3 things which I then have to sketch the workings of from memory, and perhaps then how I would go about constructing them.

The island-living lady in the story works as a translator over the internet, but it's not clear as to how much she relies on the net as a source of knowledge to be able to live alone in such a remote place.

I've thought before about the web, moblogs and stolen knowledge - collecting your memories of things, proceedures, recipes, constructions through your phone might result in not just a lifeblog, but a life-or-deathblog. Of course, in such situations, it might just be easier to use your mobile phone to give Ray Mears a call...

» Helsinki Sanomat: Living alone on a small island in the Turku archipelago
The story of that lady is quite a trip. She doesn't seem worried at all about living alone in a just about arctic winter, far away from anybody. But she makes her living on the net.

Anyway, I also have a fascination with knowledge of self-sufficiency, survival and sustainable living. Not that I'm really doing anything about it, but I'm somehow very attracted to gather do-it-yourself knowledge. Knowing how to get by in the wilderness, how to read the signs of nature, how to know what plants are edible, knowing how to make a house out of whatever is around. Or, preferably a bit better than that. Knowing how to re-create civilization if necessary. How to find and melt metals, how to drill a well, build a radio, or whatever. These things are ironically almost lost knowledge in our society. Meaning that it is so specialized knowledge that only few people have it. Oh, I can order a book from Amazon overnight which will tell me most of what I need to know. But what if civilization falls apart and I didn't get around to ordering that book first. Or I'm stranded on a desert island without it. What do I do? It is inspiring when people have the kind of comprehensive and practical knowledge that makes them know what to do, even when most "civilized" people have no clue.
[ | 31 May 2004 @ 10:33 | PermaLink ]

 The Leisure Society
picture From Ming the Mechanic: When I was a kid I was very interested in the future. One thing that was pretty obvious, other than flying cars and space stations, would be that by now we'd really not have to work, per se. It was sort of self-evident, even when I was ten. Of course, if we keep being able to do things better and better, more and more efficiently, more and more bang for the buck, more and more automation - then there would be less and less of an actual need for work. It is a simple calculation. The stuff we need could be produced by a smaller and smaller percentage of the population. Which would allow us to spend our time being creative and having a good time.

The reason that didn't happen might be in the same category as why a brand new 3GHz PC isn't any faster than a 4.77MHz IBM PC from 20 years ago. In principle it should be a thousand times faster, and it is, technically speaking. But it doesn't do anything more. It takes longer to start up Word on it than to start WordStar on that ancient relic. And there are many more things that can go wrong, and more one needs to learn in order to use it.

Maybe the reason is in the same category as why my household budget looks about the same, no matter how much or how little I make. There's not quite enough for what I need, and I tend to pay things late. If somebody came along and gave me $10,000 extra per month, I would at first feel rich, and pay all my bills, and put some aside. But gradually I would come to think I needed a bigger version of everything, and I'd invest in some things I wouldn't otherwise have. And pretty soon I would have used it up, and have more regular expenses, and I'd again be a little behind. While still living essentially the same way. You know, in a house, eating food, driving vehicles, wearing clothes, breathing air.

You can probably draw a nice systems diagram of how there are several self-reinforcing loops involved in these scenarios. If there's capacity to make more stuff or do more things, they will be done, and they will create new needs and new ideas about new things that need to be done. The PC of today would indeed run WordStar like lightning, but I'd be missing the graphics, and would quickly look around for other things it ought to do. Voids will be filled. And there's the influence from all the other folks who have some new gadget or feature. If my neighbor has 3D displays on his walls, I'll feel a little left out, even if I was doing great with a monochrome screen at some other point in time.

So, what would it take for progress to actually add up to progress, rather than to staying in the same spot with some slightly different gear?

I think the main limiting factor is not the envy of my neighbor's stuff, but the economics of production. It doesn't have to be that way, but with the way business is currently structured economically, it is quite natural. Economic rewards flow to those who keep the wheels churning, rather than necessarily to those who solve the biggest problems in the most efficient way. There's no economic incentive to constructing the machinery that would give everybody in the world food to eat every day, without them having to work. Even though it would be fairly easy and comparatively cheap to do. But it wouldn't turn a profit. People who aren't working don't make money to buy stuff, so they aren't good consumers. People who aren't working is a problem in the current scheme of things. Something that requires the financing of unemployement payments, which requires that the wheels are churning faster somewhere else, creating profits that can be diverted for that purpose. It is all pretty insane of course.

