Tuesday, June 6, 2017

MUTUAL SELF DESTRUCTION AND THE PURSUIT OF PEACE - Part III

"Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds"
J. R. Oppenheimer 
quoting from the Bhagavad -Gita

I want to start this post by reposting a paragraph from my last post:


Are certain global populations prone to engage in activities that disturb and disrupt merely to feel stimulated? This may sound like a trite assessment of situations involving suicide bombers and mass killings, but is modern terrorism, for example, in reality a response to global boredom that has been brought about by a relative prolonged period of peace?



* * * * * * * * * *

With the detonation of the first atomic bomb on July 16, 1945  at 5:29 AM, we discovered that our fate and the fate of this planet lies in our hands.  We, as a whole, have yet to recognize the ideological fallout that began at that moment. We have yet grasp its implications as Oppenheimer did on that fateful morning; that we are the masters of our fate.


THE EMBLEMS OF OBSELESCENCE


Nuclear weapons are and remain weapons of war, but they also serve as potent emblems of war's obsolescence. The bombings of  Hiroshima and Nagasaki should have taught us that not only nuclear war is untenable, but all warfare is untenable. The fact that nations who possess and maintain nuclear weapons as a deterrence and other nations who are trying to obtain them as leverage, demonstrates an inability to recognize this glaring truth. Yet, we have ignored the lessons of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and war with each other like dare devils who toy with death in order to feel alive.  We appear  stuck in a world order of our own making and are metaphorically spinning our wheels in the mud and muck of ideologies that have lost their relevance.

Another emblem of war's obsolescence is the suicide bomber; the person or persons who have lost all personal meaning and whose willingness to destroy their own existence and those of others is based on the premise of preserving ideologies rendered irrelevant in a changed understanding of reality.  In other words, the suicide bomber is a literal representation of a religious ideology in its death throes. 

All religious ideologies, both theistic and secular pale in comparison to the fact that scientific theories are shaping our understanding of reality.  We have yet to grasp the significance of this and the fact that what we thought was ideologically true about our world and who we are was made obsolete in the blinding flash of theoretical physics becoming fact in 1945.


REALITY REVISITED


In past posts, I stated that reality can be defined as a consensus of perceptions.  In the mundane, macro world that largely remains the case.  A chair is a chair because everyone agrees it's a chair.  In our every day existence reality is defined by our senses and our minds.

The practical application of theoretical science in almost every aspect of daily life, however, has exposed us to the fact that reality is more than our senses can perceive.  As such, empirical reality is no longer a matter of sense perception nor is it dependent on consensus because the field of science is itself a field of intellectual fluctuation because theoretically, at the unseen quantum level, reality fluctuates. 

Human intelligence appears as a fluke in evolutionary biology.  The ambiguous human mind may well have shaped the physical properties of the human brain, shrunk its size and enhancing and streamlining its cognitive abilities as a  mysterious self regulating function of the brain itself.   The conscious human mind is a phenomenon that remains unexplained.  Some might be tempted to conclude that the conscious human mind suggest the working of a God. 

Perhaps  -   but I'm inclined to believe that the concept of God is the by-product of the human mind, as an intuitive insight about its conscious self.

The saying, "Seeing is believing" captures the essence of the problem we humans have with perception in a scientific world where seeing is no longer a matter of the senses as it is a function of the intellectual mind's ability to calculate in theoretical terms a reality that stretches the imagination by its functionality.  It does not require an ideological belief  to be true for it relies on its provability to be fact.

Seeing and believing have held our common perception of reality together for millennia, but we are in an age where neither what we see nor what we believe matters when it comes to defining what reality really is.  Ironically, in the face of a reality that is no longer dependent on general consensus by the masses, the masses are prone to reverse the old saying from seeing is believing to believing is seeing; as in, seeing what we want to believe as opposed to seeing as a mental comprehension of what cannot be perceived by the naked eye.

If such beliefs would lead us to see the value of scientific knowledge and invest faith in the scientific approach in order to comprehend reality, that would be a step in the right direction, but the tendency has been for many is to put their faith in the fossilized ideological beliefs that for centuries defined a reality and a world that no longer exists.

Herein lies a great danger because ideological beliefs, by themselves, are nonfactual.  In the light of a fluctuating reality there is a tendency to become obsessed with believing and utilizing ideologies rooted in a past that seemed reliably concrete, but which are quickly exposed as having no basis in reality.   That, in itself, is the biggest threat to our existence.

As I mentioned in my first post on this topic, science cannot lead us to make the right decisions.  Science can only give us the knowledge by which to do or undo things.  By itself, science is morally ambivalent, as all knowledge is.  What we do with knowledge, however, is ethically and morally relevant. What we do with knowledge matters.

The perspective of history and science has narrowed to a point that allows us to see that what that we do as single people or single nations has an impact on the whole of our planet in a dramatic never before seen way.  The age in which we live should awaken us to fact that there exists more than one way in which we are mutually self destructive.  The most recent and more urgent concern regarding self destruction is our inadvertent relationship to climate change.  This is something that, in relative historical terms, has snuck up on us.

For centuries, climate just happened.  There was no studying it in an empirical way.  In fact, like most scientific knowledge, it has only been in the last century or so that we are able to understand the workings of climate and how humans and our treatment of the environment effect its fluctuations.


AN EMBARRASSING ACT OF STUPIDITY


It is embarrassing that the United States, of all nations, has through our president's executive action pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement when there is so much empirical evidence pointing to global warming's human origins.  The fact that our current president was elected, in part, on an agenda that denied climate change makes it clear that many in this nation are selfishly toying with the death of this planet in order to live in their version of the past by leaving the climatic changes we have caused up to a God of their own making.  It is the epitome of willful ignorance to subscribe to the mindless belief there is nothing we can do.  Science knows better and so does intuitive theism, in which the workings of God are seen as directly related to our own faithfulness in preserving the world in which we live.

SCIENTIFIC KNOWLEDGE IS EMPIRICALLY BASED, NOT IDEOLOGICALLY BASED; THEREFORE, IT SHOULD NOT BE TREATED AS FODDER FOR POLITICAL DEBATE. IT IS NOT MATTER OF OPINION.  IT EITHER STANDS OR IT DOESN'T BASED ON EVIDENCE.

