“If it was possible to become free of negative emotions by a riskless implementation of an electrode—without impairing intelligence and the critical mind—I would be the first patient.” - The Dalai Lama
Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, academic epidemiologists at Nottingham and York universities respectively, are authors of The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better. They explain why relatively unequal societies such as Britain and the United States are more likely to suffer from a range of problems, including low life expectancy, illiteracy, stress, and a high crime rate. Even climate change is less of a challenge for a society with a narrow gap between rich and poor. (MP3) (Hat tip to Thoughtware TV)
A number of Sentient Developments readers have asked what I mean when I refer to non-human persons and the personhood spectrum. It’s a fair question, and to be honest, I have yet to see a satisfying personhood taxonomy with an attendant list of traits that fully circumscribe the personhood continuum. I consider this an incredibly important issue as we move into a ‘transhuman condition’ and as we work to give non-human animals greater moral consideration. If I ever go back to school I think this will be a likely topic for a thesis.
At his Why Evolution is True site, Jerry Coyne hasbeenposting about the accommodation of religious sensibilities in materials and statements by American science organisations such as the National Academy of Sciences, National Center for Science Education, and American Association for the Advancement of Science. In all cases, these (valuable) organisations have considered it necessary to calm the fears of American religionists that science, particularly evolutionary biology, undermines religion.
(Hat tip Genetics and Health) “My Sister’s Keeper” is the story of two sisters, Kate, who suffers from acute promyelocytic leukemia, and her sister Anna, who was genetically engineered and conceived to be a genetic match for Kate. In general, the few savior siblings that have been born around the world only provide one or a few bone marrow transplants for their sick older sibling, and they are not genetically engineered, only selected for from among a number of fertilized embryoes. In this film Anna is genetically modified and apparently provides multiple tissues, including cord blood, blood, bone marrow. When her sister needs a kidney she sues her parents for rights to her body. Starring Cameron Diaz as Mom, the amazing Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine) as the reluctant donor, and Sofia Vassilieva as the sick sister. An adaptation from a novel by Jodi Picoult, “My Sister’s Keeper” gets released to US theaters on 26 June 2009.
Traditionally, April 22—Earth Day—is a day devoted to making green accessible to all. It’s a day when each of us is invited to take small, individual steps toward reducing our carbon footprints, limiting our waste, or restoring the environment. See how easy it is—and how fun—to do your part to save the planet? Whether Earth Day does any good, however, is a subject of some real debate.
As a lover of majestic architecture, I am acutely conflicted, because many of the most amazing building projects on the planet are taking place in Dubai, a location where conditions for workers are uncomfortably close to those of ancient Egypt. Is it possible to foresee a time when a progressive egalitarian society might produce brilliant, stately, inspiring structures?
Doug Rushkoff talks with guests Steven Johnson and Bob White. The Media Squat is freeform, bottom-up, open source radio looking towards similarly open source, bottom-up solutions to some of the problems engendered by our relentlessly top-down society. Each show will initiate a series of discussions, which will themselves comprise part of an expanding wiki of resources, support material, and community-generated content. This isn’t pure ‘60s or Whole Earth radicalism and self-sufficiency (though it’s certainly related) but a 21st Century, cyberpunk reclamation of all technologies and social contracts as essentially open source, up for discussion, and open to modification. It’s an application of the hacker ethic and net collectivism to everything, done in the spirit of fun and adventure. (MP3)
When I was in the process of editing my new book Life Inc., my copyeditor pulled a paragraph out, in which I had explained that the so-called “Dark Ages” didn’t exist - that the ten centuries between the fall of Roman Empire and the beginning of the Renaissance had many good ones among them. And that, in fact, the Late Medieval Era - the 10th through 13th Centuries - were a great age of prosperity and economic development.
If the financial crisis has taught us anything, it is that brittle systems can fail catastrophically. With increasing fervor since the 1980s, sustainability has been the watchword of scientists, environmental activists, and indeed all those concerned about the complex, fragile systems on the sphere we inhabit. It has shaped debates about business, design, and our lifestyles.
I’ve been trying to figure out exactly why President Obama’s approach to the economic crisis upsets me so much, so regularly, and I think I figured it out. His impulse—perhaps as someone with more faith in the power of centralized, top-down decision-making than I have—is to fix our economic problems by supporting existing institutions.
Human beings are social animals; we devote a significant portion of our brain just to dealing with interactions with other humans. It should come as no surprise, then, that social Web technologies have a complex relationship with brain function. When these platforms work in concert with our social brains, they can enable persistent relationships or provide emotional/social augmentation. When social web technologies clash with brain function, however, the results can be surprising.
As previously noted in this series, our entire world may be simulated. For all we know we’re sitting on a powerful supercomputer somewhere, the mere playthings of posthuman intelligences. But this is not the only possibility. There’s another way that this kind of fully immersive ‘reality’ could be realized—one that doesn’t require the simulation of an entire world. Indeed, it’s quite possible that your life is not what it seems—that what you think of as reality is actually an illusion of the senses. You could be experiencing a completely immersive and totally convincing virtual reality right now and you don’t even know it.
While the United States and the world struggle through the worst economic times since the 1930s, advice is coming in from all sides on how to prevent a repeat of the current debacle. Neoliberal Chicago school economic ideas championed for decades by Milton Friedman and his followers—and brought to full bloom under George W. Bush—are now in well-deserved disrepute, but where do we go from here?
Does championing Enlightenment values require complete rejection of collaboration and dialogue with the religious? Could technoprogressives even learn something from Easter about how to design moral machines?