Wednesday, June 28, 2017
Pointing the Way, Jamestown, NC
Yuval Noah Harari has written a very stimulating and thought-provoking book titled Homo Deus, A Brief History of Tomorrow. He covers a wide spectrum of human history up to the present and then dares to speculate on the future demise of current homo sapiens. Harari writes that “dataism declares that the universe consists of data flows, and the value of any phenomenon or entity is determined by its contribution to data processing…the life sciences have come to see organisms as biochemical algorithms…and computer scientists have learned to engineer increasingly sophisticated electronic algorithms…Dataism puts the two together, pointing out that exactly the same mathematical laws apply to both biochemical and electronic algorithms”. And he “expects electronic algorithms to eventually decipher and outperform biochemical algorithms.” We’re currently developing unprecedented computing power and giant databases beyond the human brain’s capacity to fathom the new master algorithms. But perhaps organisms really aren’t algorithms after all.
Harari notes that humans distill data into information, then into knowledge, and finally into wisdom. But he observes that the world is changing faster than ever before and we can no longer process the vast amounts of data out there these days. Although having power in ancient times meant having access to data and yesterday having the ability to interpret data meant having power, he advises that having power today means knowing what to ignore! Harari considers humankind a single data-processing system with the Internet-of-All-Things as its output. After all, who writes Wikipedia? All of us! Once this mission is accomplished, he boldly predicts that Homo sapiens (wise men) will vanish. They will be replaced by an elite and controlling upgraded minority of Homo Deus (God men).
Harari got my attention when he predicted that humans will want to add value because “when you are part of the data flow you are part of something much bigger than yourself.” After all, “what’s the point of doing or experiencing anything if nobody knows about it, and if it doesn’t contribute something to the global exchange of information?” I’ve personally always considered any learning experience only worthwhile if it is put into practice and shared. He instructs us in this digital media world to record experiences and share them by uploading them. Harari muses that one of the key ways we humans are superior to animals is in our ability to write poems and blogs about our experiences, thereby enriching the global data-processing system. Our value lies in turning our experiences into free-flowing data. And ideas change the world when they change our behavior.
Harari concludes with the questions “Are organisms really just algorithms, and is life really just data processing? What’s more valuable—intelligence or consciousness? What will happen to society, politics and daily life when non-conscious but highly intelligent algorithms know us better than we know ourselves?”
It's always good to forward think about the future and our Homo sapiens frontal lobe was the last to evolve for just such a purpose. That brain function is a major factor that separates us from animals that blithely go through life not knowing that there is an end to mortal life. But that ability not only gives us pause to speculate on the future, but to consider the potential for a spiritual life after this mortal one. I’m also convinced that we Homo sapiens can navigate the uncharted territory of Artificial Intelligence and super computers with God’s guiding hand.
Sunday, June 25, 2017
Sleepy Baby, Chicago, IL
“Good Morning baby.”
The sleepy baby awakes,
knowing mother’s voice.
“Hi, were you sleeping?”
The dreamy fog clears away,
and eyes open wide.
“Hi, did you sleep well?”
He raises up on his arms,
and his whole face smiles.
“Did you sleep all night?”
He contentedly replies,
happy and secure.
Friday, June 16, 2017
Fading Memory, California Beach
The photograph of my father and me shelling in California on a Pacific Ocean beach has become about as faded as my memories of him. It’s been said that most of humanity is only remembered for about two generations until there is no consciousness left to retain their memory. Fortunately, on the eve of Father’s Day, my consciousness still retains a few dim memories.
I only vaguely remember family meals, as my father was an engineer on the railroad and worked a variety of shifts due to the rigid seniority system. He never outlived the system, since he experienced a relatively early death, partially due to that system which never enabled him to live a normal life of sleeping and waking. But I do remember good times fishing, hunting, and participating in his favorite sport, baseball.