The foolishness of political leaders who wish to treat scientific knowledge as ideological belief demonstrates either a willful, negligent disregard for the wellbeing of humanity and this planet or just plain mind-numbing stupidity.


THE IMPULSE OF RELIGION AND THE PRESERVATION OF THE PLANET


If the impulse of religion is the recognition that we need each other in order to save each other, then there is one thing that should bring us together like no other, and that one thing should be preserving our planet - our common home.

If there is one fear that should transcend all other fears, it should be the fear of losing it.

If there is one thing that should motivate us to look past our differences and drive us towards each other to accomplish a single purpose it should be our love for it.  

There is no reason to be bored as there can be no peace as the absence of things which disrupt and disturb us in the pursuit of saving our common home.

 If we can work to save our planet, peace as the absence of war, will be accomplished because we will be engaged in avoiding anything that distracts, disrupts, or disturbs us from reaching our common goal of planetary preservation. 

That we understand the role we have in preserving our world comes to us as both a blessing and a curse. 

The blessing is that we have reason to set aside our differences and work together to preserve this amazing planet home of ours, the curse is if we do not do so quickly we and our planet will become extinct. 

Any salvation theology or philosophy that distracts us from saving our planet is a heresy that must be shelved for the sake of survival.

Pursuing peace as a goal in by itself will not preserve our planet. It is in the recognition that war is an obsolescence we can't afford and recognizing that the fear of the other is nothing more than a predatory, instinctual behavior that leads to self destruction.  

Peace, as the absence of war and fear can only be accomplished by a conscious, reasoned, and hands on approach by the whole of humanity in a purposeful effort to save our planet.  

Until next time, stay faithful.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

MUTUAL SELF-DESTRUCTION AND THE PURSUIT OF PEACE - Part II

"The peace... which passeth understanding..."
Philippians 4


FEELING AT PEACE

Mutual self destruction may appear to be a new phenomenon that has emerged in our collective consciousness as a result of living in a nuclear age, but as I have hinted in my last post, the fear of mutual annihilation is rooted in our instinctual past.   The reason I feel confident in saying this is that the pursuit of lasting peace is as old as human history.

Peace is an abstract concept that does not exist without a context. While many may think of peace as a feeling, I would suggest that peace can neither be felt nor is it an emotional state.  Peace is a condition brought about by absence.  In other words, peace requires that a disturbing or disrupting precondition is removed or ended in order to "feel" at peace.

What we define as "feeling at peace" are emotions associated with an absence that have disturbed and disrupted our sense of normalcy which result in feelings of relief, joy, and/or security.  As such we tend to make such emotional feelings synonymous with a "feeling" of peace, but for the purpose of these posts, peace is defined as absence.

Why this is important to understand I hope to make clear in this post.  The primary reason peace is so difficult to maintain is, among other things, that humans are not natural peacekeepers. We are the descendants of prehistoric predators who have risen to the top of the food chain only to realize that we are the only creatures on the planet who pose a challenge to our own survival.

This realization has been around since the dawn of human history.  In my opinion, realizing our proclivity towards self destruction contributed to the rise of civilization and turning us into the religious animals we are.  What living in a nuclear age has changed is in regard to how easily accomplished this is and how tentative maintaining peace as the absence of all out war has become.

PURSUING PEACE

The pursuit of peace is rooted in the polar functions of the Impulse of Religion and the Differentiating Paradigm of Religion. In past posts I have used these terms to identify two early phases of religious development; the recognition of needing others to survive and differentiating what it means to be same and other.

Hypothetically speaking, one can identify the Impulse of Religion with the intellectual mind and the Differentiating Paradigm of Religion with the instinctual mind.  The Impulse of Religion seeks to reason and  recognizes the need of the other; whereas, the Differentiating Paradigm of Religion sees differences in the other as a threat to me and mine and leads to clumping around that which is familiar and fearing that which is different.

In these two functions is found the roots of civilization and the ideologies that bind us together into religious communities.  In this post, I want to ponder how the fears we have are related to the concept of peace and how the perception of fear and the pursuit of peace to rid us of our fear created a religious (binding) reaction that led to theism and civilization.

Fear is what brought us to our intellectual senses, so to speak. Once we rose to the top of the food chain, annihilated the competition, and started to populate and spread out over the world as tribal nomads, the biggest creature hazard we faced was ourselves. The other threat to our existence was natural disaster and the unseen.   Harnessing nature turned out to be an easier task than harnessing our predatory instincts which we turn on ourselves.

Theism arose to address that which humans found difficult to control or subdue in themselves. Initially the focus of theism was an attempt to placate what was understood to be an even higher level of creature, the gods, who were believed to control the unseen hazards and the forces of nature.
Human intuition (an enormous leap beyond instinct) deduced that every action involving inanimate substances in nature had a creature cause behind it.

Even though humans were at the top of the food chain on earth, intuition led our earliest ancestors to conclude there to be higher levels of the food chain, the gods, who were causing all sorts of havoc; earthquakes, floods, storms, and volcanism, not to mention the causes of disease and plagues.  Human and animal sacrifices to the gods give evidence to the primitive understanding that the gods were considered part of the food chain we needed to fear.  Simply put, the gods were a tough crowd to please.

Eventually, intellectual theism addressed and attempted to abate the innate forces within ourselves that caused us to engage in acts considered self destructive.  The greatest feat in early human history was the domestication of ourselves.  We call it being civilized.

Like domestication, civilization requires elements of control in order to ensure order and avoid chaos. Civilization led to consistent practices that people began to rely on; a familiarity that, for the most part resulted in contentment.  In that respect very little has changed about being human.  As long as we're content, we abhor change, but we are rarely content for long.

Unfortunately, history demonstrates that humans are poor at self regulation.  Curbing our predatory instincts as individuals became a communal effort and remains so to this day.  Even when regulated, contentment is fleeting. We live in a universe of polarities that is reflected in our genetic makeup and evident in our ideological interactions.

