Jesus has been described as the best known figure in history, and also the least known. If you mentioned the name “Jesus” and someone asked Jesus who?, you might blink. Or laugh. Even people who don’t think Jesus was God, mostly believe they know a fair bit about him. You might be surprised that some of your most basic assumptions about Jesus are probably wrong.
Why aren’t Muslim and Christian extremists extremely peaceful? The answer lies in the Iron Age setting of the Bible and Quran—when literate cultures replaced the Golden Calf with the Sacred Text. Diplomats, religious leaders, and peacemakers of many stripes keep insisting that ISIS isn’t about Islam. They point to a host of other factors including colonialism, injustice, lack of economic opportunity, and hopelessness. They’re not altogether wrong, but they are missing the tyrannosaurus rex in the room.
A genre that science fiction writers have been attempting to colonize with some regularity is that of the suspense thriller. Here the dissolution of genre boundaries is more subtle, since the imaginative material and narrative conventions of science fiction may be retained, while the plot, structure, and tone are borrowed from a mode of paranoid pursuit melodrama pioneered in espionage novels from John Buchan to Robert Ludlum. Initially, those novelists who seemed most successful—at least commercially—in effecting this merger were novelists whose starting point was the thriller rather than the science fiction tale: Robin Cook, Michael Crichton, and Peter Benchley are among the most prominent examples, with Crichton having based nearly his entire career on science fiction conceits.
Opposition to IUD’s, like opposition to vaccines, is putting American families at risk—and a Colorado controversy shows that misguided faith and scientific ignorance are to blame. When a pilot program in Colorado offered teens state-of-the-art long acting contraceptives—IUD’s and implants—teen births plummeted by 40%, along with a drop in abortions. The program saved the state 42.5 million dollars in a single year, over five times what it cost. But rather than extending or expanding the program, some Colorado Republicans are trying to kill it—even if this stacks the odds against Colorado families.
Fareed Zakaria's thesis is that the USA is moving towards an excessively democratic system in which polls are having a perverse influence on a system that was designed to be less about democracy and more about liberty. He doesn't quite offer a crisp definition of "liberty" but roughly it means individual freedom and protection from abuses of authority by the state. "Freedom" is a vague term, that has been used throughout history in different contexts (for most nations it meant "freedom" from foreign oppression). "Liberty" is about personal freedom.
On January 20, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) announced the Apollo 1201 project, an effort to eradicate digital rights management (DRM) schemes from the world of Internet commerce. Led by well-known activist Cory Doctorow, the project aims to “accelerate the movement to repeal laws protecting DRM” and “kick-start a vibrant market in viable, legal alternatives to digital locks.” According to EFF, DRM technologies “threaten users’ security and privacy, distort markets, undermine innovation,” and don’t effectively protect so-called “intellectual property.”
One can rarely find four thinkers as distinct from one another as Gorbachev, Kissinger, Chomsky, and Ron Paul, and yet, for all of their differences, each of them is clearly guided by a systematic, thoroughly considered intellectual framework. All four of these thinkers have concluded, starting from different practical and moral premises, that further escalation of the Ukraine crisis by the United States would be a dangerous, deeply inadvisable behavior.
I recently responded to a rather nice blog post by Herb Silverman as follows: The average lifespan of a Drosophila fruit fly is about 30 days. Imagine what it observes from its perspective: young humans, old humans, middle-aged humans, wandering through the world. No single fruit fly observes a human of one sort turning into another. From its "pre-theoretic" point of view, it only sees "types" of humans that are more or less "fixed" across time (the 30 days of its life). There's no direct evidence of human aging in any single fruit fly generation…
Ryle thinks that Descartes invented a myth when he provided definitions for the mental and the physical, as if they were two different things; when he assumed that every human is both a body (that is in space and is subject to the laws of Physics) and a mind (that is not in space and is not subject to the laws of Physics); that a person lives two parallel lives, one as a body and one as a mind (one being a public history and the other being a private history because nobody can witness your inner thoughts).
Taken as a package, the Bible sends mixed messages about slavery, which is why Christian leaders used the Good Book on both sides—including in the lead up to the American civil war. Should a person be able to own another person? Today Christians uniformly say no, and many would like to believe that has always been the case. But history tells a different story, one in which Christians have struggled to give a clear answer when confronted with questions about human trafficking and human rights.
We’ve put together the survey on transhumanism strategy to reveal the inner discussion inside the transhumanist movement. Our goal is to inspire the people to act. We believe the greatest sin in our field is wishful thinking. It’s when a person is saying that it would be good to do something, like for instance, to shoot a viral video, but at the same time this person is not doing anything. His or hers advice has to be implemented in real life somehow on its own.
In January, the New York Times highlighted how insecticide treated nets meant to protect people from mosquitoes and malaria are now being used to haul fish in Africa. Among those using these nets to catch fish, hunger today is a bigger risk than malaria tomorrow.
The world is shifting in more ways than one. With the advent of our Transhumanist journey into the future, everything we knew of the old world is dramatically changing before our very eyes. For this article in particular, however, I’d like to direct my attention towards religion.
