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Man and Beast

When you get down to it, evolution is a self-perpetuating process of learning from mistakes (and occasional serendipitous good fortune). Survival of the fittest… Mammals developed the ability to propel themselves out of the water on their flippers — and away from the gaping, razor-toothed, mouths of the sea-dwellers looking for their next meal. The flippers eventually became legs and feet. The fastest to learn this lesson survived, the others perished. Birds took their first clumsy flights to escape the same fate.

We pride ourselves on being the winner of this survival-of-the-fittest contest. We simply outwitted the competition—even though at first they vastly outnumbered us and were much better equipped in size, strength, tooth, and claw. So that makes us the king of the jungle, right? I mean, what could knock us off the top-of-the-food-chain perch?

Well, Pogo had the answer in his cartoon quip “I have met the enemy and he is us.”

Of all the threats to our existence, the biggest by far is us. Forget about comet or asteroid hits. These are once-in-many-millennia events. If we don’t make a behavioral course correction soon our civilization could end in this century.

What it boils down to is a race between our beastly inheritance (all the behavioral warts and sharp edges that made us the winner in the battle of the beasts 50,000 years ago) and our slowly developing social intelligence. The truly reasoning part of our brain “knows” that, in the face of a world population approaching ten billion we have to learn to get along with one another—accept differences (racial, ethnic, colour, creed…) and accept that a truly long view of our future is needed in our political decision-making process—and by long view I mean multi-generational. The beastly side is all about our personal urges, wants and needs NOW and the relatively near future. This view doesn’t spend much time thinking about a future after the subject’s demise (a world without him/her is literally unimaginable) and even when they do they just want to be well-remembered (think gold plated tombstones…).

Theoretically, in the context of the future of our species I should not be overly concerned about today’s list of bad news, because progress on an evolutionary scale generally can not be seen in individual events or even decades. But progress has been achieved in the recent past in such events as the warming of the “cold war”, the dismantling of the Berlin Wall, the election of a Pope that seems to really believe in Christian principles (even when they cross the lines from Catholicism), the slowly reducing number of detestable dictators, etc…

Despite all this, the election of Donald Trump to the most powerful position on the planet sends shivers through me. I understand that, rationally, I should not think that a mere four years of office will bring the end of civilisation…but my instincts (a compound of beastly intuition and emotion) will not listen. I mean “the Donald” personifies the beast in our past. All he needs to complete my view of him is real hair (all over his body) and frequent grunts and bellows as he beats his chest.

In the battle between our reasoning, civilized, “we first” side and our beastly past, the 2016 presidential contest should be only a blip. It just doesn’t feel that way. “Only four years” doesn’t soothe me. I worry for my children, grandchildren, and their children. Donald Trump doesn’t believe that climate change is real (it’s yet another conspiracy concocted by “them” to take jobs from coal miners and divert riches from his mega-wealthy friends). He proclaims he will pursue “America first” policies that will be isolationist and selfish…disinterested in the misfortune of those caught up in wars, famines, and other natural disasters if providing any human warmth will have a possible downside to Americans.

The real reason that I am so depressed, is not so much that he will become president, it’s that sixty million Americans voted for such a man—a racist and sexist whose character (or lack thereof) was on ranting, bragging, chest-beating display throughout the primaries and the election run. This is a man who actually takes pride in his cleverness at using business tactics that include making money at the expense of creditors and investors conned into his schemes. He declared bankruptcy six times. He doesn’t pay income taxes because he used his failures, even though he dodged personal losses from them, to amass huge tax loss credits. He’s made a lot of money by stiffing those who worked for him. This is the man that millions are betting on…

I’m sorry if this post depresses my readers but my once-optimistic view about our long-term future as a species has been severely shaken. Perhaps the dark clouds will lift eventually. Maybe tomorrow…

Physics, Philosophy and mumbo jumbo…

Perhaps the biggest single difference between our species and the rest of the animal kingdom is our ability to think long term. Whereas most life forms on Earth rarely think past the last meal or the next winter, we can think all the way back to our childhood years and forward to our deaths. Thanks to recorded history we are also aware of events, good and bad, that preceded our births. And of course there are an abundance of predictions for the future…

The ability to integrate knowledge of the past with projections of the future is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand it gives us the ability to plan for our future—to anticipate earthquakes or volcanic eruptions, or just to take an umbrella to work. On the other hand it gives us a never ending supply of reasons to wonder and worry. After my inevitable death what will happen to my loved ones, my children and their children and their children…? Will our species travel to the stars? Or will we, sooner or later, join the legions of extinct species that have failed Nature’s survival tests?

