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A Conversation with a Friend

January 27, 2012 Leave a comment

This conversation grew out of an exchange I had recently with one of the foremost Christian thinkers of our time.

Enjoy. . .

 What do you mean by independent objective reality and is there a reality in which we all participate?

When I said “independent objective reality” I was intending, by the word “independent,” to exclude the notion that error becomes fact merely because someone happens to hold that error…that “what’s true for me is true for me and what’s true for you is true for you, and they’re both true even if the things we’re believing happen to be mutually exclusive.” I wanted, with the word “independent,” to affirm that what is real is real, even if my own wishful thinking or bone hardheadedness happens to think otherwise; reality’s reality is not dependent on me understanding it exactly right in every detail.

So, yes, we participate in that reality. It is, in the sense I described above, independent of us. It is, however, in another sense, dependent on us: By our choices we change the future; our choices have consequences which matter. However small the ripples we make in the Cosmic Ocean, the ripples are there, and however much those ripples have dissipated (in accord, one assumes, with the inverse square law) by the time they reach Alpha Centauri, those ripples are nevertheless real enough to be felt by those close to us. The future does not entirely depend on us — who could bear the weight of that thought — but some part of it does as we and Nature cooperatively form it, and our lives are a subordinate and dependent act of cooperative creation within Creation as a whole.

And also, not only is reality independent of us in the sense of being independent of our error, and dependent on us in the sense of our choices being real choices and not just us living out our lives as deterministic clockwork mechanisms, but we are dependent on it.

And, I would say, “on Him”: For I believe that the root and source of all being is personal. While God is doubtless personal in a sense very different from how we traditionally understand human personalities, and thus conclusions drawn from analogies to persons we know can be misleading; nevertheless, I hold that He is more personal than we; not less. Thus the  visual images of King and Old Man and whatnot, while admittedly crude, are in that sense superior to images which, under the auspices of intellectual-sounding labels like “perfect substance” or “order of the universe,” might leave us imagining the ultimate reality as a diffuse gas or cosmic pudding or universal grid.

Anyway, I believe we are dependent on ultimate reality, and thus on God. Not only is the spinning out of creation through time, and perhaps through different space-time “branes” in a cosmic “loaf,” a miracle which I believe He opted to enact with complete artistic freedom as to whether to do it and all its details…not only that, but I also think our own person-hood is derivative of His. Our own identities are contingent: We are not who we are permanently from the start, but we make ourselves who we ultimately become. Not so for God, I think: I agree with Aquinas (so far as I can follow him, which isn’t far) in saying of God that “His essence is His existence.” Thus also with His personhood: His, I think, is “thicker” and solider and more real than our own, and is for us the source of our person-hood. Our ability to form intent and to comprehend reality and to be creative and to love are all, I think, “talents on loan from God.”

So I think we participate in reality not only because our bodies are like branches growing from material reality, but because our bodies and our personalities are derivative from the source of all reality (material and otherwise).

Can we view reality as a sea of consciousness in which our individual glimmer is but a partial subset?

This is [a position] one where I can’t say for certain whether I can “get behind it” or not.

Our individual glimmer, if by that we mean our grasp of all reality, is certainly a subset of what really IS. (And if we are in error, then some portion of our individual glimmer is not a subset of what is real, but lies outside the set of what is real. We believe a tiny subset of the set of all that is true, and some of what we believe lies outside that set and overlaps the far larger set of all the stuff that isn’t true.)

I am “iffy,” though, about the connotations and implications of “sea of consciousness.” I think that mental image might be helpful in some ways while being misleading in others…kind of like picturing quanta as “particles.”

As we communicate one to another, the notions of which we are conscious spread like molecules of a gas obeying Boyle’s Law, or like a drop of honey dissolving in the ocean. Memes spread and information likes to be free.  In that sense there is a kind of continuity across all minds of the items of which we are conscious. But there is also, I think, a sense in which our “consciousness” is not sea-like but more forest-like. The individual minds brush one another like trees swayed by a breeze, but identity remains intact and distinct, like the trunks. Even our spouses and children remain other than we. Their minds don’t flow through ours in the same sense that two adjacent gallons of seawater are unbounded and indistinguishable.

Could they ever? Is our inability to experience what it is like to be the other person — not merely to be mistaken for them on the basis of outward appearance, as one sees in a Freaky Friday type movie, but to be them — a witness to an indissoluble identity we each have, or is it a mere “failure of technology,” so to speak, because we don’t all have perfect telepathy?

