I never thought I’d see the day. The world changes, one person at a time. He’s right on the money though. One side, the homosexuals, just want the same respect offered to everyone else, without being treated like second class citizens. The other side just thumps their Bible and says, “That’s wrong! Marriage is between one man and one woman.” We’re all Americans and should all be treated equally.
We’re often told to think for ourselves and that it’s important that we all form our own opinions on things. Express yourself! Think for yourself! Stand for what you believe in! But I’d like to tell you that it’s not necessarily a good thing to have your own opinions unless they’re well thought out and reasoned.
I most often see this in politics. Say we’re discussing universal healthcare. Conservatives will tell you that the government can’t do anything right and that everything they touch explodes and burns to ashes. Liberals oftentimes think everything can be solved by starting another social program of some sort. So what is the truth? Are we wasting as much money as claimed? Are these programs effective? Are they having their intended effects?
Our discourse needs informed people willing to break down how things actually work, explaining exactly what’s going on to us in detail, pointing out anything that’s wrong with the system. We need facts. We need real numbers. We need evidence. I don’t care for empty, emotionally charged diatribes. Our leaders in Congress can’t seem to get anything done, and politics these days is so polarized. If people would more deeply understand the issues, I think they’d see that many of these things are not so black and white, and many issues exist in a gray zone. We should be able to find some agreement somewhere in there. A blind faith or distrust in the government, character assassinations, and the like, all without giving good reasons for how things work, stops the debate and creates a world where compromise is impossible.
But even when people are completely uninformed, that doesn’t seem to stop them from having opinions. If you ask them about an issue, they’ll make things up if they have to. Jimmy Kimmel has this hilarious skit where he walks down the street to ask passerby’s how feel about events which never actually took place. In this case, he’s asking them what they thought of the “First Lady Debate” (back during the presidential election). They will go on and on and on, totally B.S.’ing, even when Ann Romney and Michelle Obama never had a debate.
Knowledge of important things often takes a lot of time and careful consideration. Each issue has to be independently thought out, books have to be read, and you may have to spend some serious time studying with experts. Real knowledge takes a lot of time to develop. It’s not something you “believe”. It’s something that you’ve deeply thought about, examined, and sorted out, rooted in observations in the world.
It’s not something you pray about and then God tells you the answer. It’s not based on some vague ideological principle which you always “know” to be right, without even needing to consider the evidence. It doesn’t make you “principled” to be like that. It’s actually the opposite. It makes you ignorant and close-minded, incapable of critical thought.
In my own experience, it is very hard to have well thought out opinions on any important issue. It takes a lot of effort and requires a lot of time — time that most people don’t have. Misleading statistics are everywhere. We live in a sea of lies. The truth is difficult to find. Also, many people live in self-reinforcing bubbles, where everyone around them is constantly reaffirming what they already believe. You need to let some new information in sometimes!
And not all opinions are equal. Evolution is a fact. The Big Bang really did happen. The Earth really is 4.5 billion years old. And we know these things are true. Just because you don’t personally understand the science does not mean these things are untrue. It does not mean we need to “teach the other side” in our schools. There is no other side and scientists are not fascists for demanding real science be taught in textbooks. If you’re not open to objective facts, I’m not interested in having a discussion with you. If you don’t take scientific observations and facts as evidence, we have no room to even debate.
Many issues involving science oftentimes become difficult to debate because the material oftentimes gets very complex. A debate turns into teaching the other side about the studies and research which they’ve often never considered. People go to a university and study for six to eight years to master biology, genetics, physics, and other sciences. Just because an expert can’t explain to you how the universe came into being in a simple ten minute blurb, that does not mean they don’t understand the cosmology of the big bang, or that you’ve somehow “won” the argument with your religious theology.
The type of critical thought I respect in others is one where they deeply understand all sides of the issue, are familiar with the arguments and evidence, and have a well thought out reason for why they believe like they do. I enjoy talking with people like that, especially when they have a worldview very different from my own. I can learn from people like that.