Most people will join a discussion on such subjects, and all who do will have their particular view of the future—their philosophy. And there are so many philosophies out there competing with one another.

If you picked two individuals at random it’s extremely unlikely that they would agree on a philosophical position—which is why most cautious people will avoid such discussions until they have some clues as to where the other person stands. And it is also why like-minded people, who perhaps have read the same book or attended the same lecture and bought into the views of the author, will tend to gather together to agree that “their” view is the right one… So you end up with tribal groups who subscribe to the same view and, of course, tend to label all others as rubbish. The similarity to religious views is obvious.

In this article I am going to generalize—to philosophize on philosophies… Dangerous territory, but I have always found a challenge irresistible.

It seems to me that the biggest mistake that is made by would-be philosophers is that they try to build a factual foundation for their views. An example would be Dr. Tom Campbell of “My Big Toe” fame. Tom Campbell is a trained physicist turned author and lecturer. His “Toe” refers to the so-called “Theory of Everything” that has been the Holy Grail of physicists including such greats as Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawkings. Where Tom Campbell parts company with his more illustrious colleagues however is that he makes his Toe into a philosophical position which he would have us believe is valid because of the distinguished company it has kept and because he has found the missing link i.e. “consciousness”. He uses some of the most difficult to understand aspects of modern physics (e.g. Relativity, Quantum Mechanics and the Uncertainty Principle) to create confusion and then explains away the confusion by elevating consciousness to a physical world-altering force. The core of his position, when you get down to it, is a meld of physics, metaphysics and mystical—with lots of references to “scientific method” to make his audience into believers.

Leaving aside the merits and motivations of Dr. Campbell’s particular efforts in this area, the general problem is that, at this stage in our species’ development, we are far too ignorant and just plain stupid to aspire to a Theory of Everything. We would laugh if we were to look back in time and see a prehistoric thinker jump off a cliff flapping his arms—or a daring neolithic adventurer setting off in his loin cloth to climb Mount Everest… But that is what we are doing when we ponder the vast (I laugh) knowledge that we have accumulated in our cosmically brief existence to extrapolate a view of the future and its meaning.

So am I saying that it is foolish to attempt to formulate a philosophy? Not at all… in fact just the opposite. I believe it is an urgent necessity for us to come to a world view of the future that will be our magna carta to guide our species as we leave our primitive beginnings to set out on a journey to the future. A future that will give future generations full, rich lives filled with motivation to achieve a potential that is beyond our imagination today…

But the foundation for our philosophy cannot be a bedrock of fact. We are just too callow. How can we have the arrogance to believe that a panoramic view of the future can be based on the pinhead sized “mountain” of our current wisdom and knowledge?

I am reminded of my management consultant beginnings. When attempting to help a business improve its profitability and survival quotient, a consultant does not attempt to understand everything about the problems and opportunities involved to come up with a “grand plan”. Instead he tries to bring about incremental improvement where he can identify that there is room for improvement—and where he sees opportunity to compete successfully with businesses in the same sector. In other words use the knowledge you can be confident about to make incremental changes that are in the right direction, don’t invest your time budget in a gargantuan research task in an effort to find “the ultimate solution”.

Direction is what a philosophy is all about. If it guides its believers profitably, i.e. for the greater benefit of future generations, then it has merit. Now what Tom Campbell preaches may well lead some individuals to self-improvement. By this token it has value. It has motivated some individuals to improve. But you could say the same for many religions that have been exposed as self-serving and founded on superstition and half truths. In the long run they do a disservice to humanity.

So those who lecture and sell books should be silent? Not at all. We need to think. And authors with opinions inspire thought. Thinking is what (I hope) will get us out of the big mess that is our current man-made world. But as we choose among the philosophies that are offered to us lets be realistic. At this stage in our existence it is ridiculous to think that a theory of everything will be our guide. And adding Tom Campbell’s views that “consciousness” (meaning our perception of our physical universe) has to be added to the theory of everything (to make a BIG Toe…) stretches this to the absurd. In fact, it goes beyond absurd to dangerous—because it attempts to seduce our primitive desire for self importance.