Here we get back to the God thing, I think. I believe the Eastern Orthodox mystics were on to something when they spoke of theosis, of “divinization”: That through communion with God and contemplation of God we, by God’s invitation and assistance, can begin fitfully to participate in the unifying life and love of the Trinity. Their notion is that the end of our existence (“end” in the Aristotelian sense, meaning purpose or ultimate goal toward which our existence does or should tend) is this consummated union, so that we can say not only to Him, but even to everyone else who is “in” Him. “Thou art in me and I in thee,” and love them as we love ourselves.

So that seems like a shared consciousness kind of thing. But I think we become more fully ourselves, somehow, in doing that. Maybe I should say: We become our best selves, the selves not distracted by fear of one another.

Now the alternative view would be one in which communion with one another causes our individuality and personhood to be destroyed or dissolved.  In that picture, all which makes up the “me” loses its distinctiveness and is melted away like a lead figurine into a pot of molten lead.  I think this would make God less of a creator and more of a bloated spider eating its young. So that alternative is, at least when put that way, distasteful or even horrifying.

But I think there is also reason to believe it not to be true on the basis of observable evidence. The evidence I have in mind is the lives of saints, or of exceptionally good and decent people, or even merely exceptional people. They who are living out to the full that spark of divinity within them stand out; they do not get absorbed into the whole lump of humanity. Is any man more distinctly himself than a Francis of Assisi, a Gandhi, an MLK, a Teresa of Calcutta; even a Steve Jobs or a Christopher Hitchens? Would the “sea of consciousness” be better for having merged everyone into a whole?  Would the world have been better if Hitch hadn’t been so damned good at being Christopher Hitchens?

Spiritually speaking, is God your basis for reality and do you view God as in and constituting everything that we can recognize as existing?

God is reality, yes. I can get behind that. And I think that all things are real because He pours His reality into them in order to bring them into reality and to maintain them in reality. They exist because He pours existence into them and they would abruptly fail to exist if they were cut off from the source.
But I believe that God is powerful (if that’s the right word? maybe “creative” is better?) enough to make something (many things) which (while dependent on Him and participating in and with Him as He participates in and with them) are nevertheless other than He.

Why do I believe that? Well, a sort of gut instinct leans me in that direction, firstly, but it isn’t only instinct.

I believe that because I don’t believe that the love of God is masturbatory or narcissistic…or that the best of human love, being derivative of God’s love, is therefore all self-love. If Jim is Fred and Fred is Georgette and Georgette is Sarah and they’re all God, then certainly God (and we, with Him) are all collectively a composite divinity that puts Hindu statues to shame in the matter of having thousands of arms and heads. I can get over my merely artistic distaste for that, if it turns out to be reality.  But then, if that’s the ultimate reality, every last scrap of self-giving love becomes merely more love of self. In that case, why bother loving my neighbor, when I find just loving myself so much easier and instantly gratifying…if it’s all the same?

Of course the riposte to this is to say, “If you realize and become convinced at the gut-level that you are Georgette and Fred, then you don’t find it any easier to love yourself than to love them.” Fair enough, but I worry that that might be only a cheap shortcut to trying to make “love your neighbor as yourself” easier: Rather than overcoming self-centeredness, we try to cram everyone else into my notion of self until my self-centeredness doesn’t leave anyone out. I’m not sure it’ll work; at least, I think we find it impossible to really live with respect to people that aren’t very much like us to begin with. And even with them, the “you are me” approach might lead us to project our own goals and approach to happiness on to them, and just assume they’ll play along. A lot of marriages probably get into trouble that way!

For me, I suspect it works better to respect the other as other, and still try to love them as God does. (Not that I’m terribly good at it even then, but it’s a process.)

Do you think as living beings we are fortunate to have awareness of, and are able to observe only a miniscule fraction of the whole?

Certainly.

Do you think the notion of separateness is our individualization of the grand illusion (not the Styx album)?

Well, as I’ve said in my comments above, I don’t think that individuality is mere illusion. For me, it’s a sign of God’s creativity: He’s not a one-hit-wonder, but a God who keeps churning out the hits, in every genre, with remarkable fecundity.

