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Archive for September, 2012

I got into the car with Justin Bieber pouring is saccharine platitudes out of my speakers. It made me wonder are we some freakish society that bears children, trains them to train themselves to be pop stars and then sucks on that til it’s not so sweet and then spits it out. Rinse. Repeat.

Or have there always been such societies where the popular ideas are so easy to ride to fame and fortune? And the popular ideas so unfulfilling the only thing we can do is take more hits?

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Apparently a lot of people want to live forever.

Last week I read an article about cryonics company, Alcor, and their founder.  Apparently he passed away. A couple of years ago I read the book “Frozen”.   (Alcor has been fighting that book for some time.)   I’ve also read / watched stuff from Aubrey De Grey and all the stuff from Ray Kurzweil.   I’ve had conversations face to face with “singularists”.   And, of course, the efforts to get humans to mars I watch with extreme curiosity.

All of these are modern equivalents of the search for the fountain of youth, religious salvation and belief in the afterlife.

Do you, dear reader, want to live forever?  Do you want to preserve some specific way of life, your way of life, humanity?   It’s maddening to me that a large number of humans want to make some basic version of this existence go on forever.   It seems insane to me to want to promote this specific way of life considering how little we actually know and how frequently we kill each other and the planet.

Personally I’d find it miserable to live forever or to be reanimated in the future with my current form.   One lifetime, as a human, is enough.   A couple of years ago I read this book, Forever, by Pete Hamill.  It depressed me a great deal.   The main character lives forever.  He watches many generations and friends live, suffer and die.   All the joy and up moments were dwarfed by knowing it was an endless cycle – living forever wasn’t all there was!  It was a similar lesson I pulled from Man from Earth and Moon.  Maybe I need to read and watch more hopeful views of living forever.

Chasing immortality strikes me more as fear than some aspirational ideal.  If not the fear of death or regret over something not done in the life time, it must be some ridiculous belief that one or humanity SHOULD live forever and promote this particular formation of life.   Whether it’s fear or some anthropocentric imperative the pursuit of immortality seems like a big fat cop out.

People die.  Species go extinct.  We have limited time and resources at our disposal.  We should stop looking for infinite sources of energy and life and start learning to live better (in whatever way you take that) with less.   Stop damaging other things in pursuit of a cop out.  It’s a waste.  In fact, it appears to me to be a HORRIBLE strategy for ultimate survival of whatever it is we’re trying to protect.

But is the pull of survival of genes, the body, the species so great we can’t help ourselves but to spread the human and our own gospel?  I don’t think so.  Thousands of other species of life execute a variety of other strategies that don’t seem so damn selfish and fated.   Insects, fish and the dinosaurs have about 100x+ the longevity as humanity and as far as history suggests, none of the creatures in those phylums chased immortality.

Could “intelligence” be at the root of this?  Hard to give a truthful argument for this idea.   I conjecture that it’s actually a horrible side effect of “intelligence” in the same vein as the illusion of free will.   Intelligence conjures these things up by accident and they seem to fit conveniently into a world view that keeps the intelligent being going – being fruitful and multiplying.   It might also be the case that this is an evolutionary mutation where a strategy extinguishes itself.

We’ll never know… or maybe some will find a path to immortality and they will come to know.  or maybe we’re actually creating these immortal versions of ourselves in all these Web based things we keep inventing.  If any of that comes to pass I hope whatever carries on has a far better grasp of reality and what’s worth carrying on.

And please oh please don’t let immortality be born out of freezing our heads and reanimating them in some weird duct taped, half baked future.  It’s just creepy.

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I even used an index card.

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I’m obsessed with big questions.  What is life?   Why are we here? How did we get here?  Why do we experience time the way we do?  Why haven’t we seen another planet teeming with life?  What is mathematics?  What is currency?   Why does learning work the way it does?   How do we come to understand each other or anything at all?  Is there free will? How should we live? If not democracy, then what? and so on!

We all start our intellectual life focused on the big questions.  As children we’re unconditioned to censor our questioning of how and why things work.   We are also natural experimenters of theories and are able to quickly absorb new views/ideas.

We’re such good learners as kids that it doesn’t take too many years before the process of turning kids into responsible adults destroys most of our original questioning and critical thinking ability.     Instead of taking advantage of the amazing sponge like years, we teach our children not to think, not to question, not to risk.  We teach them to follow rules, not think and write their own rules.  Our culture is so adept at squashing original, inquisitive thinking that many of us then need 4 years+ in higher education to “learn how to think.”

It happens moment by moment.  From TV, movies, books, our schools, our homes, our politics, the things we say, the way we are.  (Ever caught yourself telling your child, “That’s just the way it is.   You ask why a lot.” …

It happens because we get tired. and having dogma and previously used answers keeps it simple and saves energy, in the short term.

Big Questions take energy.  Lots of energy.  And kids have a lot of that.  Adults don’t, in general.   Adult life seeks order.  Keep the disturbance to a minimum.

If you stop asking the big questions your actions become small, orderly, understandable.   but!   the engine of progress is mutation.  Exploring strange intellectual places.  and, I believe, those strange places can only be reached in ones lifetime by never ceasing to ask and attempt to answer the big questions through thought and deeds.

Kids make big strides quickly for many many reasons, and I believe fearlessly asking big questions and not looking for intellectual order is one of the bigger reasons.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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As I watched some of the Republican National Convention, gear up for the DNC, get through my own daily work, read essays, strategize about business, talk to friends and family and synthesize all the data, I just come back to this question What Are We So Afraid Of?

