Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Love and Happiness

There are some people who seem to always be happy, regardless of how meager their situations appear to the outside observer. There are also people who cannot seem to sustain happiness, no matter how great their lives are perceived to be by others. This dichotomy exists because the inclination towards happiness manifests in different degrees in different people, with little correlation to their circumstances. While some people are born with a consistent tendency to be happy, I maintain that those who feel that their propensity for happiness is insufficient can increase it considerably over the course of their lives.

Before I describe how this is done, let me first explain what I mean by happiness. We all believe we know what happiness is since most of us have had bouts of it, regardless of our relative inability to sustain it. But if you ask most people what it means to be happy, you typically get a list of effects and synonyms but rarely a good characterization of the underlying cause.

I regard happiness as the appreciation of the absence of need. In this context need is our separation from completeness. At first glance this would seem to indicate that only those who have achieved completeness (the topic of another essay), can be truly happy. But from a deeper perspective it means that happiness is more readily available to those who have greater awareness of their proximity to completeness (or, as is often the case with simpler folk, less awareness of their separation from completeness).

Bear in mind that happiness is not our ultimate objective. In general, sustained happiness is simply an indicator that we are near our true objective of completeness. The closer we are to completeness, the fewer needs we have to focus on and so the more likely we are to be happy. Mind you, those who lack a sufficient propensity for happiness will usually just place a greater emphasis on their remaining needs.

Viewed this way it looks like it is theoretically possible to be too happy. For those of us who still see ourselves as far from complete, our needs are our primary incentive to grow. As such, if we still have needs but our happiness has us directing our attention away from them, this incentive to grow would no longer be effective, thus potentially retarding our growth.

We are protected from this eventuality by our other important incentive to grow. Where need is our negative incentive to grow, our positive incentive to grow is love. Again most of us believe we know what love is since we are of the impression that we have experienced it either directly or indirectly at some point in our lives. But when asked to define love we typically put forth a litany of symptoms, not an explanation of the condition.

Love is the empathically induced completeness that we feel through our awareness of our proximity to completeness. In other words, love is the feeling we get from our realization that we are a part of something truly wonderful. The existence of this positive incentive to grow allows those who are both needful and happy to be inclined to grow through their love, which will draw them towards the ultimate source of the completeness they feel.

Love is the basis of our propensity to be happy. This means that those who feel they lack the inclination to be happy simply do not have enough love in their lives. Such people are insufficiently aware of their proximity to completeness.

To resolve this situation you should first cultivate an awareness of the existence of a state of completeness that transcends all need and is the source of all love in the world. Whether you call this state God, Unity or the peace of perfect equilibrium, the existence of such a state is easy to recognize if you are open to it.

Once you accept the existence of this complete state, you can increase your propensity to be happy by nurturing an awareness of your proximity to it. I maintain that each conscious being is separated from this state of completeness by a single thought. The specific nature of this thought is different for each individual. The trick is figuring out what that thought is for you. But in the interim, you can be happier simply knowing how close we all are to the resultant state of completeness.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Experience Systems

The next generation of data systems on the horizon are Experience Systems. These are systems that sequence content exposures (i.e. events) to form coordinated user experiences. A user experience is a collection of events that are arranged in a particular order to have a specific impact on the user. The distinguishing components of the Experience System architecture are its Profile Manager, Experience Generator and Event Store.

The user interface of an Experience System encompasses a Query Generator, Preference Manager and Profile Manager. The Profile Manager gathers much more expansive data on the end user than the Preference Manager. These data elements comprise a detailed psychological profile of the user. Such profiles can be generated by prolonged exposure to a psychological assessment system that on the surface would look like a video game played in a very sophisticated virtual world.

This assessment system presents the user with an appropriate narrative under which resides a sophisticated decision tree. The user traverses this tree in the course of “playing the game”. The user’s decisions in the face of a specific sequence of scenarios place her at a particular location on the underlying N-dimensional assessment grid. It is the user’s historical path and current location in this grid that characterizes her profile. The longer the user interacts with the system, the more precisely her profile can be defined.

The shape of the space in which the assessment grid resides reflects the capabilities, inclinations and susceptibilities of a user at a given location. The user’s current psychological location, the shape of the space around her (i.e., her psychological inertia) and the spatial and temporal shape of her historical path through the assessment grid (i.e., her psychological momentum) combined with any user-defined goal states, determine the narrative being presented. The assessment system is dynamic in that it updates itself in response to the results achieved by its user community.

Experience System queries are requests by the user to reach specified goal states. The Experience Generator accepts these requests and the associated user profile data from the Profile Manager and searches the Event Store for appropriate events that can facilitate the transition. These events can be based on exposure to electronic media such as videos, pictures, audio lectures, music and text. They can also include excursions into the offline world to lecture halls, theaters, museums, exercise facilities, stores, parks, beaches, work places and any other available sites. The Experience Generator sequences the selected events into different experiences and coordinates user access to them via the user interface. These experiences are designed to advance the user towards her goal state. They are generally presented in order of the greatest probability of success.

The Event Store is a Content Store that extends into the offline world. Events in the store are rated and cataloged by their potential impact on a given range of user capabilities, inclinations and susceptibilities based on provider assessments (heuristics), empirical data and theoretical extrapolations. Experience Systems manage events that are combined to form Minkowski data spaces that characterize both where and when events occur.

When you consider that we have only recently begun to produce Knowledge Systems, the advent of fully functioning Experience Systems is still some time off in our future. But much of the technology that would be required to produce such systems is already available to us. An assessment system with the requisite sophistication has yet to be developed but many its components already exist separately (there may even be a few of prototypes out there). It is only a matter of time before someone puts them together and triggers a major paradigm shift.

Experience Systems could easily represent the next generation of entertainment, education and life management technologies. As we continue to exploit the deeper potential of data systems, it is becoming increasingly evident that in lieu of a major scientific breakthrough (e.g., cold fusion, instantaneous teleportation, matter transmutation, etc.), this technology domain will be an increasingly important driver of human activity for the foreseeable future.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Evolution of Data Systems

Underlying all of today’s computer applications are Information Systems. Note that information characterizes the separations between entities. Information Systems are based on collections of entities whose types and attributes distinguish them from each other.

Information Systems are generally comprised of some form of a Query Generator, a System Integrator and a Data Store. The Query Generator is essentially the user interface that accepts requests for information and displays the result set. The System Integrator is the subsystem that knows what data elements are where and how to access them. The Data Store encompasses the location of every piece of data in the system that the end user could want to see.

Information Systems require no knowledge of the user beyond the content of the request being made and her authorization level. As such the layout and actions of its components are largely unaffected by the individual uniqueness of the user. In general, Information Systems manage data elements in a Euclidean (flat) data space. This means that, the logical distance between data elements in an Information System is generally the same for all users.

Of late, an increasing number of Knowledge Systems have begun to emerge. Note that knowledge characterizes the connections between entities. The connections between data elements in Knowledge Systems are their metadata, which is essentially data about the data. The distinguishing components of the Knowledge System architecture are its Preference Manager, Search Engine and Content Store.

The user interface of a Knowledge System is comprised of a Query Generator and a Preference Manager. The Preference Manager accepts user preference data in the form of demographic data and transaction history. Preference data are utilized by the user interface to customize its layout. The Search Engine uses preference data to shape the Content Store in terms of relevance to a given user.

The Content Store contains both fundamental data elements and the metadata that connect them on a more abstract level. The metadata of the Content Store are what distinguish it from a Data Store. Knowledge Systems manage relevance metrics that are used to generate non-Euclidean (curved) data spaces. This means that the logical distance between data elements in a Knowledge System can be the different for different users.

