Category Archives: Uncategorized

Homo deus: what are we going to do with ourselves?

220px-the_creation_of_adam“In a healthy, prosperous and harmonious world, what will demand our attention and ingenuity? This question becomes doubly urgent given the immense new powers that biotechnology and information technology are providing us with. What will we do with all that power?”

Yuval Noah Harari. “Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow.”

The future is both unknowable and already past, so potentially knowable.  If we can step outside of space-time; perhaps learn to treat that strange continuum as we do space, which seems to us so plain, yet teems with subatomic life.   We experience time, as living creatures; as much as fish need water to exist, so we need time.  But time does not exist; it is an illusion of our mind.  Only space-time.

Light is both wave and particle.   This example of the law of paradoxical Truths to help you see the future as potentially knowable, despite being intrinsically unknowable. You are at the same time, no more than the dust that you return to after death; and the very purpose for the creation of the entire universe.  Ha Olam.

Future space-time exists co-equally with past, but not in human experience where past is set and future open.  In either past or future, energy is spent from the present moment.  We must learn from the past and prepare for the future, but without excess and unhelpful focus on past or future events.  “I lived through many disasters, some of which happened…”

As for the laws of physics, there is nothing special about the present; made unique to me by being alive at this point, and so, aware of this space-time, here-now.  And I think the question Harari asks must be answered; given the exponentially growing power of humanity.  Unless the question becomes redundant, if we manage to destroy our home planet….with that growing power that children fail to acknowledged



Magic words: US Constitution, 1787

Happy 230th year to you!  Pleased to be introduced to Schoolhouse Rock educational videos from the 1970s, and was again stirred by the words of the Constitution’s preamble:

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

The language is old, but it perfectly captures why and how we need government.  Similarly, the  4 July 1776 Declaration of Independence starts with ‘self-evident’ truths that we were all born equal, with a right to ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’, and that the purpose of government is to secure these rights.  Both documents reflect Enlightenment thinking, in contrast to the traditional ideas like divine right of kings.

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How do I feel, when my soul is torn?

I had another idea I was trying to sell.  It’s gone now,  but the point is not the deep sad of existence when not connected with at least one special other.  My soul mate, life partner and co-parent all ideally wrapped up in the same perfect package of spouse. {note to self, what is etymology of spouse, and why is it so rarely used today?}

I would look it up, but I have committed to doing this in 10 minutes, and I do get so easily distracted.  A feature or a flaw?  I often ponder on human origins, and the far more awesome story that science tells me than a simple Creator God.  I can’t have been much older than seven when it struck me that God is the Laws of Physics.

To have an understanding go God and science at this young age reflects on my winning the genetic and environmental ‘roulette’ that gave me highly gifted parents on both sides, and an extremely privileged up bring by a Bridge World Champion, and always delicately cared for by the Universe.  Including in my trials.

I feel trapped in one now.  My soul is torn.  It hurts.  Why is this you ask, I hope.

Expectations.  Life is not quite meeting my expectations.  So, instead of changing my expectations, I pack a sad.  I know this, and still it hurts.  An optical illusion can remain, even when we know it.  Do you know about your cognitive illusions?



Daily Prompt: Disagree

via Daily Prompt: Disagree

Agreeable it is to agree; but comfort zone offers no growth.

The real question is, can I really listen to the other, or do my internal voices drown out all others?  Honest disagreement can be more constructive in sharpening an idea than agreement.  Learning to listen seems really hard for our poor brains: designed for hunter-gatherer life.  It is the power of words/ideas that allowed our species to organise: agreement is the norm.

Our hidden biases, mental flaws, and defective models can lead to poor decision-making.  By disagreeing we help our friends and family to better decisions.  With science banishing “Free Will” to myth, we still have free choice in our actions.  Ironically, believing that there is no FW, makes us behave worse – easier to give ourselves a pass.