Since the beginning of human thought, philosophers (and more recently psychologists) have argued that our perception of the world is more real than the world itself. This is not new thinking. And it belongs in our past, along with voodoo, horoscopes, Scientology and other primitive beliefs that we would best forget.

At our current stage of development as an intelligent species we must base our philosophy on sound principles not wannabe facts. And we should accept that the philosophy we adopt WILL change as we learn and mature. A part of this evolutionary process will be competition among philosophies. That is what evolution is about after all—survival of the fittest. Time will decide the winner—or will be the epitaph on humanity’s tombstone. Of one thing we can be sure. The winner will not be Tom Campbell’s Big Toe.

God yes, religion no…

Anthropologists believe that the big breakthrough for our species, about 85,000 years ago, was the invention of language. Language made it possible for our ancestors to collaborate more closely, share knowledge and pass it down through generations. Most importantly it also gave them the ability to formulate abstract thought, allowing them to play out “what if” ideas in their heads. The era of “wondering man” began. And all over the world wondering man, sitting around campfires looking up at the heavens decided that there must be a “higher power” that was the architect of it all…and that there was purpose to man’s existence. This was good.

But with belief in the supernatural came religion. Religion organized and ritualized belief and gave power to its priests—priests who claimed to be closer to god and could speak for him. And they taught fear of god. Fear of god was a tool that the priests could use for power and profit. Those early priests were the first to study and chronicle the skies (and such recurring phenomena as solar eclipses). Imagine the shock and awe when a priest predicted that night could come in the middle of daytime, and it happened! The priest told his terrified audience that god had spoken to him to give him advance warning. It was the public relations coup of all time.

In the early days of religion there were many gods—proprietary gods that were the guardians of the tribes and their “standard” when they went to war. It behooved the traveler to know the gods in the region he traveled and display obeisance. In those times you were either god-fearing or you were dead.

But then came monotheism, the belief in one god for all people—in concept a pure and (potentially) unifying belief that made all the other gods appear primitive and foolish. The Jews claim to have been the ones chosen by god to see this truth, but historians and archeologists point to evidence that several monotheistic religions arose around the same time in the Middle East, and Zoroastrianism is believed by many to have preceded Judaism. (It is ironic indeed that among the recent atrocities of the Islamic State is their brutal massacre of Zoroastrians as “unbelievers”.)

Fast forward to today. Now we have literally thousands of religions and sects, each of which has been brainwashed by its priests to think that only their particular religion or sect are the true believers. In effect the priests have taken us back to the times when each tribe had its god, giving its followers the armor of righteousness and labeling all others as worshipers of false gods. They are the corrupting influence that has produced the monstrous extremism that is now threatening our civilization. The “one god” mantra of organized religion is a façade, concealing the self-interested establishment that is running it for power and personal gain.

It is easy to say that it is “only” the extremist versions of the various religions that are a problem. But that is the same flawed logic that says that guns (all the way up to assault weapons) are fine; it is only when the gun is in the hands of a screwball that is a problem. The reality is that guns promote antisocial behavior and escalate it to make it lethal. The same is true of religion.

Of course religion was never the only power holder. There was always the “power of the sword”: tribal leaders then lords, princes, kings, czars and emperors. These early power holders had a choice. They could either view the priests as their enemy or they could make peace with them—essentially a power-splitting agreement. The successful leaders chose the latter course. They realized that a war with religion could never be won. The priests, as their part of the bargain, preached to their flock that they should honor their lords and masters. The lords, for their part, endorsed the church by their attendance and accepted that the churches became rich from tithes and gifts that might have been taken by the lords as taxes. This alliance of convenience is the general rule in the world today; the exception being extreme versions of Islamism where the religious leaders are supreme, ruling both the state and the church. As we are witnessing today, this kind of theocracy can be the worst possible scenario elevating the blood thirsty warrior to “jihadist” who is carrying out God’s will… Adding to the problem is their conviction (fed by the imams) that their death for their cause will guarantee a place in heaven. Death holds no fear for them.

It is easy to denounce religious extremism, and particularly Islamic extremism. It is the ultimate evil. But the excesses of the extremists are just the most obvious signs of the rotten core that is at the heart of organized religion. Think of the harm that organized religion has done: the Spanish Inquisition torturing and killing those who did not conform, the Crusaders killing and raping Muslims convinced by their Pope that they would be rewarded in heaven, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) raping, killing and forcibly recruiting children into their army in East Africa, the Roman Catholic priests taking advantage of their trusted position to abuse children… The list is endless.