But I do think that illusion, or delusion, or pigheadedness, or the human condition, or wishful thinking, or refusal to confront reality — all those things that St. Augustine called “original sin” or “concupiscence” until such terms got somehow confused with sex and thereby made useless in conversation — tricks us into a sort of competitive individualism which views the individuality of the other as a threat. That illusion divides us one from another and prevents — not to sound like too much of a hippie — the brotherhood of man from being a happy family! It makes us look more like a dysfunctional, estranged, badger-spit crazy, broken-up shambles of a family.

I don’t think the solution to this is to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony and buy them a Coke. I don’t think, in fact, there’s anything much I can do about it at all in the sense of making grand gestures, let alone forcing a solution on everyone else: That just stomps on their freedom and thus on their identity.

But I can, to some small degree, be less of the problem and be open to the solution. So that goes back to the theosis thing. If I am in increasing union with God, then not only am I not divorced from reality, but I am drawn closer to participation in the love of God, which is not only a participation in Him, but a participation in everyone else who is participating in Him.

Thank you, Cord.

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NanoTechnology, NanoBots, and Computer Manufacturing

January 24, 2012 Leave a comment


In the early 1990’s, BASF televised a series of commercials touting their ability to make products stronger, brighter, better. [BASF Commercial on YouTube] BASF claimed this was made possible due to BASF chemical engineering. It turns out this was only partly accurate. In fact, BASF accomplished these feats by ahead-of-their-time product engineering incorporating early implementations of consumer product nanotechnology.

Nanotechnology provides for functional capability in the realm of atoms and contributes intrinsically to the strength, durability, and functional characteristics of molecular structures.

To understand the world of nanotechnology one has to come to an understanding of the units of measurement involved. One centimeter is one-hundredth of a meter, a millimeter is one-thousands of a meter and a micrometer is one millionth of a meter. As small as some of these measurements may seem, they are huge when compared to the nanoscale. A nanometer (nm) is one billionth of a meter which is even smaller than the wavelength of visible light and a hundred-thousandth the width of a human hair.

Wikipedia says this regarding nanotechnology: “Nanotechnology (sometimes shortened to  “nanotech”) is the study of manipulating matter on an atomic and molecular scale. Generally, nanotechnology deals with developing materials, devices, or other structures possessing at least one dimension sized from 1 to 100 nanometers. Quantum mechanical effects are important at this quantum-realm scale.

Nanotechnology is very diverse, ranging from extensions of conventional device physics to completely new approaches based upon molecular self-assembly, from developing new materials with dimensions on the nanoscale to investigating whether we can directly control matter on the atomic scale. Nanotechnology entails the application of fields of science as diverse as surface science, organic chemistry, molecular biology, semiconductor physics, microfabrication, etc.

There is much debate on the future implications of nanotechnology. Nanotechnology may be able to create many new materials and devices with a vast range of applications, such as in medicine, electronics, biomaterials and energy production. On the other hand, nanotechnology raises many of the same issues as any new technology, including concerns about the toxicity and environmental impact of nanomaterials, and their potential effects on global economics, as well as speculation about various doomsday scenarios. These concerns have led to a debate among advocacy groups and governments on whether special regulation of nanotechnology is warranted.”

It appears the field of nanotechnology promises to deliver as much for future product development excitement as it does for concerns about its possibilities and uses.

Graphene

Graphene is an allotrope of carbon, whose structure is exactly one-atom-thick planar sheets of bonded carbon atoms that are densely packed in a honeycomb crystal lattice. Graphene is most easily visualized as an atomic-scale chicken wire made of carbon atoms.

What graphene nanotechnology can do is that it can replace the silicon transistors which are now in your computer with transistors which are based on nanotubes. It has been discovered that carbon nanotubes can be used to produce smaller and faster components. The idea is that if the silicon in the channel is exchanged with a carbon nanotube then the transistors can be made smaller and faster. By its very nature, graphene contributes a perfect foundational structure for the construction of these nanotubes.

Most recently, nano-physicists in Copenhagen, Denmark have made a discovery which can change the way data is stored on computers. Using graphene slices as “nanotubes”, they have discovered that by placing nanotubes between magnetic electrodes the direction of a single electron spin caught on the nanotube can be controlled by an electric potential. Called “Spintronics”, this new development has already been hailed as the breakthrough sought to re-define the manner with which information is stored, manipulated, and retrieved in future computing devices.

This new discovery will make it possible to combine electricity and magnetism in a new transistor concept. In their experiments the nano-physicists use carbon nanotubes as transistors. This new nanoscale structure will speed up computers, exponentially.