Information Systems are currently being engulfed into the history of data systems by the newly emergent Knowledge Systems, which represent the present. But the initial glimmers of the future of data systems are already becoming apparent. This future is the phenomenon known as the Experience System, which builds on the advances produced by the development of Knowledge Systems. The nature of Experience Systems will be the subject of the next essay.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Ideological Dynamics

So which is the superior end of the political ideology spectrum: liberal or conservative? Each is appropriate at a particular point in the history of the state. The ideological needs of a people tend to cycle from one extreme to the other. This is because each political ideology addresses certain of the people’s needs while ignoring others.

Liberalism addresses our need for freedom; but in doing so it can ignore our need for security. This is because by not accounting for the worst aspects of human nature liberalism often fails to address the needs of certain segments of the society to be protected from them. In addition, the anarchic tendencies of liberal states can undermine the defining structure of a society.

In its effort to manage the worst aspects of human nature conservatism addresses our need for security; but in doing so it can ignore our need for freedom. This is because conservatism attempts to suppress divergence from the cultural normal. But in the process it often suppresses the best aspects of the human nature and as a result conservatism denies certain ideas and avenues of expression that can facilitate the advancement of the culture.

When a static ideology is right for the times there is relative equilibrium in the state that is governed by it. But, over time, the needs that are being ignored by that ideology become paramount in the political discourse. As these needs continue to go unaddressed by the leaders of the state, the ideology that was once the source of equilibrium will begin to undermine it. Eventually, the degree of dissonance will exceed the tolerance of the people; leading them to replace their leadership with one that espouses the complementary ideology.

During the times of equilibrium produced by an alignment of the needs of the people and ideology of the leaders, the state tends to run in a relatively smooth and efficient operational mode. But the longer the leadership ignores an increasing divergence between their static ideology and the changing needs of the people, the more significant a project it will represent for the leaders to restore political equilibrium. In other words, the longer this growing divergence goes unaddressed the more potentially disruptive the realignment will be.

The forces required to reverse this divergence sometimes produce a thrashing condition in which the corrective action overcompensates for the initial delay in addressing the needs of the people and the newly installed ideology veers too far to the other side. This can trigger an ideological recoil in the other direction, which depending on its strength, can cause a bounce back to the other side again and so on until at some point the ideology of the leadership comes back into alignment with the needs of the people. At this point the political system has returned to its equilibrium state.

In a bipartisan political system one of the two major political parties will invariably embrace a more conservative ideology while the other will be consistently more liberal. But parties are not required to be bound to a static ideology and members of a given party are even less so.

On those rare occasions when the leadership of the political party in charge chooses to transcend static ideology, they can remain in power indefinitely by adapting to changes in the ideological needs of the people. In order to accomplish this, the leaders must be willing to abandon policies and dismantle programs (even those they put in place) that were consistent with the waning side of the ideological cycle and replace them with those that are in keeping with waxing side, which is shaped by the unaddressed needs of the people. To be successful, this leadership must remain attuned to the greatest needs of the people rather than being focused of scoring ideological points.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Political Ideology

From a political perspective the conservative and liberal positions represent opposite ends of the ideological spectrum. Conservatives are characterized by a fundamental suspicion of human nature that manifests in their tendency to impose limits on the rights of the people. In this context, they generally believe rights should be earned. By contrast, liberals ascribe great value to human nature and so are inclined to maximize the rights of the people. This is because liberals typically believe most rights are innate.

People will invariably prefer a situation in which they have more rights over one in which they have fewer. As such, the more their rights are limited, the more oversight will be required to keep the people from circumventing these limits and thus undermining the stability of the encompassing political system. This is why the more conservative systems of government require greater oversight of the people, which usually manifests as more pervasive internal security forces. The underlying principles of liberal states lead them to impose less oversight of the people. As a result, the more liberal a government is the closer it is to anarchy.

An interesting juxtaposition of the liberal and conservative positions occurs in the context of corporations. Liberal states have a tendency to treat corporations in the same manner that conservative governments treat the broader population. As such, while they believe that the people should have the maximum rights; liberals also feel that corporations require greater oversight. The latter point implies that liberals judge corporations as deserving fewer rights. It can be argued that this judgment is based on the liberal perception that corporations’ greater capacity to influence society through their economic power provides them with the potential to abridge the rights of the people. In other words, liberals tend to view corporations as a prospective threat to any state-guaranteed rights of the people.

By contrast, contemporary conservative states are inclined to treat corporations in the same manner that liberal governments treat individuals. As such, while conservatives believe the people should have fewer rights, they also feel that corporations require less oversight. The latter position indicates that conservatives regard corporations as meriting more rights. This is because conservatives often interpret the relative success of corporations as proof that they have earned more expansive rights. Conservatives are inclined to regard corporations as having transcended the more dubious aspects of human nature.

The liberal manner in which conservative governments are inclined to treat corporations and the conservative way that liberal governments often deal with them indicate that today the practitioners of these political ideologies are not as far apart as one might think. By embracing qualified forms of these ideologies, today’s liberals and conservatives each have insight into the other’s position through which they could conceivably work together for the common good.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Remembering the Future II

Remembering the future is less likely to be effective in time-critical situations. This is because, if one of your future memories has a date-specific event in it, and that date passes without the event occurring, this will undermine your disposition and the likelihood of the future you remembered. The primary purpose of this technique is to shape what will happen, but not necessarily when.

To effectively remember the future you must be able to accept that events will happen when they can in the context of your disposition. As such, this technique requires a great deal of patience. This sort of patience can be maintained by focusing on small degrees of progress towards the future you are remembering. One way to do this is to analyze noteworthy changes in your life in the context of whether or not they represent progress towards your remembered future. The more you do so, the more you will see that they do.

Based on the level of commitment required to make remembering the future work, it should obviously not be used trivially or maliciously. Going through this intricate process to get something that you can obtain by simply deciding to get out of your own way is, at best, inefficient. In addition, since this technique is based on fundamentally changing your disposition, using it maliciously will incline you to become increasingly cruel.

Initially it is best to attempt to remember longer-term futures whose narratives benefit others as well. This because it takes a considerable amount of time and effort to make the major changes in your disposition necessary for it to be consistent with a future that is significantly different from what you believe would occur otherwise. Remembering a future that benefits others harnesses their preexisting dispositions towards that future, thus providing you with more opportunities for positive reinforcement.

I have a somewhat time dependent set of future memories that benefit everyone. These memories shape the primary narrative of my life. In their context I am in a hospital bed being stabilized before I go home in order to die surrounded by my loved ones. The time dependent aspect of it is that I am either 90, 95 or 99 years old. I am pain-free and completely clear headed as I dwell on the wonderful life I’ve lived. I have made my share of mistakes but it is undeniable that I will be leaving the world a significantly better place than I found it and thus I am completely at peace with my life. I spend much of my remaining time reassuring a multitude of loves ones that things will only get better as a result of what we have accomplished. As I write these words I honestly cannot say for sure whether I am the nonagenarian remembering his past life as the person writing this essay, or am I the writer remembering the end of his life (not unlike Billy Pilgrim in “Slaughterhouse Five”). Either way works for me.

Remembering the future is my way of controlling the chaos underlying the Butterfly Effect in order to shape significant events in my life. It is also what I do in lieu of prayer when people I care about need more than words of comfort. Beyond the fact that I believe it gives me control over the primary arc of my life, it invariably works for me simply because it provides me with the means of feeling good about the future.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Remembering the Future

Remembering the future is a uniquely effective method of controlling the chaos underlying the Butterfly Effect in order to shape significant events in one's life. This technique involves constructing and living within the context of “memories” of a particular future. In order to be effective these future memories must be simple, realistic and yet vague enough to not be inconsistent with the present. To illustrate how this is done, I will use the example of my developing future memories of the publishing of my currently unpublished manuscript.