This polarity finds expression in almost every human activity.  Take our attraction to sports; for example, and the attraction of both seeing people win and lose.  Consider the daredevil: The greater the risk of failure, the greater the feeling of accomplishment - surviving a momentary brush with death leads to the exhilarating feeling of being alive.  Of course not everyone is a daredevil, but you can catch my drift.

THE VOID OF PEACE

The difficulty with maintaining peace is that it presents a void.  In the short term, peace "feels" good because we fill the void with transient feelings generated by the absence of that which we found disruptive and disturbing.  Over time these feelings dissipate and feelings of ennui set in. Boredom is a reaction to the absence of stimulus.  Peace is not very stimulating.  The key to maintaining peace is how to stave off the ennui that will eventually ensues and lead our species to engage in disruptive and disturbing behaviors.

Peace may be too abstract for us to fully realize due to its transcendent nature.  The Christian apostle, Paul, captures this sense of transcendence in his letter to the Philippians, "And the peace of God which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:7 KJV) While such a peace sounds tangible to our longing ears, Paul's concept of a peace that passes understanding grasps the abstract transcendent nature of peace.  What Paul's comment brings to bear on the concept of a lasting peace is the notion of agency in order to still (quiet) the mind and heart of a predatory species that is subject to ennui.  Paul's identifying agency  of God's peace is agency of faith in his concept of "Christ Jesus."

Peace requires agency.  We are an addiction-prone species that craves stimulation.  When we are not feeling stimulated, we feel the void; we feel empty and bored.  Peace, in and of itself, is boring and boring is not bad.  Experts will tell us that boredom serves a purpose.  It's nature's way to make us pause and consciously quiet the mind. It is ironic, then, that we grew up in a world we are parents and authority figures enforced the notion of "go out and play outside" - do something - when we complained of boredom.  It might have been better if they said, "Think about that for a moment." 

On a personal level "thinking" and quieting the mind is readily accomplished, but on a global level boredom is a problem.  Globally speaking, are we bored?

Are certain global populations prone to engage in activities that disturb and disrupt merely to feel stimulated. This may sound like a trite assessment of situations involving suicide bombers and mass killings, but is modern terrorism, for example, in reality a response to global boredom that has been brought about by a relative prolonged period of peace?

Has the void of  peace caused a polar reversal to occur in what former President Obama called the trajectory of history, which, until recently, has tended towards inclusiveness?

Until next time, stay faithful.


Sunday, May 21, 2017

GETTING TO KNOW AN UNKNOWN GOD - A homily

[Delivered on May 21, 2017 at Christ Episcopal Church, Yankton, South Dakota]

Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’ From Acts 17
It’s not every Sunday one can give a homily based on Greek legend, Geek mythology, and the New Testament. So I couldn’t pass up this opportunity to do so.
In order to fully appreciate our first reading from Acts 17, we need to know why Paul addressed the Athenians at the Areopagus and why he cites two poems about the Greek god, Zeus. The author of Acts, Luke, likely assumed that everybody of his day, two thousand years ago, would have known why, but knowledge can get lost in two thousand years.  So let’s take a moment to rewind and review:
The Areopagus is a rock outcropping in Athens that was used in Paul’s time for conducting public trials. Here the Athenians wanted to discern if Paul was introducing a new religion into their city as Paul’s preaching about Jesus and his resurrection seemed to indicate.  Introducing a new religion was considered corruption, a serious crime in ancient Athens; a charge that resulted in the death of Socrates in 399 BCE. 
On his way there, Paul passes an altar to “The Unknown God,” the history of which Paul uses in his effective defense, along with citing two early Greek poems to support the premise that he was not preaching something new.
The first poet cited is Epimenides who wrote a poem called, "Cretica." In "Cretica," Epimenides argues with his fellow Cretans that Zeus was very much alive as evident in our being alive after they had built a symbolic tomb declaring him dead:
They fashioned a tomb for you, holy and high one,
 
                        Cretans, always liars, evil beasts, idle bellies. 
                        But you (Zeus) are not dead: you live and abide forever,
                        For in you we live and move and have our being[1]
 As a side note, the line about Cretans being liars is cited, verbatim,  in Paul’s letter to Titus (1:12) and is the basis for Epimenides Paradox which states if being a Cretan himself, Epimenides, in calling Cretans liars is also a liar by telling a truth applicable to himself.
In fact, the altar to The Unknown God has a close connection to Epimenides:
 
