There is an absolutely stellar article in the New York Times about Dr. Richard Wrangham’s essay “Catching Fire.” Go read it now. If you finish it and want to know even more, like I did, go read the Slate review as well.
Over on his Sentient Developments blog, IEET board member George Dvorsky has compiled and posted a list of what he calls “The Top 10 Existential Movies of All Time.” As a serious film buff, I was immediately prompted to respond by naming a few important—and great—existential movies that George left off his list. I’ll get to my own favorites in a moment, but first we should lay down some ground rules.
Our growing ability to decode and re-encode genomes has enabled rapid responses to emerging diseases, but also potentially empowers would-be bio-terrorists. It is urgent that we develop national and international policies to regulate this dual use technology to ensure its benefits and minimize its risks.
Browsing through my DVD collection recently I realized that I have a fairly decent selection of what can be called ‘existential movies’—philosophical films that study the nature of existence and what it means to be alive. It’s debatable as to what defines the ‘quintessential’ existential movie, but ultimately it must speak to the human condition and reframe it in such a way that the viewer gains an enhanced appreciation of their own existence and situation in life. These are the kinds of films that you find yourself reflecting back upon time and time again as you engage in your own day-to-day life, struggles and relationships.
Born in Hawaii—a crossroads of culture between Far East and Far West—of a white mother from Kansas and a black father from Kenya and raised partially in Indonesia by a Muslim stepfather, an African-American man with an unlikely background and an even more unlikely name, Barack Hussein Obama, arose to become President of the United States. Does that globalized pedigree, along with a prodigious intellect, give him a unique moral authority?
As shocking as the Simulation Argument is, it’s (arguably) a revelation that’s no less shocking than previous existential paradigm shifts. While undoubtedly disturbing to the people alive at the time, previous civilizations have come to grips with the knowledge that they do not live on a flat Earth nor at the center of the Universe.
Over the next two or three decades, our world will change dramatically and in many different ways: we should expect political, economic, social, technological, and environmental uplifts and quite possibly revolutions. Understanding where we’ve come from, where we might go—and what our choices could be—is a first step toward taking active control over our lives and the world in which we live.
It’s been an interesting few weeks for the announcement of potentially dazzling new online applications, from Microsoft’s search engine Bing, and Google’s collaborative communication tool Wave, to the giant killer of them all, Wolfram Alpha, supposedly the biggest thing since, well, Google.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
[Contains spoilers.] Overall, although Terminator: Salvation was a well produced and enjoyable movie, it wasn’t particularly deep. I was at least hoping for a more interesting exploration of Marcus Wright’s identity and the meaning he found in his existence after discovering he was the first genuine cross between a human and a machine, but even that was handled predictably. The movie evaded any of the complexity that the recently canceled Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles television series had been beginning to develop.
Despite the recent outcome on Proposition 8 in California, I believe that the American conscience has awakened concerning the right of gay people to enjoy life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in this country. Yes, there remain groups of people who would deny gays their human rights out of fear, blind adherence to religious dogma, or a simple hatred of what they don’t understand, but those groups are shrinking.
A few weeks ago I described a continuum sliding from global warming to climate chaos to geoengineering and ultimately to planet-scale engineering. Now we’ll look into what some of those geoengineering proposals might be, why they might or might not work, and what the potentially catastrophic results could be—whether or not we try to solve global warming.
Athena Andreadis is guest-blogging at Sentient Developments this month. Years ago, I saw a short in an animation festival. It showed earth inhabited by men who happily bopped each other and propagated by laying eggs. A starship crash interrupted the idyll. Presaging Battlestar Galactica, the newcomers proved miraculously interfertile with the men who handed them the job of propagation along with all other disagreeable chores. Things went swimmingly, at least for the men, until a rescue ship arrived. After the women left, the men were once again free to pursue manly things – until they realized they had forgotten how to lay eggs.
We can hold conference calls with colleagues from all over, and do it basically for free. Tiny videocams built into laptop computers—that are themselves millions of times more powerful than the computers used to fly men to the moon in the 1960s—allow real-time visual meetups, saving time and money, making business run better and progress move faster. Still, no matter how far we have come, in-person meetings are better than data-mediated connections.
It is 2007 on the steamy tropical streets of Rangoon, Burma, where journalism is against the law, and where no outside reporters are allowed. Fed up with living under the oppression of a heavy-handed military dictatorship, a few courageous citizens dare to speak out. They are quickly silenced and carried off by police and plain-clothes thugs—but a small band of video journalists is able to capture the events and begin leaking the news to the outside world.
This thought experiment is not as far-fetched as it may seem at first glance. Many experts believe that we will be able, not too many decades down the track, to build a device with the capacities that I’ll be describing. My Generation Y philosophy/international studies students may still be young enough to be involved in real-world decisions when this sort of technology is available. Even I may still be alive, to vote on it, if it’s an election issue in 30 or 40 years time. Though it may be at an early stage, the necessary research is going on, even now, in such places as the US military’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
The term “mindclone” evokes a wide range of sci-fi images from the “Cylons” of Battlestar Galactica to the “Mr. Smiths” of The Matrix. While it is indisputable that we are creating large mindfiles, as described in Question 1, and surely there are geeks working hard on mindware, as reviewed in Question 2, how close could we be to an actual mindclone when computers can’t converse on their own much better than a two-year old kid?
In June 1983 I arrived in Sri Lanka with a starry-eyed commitment to grassroots Buddhist social change, and a lot of romanticism about national liberation movements and Asian Buddhism. The Sri Lankan civil war that started five days later forced me to confront how dangerous all identities and communities are unless we understand that they are fundamentally imaginary. My two years in Sri Lanka convinced me of the desperate need for a new project of global citizenship.