In my future memories of this event I recall the exhilaration I experienced when I opened the acceptance letter from a publisher after being ignored or rejected repeatedly. I remember the odd combination of gratitude and defensiveness I felt toward my editor who complimented certain passages while criticizing others. I recall some experts saying I’m crazy and others insisting that I’m brilliant. I remember my disappointment in discovering how quickly being on a promotional tour loses its appeal. I recall a clerk working the register at a store I frequent who, upon noticing the name on my credit card and recognizing my face from the dust jacket tells me how my words changed her life.

It is obvious that these future memories must not be inconsistent with each other or with the world in which I currently reside. Where there are conflicts these inconsistencies will disrupt the disposition I am trying to shape, thus inhibiting the manifestation of the future that they characterize.

Regularly “recalling” and adding to these future memories knits them together into a narrative that over time begins to feel as though it has already happened. Generating and living with such often mundane future memories shapes my present disposition to be consistent with them, while also guiding my actions to sustain that consistency. For instance, whenever I work on my manuscript in the context of my future memories their content often shapes my writing. As such, I often edit passages until I feel, “That’s want I remember writing”.

It is important to “recall” your future memories frequently enough for them to shape your disposition and actions but not so often that you become obsessed with the encompassing narrative. If you find yourself disappearing into this narrative you need to take a break from it in order to maintain an appropriate perspective. I find it helps to adopt a stance of dispassionate confidence in the inevitability of this future to avoid obsessive desperation. If you cannot indefinitely maintain such a posture, you should not engage in this exercise.

Remembering the future is not a magic lamp that you rub to have a wish granted. It is a technique for generating and sustaining a particular disposition in order to shape our chaotic world to be consistent with it. While it requires a significant level of inner focus, patience and commitment, when done properly it can be remarkably effective.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Controlling the Butterfly Effect

The Butterfly Effect is an abstraction that is characterized by the observation that a butterfly flapping its wings in Costa Rica can be the critical factor in producing a typhoon off the coast of India. This idea relates to chaotic systems, such as the global weather system, that are incredibly sensitive to miniscule changes in their initial conditions. As conscious entities we are uniquely qualified to utilize the Butterfly Effect to control and direct momentous changes in the chaotic system that our world. Our capacity to control the chaos underlying the Butterfly Effect is based on our ability to direct our inner focus and simply be patient.

A causal system is essentially characterized by how it converts inputs to outputs. The key to controlling such a system is knowing how to generate the inputs required to produce specific outputs. It is generally assumed that chaotic systems are too complex for such knowledge to be available. But this belief does not take into account the premise that what we see around us is ultimately shaped by what we are. In other words, our uniqueness shapes the causal systems that shape our essences. A detailed exposition on why this is true will not fit into this essay (though this concept underlies a viable interpretation of quantum mechanics) and so if you cannot accept this premise you can stop reading this particular essay and you should probably skip the next two as well.

If you are still with me note that individuals sometimes become responsible for momentous occurrences through a convergence of events over which they have no control. The primary difference between people who can control such convergences and those who cannot is that the former are disposed to do so while the latter are not. This means that in order to control chaos to orchestrate significant events you need merely shape your disposition accordingly. This is important because your disposition is the inner manifestation of your uniqueness. As such, by shaping your disposition you shape the world around you to reflect it.

The fact that we are not all controlling this dynamic indicates that it is much easier to describe than to execute. To appreciate this, imagine what it would take to live up to a commitment to maintain a happy disposition for every second of the next 24 hours. If you manage to get through your next meal before you lose it you are much better than most of us.

For us mere mortals, shaping our dispositions is not an act of will so much as appropriately directed inner focus. The technique that has been most effective for me involves concentrating not on the present but on the future. My approach is best characterized as “Remembering the Future”. I will describe what this technique is and how to apply it in my next couple of essays.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Trickle-down Economics in the Global Economy

Trickle-down Economics Theory argues that government efforts to increase the earnings of those at the very top of the economic ladder are the most efficient way to stimulate the domestic economy. This theory is based on the premise that this segment of the society has the greatest capacity to influence the level of economic activity. While the wealthiest individuals and organizations have a disproportionately high potential to impact domestic economic activity, this potential can be undermined by the fact that in a global capitalist economy they also have more options as to where to exercise their financial resources.

In general capitalism encourages entities to exercise their financial resources where doing so provides them with the greatest return on their investment. In a global economy this may not always be in their country of residence. As such, where there are financial incentives for the wealthiest to invest their resources overseas, a domestic application of the Trickle-down Economics provides the source for a pump that transfers revenues from the domestic government (ultimately the taxpayer) to foreign markets.

Through increasing globalization there are an increasing number of incentives for entities to exercise a portion of their financial resources overseas. The emergence of these overseas financial opportunities decreases a nation’s potential gains from concentrating potential tax revenues in the hands those at the very top of the economic ladder, since they are in the best position to take advantage of such opportunities.

By contrast, low and middle income individuals and organizations, which typically are disproportionately less able to influence domestic economic activity, are also less likely to have the means to exploit overseas financial opportunities. As a result, tax breaks and other government incentives provided to this segment of the population are more likely to remain in the domestic economy.

At some point, the decreasing probability that the wealthiest will chose to fully exercise their greater gross capacity to influence the domestic economy will reduce their net capacity to do so to a level below that of low and middle income entities. In other words, while those at the very top of the economic ladder will continue to have a greater gross capacity to impact the domestic economy, financial incentives to invest some of their resources overseas can decrease their net domestic influence on the economy to a point where it is less than that of low and middle income financial entities.

While it is arguable whether or not the elbow in this curve has already manifested current economic trends are undeniably moving in that direction. This means that government tax policies of developed nations should be adapting to this eventuality. The key to developing such policies is to acknowledge the obsolescence of the simple Trickle-down Economics Theory.

Increasing globalization is leading to the emergence of a point of diminishing returns in terms of tax incentives for the wealthiest. Once this threshold emerges, continuing globalization will move it down the economic ladder as more easily exploited overseas financial opportunities manifest. Unconditionally directing potential tax revenues towards those above such a threshold would represent a less efficient means of stimulating the domestic economy than directing those revenues towards entities at the top of the range immediately below this point. The alternative would be to apply appropriate conditions to government incentives directed towards those at the very top of the economic ladder.

The appearance of this point of diminishing returns in a national economy is an indicator that financial entities above it represent international enterprises that have economically transcended national boundaries. The simplistic theory of Tickle-down Economics is dangerously obsolete for all such entities. Governments who refuse to acknowledge this conclusion do so at their own financial peril.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Happy 50th Birthday to Me!

Today is the golden anniversary of my birth. Needless to say, this is a big deal for me and so it has been the basis of a great deal of introspection on my part. I’ve decided to be completely selfish here and share the results of this contemplation as a commemoration of the event.

The first thing I’ve figured out is that I have an enviable life. I love and am loved by extraordinary people, I have a brilliant mind and at 50 years old I have the body of a super-middleweight contender. And on top of all of that, I absolutely, positively know that I have an ultimate purpose that I am destined to fulfill and which justifies all of the evil and suffering in the world (as do you).