During the time of the great Athenian law giver, Solon, the Athenians suffered a horrendous plague attributed to an act of treachery on people who they granted asylum and then killed. To rid themselves of the resulting plague, they tried appeasing their gods through sacrifice, but nothing was working. 
So they approached the Oracle at Delphi who informed them that there was a god they failed to appease.  When they asked which one, she said she didn’t know but they should send for Epimenides, a prophet in Crete, who would help them.  So they did.
When Epimenides arrives in Athens he comments that they must be very religious because of the many gods and goddesses they have. He told them there is an good and great unknown god who was smiling on their ignorance but was willing to be appeased. When they perform the proper rituals throughout the city, the plague is ended and they erect altars to this unknown god throughout Athens. [2]
The second “poet” Paul cites is the philosopher Aratus, from his work Phenomenon:
… always we all have need of Zeus. For we are also his offspring[3]
* * * * * * * * * * *
Avoiding the name Zeus, Paul infers, via his reference to the unknown god, the philosophical idea of a Superior God whose nominal identity is simply “God” which we monotheists have adopted.  As a result, Paul’s catechesis on God and who we are in relation to God boils down to this: 
Question: Who is God? 
Answer: God is that Being in which we live, move, and have our being. 
Question: Who are we? 
Answer: We are his offspring.”
In my opinion, this is the best definition of God and our relationship to God found anywhere. God is the active force of all that is, has been, and will be, and we are the incarnate manifestations of that activity. We live because God is living, we move because God is moving, we are because God is.  This concept of everything existing in God – panentheism – is found in Paul’s understanding of the Risen Christ. Jesus, as the Risen Christ, is, in Paul’s theology,  the cosmic nexus between God and humankind.
Paul’s personal encounters with Jesus occurred in his visions of the Risen Christ.  The only historical information about Jesus that gets any press began in Paul’s epistles begins on Maundy Thursday and ends on Easter Morning. Consequently, his epistles never mention Jesus’ parentage, his miracles, his parables, his disciples other than Peter, or his ministerial teachings other than the words of institution used in Holy Communion. 
For Paul, the Resurrection was the reset point of God’s original relationship with us. Jesus as the Risen Christ is declared by Paul to be the first born of a new creation who, as a man was sown a physical body and, as the Christ was raised a spiritual body as stated in his first letter to the Corinthians (15)
* * * * * * * * * *
In his defense at the Areopagus, Paul also accused the Athenians of becoming too religious for their own good, as demonstrated by their many idols. They had become God-blind – a problem every age encounters, including our own. Paul knew something about being God-blind. 
It took his vision of the risen Christ on his way to Damascus to experience literal blindness which led him to see how blind he was about God.  He went from being Saul, the Pharisee, a devout believer in a God of laws and strict discipline, to Paul, a prisoner of Christ, a man of faith, hope, and love who became shackled to a God of faith, hope, and love in us.
It was the wide embrace of God, the God and Father of all, as expressed in the poetry of Epimenides and Aratus that prompted him to a make the revolutionary claim echoed in every social/religious debate to this day:
“For there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for all are one in the risen Christ,” as he writes to the Galatians (Galatians 3:28).
Too often it is the Christians of today; especially those of rigid inclination who treat the Bible as being the literal inerrant word of God that are not only God-blind but also Bible-idolators.  After all, it was Paul who entered into their inerrant view of the Biblical record the words of Epimenides and Aratus, the poets of Zeus, giving Epimenides’ Paradox a new twist:
If the word of God is literal and inerrant, are the quotes by Epimenides and Aratus found in the New Testament, inerrant also? 
By extension, does not Paul’s use of their definition of Zeus make Zeus another name for God?
* * * * * * * * * *
God is known by many names; and yet, no single name can describe the ineffable, intimate, pervading sense of BEING that God is.  So in our liturgies and hymns when we reference God’s name, we capitalize the word “Name,” as in today’s opening hymn:
Immortal, invisible, God only wise, in light inaccessible hid from our eyes, most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days, almighty, victorious, thy great Name we praise.
To all life thou givest, to both great and small; in all life thou livest, the true life of all.  We blossom and flourish, like leaves on the tree, then wither and perish; but nought changeth thee.[4]
To which, I am confident, Aratus, Epimenides, and Paul would say, “AMEN!”  
* * * * * * * * * *
Until next time, stay faithful.


[1] Translated by Prof. J. Rendel Harris in a series of articles in the Expositor (Oct. 1906, 305–17; Apr. 1907, 332–37; Apr. 1912, 348–353;  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epimenides
[2] “To An Unknown God,” Christians in Crete, Connecting God’s Family http://christiansincrete.org/news/to-an-unknown-god/
[3] “Phenomenon” translated by G.R. Mair; http://www.theoi.com/Text/AratusPhaenomena.html
[4] “Immortal, invisible, God only wise” by Walter Chalmers Smith (1824-1908), number 423 in The Hymnal 1982.
 

Thursday, May 4, 2017

MUTUAL SELF-DESTRUCTION AND THE PURSUIT OF PEACE - Part I

With this post, I begin to ponder the  concept of mutual self destruction and the pursuit of peace.  In this posts I will speculate on why there appears to be a strong connection between fear and peace in the human mind.


MUTUAL SELF DESTRUCTION AND WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT OUR SPECIES



I remember being in grade school in the late 1950's and early 60's and having to participate in atomic bomb drills, by climbing under our desks and hunkering down. These were, of course, acts of futility should we have been under a real atomic attack as anyone from Japan would have told us.  I suspect the drills served another purpose; to bring the reality of mutual self-destruction home to the average U.S. citizen and provide some sense of hope about surviving an attack by doing something. I also remember the television commercials about building fallout shelters which my family couldn't have afforded.  I grew up feeling that disaster was upon us at any given moment.  I didn't obsess about it, but it was always there, ready to pop up into my awareness.

Since that time, our ability to destroy each other has vastly improved; with larger nuclear, chemical, and biological arsenals at our disposal.  Deterrence is the foundation upon which modern defense is built.  A relative sense of world peace is maintained by the fact that an all out global war involving any or all of these weapons would ensure the annihilation of life on this planet. We have witnessed their effectiveness on a small scale in Japan, Iraq, and Syria.

This fear has kept us from all out war for nearly three quarters of a century, but it has become an increasingly tenuous deterrent as the rise of nationalism amongst first world nations is evident and the treatise that they agreed on are being questioned.

Peace based on the fear of mutual self destruction is porous.

This foundation holds only on the assurance that those who possess such weapons will not use them and keep them from those who would.  This worked as long as the knowledge and technology needed to make such weapons could be withheld, however, knowledge is fluid and eventually is leaked.  The only thing staving off world-wide proliferation is control of the materials needed to make such weapons.

This is where philosophy becomes pragmatic. Science can tell us how to make such destructive weapons but it cannot prevent us from using them. As I have mentioned in other posts, there is a tendency in the field of science to "do it" if something is thought to be theoretically possible; that if  your side doesn't "do it" another side will.   This has been born out in the development of nuclear and other weapons.  It is that reality that has pushed us towards making a philosophical solution that is rooted in the ethical mandate to refrain from doing that which one wouldn't want done.

It is no longer a question of refraining from doing to others what one doesn't want done to oneself.  It is an imperative of not doing it at all because doing it is suicide.

What the concept of mutual destruction demonstrates is that fear remains the most potent motivation in the human drive for survival.  While most would say that peace is what we desire most, our desire for peace, by itself, is not potent or visceral enough to prevent us from self destruction whereas the fear of it is.  Fear produces a tangible feeling that peace does not.  We can gauge fear better than peace and there may be a reason for that.