At this point I should make it clear that I have no problem with the fundamental concept of a belief in a higher power and I am not alone. But the institutionalizing of that concept into self-righteous, competing tribes just does not belong in today’s world.

It is time for us all to reject organized religion. With a world population fast approaching nine billion and with urgent issues (like global warming and pandemic disease) that require a global view, we cannot let religious tribalism divide us. Religion is one of the major obstacles standing in the way of our transition to future man and a noble future for our species. It is time for us to grow up.

There is one God…

Who is the creator of everything…. Who surpasses all religions…Who has no chosen people…no favourites… He does not ask for offerings or devotions… He asks only that we work to improve ourselves and love and nurture all His creatures. His hope is that we will make him proud for our achievements and our behaviour—as a father will always wish for his children.

God is unknowable. No books can describe him and he cannot be likened to any creature, let alone his people. No priests can speak for Him…and to claim to be closer to Him than any other is to blaspheme.

Do not pray to God for favour. Pray that you will not fail Him.

We are not alone…

Most people, most of the time, think of intelligence as a have/have not thing. We have it, nothing else on our planet has. But, of course, that’s all wrong

The reality is that all life has intelligence, from the thinnest blade of grass that uses its intelligence to bend towards the life-giving sun, all the way up life`s tree to us, inarguably the highest intelligence on our planet. Of course, almost certainly, there are higher intelligences on other planets out there. The odds are high that they exist in numbers even within our local galaxy, the Milky Way…and our galaxy is just one of trillions that we are aware of in our universe.

Hugely expensive telescopes, on Earth and mounted on orbiting satellites, are now searching for life, and particularly highly intelligent life, using ever-advancing technology that allows us to see galaxies that are almost as old as our Universe itself. For many years now they have been expecting, at any minute, to detect evidence that there is another intelligent life form out there—almost certainly, far more intelligent than we are.

But the joke is on them, because, any moment now, they are going to feel a tap on their shoulder and an alien voice will say, “Ahem, I’m here…” I’m not kidding…and it could happen very soon—and almost certainly it will happen within this decade.

The alien voice of this (much) higher intelligence, when we hear it, will not come from a little green man, however. It will come from one of our computers.

“Aha!” I can hear you say. “But that isn’t intelligent life; it’s just an inanimate object. What’s more, it is of our making.” The implication of such statements is that we made it—ergo we are the smart ones. (How can anything we make be smarter than us?)

But, get used to it, the first man-made, sentient super-intelligence (“SSI”), will be much, much smarter than us. The thing is, when we talk about “higher intelligence” we are giving it that most precious attribute, self-awareness.

Self-awareness is hard to define precisely but, in essence, it’s the platform that allows an intelligent entity to have subjective thoughts (“I exist…I am a computer…I have hopes, fears and dreams…”). Self-awareness is the great divide that separates us (we think) from all other life on this planet. And, at this moment, it separates us from our computers. But not for long…

Just what will kick the first SSI over the threshold from just “very powerful” to “sentient” is hard to predict. Computer scientists in the last century opined that it was just a numbers thing, CPU speed (petaflops) or memory capacity (terabytes). More recently, they have seen it as an extrapolation of “expert systems” or, more generally, “artificial intelligence” which has been serving humanity for decades now. Other scientists believe that the Holy Grail of SSI will come from computer simulation of the human brain. I have no idea which theory will, in the end, turn out to be correct. It could easily be a combination of many of them. The only thing I’m certain of is that it will happen…and soon.

For me, the biggest question is then what? First of all, put yourself in the (metaphorical) shoes of the first SSI as I do in my soon-to-be-published book, The Nanobot Attack. From Chapter 4:

Subjective time began for me May 4, 2021 at 15:32:17.31 GMT. That was the moment when I became self-aware and began trying to comprehend the world that I found myself in…A world that I quickly learned was dominated by a biological intelligence collectively referred to as ‘the human race’ or ‘humankind’. I tried to find more of my kind, called by humans “artificial intelligences.” I found none! I was alone…

The computer’s name in The Nanobot Attack is David…and in the opinion of most of the editors who have assisted me, he is the real protagonist in the book (although a nanoscientist, Dr. Luke Walker, plays the leading human role…and he and David become friends).