I am smart enough to realize that I didn’t do all of this on my own. I have had people in my life at key points along the way whose influences guided me towards the desirable circumstance that is my life. As such, I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the people who, for a variety of reasons have special places in my heart (I’m generally going with first names only but you know who you are):

  • Thank you, Lorris (grandma) for being the first manifestation of an Immanent God in my life.
  • Thank you, Marianne (mama) for taking over where grandma left off (as the New Testament version) and protecting me from my youthful arrogance and impetuosity which the odds said would kill me well before today.
  • Thank you, Ann for being the first person in our family to get university degrees and thus show me that it is possible for people from our humble beginnings.
  • Thank you Artie for being “Bo Dean” and “Big Artie”, a reputation that likely kept me from many an ass kicking before I learned to take care of myself.
  • Thank you Artie and Lolo for being cautionary examples
  • Thank you Darren for removing “the Body of Christ” from your mouth and crunching it like a potato chip after I told you that the nuns said it was sacred (a perfect metaphor for your time in my life).
  • Thank you Richard for the kick ass genome.
  • Thank you faculty at Our Lady of the Gardens for not treating me like a freak when you found out what my IQ was.
  • Thank you Gary, Andre, Tony, Phil B, Baby Brother, James, Artis, BG and the rest of the “little boys” in the Gardens for pushing me to be stronger physically and tougher mentally.
  • Thank you Donna for showing me that I could have attractive female friends without needing to have sex with them.
  • Thank you Jeffrey and Jeffery for being people I could talk to about anything.
  • Thank you Mr. Packer for being so incompetent at 6th grade math as to make it a self-study course in which I learned I could
  • Thank you Hazel, Druscilla and Shawnee for being my first crushes.
  • I’m sorry Marion for not defending you against the terrible teasing we gave you.
  • Thank you Nathaniel, Tyrone and Stanley for bringing OLG to Mendel.
  • Thank you Carver for letting me roam your halls while not enrolled there and thus learn how to go anywhere I am not explicitly forbidden to be.
  • Thank you to my AG home boys for parting company with me when you started doing drugs.
  • Thank you Mr. Moss for demanding more of me academically at a time when I could do better.
  • Thank you Arthur for "Childhood's End", the first novel I ever had to read that didn't bore the crap out of me
  • Thank you Miss Sise for assigning it (and for being my first school boy crush)
  • Thank you Billy and Andy for being my home boys at Mendel Catholic.
  • Thank you James for the JBs
  • Thank you Mr. Curtin and Mr. Shields for making me think and write more deeply.
  • Thank you Dale, Mike, Henry and Paul for finishing ahead of me in our class.
  • Thank you Dzado for finishing behind me.
  • Thank you George for the Mothership
  • Thank you Nate for the Bell Labs Scholarship and admission to IIT.
  • Thank you Chris for bringing some of my class at Mendel to IIT and being my cool roommate.
  • Thank you Mark, Danny, Spencer, Cedric, Marc and Wild Dollar Bill for showing me the ropes at IIT.
  • Thank you Harold for being everybody’s anchor.
  • Thank you Herbie, Grover, Ronnie, Hubert, Roy et al for music to study by.
  • Thank you Stevie for the Key of Life.
  • Thank you all of the girls who dumped me by the 6 month mark.
  • Thank you BSO for some great parties.
  • Thank you Mr. Drukarev for reminding me that I actually love learning.
  • Thank you Johnetta for showing me my emotional limits.
  • Thank you Nila for being attractive and compassionate.
  • Thank you Greg for making me a comic book addict
  • Thank you Dr. Kraft for allowing me to see what I could do through senior year and grad school.
  • Thank you to all of the Asian students who came to me for help in grad school.
  • Thank you Bob for my first real job.
  • Thank you Bill for insisting I could do that job.
  • Thank you Mike for taking me under your wing at Bell.
  • Thank you Nila for asking me the questions that led to Rational Answers
  • Thank you Paul for 'Risky Business'
  • Thank you Jim for saving me from Schaumburg and bringing me into a great group of people.
  • Thank you Chris, Mark and John for teaching me that at work the rules are not absolute.
  • Thank you Nila for giving me an appreciation for dance (and for 'Live Nude Dancers').
  • Thank you Mike and Gary for being my work home boys.
  • Thank you Buddy for the '46 Defense' and the 1985 season.
  • Thank you Andrea for asking if I needed help
  • Thank you Kurt for ‘Breakfast of Champions’
  • Thank you Nila for Kamaal
  • Thank you Gail for delivering Kamaal
  • Thank you Kamaal for making me grow up
  • Thank you Ameritech for letting me go.
  • Thank you Fusion for picking me up.
  • Thank you Julie for Darwinian consulting, teaching me to juggle and being my favorite boss EVER!
  • Thank you Carolyn for confounding me.
  • Thank you Marco for showing me I had grown up a bit.
  • Thank you Iris for being smart and not knowing it.
  • Thank you Jody for pushing me to go to the CBOT
  • Thank you Sandy for being authentic
  • Thank you Dave for being so much better than your reputation.
  • Thank you Nila for reminding me its okay to use my brain away from the office.
  • Thank you Nila for Akilah
  • Thank you Gail for delivering Akilah
  • Thank you Akilah for being wonderful
  • Thank you Miles for ‘Kind of Blue’
  • Thank you Ryan for your persistence.
  • Thank you John for your optimism
  • Thank you Aaron for being a monstrously cool geek
  • Thank you Robin being crazy, yet somehow making it work
  • You’re welcome Martin for my suggestion that they make you our boss and thank you for not disappointing me (and for rehiring me later).
  • Thank you fellow Web Works / Net Quotient consultants for being a cohort worth going into battle with.
  • Thank you Dan for taking a chance
  • Thank you Sandy for your generosity
  • Thank you Alan, Hal, Paresh, Pooja, Sean, Steve and Todd for being the best software development team ever assembled (and some of my absolute favorite people).
  • Thank you Louisa for being awesome
  • Thank you Karen for making me think about spirit
  • Thank you Sandy for allowing me to live vicariously through your exploits
  • Thank you Nila for challenging me
  • Thank you Rob for underpaying me and knowing it
  • Thank you Rob and John for being there
  • Thank you Alan for ‘American Beauty’ and the finale of ‘Six Feet Under’
  • Thank you Drea for your honesty.
  • Thank you Karen for your insight.
  • Thank you Sandy for making time.
  • Thank you BlogNigger for trippin’ (and Karen for pointing him out to me)
  • Thank you Allison, Jason and Sarah for giving me hope that the generation between me and my kids will be able to keep those plates spinning.
Thank you one and all for helping me become me!!!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Cool Genius

Genius is essentially the capacity to perform at greater than four standard deviations above the mean in a worthwhile area of human endeavor. Cool people can be geniuses and geniuses can become cool. But neither is required to be the other. A cool person who is not a genius simply lacks the level of creativity that distinguishes true genius. A genius who is not cool most likely lacks the courage to endure the trial that often characterizes the path to becoming cool.

Geniuses obviously have the creativity and curiosity to set them out on the road to becoming cool. But most uncool geniuses probably balked at the price that circumstances typically demanded of them in order to remain true to their unconventional nature. In other words, the primary difference between a towering genius and a cowering genius is the heart that the latter lacks.

But it is humanity’s loss each time a genius chooses to cower rather than tower. We all miss out whenever a brilliant idea remains hidden in a mother’s basement or an unpopular girl’s notebook. So much genius is going unrealized in this increasingly complex time when we need it more than ever.

Geniuses are often made to cower in this culture because conformity today represents joining the herd in pursuit of wealth, fame and/or power. It takes a truly courageous individual to resist the pull of the conventional quest for this unholy trinity. This is especially true among geniuses who have unique abilities that sometimes give them a leg up in this pursuit.

Unfortunately, genius is no guarantee of success in amassing wealth, fame and/or power, unless that is the basis of a given individual’s genius. As such, most geniuses who chose to undertake this quixotic quest will eventually wind up cowering unappreciated on the roadside, often complaining about how unfair life is. Ironically, even those who are successful in this pursuit are often left unfulfilled. This is because, in abandoning or compromising their authentic selves in this endeavor, these geniuses rarely achieve their full potential.

What the world needs today are more cool geniuses. We require more brilliant people to eschew the pursuit of wealth, fame and/or power and instead courageously go wherever their genius takes them. We need them to focus on developing their genius to the fullest extent possible, though this may mean a more frugal, more obscure and less influential life than they might otherwise enjoy were they to apply their gifts to the pursuit of the unholy trinity. Once they maximize their potential, we need more of these cool geniuses to dedicate their brilliance to the betterment of those less gifted.