Take the physicist Freeman Dyson. I’m undecided as to what I think of “objective reality”, and I don’t have any strong opinions on what quantum mechanics may or may not mean, but Dyson seems to have a slightly “spiritual” interpretation of quantum mechanics and feels there may be a mind running things, which he tentatively refers to as God.
That’s the kind of religion I respect. He doesn’t deny any scientific facts. He understands the different positions. He’s respectful of other people’s viewpoints and isn’t 100% sure of any of the issues he’s speculating about. He simply finds the ideas plausible and entertains them. He explains himself in the video above, so please check that out. I like him a lot. He considers himself a Christian without the theology. An interesting man.
Compare Dyson to another religious man, say a deeply devout fundamentalist family member. You’ll be at a family dinner for the holidays and they’ll start preaching to you. You’re told you’re going to hell, that all who refuse to believe in Jesus’ divinity are fools, and that evolution and the big bang are lies from the pit of hell. You don’t even bring these issues up, yet they’re all thrown at you, unprovoked. No mutual respect. You’re just assaulted. You’re told that you’re incapable of morality. That the judgement of the Lord is coming. That mankind is arrogant. That the end times are around the corner, and they go on and on and on. I don’t have any respect for that.
There’s no room for discussion. They’ve got all the answers yet spend no time at all even studying the universe. They know it all. The meaning of life, what happens when we die, what God is, what God wants, the reason for the universe’s existence — they have no problem throwing every sort of scripture at you. If you’re a younger man or woman, even if you try to bring up a counter argument, the environment is so hostile, you almost feel as if they think you’re “rebelling” and not respecting your elders. At these events, things are not open for discussion. They’re there to tell you what’s true, to warn you, in the harshest possible tone, that you’re on your way to hell and need to repent. No ifs, ands, or buts.
People have many ideas and opinions, but very few people explore, meticulously examine the evidence, and carefully sift out the truth of this world.
The CIA’s Chief Technology Officer, Gus Hunt, is telling us, “The value of any piece of information is only known when you can connect it with something else that arrives at a future point in time. Since you can’t connect dots you don’t have, it drives us into a mode of, we fundamentally try to collect everything and hang on to it forever.”
That’s a direct quote from him. They’re now working with Amazon.com, buying storage and computational power on their super computers. What are they storing? Your phone’s GPS data, all the websites you’re browsing, all your blog and Facebook posts, any comment you leave in a forum, your emails, texts, phone conversations, and need I go on? Even if you delete your old posts, they archive it all and file it away under your FBI and CIA profile. They’re working tirelessly to create super AIs which will pilfer, scout, and watch all of us.
Just look around at the cameras on every street corner. Those are linked up to sophisticated computer vision software which is tracking everyone who walks by, identifying people by their faces, license plates, and the like. Watch this video. It’s unreal.
During a recent presentation, one of Hunt’s slides read, “It is nearly within our grasp to compute on all human generated information.” We scientists build this sort of technology to build cars which drive for the blind, empowering them, giving them freedom. We don’t build this technology to enslave people, to watch them, to monitor them like animals in some giant social experiment.
“You’re already a walking sensor platform,” Hunt said, noting that mobiles, smartphones and iPads come with cameras, accelerometers, light detectors and geolocation capabilities. “You are aware of the fact that somebody can know where you are at all times, because you carry a mobile device, even if that mobile device is turned off,” he said. “You know this, I hope? Yes? Well, you should.”
Are we going to end up in Orwell’s 1984? Are we quickly being thrown into a world where we’re being watched no matter where we are or what we’re doing? Never a moment’s privacy?
Am I simply overreacting? Does this sort of technology have the capabilities to keep us safer? Sure, I guess. Then again, I don’t want to end up like Winston.
I think a quotation from the novel would be fitting.
“The telescreen received and transmitted simultaneously. Any sound that Winston made, above the level of a very low whisper, would be picked up by it; moreover, so long as he remained within the field of vision which the metal plaque commanded, he could be seen as well as heard. There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You had to live – did live, from habit that became instinct – in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and except in darkness, every movement scrutinised.”