I decided to write this post today specifically because I saw this ridiculous commercial yesterday for ADT Pulse.   http://www.adtpulse.com/  This commercial made it clear that if you aren’t monitoring your home in real time with video all the time everything you know and love was in grave danger!    So, I’ve decided to figure out just how afraid of everything I should be.

Here’s some of what we seem to be afraid about as a culture.

Our jobs: 

http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2012/08/31/public-says-a-secure-job-is-the-ticket-to-the-middle-class/

http://www.cnbc.com/id/29275784/People_Fear_Losing_Job_the_Most_Poll

 

Our economy: 

http://www.conference-board.org/data/?CFID=20758670&CFTOKEN=9d689c13bda4ed14-4C556B63-968C-7A5F-C9BBEBCC03AA5B5E

http://pewresearch.org/pubs/2306/global-attitudes-economic-glum-crisis-capitalism-european-union-united-states-china-brazil-outlook-work-ethic-recession-satisfaction-gloomy

 

Our government: 

http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/other/direction_of_country-902.html

http://www.people-press.org/2012/06/04/partisan-polarization-surges-in-bush-obama-years/

 

People different than us: 

http://www.sciencemag.org/content/336/6083/853.short

http://www.nyclu.org/news/nyclu-analysis-reveals-nypd-street-stops-soar-600-over-course-of-bloomberg-administration

http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/arts-and-life/entertainment/books/unfounded-fears-167413105.html

 

Murder:

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-narcissus-in-all-us/200903/mass-murder-is-nothing-fear

 

Food:

http://www.amazon.com/Fear-Food-History-Worry-about/dp/0226473740

http://shop.forksoverknives.com/Forks_Over_Knives_The_DVD_p/5000.htm

 

Technology and Media:

http://richardlouv.com/books/last-child/

http://www.amazon.com/You-Are-Not-Gadget-Manifesto/dp/0307269647

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2011/12/5-things-we-fear-new-technologies-will-replace/250545/

 

Cancer, Disease:

http://www.lancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736%2810%2960610-1/fulltext

 

Medicine, Shots, Vaccines:

http://www.wired.com/magazine/2009/10/ff_waronscience/

 

God, Heaven and Hell:

http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0039048?imageURI=info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0039048.t001

http://www.usatoday.com/news/opinion/forum/2011-08-07-love-wins-afterlife-hell_n.htm

 

Terrorism:

http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/13262/london-olympics-2012-the-odds-of-dying-in-a-terrorist-attack/

 

Our Children’s Safety:

http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2011-07-17/news/ct-met-walk-alone-20110717_1_free-range-kids-abductions-york-writer-lenore-skenazy

http://www.denverpost.com/ci_16725742

 

Tattoos:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2032696/Now-tattoos-cancer-U-S-regulator-probes-fears-inks-contain-carcinogenic-chemicals.html

http://professional.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303933404577505192265987100.html?mg=reno64-wsj

http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/04/01/when-tattoos-hurt-job-prospects/

 

Large Hadron Collider:

http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1838947,00.html

 

Everything else:

 

Nothing to Fear?

So is there anything to fear?   are the fears valid?  well, I guess they are valid fears if you don’t have information.   So here’s some information.

 

Most fears drilled into us aren’t founded on evidence – at least not at the level we fear them:

http://www.amazon.com/False-Alarm-Truth-About-Epidemic/dp/0471678694

http://www.amazon.com/The-Science-Fear-Culture-Manipulates/dp/0452295467/ref=pd_sim_sbs_b_2

 

Unemployment isn’t really that high in this country (or most western countries), especially if you get an education:

http://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=unemployment+rate+USA%2C+England

 

You’ll probably have 5-10 employers in your working lifetime so assume you’ll get laid off, fired or go out of business.  There will be other businesses to hire you or you can just make something yourself:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704206804575468162805877990.html

 

Economy will have short term blips but ultimately continues to churn ahead:

http://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=gdp+usa

 

You’re unlikely to be murdered

http://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=crime+rates+in+austin%2Ctx

 

Children aren’t taken very often (at least in Colorado)

http://www.denverpost.com/portlet/article/html/imageDisplay.jsp?contentItemRelationshipId=3433817

 

In fact, violence has long been on the decline:

http://edge.org/conversation/mc2011-history-violence-pinker

 

It’s ok if you forget to pray, chances are it probably doesn’t change outcomes:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/03/23/AR2006032302177.html

 

And humans have been getting tattoos for a long time and the world hasn’t ended:

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/tattoo.html

 

Oh, and, humans aren’t that different from Bonobos or Chimps, much less other humans.  So, maybe we should rethink that worrying about people that aren’t just like us:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2159027/Humans-share-genetic-code-endangered-ape-species-bonobo.html

 

Almost every one of common fears are unwound through perspective changes aka education aka realizing it’s not black and white.    Again, see the S. Pinker History of Violence link above to get an idea of the real impact of just literacy and access to information and what it does to fear.

Is it a big deal that people fear the wrong things?   Yes!   Especially if it leads to suicide bombing, racial profiling, not getting an education and so on.

 

But, c’mon, aren’t there some things we should fear?

Maybe…

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-ropeik/fear-of-climate-change-ma_b_1665019.html

and maybe this too

http://www.foxbusiness.com/personal-finance/2010/09/20/student-loan-debt-surpasses-credit-card-debt/

well maybe this too

http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-201_162-628194.html

 

In the end, methinks fearing too much is a waste of time because in the end we just don’t know what’s going to happen, right?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_swan_theory

Knowing you can’t predict it all (thus prevent it) what’s the point in worrying to the point of being truly scared?

http://mathworld.wolfram.com/ComputationalIrreducibility.html

 

So, no, ADT, I won’t be buying your Pulse product.

 

 

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