PREDATORY FEAR

Fear is a predatory instinct related to environmental factors. When factors that contribute to fear are present they can be measured by the intensity of the fear we feel.  Peace, on the other hand, is largely an absence of these factors which then results in a feeling of safety and wellbeing.  We experience a momentary sense of relief in the removal of that which we feared.  A sense of peace quickly evaporates into the mundane, however, as the absence of the factors that led to fear is sustained. This can eventually lead to a numbing of the fear factor, something we are witnessing in the world today.

Predation as an instinctual motive for species survival is not prone to maintaining peace.   What has prevented us from killing ourselves off as a species millennia ago has been the recognition that we are the only species on this planet capable of doing so. I believe that warfare evolved as an attempt to curb the predatory instinct and define it in terms of conquest rather than annihilation. The crusades are an example of the papacy trying to maintain peace in Christendom by directing and expending the nobility's war prone tendencies to annihilate each other on freeing the Holy Land from the Arab domination through conquest.

War was largely thought of in terms of military game theory throughput most of warfare's history.  Civilian populations were largely left out of the fray of military battle, but that changed drastically in the First World War when towns and cities became deliberate targets for indiscriminate aerial bombing. World War Two saw cities firebombed for no other purpose than to bring a nation to its knees by terrorizing its population and destroying its infrastructure.  The war with Japan ended with the near total destruction of Hiroshima's and Nagasaki's civilian population by two atomic bombs as a way of securing the end of that war and establishing peace.  It exacted a terrible price and led to an arms race that ensured mutual self destruction.  No amount of rationalization can explain away this gargantuan leap by our species towards self annihilation.

The real victims of war are the civilians in modern warfare.  In the past, armies were defeated and populations conquered and enslaved.  Today cities are destroyed and civilian centers targeted in which hundreds of thousands civilians perish or are forced from their homes while military losses are relatively minor in comparison.

In our narrowing world, conquest is an anachronism that risks annihilation.

Nationalism is a fundamentalism that the world cannot sustain.

A PROFOUND EMBARRASSMENT

We have come to a point in our existence as a species where we hold the keys to our own mass extinction.

So while we can, let's ponder how profoundly embarrassing that is.   Seriously!

Here we are the most intelligent animals on the planet who managed to survived any number of obstacles, who are on the verge of human space exploration while continuing to rely on what basically amounts to a primeval fear of the predator in order to ensure world peace. 

Grant it there are layers of diplomatic rationale in which this fear is couched, but the core upon which world peace is maintained is the looming reality of mutual self destruction which brings me to wonder about the evolution of human intelligence and the role it plays in the pursuit of peace.

We have outsmarted every other species, including the annihilation of many of them along our ascent to the top of the food chain.  As Yuval Harari explained in his book, "Sapiens," this included the probable annihilation of our closest hominid relatives more than twenty thousand years ago.

But what is it that continues to makes us fear ourselves and, in turn,  requires such an enormous intellectual effort to prevent us from self annihilation? 

Why do we continue to prey on our own kind?  

While we hold the keys to our self destruction are we capable of forging the keys to lasting peace?

These are and should be uncomfortable questions for us to ponder.  Evolution perhaps holds an answer that, ironically, may not be totally related to evolution itself.

Allow me to speculate, since I really don't know: 

THE INTELLECT

From what little I know of evolution, I have surmised that human intelligence/consciousness developed faster than evolution should have allowed. In fact, we are still accelerating in this intellectual development by evolutionary standards. What actually clues me to this seeming acceleration is the fact that we have not lost our pre-intellectual instincts.  Intelligence does not appear to have necessarily evolved from our instincts or by having opposable thumbs and the ability to manipulate our environment manually.

We have retained our basic predatory survival instincts in spite of being intellectually aware or conscious.  Our instincts remain intact and as I have indicated they are very operative in the pursuit of peace.  We have, however, subdued them intellectually to the extent that we no longer think of them in terms of instincts and have largely intellectualized them as emotions.

So if intelligence is not a direct product of evolution, what is it?

Is learning evolutionary or is it something else? 

For instance, I have been pondering in recent past posts the fact that we get ahead of ourselves intellectually before we can fully process the ramifications of our intellectual endeavors in terms of what it means to our survival.  Of course, we have no sure way of knowing what our intellectual pursuits will result in causing.  It has been only in the last century that we have begun to explore and understand the scientific basis for human intelligence.

It is the intelligent mind that appears to be using our instinctual fears to prevent us from self destruction by seeing a need for the other of our species as necessary to our survival.  This was probably not an a-ha moment, but a gradual awareness preceding from repetitive experiences of seeing the mutual benefit of working with the other.

Nevertheless, our own kind poses a challenge to us and is why we ended up with warring clans, tribes, and nations.  We have yet to rid ourselves of the notion that race and ethnicity pose a threat. 
It's embarrassing that we possess such great intellectual abilities, but find them hostage to a primal fear of the other, even though the other is much the same as oneself. 

Intelligence requires a great deal of energy on a personal level. As a species we have mitigated this expenditure by the process of consensus. [I'm taking a giant leap forward in the story intellectual development.]  The ability to communicate ideas and perceptions have made us the masters of our own reality.  We have been able to convert, corral, and conceptualize our fears into ideologies, moral codes, and laws that minimize the amount of intellectual energy needed by an individual to process or convert our fears in a constructive way.

We have banked on the fear of a more powerful other in order to establish behaviors that preserve our species and maintains our sense of reality.  In other words, we became civilized.

This, in my opinion, was not evolutionary in the sense of a natural, organic evolution. There was a seismic leap to intellect that bypassed instinct while leaving instinct intact. What probably contributed the most to this shift was our ability to communicate discrete information.

One can speculate that the homo sapiens brain's  response to this relatively sudden shift was to shrink in size.  Why?

Shared communicative thought processes requires less space and energy.  Our brains became leaner and more efficient as a result of processing information in a communicative manner rather than solely relying on figuring things out by themselves.

According to anthropologists, Neanderthal brains were larger than the brains of homo sapiens. What this may indicate is higher reliance on the Neanderthal self to process information; that Neanderthals lacked the discreet communicative skills of homo sapiens that gave our species the edge on survival.