If you can formulate an economic scheme that clearly measures the actual costs of various approaches, and the value people perceive in them, and which which allows easy financing of the permanent solving of big problems, and gives little value to wasteful and unnecessary work - then it can all change rather quickly. No, I'm not talking about communism. Rather about a free market with a good enough flow of high quality of information, using a different kind of currency. A currency that is built on quality of life, and which doesn't have a built-in accelerating corrosion that encourages fake productivity for its own sake. Rather, a system the encourages the optimization and maximization of free time and creativity.

It is not too late. The future is yet to come.
[ | 30 May 2004 @ 15:46 | PermaLink ]

 George Michael and the Gift Economy
picture From Ming the Mechanic: From Synergic Earth News:
Pop star George Michael is abandoning the music business to release his songs online for free instead. The multi-millionaire singer said he will never make another album for sale in record shops because he does not need the cash and does not enjoy fame. Fans will be given the option to make donations online in exchange for downloading the tracks, and the proceeds will be given to charity. He is promoting his latest album, Patience, which he said is his last. The 40-year-old star made his announcement during an interview with Jo Whiley on BBC Radio 1. Speaking about his decision, he said: "I'm sure it's unprecedented, it's definitely unprecedented for someone who still sells records. "I've been very well remunerated for my talents over the years so I really don't need the public's money." He added that he hoped people downloading his music would donate to his favourite charities. Explaining his decision, the former Wham! frontman said: "It does two things - it takes the pressure off to have a collection of songs every so many years, which is what nearly killed me. "I'm not pretending I won't be famous any more, but in the modern world if you take yourself out of the financial aspect of things, you're not making anybody any money, you're not losing anybody any money. Believe me, I'll be of very little interest to the press in a certain number of years. I'll hopefully be a happier man, giving my music and also doing something really positive with my music if people are generous enough to donate to the site. I'll remove myself from all that negativity."
Bravo. Great idea. Now, if I only liked his music. But does that mean it will be open source and/or public domain? Such an act of gift giving would work best, of course, if anybody, on their own initiative, could decide to make a compilation of his music and distribute it in whichever way they found appropriate.
[ | 29 May 2004 @ 16:58 | PermaLink ]

 Israeli doctor in the West Bank
picture From Ming the Mechanic: A nice little snapshot slideshow at BBC News about Zvi Bentwich, a well-known and respected Israeli immunologist who now spends his weekends in the West Bank and Gaza doing humanitarian medical work.
"Among Palestinians I have worked with or treated, I have never experienced any kind of hostility – not in a look or a word. I am appreciated by them in the same way that I am appreciated by my Israeli patients. This is the reward of this work."
I'm glad there are always good people doing good things, despite any odds against them.
[ | 27 May 2004 @ 11:09 | PermaLink ]

 Forget the pain in VR
picture From Ming the Mechanic: BBC Article talks about how a doctor in a burn center in a hospital in Seattle has had great success using Virtual Reality to help burn victims not feel so much pain.
Hoffman's virtual worlds, which he calls by names such as SnowWorld or SpiderWorld, are designed to immerse the user so deeply in the virtual experience that their attention is distracted away from the pain.

SnowWorld, for instance, takes users on an absorbing virtual journey through glaciers and ice caves whilst having to defend themselves from attack by polar bears and penguins.

Mike Robinson, a patient who has undergone the virtual reality treatment, said it helped him to overcome the extreme discomfort he felt when his dressings were changed.

"My pain when the nurse is changing my bandages is consistently extreme," he told BBC News Online. "But during the time I was in VR, I was pretty much unaware that the nurse was even working on my wound. "I mean, at some level I knew she was working on me, but I wasn't thinking about it because I was inside that SnowWorld."
That's pretty brilliant. And it goes on to touch on brain chemistry and neurology as to why that might be. Well, another way of looking at it could simply be that you aren't feeling pain if you aren't "in your body". So, if you aren't a fakir who can have an out-of-body experience at will, putting most of your attention into exploring a VR game is obviously a very practical idea. And there's this great quote from the doctor.
"Pain requires conscious attention. Humans have a limited amount of this and it's hard to do two things at once,"
Yeah, particularly if you're a man.
[ | 26 May 2004 @ 14:26 | PermaLink ]

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