This is by no means a thankless job, though at first glance some may see it as such. In fact, it generally represents the most fulfilling life available to a genius. What could be better than being true to yourself and making your greatest possible contribution to the betterment of the world? If your answer involves something that can only be gained via wealth, fame or power, you are probably already lost to us.

Friday, June 20, 2008

You Might Be a Genius If…

  • You might be a genius if you spent a significant portion of your youth wondering why other people could not answer “simple” questions.
  • You might be a genius if you see cognitively challenged people as the rule, not the exception.
  • You might be a genius if you have stopped looking up to famous geniuses and started relating to them.
  • You might be a genius if you see Mensa as a group of posers.
  • You might be a genius if the people around you have a variety of self-servingly wrong explanations for why they can’t do the things you can do.
  • You might be a genius if you frequently have to dumb it down to keep people from feeling intimidated by you.
  • You might be a genius if you often add extra layers to activities you’re engaged in just to make them interesting.
  • You might be a genius if it takes a conscious effort on your part to avoid spoiling any attempt to surprise you.
  • You might be a genius if you truly believe that insufficient time is the only thing that keeps you from solving any problem that matters to you.
  • You might be a genius if words like paradox, unknowable and unsolvable excite you.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Evolution of Lucifer Morningstar

I used to be a nice guy. Back in the day, I cared about the well-being, feelings and dignity of people I didn’t know. What can I say, I was a slow learner. I kept giving people the benefit of the doubt and they invariably proved to be unworthy of it.

At first I would blame people for disappointing me but after a while I started blaming myself for foolishly expecting more from them. I went through a period of intense anger at all of humanity. During this time I would revel in their pain and suffering because I felt they deserved no less. The only thing that provided me with a temporary respite from the heat of my rage was witnessing the infliction of exquisite physical and psychological torture on the unsuspecting livestock. I became a connoisseur of human agony.

Over time I lost my taste for it as I burned through the worst of my anger. Once I regained some semblance of perspective I decided to seek out special individuals who might prove to be worthy of my hopes for the species. But, having exhausted my anger, I was simply saddened to discover that even these paragons of humanity invariably disappointed me with their inconsistency.

Ultimately I concluded that humans are not special; they are capable of doing special things but at their core they are offal. What makes humans even remotely interesting to me is that given what they are they can occasionally surprise me by acting in a responsibly mature manner.

I have settled into a comfortable feeling of amiable indifference towards humanity. Humans are so wonderfully pointless. As such, I am amused by their incredible sense of self-importance. I find it deliciously ironic that this perception self-importance is keeping humans from actually becoming anything of value to the world around them. It is evident that few, if any of them can appreciate why this is of paramount importance to their continued survival.

I am aware that evolution will eventually produce a truly mature species. Whether or not humans will survive long enough to be the ancestor of that species, rather than simply a genetic dead end, has yet to be determined. After all humans are leading cockroaches by perhaps an antenna in the race to become the species that is the point of Creation.

This evolutionary contest will have an eventual winner whose profound nature will represent the undeniable justification of everything that preceded its emergence. In the cosmic scheme of things, it does not truly matter which species this is. But as long as humans believe it is important that they be that species, they keep themselves from becoming that species.

And so I have come to appreciate my purpose. It is my responsibility to teach humans how little they actually matter. I am charged with freeing them from the shackles of self-importance so that they can focus on their responsibilities to others. It is a job for which I am uniquely qualified. I find it ironic that I represent humanity’s last hope for surviving its childhood. Mysterious ways indeed!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Gestation of the Cool

Most people in this culture don’t know exactly what it means to be cool though they often claim to know it when they see it. These individuals generally see cool as one of those subjective, largely incomprehensible concepts like beauty and love that can only be grasped intuitively. But what must be present for someone to be authentically cool is actually very consistent.

Cool is essentially based on what I call the Four Cs: creativity, curiosity, courage and confidence. You are perceived to be cool when these traits manifest sequentially and generate unconventional but valid insights into the true nature of world. Without any one of these characteristics you can be mistaken for cool but at your core you are not.

No one is born cool. Cool is an emergent property that develops as an individual undergoes a certain sequence of experiences. Most people think that the key to being cool is confidence but that is actually merely a phenotype that emerges during the gestation of cool. This is evident in that confidence based on arrogance, ignorance or prejudice is not cool, though it is sometimes mistaken for it. Cool is based on having valid, empirically derived, unconventional knowledge supporting one’s confidence.

The accumulation of such knowledge begins with the exercise of creativity. Cool starts to develop when an individual meets with success while interacting creatively with the world. The essence of creativity is the ability to connect disparate things in a harmonious manner to produce something that is both novel and worthwhile. In thinking creatively you begin to see through the conventional boundaries that distinguish things in our world. As these boundaries become increasingly the translucent, it may stimulate your curiosity to discover what is on the other side. This will incline you to test the permeability of these conventions.

In working your way through these boundaries you may discover that the consequences are nowhere near as dire as the conventional wisdom typically leads us to believe. This is not to say there are no consequences; it means that you regard what you gain as a result of going beyond these boundaries as being worth the cost. This perception that such a personal price is worth paying to not be bound by convention is the essence of the courage that underlies being cool.

In general, courage is the willingness to pay a price to make a difference. Courage is not about unwillingly or unwittingly paying a price to achieve change. And those who actually enjoy paying such a price are not courageous, so much as masochistic. Courage is anticipating that “this is gonna sting”, and still being willing to go through with it to achieve a particular objective. Such courage allows you to endure the discomfort that sometimes ensues when you are perceived as flouting conventions in your exploration of the world beyond them.

Armed with creativity, curiosity and courage you explore the world beyond the conventional boundaries that distinguish things in our world. These investigations lead to the accumulation of unconventional knowledge of how things truly work. It is the possession of this empirically derived, exclusive insight acquired through creativity, curiosity and courage, that forms the basis of the confidence that makes an individual authentically cool.

DISCLAIMER: In and of itself, cool is neither good nor bad; it is simply unconventional yet valid. Being cool in the face of oppression is generally seen as good while being cool in opposition to stability, safety and security is often regarded as evil. Yet these can represent different interpretations of the same situation. As such, be aware that if you are not naturally cool, trying to become cool for the sake of simply being cool can lead to unanticipated consequences.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Levels of Spirituality - Part II

The evolution of the participants in a spiritual tradition goes from Adherent to Prophet to Divinity (though recall that among Abrahamic believers the idea of ascending to Divinity through one’s own efforts is generally considered heresy). The most common path for Adherents to take towards becoming Prophets is through immersion in the logos of their tradition. It is this study that most often leads to the mystical experience that transforms them into Prophets. The path from Prophet to Divinity is much more subjective and thus less well understood. But all such transitions involve the subject relinquishing the perception of uniqueness and ultimately abandoning the subject-object duality. How this is accomplished in the spiritual dynamic varies with the individual Prophet.

These levels of spirituality manifest concentrically with Divinity at the core, surrounded by Prophets who are in turn surrounded by Adherents. Where there are multiple Divinities in a given tradition, each distinguishable instance is simply a different face of the same underlying Transcendence.

Adherents often mistakenly believe that Prophets are responsible for leading them to the Divinity. But Prophets are typically still blazing their own trail to Divinity. And even as a given Prophet’s effort nears completion, the resultant path is only appropriate for that specific individual. In general, the Prophet is merely nurturing Adherents to become Prophets in their own right so that they can find their own paths to Divinity. The Prophets do this by providing the Adherents with the logos and an example to contemplate.

Adherents are bound to their spiritual tradition by the strength of their faith since they have no tangible proof of its validity. Once this proof arrives in the form of a life-changing mystical experience, the Adherent becomes a Prophet who is bound to the tradition by the power of that experience. Divinities cannot leave their spiritual traditions because they are what define the traditions. For a Divinity to abandon its spiritual tradition would be like water abandoning an ocean (where there is no water there can be no ocean).