– George Orwell, 1984
That’s how bad it could get if we let it. Little nanodevices everywhere, hidden in everything, transmitting audio and video to servers all over the country. You’ll never know if you’re being watched or not. Eventually we’ll become fearful and just assume that we are, and we’ll be scared to have serious discussions with one another about politics, religion, science, or anything of that matter.
A world without privacy is a world without ideas, individuality, or any serious thought of any kind. There can be no real happiness. No real authenticity. Nothing. If you take away privacy, if you take away the ability for people to build their own worlds with one another, you’re taking away everything worth living for. Love. Deep intellectual discussion. Friendship. Everything.
I’ve noticed that in this life, you can easily lose your bearings in an illusory flow of time. In a manner of speaking, all that exists is ‘now’. That’s hard to define exactly, but in general, that’s all there is. Now. But it’s very easy for the mind to wander off to different times and places.
If you’re unable to let go of the past, the good and the bad, you won’t be present. Your mind is caught in this rut. It’s not moving, growing, and progressing.
There’s also this onslaught of messages from every angle which try to disconnect us from the here and now. We live in a consumer society and it’s the job of the marketer to make you feel dissatisfied with your life as it is now. If you land this career, then you can be happy. If you can only find your dream man or woman, then you can be happy. If you can just finish school, or earn more money, or lose weight, then you can be happy. If you’re just able to finally obtain that ‘something’, whatever it is, then finally you can enjoy the present moment, just as it is — but not until then!
I grew up in a very religious home, and I remember that as I grew up, I grew tired of living exclusively for the afterlife. By the time I reached my teens, I found it exhausting. This world of ours was belittled to a test of some sort and we’re always being watched. To know what’s right and not do it is a sin! You have to keep your eye on the prize. One day, when we finally die, it’ll all be worth it. We’ll reap the eternal rewards.
I get tired of it. This rush for some elusive end. These empty promises. There’s nothing there.
If there is such a thing as enlightenment, you don’t sprout wings and fly off to some distant cosmos. Nothing really happens. You just realize the lies and empty promises around you and instead focus on things that matter. It just helps you see the present moment in a new way. It sets you right back where you are, but no longer spinning and chasing shadows. You just notice the present moment in a new depth. You notice and appreciate what’s there.
I never realized until just the other day that what keeps me rooted in the present is my quest to understand the universe. At some point many years ago, after reading a lot of philosophy books, I came to question what this reality is. I realized I didn’t understand it. I began some quest to understand what’s going on in an everyday moment, and every single day, with every single book I read, I see the world with new depth, complexity, and mystery. It follows simple rules and it never tries to confuse us, but it so vast, so big, and so detailed that it will never cease to amaze you. It’s the ultimate mystery story. No video game or fiction novel possibly compares to it.
It’s rare to meet another person with this same passion, but occasionally you do. One of my heroes, Richard Feynman, definitely had it. I listen to this video and instantly recognize it. The same thing is brewing in me.
As I walk around the kitchen, I watch the reflections of light off of the stove’s glass top. I notice the reflections and their angles and understand it all. I see some surfaces scattering light in all directions with no reflections, others are like mirrors. I think of all the atoms jiggling and the Columbic forces holding the atoms together. I see the atoms going into excited states and then quickly discharging photons. I feel the force of gravity and know I’m on a giant ball whirling around the sun and that the sun’s distortion of space and time causes this force of gravity. I look outside at the trees, the grass, the insects, and I think of life evolving here on Earth. I think about DNA and genetics and how we could totally rebuild this world.
In some sense, I’m in the present, greatly appreciating some little grasshopper in the backyard. In another sense, my mind is connected to whole flow of evolution, big bang to now, and it all focuses itself on that little insect and I scream to myself, “Marvelous! Simply marvelous!” Sure, we can point out how violent and scary it all is — a giant explosion, all the animals fighting for survival, disease, and so on. But in another way, it’s still very remarkable that we’re here.
In my own case, I can’t help but think about all the potential which exists around me. The more I understand, all these invisible roads appear that I never noticed before. “Hey Jason, you could build this! You could do this! You could redesign this!” The world is built from these little lego blocks following simple rules, and like a small child in a playroom, I start thinking about how I could put the pieces together in new ways.