If there is no FW, why do we allow Criminal Justice system to exacerbate the inequities and iniquities of our worlds?  And if we do not disagree with an unjust system; are we not then complicit in its evil?  To disagree is a core part of being human and seeking the better angels of our nature.  But like all human tools can also be used for bad.  The difference is perhaps our motive: from ego or alter?

You have been warned: don’t act, and face the consequences

But not all warnings are right; how do we know if we need to react?

HIV, SARS, Ebola.  These all emerged after some commentators thought that we had conquered infectious disease through hygiene, sanitation and immunisation. Humans face an ever increasing risk of new pathogen because our collective biomass is increasing.  This is not hard to understand if you think of all mammals as potential sources of life for micro-organisms.  I presume you have heard of the micro biome; the startling fact that you and I have at least 10 times more non-human cells than human cells that make up our body.  And that many of these bugs are essential to our health; and may in fact be driving much of our behaviour from the products of their metabolism.  It seems that even obesity may be, at least in part, caused by the bugs in our guts.  And that much as the negative impact of junk food may be through the changes in the microbiome that it causes.  Bugs love sugar!

For me, SARS was the alarm bell, the missed opportunity around needing to have better information systems so that we can deal with the next new bug.  Which could be as fatal as Ebola, but with the infectiousness of influenza.  Its emergence, just a matter of genetic roulette.  Once a bug that emerges that can feast on humanity, it will spread – see HIV/AIDS.

Ebola has rung a new alarm bell on the costs of failing to look after all our family – that we all face the risks caused by the weakest link in health.  But, I was prompted to write this not by this threat, but another one for which there is a much stronger case for a scientific warning.  That we must act upon, and yet much of the world, including many powerful people who really should know better, continues to deny.  Denial may the healthiest psychological strategy when there is nothing that we can do to reduce our risk.

And then there is the small matter of vested interest that makes us blind.  The vested interest in the comfort of today, for we know that is at risk.  And even if others are not so comfortable, that is really not our business, is it?

Well, that depends of your view of humanity and yourself.  Whether you accept the science that says we are all from a common ancestor, perhaps as recently as 50,000 years ago – maybe 200,000 years – the supposed time that modern humans emerged.  I have already made an implicit case for why we need to care about the other members of our family to protect us agains new bugs.  But what if we could have a Jesus or Buddha view of humanity, that saw our transcendent unity, and not just with the human family, but all of life, the whole universe itself.

The threat is the melting of the polar ice-caps, which is melting at an increasing rate.  A particular concern because 97% of the excess energy that humanity is putting in the atmosphere is being absorbed by the oceans, especially the southern oceans around antarctica.  Once that is gone, and with it much of the absorptive capacity of the oceans – what happens?

Time will tell.  We are acting, but not nearly fast enough.  There is a prime villain here, and what will it take to act?  Especially if that action to decarbonise the economy is part of a radical transformation of production that is geared to people’s needs rather then profit.  With robotic production already here, this seems more possible than when human labour was essential to production.

And what will be human role in the new economy?  Why, to look after each other, as teachers, healers, entertainers.  Another Utopian dream?  Perhaps.  But, if our human family made a consensus decision to establish this new world, could we not just decide to do so from today?

To take back Abe Lincoln’s idea of democracy being the government by, for, and with the people.  Not the corporate interests that are paramount with the claim that this is essential for jobs. Not true.  The economy is not about money, it is about people and how they allocate the products of society.  Just because we inherited the capitalist model, does not mean that it continues forever – any more than feudalism; thought the legacy of that remain…

Technology offers new models of organisation.  Our planet demands it, as capitalism will destroy it – if it continues on the current path.  You have been warned.  Your call.

Germ Theory of Disease

Until about 200 years ago, people did not understand the cause of disease.  In olden times, people thought that evil spirits caused disease.  Then it was ‘bad air’ also called a ‘miasma’.  (Malaria has been, and continues to be a major cause of human disease, disability and death.  It means  coming form ‘ bad air”)

With the microscope, we discovered bacteria and other ‘micro-organisms’.  A virus is so small, that it cannot be seen in a microscope, but its effects on cells can be.  And with special microscopes that use X-rays instead of visible light, we can now take pictures of viruses.  And now we understand that not only infectious diseases, but cancer and perhaps have these tiny germs as the cause of much human disease.

