4 June 2005
Pass bravely onward! Not in
your generous trust in human kind;
the good which bloodshed could not gain,
your peaceful zeal shall find.
-John Greenleaf Whittier
(1807-1892) was a New England Quaker activist who worked the first half of his life to
free the slaves before devoting the second half to poetry.
3 June 2005
Fifty years ago, John
von Neumann developed a theory of self-reproducing machines.
Twenty-five years ago, Frank
Tipler pointed out that if self-reproducing machines can be manufactured
by intelligent life, they are a low-cost way to explore
the physical universe.
In this passage, Paul
Budnik speculates on the medium-term future of human space exploration.
The real excitement comes not from the exploration of physical space, but
from the fact that once self-reproducing machines are created, they can
evolve according to rules that we program, becoming rapidly more intelligent
and more powerful:
"...we will almost certainly, within this millennium, begin to travel between the stars. We will do so on unmanned ships equipped with our knowledge and with biological material and machines that are capable of colonizing planets on which life could not develop spontaneously. We will reproduce and evolve not as individuals but as entire worlds. We will probably evolve as a combination of biological and manufactured components. Over time the manufacturing processes and biological processes may merge as the former become more subtle and efficient and the latter are more controlled and directed. The goal is the never ending expansion of conscious experience."
is and What will be
2 June 2005
The abomination that is
'Social Darwinism' is a 20th century idea. Charles Darwin didn't
invent the phrase "survival
of the fittest" - in fact, he explicitly attributed
it to his contemporary Herbert
Spencer, a British social philosopher (1820-1903).
And though Spencer is often
cited as the father of Social Darwinism, Spencer was as much a liberal
reformer and advocate for cooperation, as he was associated with the idea
that men must not be shielded from the consequences of their own folly.
"We have unmistakable proof that throughout all past time, there has been a ceaseless devouring of the weak by the strong"
"The wise man must remember that while he is a descendant of the past, he is a parent of the future."
...and anticipating Martin
Luther King: "No one can be perfectly free till all are free; no one can be perfectly moral till all are moral; no one can be perfectly happy till all are happy"
It was only in the 20th
century that the word "fit", changed its meaning from adaptation,
and "fitting in" with others to a connotation of individual
prowess and even domination.
1 June 2005
"The purpose of the
snare is to catch the rabbit. Once you have caught the rabbit, you can forget the snare. Words exist because of their meaning. Once you've got the meaning, you can
drop the words. Where can I find the man who has forgotten words? He's
the one I want to talk with!"
In China of the 4th century BC, Chuang Tzu
was an advocate of passive observation. "His philosophy drove him to avoid all public action...If he had stuck to his own principles, we should never have heard of him."
31 May 2005
Woo Suk Hwang (of South Korea) is the world's most successful stem cell researcher. He was in the
news last week for being the first to transfer DNA from a patient into embryonic stem cells, creating new growth that matches the patient's genome.
Dr. Hwang believes that not just scientific technique but also an empathic
connection are essential to the growth of his cell cultures. "I want my laboratory to communicate with cells heart to
"If there are no humans beside the incubators, they may feel very lonely. So I discussed with my members. We decided that someone has to be beside the incubators and talking to the cells."
(New York Times
Is he a scientist who happens to be superstitious? Or does he know something that we refuse to consider is possible?
30 May 2005
All hope abandon
who enter here.
This, according to Dante, is
the inscription over the gates of hell. Does it describe a final engulfment
in eternal despair, or is it perhaps a Buddhist prescription for turning
hell into heaven?
Hope can be a disease,
inhibiting us from embracing the reality that is already ours. Herman Hesse
"You know quite well,
deep within you, that there is only a single magic, a single power, a single
salvation...and that is called loving. Well then, love your suffering. Do
not resist it, do not flee from it. It is only your aversion to it that
hurts, nothing else."
Belief: Essays on Life and Art