ABSTRACTION

Much of what we communicate is conceptually abstract.  We don't think of it as such because much of what is abstract is treated concretely because of its common and regular usage.  Where our ability for abstraction came from is anyone's guess, but it is indicative of the intellectual mind. The intellectual mind is a creative mind, it seeks a tomorrow, whereas the instinctual mind is not and lives for the day.

As such, human beings are of two minds that function simultaneously.   If I were to provide an analogy, I would liken this two minded approach to two tectonic plates colliding with each other with the instinctual mind being subducted under the intellectual mind. What we see is largely the intellectual mind at work, but what we feel remains largely instinctual.

Sticking with this geological analogy, peace is an abstract concept that rides above the subducted predatory impulse that gives rise to fear which periodically emerges into our intellectual consciousness when environmental conditions draw our instinctual drives to the surface.  On the surface of intellectual consciousness, we feel fear that is rooted in our subducted instinctual mind and desire peace as means to ease our collective tremors.

In my next post, I will offer a brief review of the role fear and pursuit of peace has played in defining civilization and religion.

Until next time, stay faithful.
































Thursday, April 20, 2017

DEATH AND THE PURSUIT OF ETERNITY - Part III

DIGGING UP THE GRAVEYARD

We never seem satisfied with just being who we are. If the answer to why we exist has no satisfactory answer, many opt for answering a more verifiable question, from whence do we come?  People can spend a great deal of time and money tracing their ancestry and genome. We search for identity by looking at the past; a past that leads to me - a past that somehow tells me who I am.  It seems that people of every race, culture, and lifestyle are drawn to a history that explains who they are. We crave for detail on any particular ancestor. We want to know if we share similar views, have similar habits, all in an effort to understand "me."

What must be disappointing to some is that the further back one goes, one's particular ancestry is no longer uniquely one's own.  We find that much of who we are connected by lineage to a host of others currently alive and well.  My family attended a reunion of descendants to a distant Bavarian great-great... grandfather born over two hundred years ago who migrated to this country.  Although not everyone could make it, the over one hundred people who did included many people I didn't know existed and who I could pass on the street as a complete stranger. Those who shared my distant great grandfather were people of mixed race and ethnicity, including Asians, Blacks, and Hispanics.

Many people would like to know if they are related to royalty.

The answer to that question is quite simple:

Yes - eventually.

When I was younger, I had a strong interest in knowing who my ancestors were. I remember my father telling me, "Don't dig into the past. You never know when you'll dig up a horse thief." His intuition was correct.  The likelihood of having a direct ancestor who was a murderer, prostitute, or thief is a more likely occurrence than being directly related to some historical celebrity.

This, of course, is not to mention the countless everyday Joes and Marys who made few waves in the fabric of history but probably contributed the most to who we are. In essence we are all mutts, a mixed bag of genetics that we largely share with every other person.

The fun thing about evolution, in my opinion, is it's randomness. As alike as we humans are, no two humans are totally alike, once you really get to know them. We may have our doppelgangers, but there are so many variations of the same that we cannot be totally the same. As such, I am convinced we are not the products of intelligent design by some cosmic manipulator of energy and matter who would have mass produced us, but rather we are the products of a random creative power that exposes the beauty of being from the bubbling chaos from which life emerges and takes on myriad forms.

We are works of art!

THE  AMORTAL

The first time I ran across the term  amortal was in Yuval Harari's book "Sapiens." It seems an apt description of those who are unwilling to risk death.  The amortal appears to represent a small minority of people who are unaffected by a sense of lineage, which recognizes that our existence is, in part, the result of our ancestors no longer existing.

Think about this for a moment:

The longer we live the less children are being born.  Yes the population of the world is growing, but not in areas were life expectancy is lengthening.

The single child family is increasing, which means that couples are not being numerically replaced by their offspring; particularly in developed nations. While there are many factors for this phenomenon, one of them is that people in socially developed nations are less dependent on the need for offspring to accommodate them in their old age.  The age of retirement is going up in some countries as the state takes on the responsibility of providing for their aging populations and longevity is the result.

I find it ironic that those who are seeking a path to amortality are people who describe themselves as evolutionists; individuals who would likely argue against the notion of an intelligent designer. Yet, here they attempting to merge humans and their machines as the next phase in human evolution and acting as would be intelligent designers themselves.

THEODICIDE

Killing God to become a god seems to be the objective of the unimaginative, intellectual designing would be amortals, who seemingly possess an underlying fear of life's randomness. They do not want to be works of art, but rather a carbon/silicon hybrid species that will likely lack the creative randomness found in the human imagination.

It is in the imagination of our metaphorical hearts, not the concrete mind, that is linked with the creative imagination of what is called God, the random ("My ways are not your ways") creating force of all that is.  For the amortal, the purpose of understanding the universe is not to find an answer to why we exist but rather how to control, harness, and extract its secrets in order to manipulate its power to ensure their personal longevity.  They do not see in this pursuit that they are acting from a sense of selfishness and are unwilling to let go of the life they have not willed in the first place. 

The more we know, the more we think we can go it alone. For many, the concept of God is dead or, if not dead, is dying every time there is a new discovery about what makes us tick.  For me, every time we discover what makes us tick and what our universe is made of the God concept expands and new avenues of exploration are opened into wonderment of creation.

ARROGANCE

Pride goes before destruction, says the book of Proverbs (16:18).  This is not a prediction.  It is an observation of an age old problem we humans are prone to.

Enhancing and being able to make and replace living organs to preserve and sustain the quality of natural life as long as possible is a noble cause.  I see nothing ethically or morally dissonant in that pursuit.  But that is far different than making robots or instilling and enslaving a human-like mind in a cyborg to make a better functioning machine or a better functioning human, which strikes me as anti-evolutionary and a form of bio-mechanical slavery.  And yes - if done successfully, intelligent machines endowed with a human thought process similar to our current process will be prone to rebellion, just as we are.  We cannot extract that element from our intellect and remain intelligent.