This germ theory of disease has enabled interventions like vaccines and antibiotics; clean water and sewerage systems; housing standards  that been very instrumental at improving human life spans from around 30-40 years to over 80 years today, for the best countries.

Why are vaccines so controversial, then?

Because of a cognitive bias: a problem with our ‘natural’ way of thinking.  This bias was described by the ancients – the fallacy of Post hoc, ergo proper hoc:  If an event happens after ‘hoc’ (a thing), so it was caused by that thing. This is because our brains are designed to find patterns where none exist, so that we do not miss potential associations.  This is why we need statistics.  But also structured logic to make sure that cause and effect are correctly understood (“Correlation is not causation”).

Since, nearly every child will have a vaccine, it is inevitable that serious and sometimes fatal events will happen after vaccine.  Vaccines are supposed to generate a reaction in the body.  Symptoms from such reactions may blur with a coincidental disease process, leading to even more conviction that it was the vaccine that caused the disease; even when it is ‘coincidental’.  Which just means that the two events (vaccine and problem), just happened to be at that time, and really unrelated to each other.

For example, the other day I had my influenza vaccine.  The next day, I slipped while walking on some steps in heavy rain with obstructed vision.  Could the vaccine have affected my balance, and be to blame?  The only way to know for certain is to do controlled studies when we can compare rates of events.  Many people have told me that when they get influenza vaccine, they get sick with influenza.  Well you can get some the symptoms of influenza infection from the vaccine; and that may be the explanation for some.  More likely, they just happened to get infected with one of the many viruses that causes an ‘influenza-like illness’.  And we know this because when we do controlled studies we see these vaccine reactions, but no increase in other infections between vaccinated and non-vaccinated.

Science is unable to ‘prove’ anything.  At best, we have working models that describe the world well.  We know, that sometimes these can work, even when they are wrong.  And the Universe seems to require paradoxical truths: light is both particle and wave.

Ebola: fetid transmission

Ebola could be considered a pandemic virus with the travel of cases across continents to the US; except that transmission has been limited to West Africa. The outbreak started in Guinea; reported to WHO on 23 March 2014; and  spread to four other West African countries: Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal, and Sierra Leone. Whilst Nigeria and Senegal seem to have contained the spread, the three other countries continue to show an increase of cases, as at mid September.

Ebola may be amongst the most fatal viruses for humans; but relatively easy to prevent its spread, as cases are not infectious until after they become sick; unlike measles or influenza that are usually infectious before full-symptoms. The 2003 SARS virus outbreak was controlled because most cases were not infectious before fever onset; with Ebola virus transmission looks even more restricted and requiring close contact with infected body fluids.  Of course, the virus could change at any time to become airborne! I am not sure if/how one estimates the probability of its doing so, but to me it seems more likely not to do so, but how can I say that?

Ebola virus was not ‘designed’ (or adapted) to infect humans as its primary host); bats being the prime candidates.  Fruit bats, if it matters to you.  SARS is believed to have also originated from bats (probably via the civet cat in markets that really should not exist in the 21st century).  We are at risk of more new animal virus as human activities encroach on other species, and the kinds of contacts humans have with dead animals.

It is hard to predict what will happen with the spread of this virus in these three countries in West Africa; many other countries are at risk of importing a case; or perhaps a new outbreak from ‘bush meat’.  But it seems possible that the outbreak will be contained by changes in behaviour that are currently enabling spread: at root the lack of trust in government, inadequate health resources, and ritual practices.

The world has been slow to respond, and the response could have been more strategic.  The costs to health systems yet to be measured, but if the result is improvement in health delivery, perhaps the outbreak has a silver lining.  Meanwhile, are you and your family ready for the next  emerging disease outbreak?  Remember, it will be human reactions and not the virus that causes the most damage.