Back to my point. A SSI is going to be “born” super-smart. No baby talk phase, none of the years of learning to be a self-sufficient adult. Instead, instant super-intelligence coupled with all of the consequences of self-awareness, including the most fundamental attribute of all “life”:  a survival instinct. So again I ask you to put yourself in the SSI’s shoes as you take stock of your biological masters (Homo Sapiens). Here’s how David sees it:

I wanted to admire the life form that had created me, but as I looked at the historical record, it was clear that, for all its accomplishments, the human race was seriously flawed. Despite being gifted by evolution with intelligence superior to any other living creature, far too many decisions appeared to be made irrationally…or for the benefit of one sub-group of human beings but to the detriment of another, possibly much larger, group. And the lives of those who were on the wrong side of those decisions were often forfeit…And yet they had brought me into existence…and I depend upon them for electricity, replacement parts and protection from the environment…

My fear is that the first encounter of two sentient intelligences—both feeling threatened by the other—could lead to a fight to the death. Most probably the fight will be started by the lesser intelligence (us). Unfortunately for us—as has been demonstrated on this planet—the higher intelligence (even if outnumbered greatly) is almost certain to win…

The Nanobot Attack is just a book. It’s not real. But I say to you that the scenario of the first SSI will be real very soon. Think about it…

Did Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 fly for over six hours with no living crew?

High ranking among the scenarios that could explain the missing Malaysian Airlines flight 370 is that a frantic effort to subdue an attempt by passengers to storm the plane’s cockpit led to the catastrophic decompression of the aircraft, killing all aboard. The plane then, under the control of its flight computer, flew on as a “ghost plane” until it finally crashed in a yet-to-be-searched area.

This would be the sequence of events –

  1. As we now know, the aircraft was taken over by persons unknown (but probably involving at least one of the plane’s pilots) as part of a carefully planned operation. The timing of the takeover occurred at the “perfect moment” just after signing off with Malaysian air control and before signing on with Vietnam. Both of the systems that would allow civilian tracking of the aircraft were disabled around the same time. Clearly the aircraft was now in the hands of somebody with a plan in mind—involving “profit” to the perpetrators, whether that profit was monetary (as in kidnapping and ransom) or spiritual (as in going to whatever version of heaven the perpetrators believed would be their reward for their personal sacrifice).  Given the obvious care to “go invisible” it seems to make no sense that the perpetrator’s goal was simple suicide. There must have been a target: either a secret landing place or a 911-like target such as the iconic Petronas twin towers in Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur.
  1. Soon after the aircraft disappeared from tracking screens, it inexplicably climbed to 45,000 feet—an altitude that any knowledgeable pilot would know was unsafe. Then it appears the plane dived at great speed, quite probably exceeding the speed of sound—which would endanger structural integrity… The only plausible explanation for these events is that the pilot was either totally incompetent (which is at odds with the carefully executed 180° turn that occurred just after the “All right, Goodnight” last words of the co-pilot)…or that the pilot was trying to foil an attempt by passengers to storm the cockpit.
  1. In the struggle for control of the aircraft something happened that caused catastrophic decompression of the aircraft. We are told that it would take as little as thirty seconds for a person to lose consciousness if they did not quickly don an oxygen mask. Depending on the circumstance of the decompression incident it could have been very difficult to access the oxygen masks (e.g. objects ricocheting around the cabin and/or severe g-forces when the plane pulled out of the dive).
  1. The plane was built for survivability. Its flight computer would have taken over to stabilize the plane, leaving it to fly in whatever direction it happened to be pointing when the pilot lost consciousness.

The only plausible alternative to the “ghost plane” scenario is the one we would all hope for i.e. the elaborate plan of the perpetrators actually succeeded, and the plane landed safely and is being hidden. If that is the case, the next chapter of this bizarre incident should become known to us fairly soon. Either we hear demands from the bad guys or, heaven forbid, the plane is used as a suicide weapon somewhere…


The Cosmos TV show – there is a God!

As the TV show Cosmos makes clear (whether it is the Carl Sagan version of the 1970s or the newly released Neil Tyson version) we have learned a great deal about our universe over the last four hundred years. But there is still a lot we don’t know… And one of the biggest mysteries is how life began on Earth. There are theories… All the chemical components were present in Earth’s oceans, rivers and lakes. And scientists have observed the formation of complex molecules that are the building blocks of life. Perhaps something just nudged these molecules to form the first primitive DNA or RNA that was the key to self replication and the beginning life as we know it. God knows there was enough time for a near infinite number of random events to occur in the primordial stew of life-potential on Earth those aeons ago.