As a young man playing baseball, my father was scouted by the St. Louis Cardinals and offered a low paying position at shortstop on their farm club. He decided to abandon the dream and stay at home to help the family. That major decision in my father’s life quite probably resulted in our family’s creation. It’s good to have goals and dreams in life, but when life throws you a curve ball, it just might not be strike three. It could be ball four and a pass to begin a new path around the bases that leads to a new home. I didn’t become a professional baseball player either, but I learned that we’ve got to work hard at something to be good at it, sportsmanship, how to be a team player, developing lasting friendships with teammates, the thrill of competition, how to be a good winner as well as a good loser, and the love of a father to impart his dream to his child so that the dream remains alive.
He died as I was only beginning to transition to adulthood in college. I remember a conversation about part-time college students that were hired to supplement the summer wheat harvest and vacations. He mentioned that many of them partied and then slept on the job to recover. When I challenged their right to do this, he just smiled and noted that many of them were superior’s sons and he would be the one in trouble. That was a rude introduction to the real world. During a blustery Kansas winter snow storm, I went to the back door late at night where my mother was looking outside and inquired about my father. She mentioned that he was outside putting chains on the rear tires of our car so he could get to work. I remarked that no one should have to go outside on a night like this, but she just smiled and suggested I get bundled up and go outside to help him. When I went outside and suggested that he call in sick so he could stay home out of the storm, he just smiled and said someone had to work so our family could live—another rude introduction to the real world.
And like the movie Field of Dreams, some of the best times growing up involved the simple act of playing catch in the backyard. It’s a very human act of I-give-to-you and you-give-back connectedness, many times discussing something about life and many times in serene silence, with just the sound of the rawhide ball hitting the leather glove. The final act of redemption in the movie unfortunately doesn’t happen all too often in real life. The prodigal son gets a second chance to say, “Hey dad, you wanna have a catch”? And his dad replies, “I’d like that”.
As I became a father, my daughter and I played catch (although I quickly learned to slow it down a bit) and now there’s always the dream of playing catch with that future Hall-of-Famer, my new grandson.
Wednesday, June 7, 2017
Broken Shell, Wrightsville Beach, NC
The sun awakens,
but is still not visible,
on the horizon.
as the eastern sky glows red,
and the tide recedes.
Shore birds chase the waves,
foraging in the sea foam,
as shells are exposed.
Lone footprints ahead,
leaving the tossed and broken,
gathering whole shells.
As I walk behind,
searching for imperfection,
gathering flawed shells.
Tuesday, June 6, 2017
Kintsukuroi, Internet Domain
Weathered Shell, Wrightsville Beach, NC
Character Lines, Jamestown, NC
Staring down at my bare knees as I rode in a golf cart this past weekend on the brink of summer, I noticed that the sunshine had once again begun to highlight the two white scars that dissected my knees. I earned that pair through some tough days and physical therapy. Those “character lines” as I like to consider them, are a bit different from each other. The left knee joint was the first to go about ten years ago and has faint staple marks where they were inserted on either side of a very straight line. The most recent of about two years ago has more character without the staples as it was repaired by sewing the incision under itself. Only recently did I discover that the ancient Japanese understood this concept centuries ago. And they have two primary terms that have evolved over those centuries, kintsukuroi and wabi-sabi.
Kintsukuroi is the art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer or resin mixed with gold dust. The associated philosophy treats the breaks as part of the object’s history, making it more beautiful with its imperfection, rather than something to disguise. Originally, valuable broken pottery was repaired with metal staples. Later the craftsmen began using the golden seams which emphasized the mended imperfections that should be celebrated as a rebirth of the piece!
Wabi-sabi is a philosophy centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. Wabi implies uniqueness and understated elegance while sabi refers to beauty that comes with age, such as a patina and wear or visible repairs. Wabi-sabi acknowledges three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect. Buddhists describe it as the wisdom and beauty of imperfection. I’ve written before about abandoning my search for perfect shells on the beach and instead began looking for uniquely imperfect specimens that have been rolled and battered by the sand and tides. The flawed beauty of these shells is sadly overlooked by many bearers of the footprints in my path.
And as we continue to circle the sun more times than we care to acknowledge, those “character lines” randomly crossing our bodies and the “crow’s feet” spreading away from our eyes are beautiful indications that we have lived and laughed, however imperfectly!