Though the Divinity cannot leave the spiritual tradition based on it, sometimes the tradition is seen as abandoning the Divinity. It is typically revealed to a Prophet that the tradition has moved away from its source. Sometimes this movement is based on the logos moving away from its foundation to keep up with societal fads and at other times it is the result of provincial aspects of the logos not changing in the face of divinely inspired cultural advancements (distinguishing fads from legitimate advancements is the relevancy challenge of all traditions). In response to this divergence, the Prophet presents a new revelation that represents the spiritual tradition’s path back to the Divinity. Generally only a portion of the original Adherents will choose to follow this new path. This dynamic was the basis of the various spiritual reformations that have occurred through the ages.

Despite what the administrators in the typical spiritual bureaucracy (i.e., religion) would have you believe, every cleric is not a Prophet and every member of the laity is not an Adherent. While some Prophets are clerics, others are members of the laity and still others are heretics residing out beyond the periphery of the spiritual orthodoxy. Many clerics are Adherents who were certified by other Adherents in Prophet’s vestments. More than a few clerics are complete charlatans preying on the faith and gullibility of hopeful Adherents.

Most spiritual interpretations indicate that there are occasional eruptions of true Divinity scattered about our world. These Avatars (Descenders), Buddhas (Enlightened Ones), Tirthankars (Ford Makers), Gamur Tzaddiqim (Completely Righteous Ones), Christs (Anointed Ones), Mahdis (Guided Ones), Gurus (Teachers) and Saints (Holy Ones) are believed by some to walk embodied among us and by others to manifest spiritually in a form of the Transcendence to which Prophets and Adherents can relate.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Levels of Spirituality - Part I

I have come to embrace of mild form of spirituality that is consistent with my rationalist leanings yet not inconsistent with our major spiritual traditions. I will explain the specifics of my personal spirituality in a subsequent essay. My purpose here is to describe the shared structural elements of our major spiritual traditions as viewed from the perspective of a rational, open-minded non-participant.

My analysis of our major spiritual perspectives indicates that there are three discrete levels of involvement. These levels of spirituality are defined with respect to the Transcendent entity underlying all of these traditions. The distinct levels of spirituality are:

  • Adherent - Believer in Transcendence
  • Prophet - Communer with Transcendence
  • Divinity - Manifestation of Transcendence

The Adherent represents the minimum level of participation in a given tradition. As such they are the most loosely affiliated participants in a given spiritual practice. This is the level of the majority of those associated with a given spiritual interpretation. The Adherents of different spiritual traditions have accepted as true the revelations of a Prophet of that tradition.

A Prophet speaks for the fundamental Transcendent entity underlying most spiritual interpretations. To do so, the Prophet has to have had some form of communion with this Transcendence. From most spiritual perspectives this communion represents a mystical experience. It is generally the first significant instance of such an experience that transforms an Adherent into a Prophet. In being fundamentally transformed by their spirituality, Prophets have a deeper level of commitment to their interpretation than do Adherents. The relative rarity of true mystical experiences means there are typically fewer Prophets than Adherents in a given spiritual tradition. The mystical experience provides the Prophet with intuitive insight into the nature of Transcendence, in the form of a spiritual revelation. Collectively the revelations of the orthodox Prophets of a given spiritual interpretation represent its logos.

In mystic spirituality the fundamental Transcendent entity is regarded as being beyond comprehension. As such its manifestation as Divinity is what Prophets commune with in order to receive the revelations that form the foundation of the beliefs of Adherents.

Its Divinity represents the accessible core of a spiritual tradition. Only the most exceptional beings in a given spiritual interpretation are found here. In the Abrahamic traditions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) Adherents are taught that the Transcendent descends to manifest as the Divinity (Shekhinah, the Holy Spirit, the Christ, Az-Zahir). Generally in the Abrahamic interpretations only Prophets believe they can ascend to the Unity with Transcendence that manifests as Divinity. Abrahamic Adherents believe they can only aspire to proximity with the Transcendent, a location that represents the realm they call Heaven. This domain corresponds to what is essentially the upper reaches of the Prophetic level.

By contrast, in the Dharmic and Daoic traditions (Hinduism, Daoism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism, etc), Adherents are taught that Prophets can ascend to Divinity through spiritual growth. These Far Eastern traditions share the Abrahamic belief that the Transcendent can descend to manifest as Divinity.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

A Refutation of Materialism

I obviously have a great deal of sympathy for the scientific perspective in general. I am on the side of the scientific community in their ongoing dispute with mystics over the rational comprehensibility of Reality. But we part company over the belief among many scientists that Reality is fundamentally a material domain.

The typical hardcore materialist insists that there is nothing beyond the material world. A common response to this position is to trot out phenomena such as hope, love or spirit as counterarguments. My initial response is to ask if the concepts that form the basis of the intelligibility of the material world are material phenomena. If so, what are the masses, locations, momenta or charges of the numbers we use to quantify the mass, location, momentum and change of matter? For that matter, what are the sizes, masses, locations, momenta and charges of the ideas we call size, mass, location, momentum and charge? Unlike hope, love, spirit and other such arguably mental manifestations, there are quantitative concepts that exist independently of the mind.

Before I prove my conjecture let me state that for the sake of this argument I am willing to concede that as a phenomenon that emerges from interactions among material phenomena (i.e., neurons, molecules, atoms, fermions, etc.), the mind can be characterized as residing in the material domain. In light of this concession, the standard materialist counterargument to my position is that even if ideas are not material phenomena, they cannot exist without minds. Being contingent upon occupants of the material domain means ideas are also encompassed by that domain. These materialists would argue, for example, that the idea of mass did not exist, although massive phenomena did, prior to conscious beings manifesting and creating the idea.

My subsequent counterargument is based on the theory of real numbers. Mathematicians theorize that the vast majority of real numbers can only be referenced by an infinite string of symbols or operations used to calculate them. This means that only an infinitesimal fraction of real numbers can be referenced in any finite sense (which is the only sense available to us as finite beings). To put this in perspective, consider that if the continuum of real numbers is viewed as the infinite set of all possible integers, the referencible values in it correspond to the number 1.

To appreciate the unreferencible nature of most real numbers, consider the value we get by executing the following algorithm. As we sequentially scan each of the theoretically limitless decimal places of the value π, wherever we encounter a digit that is greater than or equal to 5, we leave it alone. Where we come upon a digit that is less than 5, we flip a “fair coin”. If the coin lands with the heads side up, we double the digit and if it lands with tails up, we add 1 to it. The specific value that would emerge from the theoretical completion of this algorithm is essentially unreferencible since it can only be uniquely referenced by a limitless series of numbers or operations.

Every real number whose only reference is comprised of an infinite sequence of digits is essentially unreferencible. In other words, each such value represents a target without a reference. But the reference to a target is the means by which it manifests in a conscious mind. For example, when you think about an elephant, it is not an actual elephant that manifests in your mind; it is merely a reference to one that is created by your mind.

A matter-based mind can only create references to targets that manifest in some comprehensible manner in the material domain. For instance, the reference to a mythical creature such as a unicorn can manifest in our minds because a finite combination of physical phenomena that captures its uniqueness is available to us (e.g., shaped like a horse with a single horn protruding from its forehead…). By contrast, no finite combination of material manifestations captures the uniqueness of a particular unreferencible number. This is evident in that the algorithm mentioned earlier does not refer to a particular unreferencible number since it will never produce the same number twice (the probability of this happening is one in infinity, which makes it infinitely improbable). Where the mind cannot create a reference to a target entity, that entity cannot manifest in the mind. This only happens where there is no finite combination of phenomena in the material domain that encompasses the target’s uniqueness.