This is totally different from the cheap sales pitches the world is always throwing at us. It’s not passive. It’s Jason, what will YOU do. What will YOU build. What would YOU like to see. I’m a participant, not a spectator. It doesn’t make sense to ask someone else to do it. It’s not a hope that I attain something one day. It’s here and it’s now. It satisfies me at a very deep level.
I was watching an old lecture of Richard Feynman from the 1980s and he was talking about nanotechnology. It was some sort of ‘Thinking Outside The Box’ conference, or something. It was very informal. He started telling them how you could build tiny little machines with moving parts just several atoms big. Then someone in the crowd asked, “What would you ever do with these things?” He was taken off guard, like he’d never thought of that, and then said, “I don’t know. Let other people think about what they could be used for.” When you’re a child, playing with legos, you’re not always trying to build something in particular. There’s a joy in just figuring out how the pieces go together, which then gives you new ideas in the process.
Thinking about all of this, I brought these ideas up to an old friend of mine and told him about this little revelation I had. He didn’t understand it. This idea of fulfillment through understanding the universe, it just didn’t seem to click with him. He then started talking about a girl he loves, how she’s getting married to another man, and how distraught he was. Of course I sympathize with him.
All I can think to say to that is the more potential roads you’re able to see for yourself, encountering one little road-block won’t devastate you. You just say, “I guess I’ll take this other road instead.” I believe there are many opportunities available to most all of us, but I’ve noticed that you have to be aware of them. In my case, reading and learning about this world is what’s allowed me to see the possibilities for myself. You’ll have to find your own way. Nobody else can do it for you. Most of all, don’t waste your life chasing empty things.
The CBS program 60 minutes just recently featured two MIT economists who addressed why unemployment has been so stubborn. Millions of workers are being displaced by technology, whether it be robots, software, or algorithms. They’re projecting that within a few generations, most all jobs will be done by machines and human workers will be unnecessary. The big question rises – how will people earn a living? Will we have to abandon money and capitalism as we know them today?
They say Henry Ford paid his workers well because he realized that if there was nobody with money to buy his products, he wouldn’t even be in business to begin with. If nearly everything is automated but nobody can earn money to buy the products being produced, it makes you wonder how things will end up.
The other day I posted a video showing wealth inequality as it exists today. Most all of the money and wealth is controlled by the top 10% of Americans, with 1% having nearly 40% of all wealth. That number is on the rise every day. The middle class is fading away, barely distinguishable from the poor. 80% of the people combined only control 7% of the wealth.
Our economic system today isn’t working and if we don’t wake up to this reality, it’s only going to get worse. The big question is what we can do to fix things? I don’t have a clue what we need to do and I don’t expect it’s going to be fixed. The rich and powerful control the political process and as we’ve seen over the past years, they have no interest in taking care of the people who are suffering. They will find every way imaginable to avoid paying taxes and the government coffers will go dry. The middle class will have no money left to squeeze out of them and people will simply have to do without.
I can give you some tips though — learn engineering, software development, and robotics. Get involved in biotechnology or nanotechnology. Do work in artificial intelligence, genetics, or materials science. Things like that. You’ll be building these machines and the technology which underlies them, and you’ll be set for the next forty or fifty years. Assuming I live a normal life, that’s about the rest of my life. I’ve been positioning myself well for this coming storm. I have the skills this economy needs so I won’t have any problems. I can program robots, write software, do complex engineering, research AI, build robotics, design circuitry and computer processors, memory, etc. I’m just fine.
I worry about other people though. Already the bottom 40% of Americans are so poor, they have next to no wealth at all. They’re just buried in debts, living paycheck to paycheck. Now the middle class is falling into that pit as well, and the bottom 60% of Americans combined barely have anything. What a mess. I don’t know things will end up, but I doubt it’s going to be good. We’re living through a time of great transition, where human society will likely be reborn into something completely different than it is today. Birth processes are rarely fun experiences.