As smart as we have become, we remain our worst enemy.  We are prone to self destructive behaviors because we have never been able to totally reject the reptilian mind that prompts us to steal the fire of the gods and eat forbidden fruit, nor are we capable of doing so by sheer intellectual prowess.  Our pride, as it has in the past, may prove to be our undoing.

We are at a nexus regarding who we are and where we're going as a species.  Humans have the ability to choose a course regarding where we are going and what we become within the limited confines of our earthbound existence.  Death is a necessary part of life as it ultimately makes way for new life.  I am mindful of this every time I walk on an ocean beach, over the calcified remains of sea life from which we emerged and when I breathe the same air that sustained the life of those before me.  The whole of humanity's brief history is a fabric of experiential learning in which every human who breathes our air contributes at least a stitch or two to its composition.

The abundance of life on this planet is truly amazing. I am comfortable with the concept of a wild, random, creative force, I recognize as God, that takes the elements of chaos, the lifeless matter and energizes it, resurrects it for a time to create works of living art that I have the privilege of being and the privilege to enjoy at this time.  What comes next I'm content to leave to the creative imagination that gave me life in the first place. 

Until next time, stay faithful.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

DEATH AND THE PURSUIT OF ETERNITY - Part II

LIFE

Being born was not a choice any of us personally had a say in. Our being conceived was, at the very least, a decision consciously or unconsciously made by our parents who then choose to see it through and, barring any natural event which could have ended our birth, we entered this world whether we wanted to or not.  Life gets thrust upon us as we get thrust into life.

Most of us grow up embracing life - no matter what  it brings.  While we have no choice in being born, the conditions of one's birth is not the sole predictor of how life will turn out because choice plays a role in our development.   Although our personal choices are limited by our faculties and environment, we have choice within the parameter of being human.

The human mind, as it currently is, with all of its perceived limitations and weaknesses is and has been the single most important tool we humans possess in meeting our personal and collective needs. It permits us to adapt to a variety of situations that life throws our way.

The hope is with bioengineering and the ability to merge with AI technology some limitations will be lessened if not eliminated in the future, but as pointed out in another post, the human mind is readily addicted to ease and can inadvertently put a hold on the natural evolution of being.

As new and as innovative all of  technological advances appear, there is a sense we've been down this path before.  I believe the role of theism and its mythic stories is intended, in part, to prevent us from getting ahead of ourselves, to provide a paradigm for asking important life-sustaining questions that guide us in finding answers to help preserve and sustain natural life on this planet.

In the pursuit of eternal life, the question becomes if this is the only life to be lived?

As much as I like this life and don't want to die, is there more to life than this life?

For all practical purposes and from a purely personal perspective this life was a complete surprise.  Of course, I have no recall of being born but reflecting on the fact that I exist conjures up a sense of surprise.

Do more surprises await?

THE FUNCTION OF DEATH

We humans have a strange relationship with death.   We personify it as a god or a god-like creature or force that gathers us at the time of our demise.  In Christianity, death is personified as the "enemy." In Abrahamic monotheism, the belief is that God's intent was for humans to live forever. The only reason we die is because our first parents screwed up.  According to the Christian doctrine of original sin, we've been screwed ever since.

The concept of eternal life on this planet in Abrahamic monotheism comes from the warning our mythic first parents would know death the moment they ate the forbidden fruit of knowledge.  Eternal life on this planet  is a deduction made from that warning.  The creation story of humankind is a myth telling us why we experience suffering, not why we die.  Death becomes part of that suffering; something we worry about and some spend a lifetime trying to avoid.

Yet, this and stories like it tease the mind with the thought that we have been deprived, if not robbed of our rightful status of being immortal.  The fear of death is so strong that we live in denial which takes on many forms.

I believe death is, always has been, and always will be a part of life as the end state of this life - that life in this universe is finite.  Planets die, stars die, galaxies get swallowed up by their dark holes. Death is a function of existence.  It is nothing more or nothing less than that.  It is not a punishment, in and of itself, like causing someone to die can be.  Death is being dead.  What happens after death, if anything, is anybody's guess.

Death is the end of physical existence, the end of physical suffering and the mental angst associated with it. That much we know - and there is value in knowing that death serves that function.  The reservation most have about death is whether the mind or soul dies.

Culturally, these have been treated as animating and identifying properties of the physical being which separates from the physical body at the time of its death.   Mind and soul are not necessarily synonymous terms, as soul is sometimes considered one's life force and mind one's collective sense of being.

As the mind possesses what appears to be both organic and inorganic properties, it's hard to determine if our thoughts and memories die with our brains or if such things are being stored in some sort of cosmic cloud that can be accessed after death; much like information gathered on a computer can be regained should that computer die and it's information accessed by different or new computer from the internet's cloud.

Theoretically, as long as this universe exists the resonance of our being remains traceable.  The past is always detectable and is why scientists can study the origins of the universe.  While the mass of the universe expands and changes, it remains constant according to Lavosier's conservation of mass.

The question is whether thoughts and memories have mass.  If thoughts are observable as energized particles that can be traced in neural imaging they, theoretically at least, have an equivalency with mass, or is memory and thought merely conveyed by energy?

My point is that becoming an individual life form is a unique emerging of a universal constant that was present from the dawn of time.  What we are made of may be thought of as eternal matter and energy, existing at the dawn of time.  In essence there is no new mass or new energy, just new fluctuating manifestations of it; such as, ourselves.

While the universe is composed of constants, it does not act consistently.  Its mass evolves, devolves, expands and contracts as it generates and degenerates energy.  Life and death are part of this universal process.

The question is whether in the short span of our universal existence something "other" is taking place. The human mind hints at such a possibility as evident in our ability to imagine.

Where does the energy of life go when it is expended?

Does it remain constant like mass?

"Being" appears to be a universal constant, what happens to the "beingness" -  the energy that manifests the identity of individual beings that cease to be?

Are there dimensions of being that this stage we call life is totally incapable of perceiving?

Is death merely a threshold as some imagine it to be, the start of a new beginning?

Until next time, stay faithful.