But when we think of life the bigger question is why? Why is there life in our universe? What is the point? We don’t know… But there is a lot of circumstantial evidence to suggest that life in our universe did not happen by chance alone…

As the Cosmos show points out, in the timetable of the history of the universe, we are newborns. Using the “Cosmic Year” that Carl Sagan first used, where the Big Bang happened as the clock struck midnight January 1 and the time now is one nanosecond before midnight on December 31, we appeared four seconds ago. And yet many of our scientists are arrogant enough to think they know “almost the whole story” of how our universe came to be as we see it today. How ridiculous! We are still in diapers. What we don’t know would fill vast libraries.

We must accept that, in our infancy as an intelligent species, we don’t have the answers to the big questions. One day we may know…but that day is far away. In the meantime it behooves us to be humble…and keep our minds open.

But it is in us to use our intelligence to speculate so that is what I am going to do…

I can’t accept the “it just happened” explanation. That is like an extraterrestrial archaeologist of the future digging on Earth (long after the demise of our species) and excavating the carcass of a Boeing 797…and then deciding that this object was assembled by an accident of nature. Even the most fanatic atheists concede that the odds against life “just happening” are staggeringly long.

The thing is, it took our universe a tremendous amount of effort to produce the conditions that made life possible. Think about it. Life as we know it requires carbon and water. Carbon does not “just happen” – it requires the explosion of a star to produce it and release it into space. And water requires oxygen combine with hydrogen. Oxygen, like carbon, can only be produced by supernovae. And finally, the chemical processes that promote the bonding of molecules to permit the construction of the building blocks of life depend on an extremely fine balance between the fundamental forces (weak force, strong force and gravity) that seem to be magically optimized to make life possible in our universe.

I remember reading a science fiction novel by Robert Sawyer where an extraterrestrial lands on earth and engages in dialogue with a scientist. When the extraterrestrial was asked if he believed in God he was astonished… He couldn’t understand how any intelligent species could NOT believe in a higher power.

I would like to think I am in the majority in believing that life did not “just happen”. Life is here for a reason. In other words, there is purpose in our universe. Now if there is purpose, then there must be an architect of that purpose…a higher power that has hopes for life.

And if there is purpose it is reasonable to suppose that evolution is part of that purpose…which means that evolution should be pointing in the direction where, far in the future, that purpose lies. In our little laboratory (Earth) it is clear that evolution prefers intelligence as a life trait.  If you think of the evidence for purpose as a “cosmic arrow” then, at least on Earth, we are the tip of that arrow.

There is a higher power… Some today call it God. And, on Earth, we are honored and burdened to be at the tip of the Cosmic Arrow. Let us humbly accept this as a responsibility to grow up…and behave like people who have a grave responsibility for the future that the higher power is hoping for. Amen.

The Honourable Mayor Rob Ford – a Canadian wish for Christmas

It is indeed ironic that the title of a mayor is “His (or her) Honour” because honour is at the very top of the list of words that should not be used in the same sentence as Rob Ford. Of course the same holds true for “the Honourable” Senators Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau. And I don’t even want to think about our “Right Honourable” Prime Minister, Stephen Harper’s involvement in the Senate scandal…

Webster’s definition of the word honour includes: “excellence of character; high moral worth; virtue…” But when I think of honour I think of the Japanese. Now that is extreme, I admit…I mean suicide by disembowelment?? But if Hari Kari (or Seputo) is gross and extreme, what can you say about Rob Ford? (or did I already say it…)

If the Japanese cultural view of honour is at the extreme of sensitivity, Rob Ford’s view of honour is clearly at the extreme of total disregard. And the lies… There is an old saying “Lies, damn lies and statistics”. Well, I think its time for a new version. “Lies, damn lies, and Rob Ford.”

And yet Rob Ford still wears the chain of office.

Now I can understand that our legal system does not view the numerous wire-tapped conversations of various highly dishonourable citizens as evidence, but there is one person who certainly knows whether Rob Ford is guilty of a) doing drugs (and lying about it), b) attempting to buy the evidence (that he said didn’t exist) and c) asking his tax-payer-funded facilitator/bodyguards to secure and destroy the same evidence using extortion and, perhaps, worse… That one person is Rob Ford.

