Saturday, December 30, 2006

Some cud....

"Western Civilization, it seems to me, stands by two great heritages. One is the scientific spirit of adventure - the adventure into the unknown, an unknown which must be recognized as being unknown in order to be explored; the demand that the unanswerable mysteries of the universe remain unanswered; the attitude that all is uncertain; to summarize it - the humility of the intellect. The other great heritage is Christian ethics - the basis of action on love, the brotherhood of all men, the value of the individual - the humility of the spirit. These two heritages are logically, thoroughly consistent. But logic is not all; one needs one's heart to follow an idea. If people are going back to religion, what are they going back to? Is the modern church a place to give comfort to a man who doubts God - more, one who disbelieves in God? Is the modern church a place to give comfort and encouragement to the value of such doubts? So far, have we not drawn strength and comfort to maintain the one or the other of these consistent heritages in a way which attacks the values of the other? Is this unavoidable? How can we draw inspiration to support these two pillars of Western civilization so that they may stand together in full vigor, mutually unafraid? Is this not the central problem of our time?"

'The Relation of Science and Religion', Richard P. Feynman

Originally published by the California Institute of Technology in Engineering and Science magazine. Personally I would replace Christianity and the 'church' with 'religion', as this applies to many different forms and types of modern belief systems.

If one could really change the world in a long lasting meaningful way, it seems to me that a few barriers will always stand unless they are either a) stripped away ( which is unfortunately incredibly difficult with existing inertia and legacy frameworks and systems) or b) that of slowly replacing or superceeding that which is already there or appears to be working. Sometimes there is a slow and barely noticeable evolution; one that you don't notice until you actually stand back and see where you have come from, and other times there is massive paradigm shift that results in huge change by virtue of an idea, an invention or some catastrophic event ( which generally only lasts a short time in corporate or societal memory).

I posit that five basic concepts or issues are of utmost importance to how we think, live, learn and treat both our ecosystem and fellow sentient beings.

[ However, sometimes you find people have beaten you to it ;) )

a) mortality ( )
b) scarcity ( )
c) religion
d) education including information transparency and unfettered access to said information / knowledge
e) diet

So perhaps improvements could be made, or these concerns addressed by:

a) immortality - by constantly replacing or reprogramming our cells and fully understanding atomic / quantum interactions on molecular biology etc

b) nano-technological fabrication of goods and facilitation of services ( energy issues? ) and population control either voluntarily or involuntarily via governmental eugenics or Nature re-exerting balance via some form of mass infertility and hopefully preventing some form of Malthusian Catastrophe
c) a sweeping new unified religion / belief system similar to, if not expanding upon buddhism in its synergy with modern science, universal compassion and tolerance... or even a spontaneous new mass movement or group awakening / Enlightenment which seems to be brewing due to accelerating global disillusionment
d) free ( as in beer ) universal education and wider topics of learning for younger generations, including digitization thereof and free access to the sum of all human knowledge including all global libraries, universities and educational publications

Current and historical:

e) go vegan or vegetarian for everyone and everything's sake, including your own sanity and health! Why?
A gross simplification I know, ignoring current governments, regimes, political beliefs, markets, famine, drought, poverty, pollution etc etc.. where to begin? So many issues, so many problems... one problem I have spoken about before is that of archival, storage and standardisation of information and protocols to access said information. One must always assume rebuilding from an apocalypse e.g. instructions included, including the instructions for the instructions.


Anonymous said...

Eugenics? See "Hitler". You're going over the edge.

Population control by governments? See China. Barbaric abuse of human rights.

Immortality????? *Really* over the edge!

Deda said...

Just a few, not fully worked through, thoughts on the above, and remembering that splitting this sort of analysis into headings is only an analytical tool. It all has to come together in the end.

You have to be very careful on this one. None of us wants to die, particularly if we are in good health and not suffering. Eliminating suffering and aging and prolonging life indefinitely is a very enticing prospect. But at a broader evolutionary level you are likely to get a society which is resistant to change, very stagnant and introverted and with a sclerotic power structure. One of the benefits of youthful innovation is that the youth remember nothing because they weren't there in the first place. This can be very useful for progress. At the same time there are certainly things one needs to be reminded of in order to avoid repeating past mistakes (fund of existing knowledge, holocaust etc.). Hopefully this can be transmitted through the generations.

Immortality for all would not only give rise to a need for population control but to a need for a complete stop to generation. Presumably, even though people would not age, they could still get fed up with stuff. If you could work sex into that category then that problem would solve itself. Well, at least detach it from the generative process.

Clearly, even under the present system, there will be a need for population numbers to stabilise at some stage. But if the developing world follows the precedent of its industrial forebears, and with the application of some of the education/knowledge and enlightenment you refer to, this should sort itself out without the need for any of the current objectionable Chinese practices.

You have to be careful in your use of the term "eugenics". While it may be neutral as a purely scientific term it has accreted loads of baggage through misuse. Tight jeans are one thing but halocausts and Chinese culls are another.

Anyway, paradoxically, a proposal for immortality sounds to me like a recipe for universal degeneration in place of the system of intergenerational renewal we currently have in place.

A more stable population would help this one. Also, new techniques for producing food. This does not, however amount to an unqualified acceptance of genetically modified foods. Some of these are simply the handmaidens of increased corporate sales and short term greed and may have unanticipated long term biological effects. Changes have to be sustainable. That means neither robbing people into starvation nor poisoning them in the longer term.

As far as the depletion of non-renewables goes, there is a clear case for harnessing alternative means of energy and preferably those that are clean, that don't have waste disposal problems, and whose intensive use is marginal in the universal scale of things. We don't want to harness windpower to the extent of slowing down the earth's rotation, though I suspect there is very little chance of that.

I would buy your enlightenment concept here. Certainly people will express themselves and their beliefs in different ways consonant with their own cultures. But we do need to get people to understand the idea of live and let live. I have no problem with people's beliefs, no matter how far fetched, as long as they don't tread on the toes of others. Unfortunately most of the religions, or variants with which I am familiar, cast themselves in the role of contestants to the death, insisting that you accept their universal truth or die. We have a long way to go to tacke this one. Hopefully the buddhism you refer to will go some of that way.

The more the better, certainly. And free at the point of use/consumption - yes, mostly. There are still some issues of rationing here given that nothing is "free". It all requires the use of resources, human or otherwise, but it can be provided at no direct cost to the user. You do need to make the most productive use of resources and that may involve layering access on the basis of utility to the consumer. Your general point is accepted, though.

It would be helpful if a little wisdom could be dispensed along with all this knowledge.

Certainly we now have the capacity to plan and execute a healthy diet, more or less. And one that does not involve cruelty to animals or silt up our arteries. It is a bit of an annoyance to have to put up with waves of fads in "healthy eating". At one stage we were put off butter (bad for the heart); then the substitute (margarine) came in for a load of stick; and now we are sort of back on butter.There still appears to be a need for serious epidemiological research combined with a holistic approach to health. These two go hand in hand and would hopefully put an end to the ridiculous, and exploitative, system of compartmentalised medical consultants, up with whose arrogant and often deficient prescriptions we have to put, so to speak (sorry Winston).

Keep filling out and refining your main text above. It's bookmarked.

Anonymous said...

My first thoughts were similar to those of the first "anonymous" above. You will need to define what you mean by eugenics, for starters, or people will run away from what you write. Same goes for population control by Govts. Some dreadful stories out of China.