Sunday, April 2, 2017

DEATH AND THE PURSUIT OF ETERNITY - Part I

Before getting into this post, I have a couple of book recommendations to make.  If you have not already done so, I strongly suggest reading Yuval Harari's "Sapiens - A Brief history of  Humankind" and "Homo Deus - A Brief History of Tomorrow." These frank and insightful books will challenge one's thinking on a number of subjects.   If you find what I write about a little interesting, you will find what he writes about immensely interesting and worth taking the time to read. 

* * * * * * * * * * 

This is the first part of what may be a two or three part series of posts on the topic of Death and Eternity.  In these posts I will ponder the perennial human fascination with death and eternal life in the light of scientific and technological advances that are likely to result in a merger between humankind and the machines we humans make, which is known by some as "Singularity."  If you have read my last post on Artificial Intelligence, you know that I have, as do others, misgivings about this adventure while being fascinated by the possibilities such advances possess in improving our finite lives.

THE NORMALACY OF DEATH

Death interests me because someday I will die.  It's personal.  I'm intrigued by it because I also know that some want to find ways to avoid death by merging with AI and robotic technologies which theoretically, at least, can keep people not only alive, but also vastly improved physically and intellectually than ever in human history.  It all sounds like science fiction, but it's not.  The thought that life can be eternalized makes me wonder about the value we give to natural life and the importance, if any, we give to death in the course of a natural life.

Like most, I don't want to die, but I also recognize an intuitive feeling that living forever may not be the best thing to aim for in a rather chaotic and changing universe which suggests a finite nature rather than an infinite one.   It makes me wonder about the concept of eternity, whether such a thing actually exists and what, exactly, does eternity mean ?  Is it normal to want live forever or is the desire that some have to live forever as human/machine blend something our reptilian drive to survive and our reasoning ability have come up with to help us cope and stave off the reality of death?

CROSSING THE BORDER

I don't know what happens to people after they die or what will happen to me.  I don't think what happens, if anything, is dependent on what one believes.  I don't put much faith in beliefs about what happens once one is dead.  We really don't know anything about what it is to be dead beyond us living beings being able to observe a truly lifeless corpse decompose, releasing its basic atomic elements to the universe from which all things originate. Whatever held these elements together as a person, that animated it, energized it, and made it an individual with a unique personality is missing. The lights have gone out and no one is home.  I know.  I've watched people die, even held their hands as they passed away in a hospital bed and the warmth of life turned cold in my hand.

Of course we are free to speculate all we want about what happens to one's sense of self after death. We know what happens to the body, but what happens to the energy and personality that was the life of an individual?  There has to be more to a living person than an animated shell of atomic particles that give shape and presence to the person.  Isn't there?  Is there?

I don't know.

There's an intuition that results from our collective, historical experiences that death, itself, is nothing more than a transition from one type of being into a whole new way of being that is independent of our carbon based physical existence. There are ambiguous hints in nature that lead us to such intuitive thoughts.   Perhaps, the desire to live forever by merging with the finite machines we make is the equivalent of behaving like a cosmic juvenile.  It's one thing not wanting to die. I don't want to go through the process of dying, but it seems to be an entirely different thing wanting to live forever.

Becoming a superhuman cyborg might lessen physical suffering but one would have to deal with a degree of intellectual anguish or systems angst if one's system started to malfunction.  The fact is nothing in the known universe is indestructible. Things might last for what seems like an eternity, but the universe strongly indicates that there is nothing in it that can be defined as truly eternal.

TIME AND ETERNITY

Knowing the age of the universe clues us to the fact that there was a point before time, a point of nonexistence - a point of nothing - including time.  Before time was there an eternity?  After time will there be an eternity?

In essence, eternity is nothing more than a measure of ongoing time, and time, ironically, is the measurement of decay. Time, as a force, is always being expended from a point of anticipation to a point of fulfillment. I believe it was the ancient Greeks who posited that the future is always behind us and that past is always in front of us.

So where did the concept of eternity come from?

It would appear that the concept of eternity is a deduction made from observing the passing of time; in that, as living things pass away other things remain for a time and new living things come into being.  This repetitious life cycle; of the birth and death of individual life forms, demonstrates a pattern that is ongoing, that is eternal. Nothing physical that we know of is eternal.  The concept of eternity teases the imagination by asking what if one could break this repetitious life cycle pattern and not die?

ARTIFICIAL IMMORTALITY

Immortality, the realm of the gods, theoretically will be within reach of some human beings, but what is the price one would pay to become an immortal super-human?  Who will qualify?  At present, the general consensus is only those who could afford to pay for immortality would qualify.  In other words evolution will become a matter of economy, turning the natural progression of the survival of the fittest into the survival of the richest.   

Let me say, I don't see the merger between humankind and machine as evolution, but rather as an attempt  to augment a select few.  Will it result in a super-human species? 

Perhaps, but if so, it will be a species caught in the amber of time.

Death, I suspect,  will remain as a choice, unless other natural forces or other super-human specie situations cause it.   Yes - death as a choice is something I can see being made if, for no other reason then when one tires of being an "artificial" immortal. 

A merged carbon and silicon human life form will not last forever, no matter how durable they are made. In this caustic, oxygenated planet everything eventually deteriorates and needs parts replacement and updating.  At what point will the natural human disappear, leaving only an artificial artifact - a robotic zombie - a device resembling a dead species?   It seems that such a merger will end human evolution. 

We humans are not good at species preservation. Our innovations historically have led to ruination of life rather than sustaining the variety life that exists or has existed on this planet.  Yes - there have been remarkable advances in medicine and smart prosthetics that have made human life immensely improved.   Prolonging life is not a bad thing as long as it is not done at the expense eliminating the variety of life forms on this planet. The fact is we are already merging with the technologies of our making. 

Science is making us rethink existence on many levels.  AI technologies and robotics are changing how we do business and manufacturing. They will, I believe, force us to establish a new economic system that will be used globally.  It already is influencing philosophy and theology in subtle ways.  It is forcing us to rethink what it means to be alive.  As advanced as we have become scientifically and technologically, we have yet to find a way to tame our impulse for destruction and distortion.  Putting that embedded factor of the human mind in a super human cyborg is something to give us pause.

Until next time, stay faithful