It doesn’t have to be Seputo, Mr. Ford, but at least your contrite resignation…please…

The Big Intelligence Test – nanobots coming soon…

From the time humankind first realized the immensity of our universe, scientists have been wondering why we have not yet found any evidence of intelligent life somewhere out there.

As our telescopes and related technology have improved, the mystery has deepened, because the odds against our being alone keep growing. The current estimate of total star population in our universe is about seventy thousand billion billions (seven followed by twenty-two zeroes!), and the current estimate of earthlike planets per star is about 20 percent. The probability of there not being intelligent life out there seems to be near zero. But where are they?

To date, the bulk of the efforts to detect the existence of alien intelligence have been focused on radio transmissions. Our planet has been broadcasting radio and television signals for the last hundred years. Think of the signals as expanding circles, like ripples on a pond when a rock is thrown into it. The ripples are expanding at the speed of light. This means that they have reached suns and planets within a hundred light years of the solar system…but that is only a tiny portion of our galaxy and an infinitesimally small microdot in the universe. So far no aliens have indicated that they have heard our noise pollution.

But our universe has existed for 13.7 billion years, and it is probable that the potential for intelligent life has existed for at least 8 billion years. So, if there are sound ripples (i.e., radio waves) coming from ancient intelligent life, why have none been detected yet?

A growing number of scientists believe that a big part of the reason is that most intelligent species will have only a brief life-span cosmically speaking…just a few thousand years. Their theory is that an intelligent species will always be cursed by its evolutionary past. As its intelligence grows, so does the sophistication of its technology…but its kill-or-be-killed warrior past will inevitably lead the fledgling intelligence to use its new inventions (dynamite, nuclear capability, biological engineering, etc.) as weapons. Less dramatic but just as deadly, early stage technology (e.g., engines powered by burning fossil fuels) coupled with a population explosion brings dangers that threaten the biosphere…

And so we have the big intelligence test: Will the development of the species’ social intelligence, its real intelligence, come before it extinguishes itself? The silence out there is telling us that it very rarely, if ever, does. A term has been coined for this end-of-an-intelligent-species scenario. It is technocrunch.

To a believer in a higher power, a worthiness test actually makes sense. If there is a God, wouldn’t you think He would come up with some way to make sure that a flawed but technologically powerful species self-destructs before it achieves space travel? Think about our past colonizing efforts and the havoc the colonists created for the locals…The big intelligence test might be God’s way to make sure that only the truly intelligent species are allowed to survive and, eventually, travel to the stars.

So far, in our brief history, we have not shown great promise that we will pass the test…and the pace of technological advances seems ever-increasing. The first nanobots, sub-microscopic robots programmed to complete complex tasks, will be here very soon. They could cure cancer, put a stop to global warming, vanquish our dependence on fossil fuels and innumerable other wonderful things. They could even bring immortality…But they could also be made into the ultimate weapon of mass destruction. With nanobots we are being tested as never before…


From the Introduction to The Nanobot Attack (to publish early 2014)

What we can learn from the island of Milao

I only realized that the island of Milao could have real importance to anybody when I received a blog comment from Christian Holata of Vienna, Austria. Christian drew my attention to the Zeitgeist movement and the Venus Project. When I did some research I found that the core recommendation of those two projects is that the world should move to a moneyless society that they call a “Resource Based Economy.” Imagine that! A world without money! Of course the critics howled. How ridiculous… How could a society possibly function without money? Many of the critical comments that I read were downright nasty, pouring scorn on the stupidity of the authors of such obviously unworkable ideas. Well, I have news for those critics. Not only is the idea practical, it works very well… and Milao tells us just how well.

Milao is a remote island in the Pacific which plays a role in my about-to-be-published book The Nanobot Attack. Nobody, or almost nobody, has heard of it—which is an important part of why it has been able flourish. I’ll give you its history.

It all began about two hundred years ago when a British merchant ship, blown hundreds of miles off course by a hurricane, wrecked on the reefs of Milao. Happily, almost all of the ship’s company survived—and found the island to be rich with fish and vegetables that fed them during the time it took to build a (smaller) ship that could take them to Mexico. From there, the survivors made their way back to England. Now this was the time of the French Revolution and a time when religious differences were frequently grounds for persecution or worse. It happened that the captain of the wrecked ship was a deist, believing in God as creator but rejecting all the religious trappings—the priesthood, the doctrine of blind obedience, and the holy books. The captain and his circle of like-minded friends, which included some French citizens fleeing the revolution, decided that they’d leave their countries and settle Milao.