Yesterday, I posted a piece examining the oft-quoted mortality rate for measles of one to two deaths per thousand cases of infection. Today, I want to look at what can be learned from more recent and more comprehensive dataset – this one from the 2008-2011 measles outbreak in France.
Unless you’ve been under a rock or on a boat in the middle of the ocean1, you’re aware that the United States is in the middle of a measles outbreak that has, so far, infected over 100 people, and was traced back to December Disneyland visits.
In a previous article, I critiqued the two primary definitions of “existential risk” found in the literature, and then hinted at a new definition to replace them. Part of my critique centered on how the relevant group affected by an existential catastrophe is demarcated, e.g., as “our entire species,” “Earth-originating intelligent life,” or “either our current population or some future population of descendants that we value.” (I prefer the latter because it solves the problems of “good” and “bad” extinction that the first two encounter.) I want to put aside the issue of demarcation in this article and focus exclusively on the nature of existential risks themselves (that is, independent of who exactly they impact).
Strolling the streets before Loncon, I saw how the London world works: Autocratic hypercapitalism (Russia, China, some of southeast Asia) without Western checks and balances produces new elites whose dream is then an American or British lifestyle, with education for their children. Having made it big in autocratic countries with corrupt legal systems (if that), a cowed press and rampant corruption, oligarchs and crony capitalists wake up one day and find that they like nothing as much as democratic systems under the rule of law held accountable by an independent press.
Tweeting, like driving, creates perils that become more dangerous as we age, and the more stature or visibility people attain, the more they have to lose. In history books, Oxford zoologist Richard Dawkins will be known for his contributions to science. But you’d never know that based on the last two years of his media coverage, which have centered on a series of controversial tweets, mostly about women and Islam. The tweets, and Dawkins’ attempts to defend them have provoked fierce debate between atheists about whether his visibility as an advocate for secularism has become a liability to the cause.
It is important that the transhumanist movement establish a consensus on the meaning of life. Failure to do so will result in conflict, the extent of which is difficult to predict. As it stands today, transhumanism is a divided movement of various competing interests promoting values which are contradictory in nature. It seems the only agreement the movement has reached thus far is that the proper course of action is to promote the widespread adaptation of transhumanism.
Two months ago the Washington Post summarized the outcome of the recent Climate Change Conference held in the Peruvian capital in these words: “… the Lima Accord may nudge countries to do better on climate change (but won’t solve the problem)”. It looks like we might have to live with the health impacts of climate change for a while longer than hoped.
Maybe descriptions of Hell are so horrific to keep people from thinking about how hellish popular versions of the Christian Heaven would be—even without Pat Robertson in the mix. Most Westerners are at least vaguely familiar with the popular Christian version of Heaven: pearly gates, streets of gold, winged angels and the Righteous, with their bodies made perfect and immortal, singing the praises of God forever. What’s surprising is how few people have actually thought about what a nightmare this kind of existence would be.
I am a Cyborg. No, I don’t have any technological enhancements just yet, though I plan on doing so very soon with help from my friends within the DIY grinder community. Even then, my “choosing” to identify myself as a cyborg is more than a mere desire for cyborg enhancements, but is an identity that I feel deeply within myself – a longing to express myself in ways that my current biological body cannot.
The recent study in the journal Science, which suggested that most cancers are due to bad luck rather than lifestyle or environmental factors, generated massive media ripples. To summarize, authors Tomasetti and Vogelstein of Johns Hopkins University say the “majority [of cancers] are due to “bad luck,” that is, random mutations arising during DNA replication in normal, noncancerous stem cells”.
So much anti-religious dogmatism, so much misrecognized religiosity, so little time. It's a wonder to me that some clearly sophisticated persons can express such unsophisticated opinions about religion. Maybe it's just because we all have vested interests? On the one hand, those who have distanced themselves from tradition seek to justify their choice, as those who have continued to embrace tradition likewise would justify themselves. What's to be made of the strange creatures, arguably not so uncommon now or ever, that reject any notion of the choice being all or nothing or even mutually exclusive?
In the fall of 2014, a young dying woman, Brittany Maynard, captured the hearts of millions around the world. Now her husband and mother have teamed up with a national advocacy group, Compassion & Choices to honor her final wish—that aid in dying be available to terminally ill Americans in every state.
Many futurists are fond of projecting historical trends into the future. Ray Kurzweil is perhaps the most prominent champion of making bold claims about what the future holds based on what the past has held, but he’s not the only one. Interestingly, though, few have applied this predictive methodology to the phenomenon of existential risks. For the purposes of this paper, I’ll define an existential risk as a catastrophe that’s terminal in intensity, transgenerational in temporal scope, and global in spatial scope, and which affects either our current population (Homo sapiens) or some future population that we value. (See this article for details and criticism of other definitions, such as Nick Bostrom’s.)
When I first learnt of the idea to genetically modify mosquitoes (GMMs) as a strategy for controlling the diseases transmitted by these much-maligned insects, I thought it was refreshingly innovative. Little did I know that scientists had been fiddling with mosquitoes, and other insects, for the same reason long before I was born.