Perhaps the most thrilling future possibility nanotechnology is the creation of the nanobot, a still-hypothetical molecular robot. These nanobots have several key properties. First, they can reproduce themselves. If they can reproduce once, then they can, in principle, create an unlimited number of copies of themselves; it will simply take creating the first. Second, they are capable of identifying molecules and cutting them up at precise points. Third, by following a master code, they are capable of reassembling these atoms into different arrangements. Once constructed, nanobots will provide a means for true automation of manufacturing processes. What will begin with the fabrication and manipulation of molecules will evolve into the replication of larger and larger organic and non-organic systems. Ultimately, nanobots will become the basis of most, if not all, product (including computing devices) manufacturing.

Nanobots do not exist now, and will not until sometime in the future, but once the first nanobot is successfully produced, it will most certainly and fundamentally alter society as we know it.

Whether the impact to society is minimal or substantial, there is no question that nanobot technology will completely transform all types of manufacturing including the manner in which computing devices are designed and built.

Moore’s Law

Moore’s law describes a long-term trend in the history of computing hardware. Simply stated, Moore’s Law asserts that the number of transistors that can be placed inexpensively on an integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years. The capabilities of many digital electronic devices are strongly linked to Moore’s law: processing speed, memory capacity, sensors and even the number and size of pixels in digital cameras. An inexplicable effect of the law is that all of these are improving at (roughly) exponential rates as well.This exponential improvement has dramatically enhanced the impact of digital electronics in nearly every segment of the world economy. Accordingly, Moore’s law describes a driving force of technological and social change at play in the global economy in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Though there are those who see the effect of Moore’s Law as having negative consequences for various segments of the world’s environment, the positive effects of the technological, medical, and social engineering breakthroughs resulting from these advancements are legendary.But, we are closing in on the end of this technological watershed. The engineering sciences are in complete agreement: by the year 2020 (some predict as early as 2015), digital manufacturing will reach the point at which further miniaturization of transistors on integrated circuits becomes impossible. Capacity will be reached and exceeded.

Nanotechnology to the rescue! As renowned physicist Richard Feynman suggested in a speech he gave way back in 1959, “there’s plenty of room at the bottom”. Nanotechnology engineering experiments occurring today will take miniaturization to a scale thousands of times smaller than what is currently possible.As the invention of the transistor ushered in our current digital age, nanotechnology will bring about dramatic and far-reaching changes – changes to our technology, our products, and to the way we live.

Bird of the Week

January 20, 2012 Leave a comment

Did it Work?!

January 19, 2012 Leave a comment

Yesterday wasn’t just a day for SOPA-protesting Web sites to darken their sites or even make them unavailable. As the news cycle unfolded, there were many statements issued by prominent executives and politicians on the matter. Here’s a look at some of the comments they made:


Mark Zuckerberg, CEO, Facebook
:

The internet is the most powerful tool we have for creating a more open and connected world. We can’t let poorly thought out laws get in the way of the internet’s development. Facebook opposes SOPA and PIPA, and we will continue to oppose any laws that will hurt the internet.

The world today needs political leaders who are pro-internet. We have been working with many of these folks for months on better alternatives to these current proposals. I encourage you to learn more about these issues and tell your congressmen that you want them to be pro-internet.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D., Ore.):

The Internet has become an integral part of everyday life precisely because it has been an open-to-all land of opportunity where entrepreneurs, thinkers and innovators are free to try, fail and then try again. The Internet has changed the way we communicate with each other, the way we learn about the world and the way we conduct business. It has done this by eliminating the tollgates, middle men, and other barriers to entry that have so often predetermined winners and losers in the marketplace. It has created a world where ideas, products and creative expression have an opportunity regardless of who offers them or where they originate.

Protect IP (PIPA) and the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) are a step towards a different kind of Internet. They are a step towards an Internet in which those with money and lawyers and access to power have a greater voice than those who don’t. They are a step towards an Internet in which online innovators need lawyers as much or more than they need good ideas. And they are a step towards a world in which Americans have less of a voice to argue for a free and open Internet around the world.

Legal Team, Red Hat Software:

In a single generation, the Internet has transformed our world to such an extent that it is easy to forget its miraculous properties and take it for granted. It’s worth reminding ourselves, though, that our future economic growth depends on our ability to use the Internet to share new ideas and technology. Measures that block the freedom and openness of the Internet also hinder innovation. That poses a threat to the future success of Red Hat and other innovative companies.