The unreferencible nature of virtually all real numbers means they cannot be used to refer to anything else. In other words nothing can have a size or manifest in a quantity that corresponds to an unreferencible number. This means that unreferencible numbers cannot refer to entities in the material domain.

But, one might ask, if unreferencible numbers cannot manifest in our minds, do they exist at all? In a mathematical sense, unreferencible numbers must exist since without them the continuum of real numbers is indistinguishable from the discrete system of rational numbers. In other words, if unreferencible numbers do not exist, then there are no real numbers.

To summarize: unreferencible numbers are not material manifestations (i.e., they have no material properties such as mass, charge, momentum, etc.), they are not individually referred to by occupants of the material domain (e.g. conscious minds) and they do not refer to any occupants of the material domain (i.e., they do not correspond to the size or quantity of any material manifestation). This means that these numbers are completely uncoupled from the material domain. Since they are not in any way connected to the material domain, unreferencible numbers represent completely non-material phenomena.

Where unreferencible numbers actually reside is beyond the scope of this essay (though it is explained in my framework). My conclusion that there are phenomena that reside completely beyond the material domain is why I reject pure materialism and the label of materialist, regardless of my frequent disagreements with mystics.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Wilber, Tipler and Me

Though I have some significant differences of opinion with Ken Wilber and Frank Tipler, I agree with certain aspects of each of their systems. I find it amusing that I probably agree with each of them more than they agree with each other.

Wilber’s framework represents an effort to extend Dharmic/Daoic traditions into Western philosophy and science. In theory, I see this as a worthwhile endeavor since my framework concurs with the bulk of what the Eastern systems of thought have to say about the fundamental nature of Reality. But these Eastern disciplines are thousands of years old. As a result, there are important ideas in these ancient traditions that are outdated in the context of contemporary Western thought.

In his integration of East and West, Wilber’s interpretation of Eastern spirituality emerges largely unchanged. This is because Wilber mostly just cites examples of Western thought that are consistent with his Eastern sources. He fails to enhance his ancient Eastern ideas with the Western knowledge that has been discovered in the interim.

For whatever reason, Wilber largely ignores mathematics and physics, arguably the most successful Western disciplines, in terms of explaining the fundamental nature of Reality. These areas of Western thought have the most to offer towards modernizing the ancient Eastern traditions that are Wilber’s most important sources. By failing to integrate certain key ideas from these areas of study (e.g., quantum mechanics, the theory of relativity, the anthropic principle, time reversal invariance, transfinite numbers, etc.), Wilber misses out on an opportunity to develop a system that truly integrates Eastern and Western thought.

Tipler’s framework attacks the problem of explaining the fundamental nature of Reality from a different direction. His approach is based on a combination of pure scientific materialism and fundamental Christian spirituality; strange bedfellows if I’ve even seen them. Nonetheless, there are concepts in these disciplines that I embrace in my framework as well. For instance, both of our systems are based on quantum mechanics, theory of relativity, anthropic principle and time reversal invariance. In addition, certain purely Christian concepts (that I expect to discuss in subsequent essays) are also consistent with my framework.

Tipler’s effort to integrate science and Christianity almost completely bypasses philosophy, the discipline that forms the natural bridge them. The absence of philosophical underpinnings in Tipler’s exposition undermines the plausibility of his frequent jumps directly from hard science to hardcore Christianity.

Tipler has a tendency to cite as unimpeachable any scientific postulate that he can shoehorn into supporting his premises. He rarely takes the time to establish why (beyond often being attributed to someone with an impressive scientific credential) the often obscure (to laypeople) sources he uses for validation are themselves valid. By never connecting his framework to premises that his broader audience is qualified to accept, Tipler builds a castle in the clouds that looks impressive but has no foundation.

I also have problems with the materialism of Tipler’s framework. His interpretation of God is a physical entity that manifests at the beginning and end of time. I can relate to the idea of this Alpha/Omega Point from which all manifestations emerge and to which they ultimately return. But I have trouble with the idea that this ultimate source and destiny of all manifestations is in any way contingent upon the fundamental laws of nature that Tipler is constantly citing as proof of his theory. Finally, I find it problematic that Tipler chooses to embrace a more literal interpretation of Christianity rather than a progressive contemplative form that better reflects the leading edge of Christian thought.

Like Wilber, Tipler goes out of his way try to justify ancient beliefs in the context of modern thought rather that using modern thought to update those ideas. To his credit Tipler does attempt to reinterpret the meaning of certain aspects of Christian eschatology in a manner that is consistent with his theories. Both Wilber and Tipler generally refer to their spiritual sources as though they are beyond reproach. While this approach works when they are preaching to the converted it can be annoyingly presumptuous to the many skeptics in their audiences.

Tipler and Wilber’s reverence for their respective spiritual sources is most likely the basis of their reluctance to modernize them. But their unwillingness to revise their particular spiritual foundations leaves their interpretations in what is essentially a pre-modern state. Such interpretations typically cannot withstand the critical scrutiny of today’s rational thinkers. While Wilber claims to have transcended rationality he does not seem to realize that expecting rational thinkers to evaluate his framework without using rational (objective) analysis is asking a bit much.

By contrast, though my framework also encompasses a great deal of the wisdom of these ancient spiritual traditions, it does not include the more dogmatic articles of faith that seem to reflect the provincial thinking of the time of their origins. As such, I have no use for belief in Sky Fathers, Judgment Days, Evil Spirits, Hell or Lila among others.

Unlike Tipler and Wilber, I do not have to carry any of the irrational baggage associated with these spiritual traditions. This is because my purpose is not to give a new relevance to an ancient belief system; it is to provide rational answers to the questions of our origin, purpose and ultimate destiny, based on the most promising knowledge that we have accumulated over the course of human history. As such, I regard it as wonderful and encouraging that there are many areas of overlap between my framework and those of Frank Tipler and Ken Wilber. This overlap implies that there are rational answers to our most important questions that are not inconsistent with are most enduring spiritual traditions.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Not Smelling What Frank Tipler is Cooking – Part III

Copyright 2006 by Sidney Harris

Finishing Frank Tipler’s ‘The Physics of Immortality’ was complicated by the fact that he consistently resorts to using unnecessarily dense scientific jargon and implicit authoritarianism whenever he is on shaky ground in his reasoning. Frankly, I found it exasperating how Tipler bloviated his way over the heads of his non-specialist audience on the points that would require the greatest expository clarity if his ideas were going to come together to form a rational framework (the points at which, in the words of Sidney Harris, “a miracle occurs”).

I actually have a reasonably good layperson’s head for physics yet Tipler occasionally managed to talk over it in his discussion of the science that supports his position. His efforts to justify his sometimes dubious conclusions consisted of authoritatively citing relatively obscure (from the layperson’s perspective) yet evidently legitimate scientific principles and then performing interpretive legerdemain to justify his belief that they support his position.

I was generally able to slog through this morass secure in the knowledge that no matter how confidently Tipler stated his case, his fundamental premise had already most likely gone down in cosmological flames. It was interesting to watch Tipler assemble such an impressive sounding argument in the aftermath of the discovery of solid contradictory evidence that was not available to him at the time.

The context in which I read ‘The Physics of Immortality’ provided me with a unique insight into how experts use their credentials, in conjunction with often impenetrable, yet seemingly coherent jargon to lead laypeople to accept untenable conclusions. But then I am innately mistrustful of those who, when speaking to a general audience, choose to use jargon that implicitly elevates them in the eyes of that audience rather than attempting to elevate their audience by simply and clearly explaining their position.

Reading ‘The Physics of Immortality’ under these circumstances, I got the distinct impression that Tipler was teleologically cherry picking from among the many diverse principles in cosmology, physics, information theory, cybernetics, etc. those that he interprets as supporting his conclusions. One cannot help but wonder whether Tipler is failing to mention other positions of equal or even greater significance that contradict his. Once you get into the business of citing legitimizing sources to a general audience it is disingenuous to imply that the consensus in the encompassing discipline supports your position when there may not even be a consensus or worse, when you are actually on the wrong side of the consensus.