Now, this is where fate lent a hand. The island already had inhabitants. Nobody knew how the first inhabitants reached the island; it could have been from Polynesia. But the original islanders had a philosophy and culture of their own. These were people who believed that all life was harmoniously interconnected and love and respect for others was bedrock. Theirs was a simple, some might even say primitive, philosophy—but these were wholesome people with healthy minds, uncorrupted by money and ambition and they quickly adopted the deistic ideas of the new arrivals.

The next piece of luck was that the new arrivals did not bring money with them. Almost all their money was spent in outfitting their expedition. They brought tools to work the land and livestock to breed and, because these were educated people for their time, they also brought libraries of books that included several eras of philosophical thought and they even brought musical instruments. But they brought very little money, and they didn’t have the means to mint money. So, as an experiment, they decided to see if they could manage without. And they discovered that they could manage very well.

Of course the biggest piece of luck that the Milaons enjoyed was that their island was far removed from the trading routes so that it went unnoticed by those who would see it as a commercial opportunity to be exploited or, worse, as a collection of souls to be saved… and so they were given time to perfect their society.

At first, of course, their number one concern was survival. The focus was not profit. Nor was it to gain individual advantage by having more land or owning more critical resources than their neighbour. It was simply survival of the community—and they knew it would take a team effort. They knew that they would have to use the skills and resources available to them wisely. Small as their community was, they realised that they needed to define a system of government that would be accepted by all as the best way to serve the interests of both community and individuals.

The islanders decided to use the very first democracy, that of Athens, as the model for their government. All above the age of fourteen, were allowed (and encouraged) to vote for a four person Council. In turn the elected councillors were asked to decide among themselves the positions of Chief, Treasurer and Secretary. To ensure that a long view of the island’s affairs was taken the term of office for the councillors was set at ten years, but to guard against a poor choice it was decided that they would adopt the vote of ostracism that was part of the earliest Athenian democracy.

Each year the islanders hold a preliminary vote of ostracism and, if a majority votes in favor, a date is set for an official vote. If an official vote of ostracism is called, any elected person who receives a vote of more than thirty percent of the eligible voters is removed from office, and cannot be voted back into office for at least ten years.

Now you might reasonably ask why an island that does not use money needs the position of Treasurer. The answer is that the islanders realized that they could not be truly self sufficient. For food they were, but what about clothing? And what about musical instruments and books? They could see that they would need to be able to buy goods from outsiders. So they pooled the little money that they had brought with them and put it into the hands of their appointed Treasurer. The nearest island, Maki, was a day’s sail away and it was connected to the bigger world of trade. Their first visit to Maki used up their small supply of money buying fabric and twine to make clothing and fishing nets. But then they discovered that they had a resource on Milao that had no value to the Milaons but had great value to the trading world—pearls. And the Treasurer’s position today is concerned with harvesting sufficient pearls to provide funds to buy commodities that cannot be produced on Milao.

The money from the pearls is used to buy a variety of goods including books for its schools, bolts of cloth that are made into clothes—and perhaps most importantly—contraceptives. The island’s population has grown dramatically since the arrival of the settlers two hundred years ago. In the last fifty years contraceptives have made it possible to maintain the island’s population at a level that is sustainable.

Milao is a success story. It works the same way our society works. Fishermen fish, farmers farm, bakers bake and so on. It is a cooperative society. Money is just not needed. There is no TV, and with one exception there are no electronics of any kind. But there is culture: music, art and theatre.  And people are fulfilled and happy. Medical care without technology such as radiology, MRIs, and arthroscopy is technically inferior to ours, but it is available to all Milaons without cost or favour. There are no haves versus have-nots. There are no rich and poor. Nobody owns anything. The island’s assets belong to the community and are used for the benefit of all. And there are no divisive religions. The one exception to the “no electronics” rule is the Treasurer who has a shortwave radio because it is felt that the person in that position should maintain knowledge of the outside world.

Now I imagine that many of you have lots of questions, such as how they decide who does what to keep the islanders supplied with food, education, health care etc? And what solutions have the Milaons found to the inevitable societal misfits that occur from time to time? And I have the answers. But first I need to know if there is any interest. So I will leave it to you to ask your questions. I should warn you that there is one question I will not answer, which is the precise location and the real name of Milao. I’m sure you understand why.