The sponsors of SOPA and PIPA claim that the bills are intended to thwart web piracy. Yet, the bills overreach, and could put a website out of business after a single complaint. Web sites would vanish, and have little recourse, if they were suspected of infringing copyrights or trademarks.

The good news is that there is growing opposition from many quarters to these bills. Just this past weekend, the White House expressed serious concerns, opposing legislation — like SOPA and PIPA — that “reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet.

Lanham Napier, CEO, Rackspace:

In my last blog post on SOPA and PIPA, I explained why Rackspace — along with much of the Internet community — opposes these bills in their current form. They are well-intentioned, but would do more harm than good. Their enforcement provisions could be easily evaded, and they would undermine the security and stability of the Internet.

Since then, I and other Rackers have been working with key lawmakers to fix the bills so that they will (a) actually be effective in fighting online piracy, and (b) avoid disrupting the Internet or imposing unreasonable costs on Internet users and service providers.

We at Rackspace are on the front lines of the battle against copyright infringers and other online criminals. We employ dedicated teams that take enforcement actions under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act as well as our own strict Acceptable Use Policy every day. We agree that better tools are needed for this fight but SOPA and PIPA do not fit the bill.


Gary Shapiro, President and CEO, Consumer Electronics Association
:

“It is increasingly clear that bills causing collateral damage to innovation in the guise of fighting piracy are not politically viable. Now that unreasonable solutions to piracy have been shown not to work, it is time to explore reasonable ones. We urge policymakers to join CEA in support of the OPEN Act — a bicameral, bipartisan and narrowly targeted approach to fighting foreign “rogue websites.”

Paul Hortenstine, Motion Picture Association of America, which supports the bills:

The legislation targets criminals: foreign thieves who profit from pirated content and counterfeit goods. These foreign rogue websites are operating freely today while legitimate American businesses are opposing legislation that would block these criminal websites from the American market.

The Pirate Bay, a site that links visitors to pirated content and would arguably fit someone’s definition of “foreign rogue Web site”:

SOPA can’t do anything to stop TPB. Worst case we’ll change top level domain from our current .org to one of the hundreds of other names that we already also use. In countries where TPB is blocked, China and Saudi Arabia springs to mind, they block hundreds of our domain names. And did it work? Not really.

To fix the “problem of piracy” one should go to the source of the problem. The entertainment industry say they’re creating “culture” but what they really do is stuff like selling overpriced plushy dolls and making 11 year old girls become anorexic. Either from working in the factories that creates the dolls for basically no salary or by watching movies and tv shows that make them think that they’re fat.

Nuff Said!

January 18, 2012 Leave a comment

Remember

January 16, 2012 Leave a comment

How’s Your New Year?

January 15, 2012 Leave a comment

A new year means a new start, regardless of what we may have endured or experienced in the one that just ended. The beauty about having sentient consciousness is that each and every day we are aware of a brand new canvas, a clean slate to start all over if we so wish. It is our choices that limit us, not the universe!

So, given that all the doomsday fools are going on about how we will all die this year, we might as well go out with a bang and live life to the fullest. (And when I say that, I do not mean for you to go and rob a bank or make some other stupid move that may end up hurting you or others, or may put you in jail.)

Living life to the fullest means that we can do the things that we have been putting off for whatever reason. We can maybe join this non-profit organization to volunteer our time or money. We can sign up for a gym and get a workout routine going. We can start the diet we wanted to start and maybe make up with those we have gotten in fights with. It’s never too late to say “I’m sorry.” We can start reading more and watching less TV; talking less and listening more and helping those who need it. We can take a long hard look at ourselves in the mirror and decide to be better people by being less selfish, less greedy, jealous and envious and more giving and forgiving. Or, we can just take it all in and smile. Choices!

As I get older, each year has me turn my attention a bit more to my own mortality. I live life with full recognition that I don’t really know how many tomorrows are on my schedule. No, it isn’t a doomsday outlook I have at all, but I’m very well aware of my own mortality, and that affords me all the freedom I need to recreate my life and/or reinvent myself as often as I see fit or find necessary. I really get it; Life is a terrible thing to waste!

Each and every one of us has been given the power to create. Unfortunately, we either don’t use this power at all, or we blatantly abuse it. This is a brand new year, and therefore a brand new opportunity to stop wasting what is so precious and what some would wish they’d have more of: time. The universe gives us infinite possibility and the ability to choose anew every day. So even if we’ve made the wrong choices all the way up to now, we have the freedom to start making new ones.