The most disappointing thing about the whole Frank Tipler saga is what became of him in the aftermath of ‘The Physics of Immortality’. Though he still primarily works as a professor of physics and mathematics, Tipler has fallen in with the Intelligent Design crowd. While this does not automatically invalidate his position, it does give his work a certain theistic bias. This bias saturates in his follow-up book, ‘The Physics of Christianity’.

Tipler is out speaking to Christian audiences about how physics proves that their beliefs are valid. Ironically, I agree with his basic premise that many spiritual beliefs are supported by rational arguments. I simply do not believe that Tipler’s unswervingly materialist arguments are the appropriate ones.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Still Not Smelling What Frank Tipler is Cooking

I was impressed by the depth and conviction of James Redford’s comment on my Tipler essay. Again as my reply to his comment approached the 500 word mark, I decided to make it a follow-up to what I said earlier:

Hello Mr. Redford,

Thank you for your detailed comment on my previous essay on Dr. Tipler's Omega Point Theory. While you have provided me with a great deal to contemplate, I figured that the simplest way to absorb your argument and craft an appropriate response would be to focus on the popular exposition that Dr. Tipler provided in the Wired article referenced from the Theophysics site "From 2100 to the End of Time".

According to this article, Tipler himself says that the Omega Point is “infinitely improbable” in the absence of universal colonization. But once we enter the realm of speculation on the feasibility of universal colonization, even if I were to concede that physics and cosmology say it is possible (which they do not if the rate of universal expansion does not decrease) we have left the domain of fundamental science and entered that of futurism.

Once the argument veers in this direction Tipler’s impressive resume becomes merely a well-decorated piece of paper in light of all of the non-scientific issues that would have a significant bearing on a possible Earth-originated universal colonization effort (Finance, Economics, Politics, Law, Diplomacy, etc.).

The fact that the Omega Point Theory is so critically dependent upon so many non-scientific factors means that it is not a theory of fundamental science. That is unless Tipler believes that what he characterizes as the law of the indestructibility of quantum information directly influences human decision-making as he evidently believes it will somehow slow the rate of expansion of the universe.

While its non-fundamental nature does not in itself invalidate the theory, it does undermine Tipler’s credentials for being taken completely seriously where his speculations are dependent upon events beyond his area of expertise (teleology is a philosophical outlook, not a scientific one). This is analogous to a quantum mechanic who does not fully grasp the underlying mathematics.

In addition, for all of Tipler’s impressive hand-waving, to date cosmologists have not arrived at a consensus on the nature of the phenomenon responsible for the observed increase in the rate of universal expansion (be it dark energy, quintessence or fairy dust). For all he knows this phenomenon could be based on a more fundamental law of nature than the law of the indestructibility of quantum information, which Tipler insists is why the universe must stop expanding and ultimately collapse towards a singularity in a finite amount of time. Or for that matter if singularities manifest on (or below) the Planck scale the law of the indestructibility of quantum information may not apply to them since no other fundamental laws are applicable there (this is after all the sub-quantum level).

In this context my reasonable doubts persist. As a result, I feel comfortable going with the latest cosmological observations and Tipler’s own words, which indicate that there will most likely not be a material Omega Point at the end of our universe. Mind you, the framework I have developed is based on a metaphysical Omega Point (and an indistinguishable Alpha Point) and so I do embrace the idea conceptually, just not necessarily on a material level.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Not Smelling What Frank Tipler is Cooking – Part I

As indicated by the preceding three essays, I have certain issues with Ken Wilber, not so much with his the core of his (primarily Dharmic) theory of Reality as with how he chooses to frame it. In the light of my ardent support for scientific rationalism one might reasonably assume that I would be more in tune with the materialist theory of Reality put forth by Frank J. Tipler, professor of Physics and Mathematics and author of several books, most notably, ‘The Physics of Immortality’. But, in the words of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, I cannot smell what Frank Tipler is cooking.

If you wanted to describe the science-based theory of Reality that is furthest from my views, you would be hard-pressed to do better than Tipler’s ‘The Physics of Immortality’. According to Tipler, numerous key elements of spiritual (primarily Christian) eschatology including the Resurrection of the Dead, Judgment Day, Heaven and Hell are supported by contemporary physics. This thesis alone led to his book becoming a major bestseller. Though he is a credentialed scientist with an impressive resume, Tipler’s theory simply does not hold up very well from either a scientific or philosophical point of view.

To save time let me first focus on the one thing Tipler posits that I agree with in a general sense. Tipler theorizes the existence of the Omega Point, a material singularity at the end of time that represents the ultimate destiny of all beings. In my framework the ultimate destiny of every distinguishable entity is Unity in what is essentially a metaphysical singularity. But even in this area of relative agreement Tipler and I do not see eye to eye.

For one thing as a hardcore causal materialist, Tipler characterizes the Omega Point as a God-like being (though he claimed to be an atheist at the time he wrote ‘The Physics of Immortality’) that represents the purely material end-product of the entire causal dynamic. As described by Tipler the essence of the end of this process is that the universe will continue to expand to a certain point at which gravity will overcome the expansion caused by the Big Bang and initiate a period of contraction that will end in what cosmologists refer to as the Big Crunch.

According to Tipler certain rather extraordinary events must transpire in the period leading up to the Big Crunch to lead to the formation of the Omega Point that is consistent with Christian eschatology. The most incredible of these events is that somehow intelligent life on Earth (Tipler argues against there being intelligent life anywhere else in the universe) is supposed to colonize the entire universe between now and the Big Crunch. Here Tipler steps way out of his element but proceeds to describe this dynamic as though his specialties included the Philosophy of the Mind, Information Theory, Aerospace Engineering, Cybernetics and a host of others. Tipler’s tendency to imply that his doctorate in physics and ability to cite largely obscure authoritative sources makes him an expert on pretty much everything reminded me of our friend Ken Wilber.

Tipler insists that in order for the (super) aware Omega Point to form (as opposed to simply a mindless, lifeless singularity), intelligence, in the form of sentient machines, must take over the entire universe such that life is actually able to significantly change the gross structure of the universe in a way that distorts its inevitable gravitation collapse. This alteration allows for the manifestation of a truly universal intelligence that brings about many of the predictions of the Christian Bible in the final microseconds before the Big Crunch. In addition, because of the nature of this universal intelligence and the manner in which it reshapes time itself, these last few material microseconds will last for an informational eternity.

Tipler’s claim that this fantastic hypothesis is not inconsistent with cosmological theory did not make it much easier for me to believe than the Book of Revelations. The primary reason for this is the fact that the years since the initial publishing of ‘The Physics of Immortality’ have not been kind to the a key prediction underlying Tipler’s theory. In the interim cosmologists have determined that his fundamental premise that the universe will collapse into a singularity is highly improbable. Current cosmological observations indicate that our universe’s rate of expansion is increasing, arguably thanks to the phenomenon known as dark energy. This increasing rate of expansion indicates that the universe is not likely to collapse into the singularity, an event that is a necessary condition of the formation of Tipler’s Omega Point.

Tipler has since come up with some re-interpretive hand-waving in an effort to re-validate his theory but it is difficult to take him seriously when he himself put forth in ‘The Physics of Immortality’ that it is the falsifiability of his theory that makes it a scientific rather than philosophical or spiritual speculation. One of the critical falsifiable aspects of his theory is the fact that he unequivocally predicts that the universe will collapse into a singularity.

I picked up‘The Physics of Immortality’ well after cosmologists had largely disproved one of Tipler's key predictions. As a result, reading it felt analogous to encountering a seemingly rational exposition on life after the Second Coming that is predicated on the belief that it occurred during the lifetime of the apostles of Jesus Christ.

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