Earth eyes

NASA-Apollo8-Dec24-Earthrise.jpg
Today's muse, there is something odd about taking our biological eyes, removing them from the planet from which they are sustained, and then looking back.  July 20, 1969: I had turned 15 that spring, having moved across the country three times in the preceding four years, I was in the midst of a pretty serious adolescent depression, but even from that place of pain, the events of this day, and the months leading up to it, were riveting for me, and for billions of others on the planet.  It is this image, actually taken from Apollo 8 on December 24, 1968, seven month's before the first moon landing, that remains for me the defining image of this time.

I am sure technology historians have plenty of practical explanations for why computing and the network of the Internet exploded into being shortly thereafter, perhaps even helped by this massive technological objective; but I can't help but think that we are in the midst of the earth waking up, some massive psychic (?) eruption that is currently underway, of which humans at present, seem to be the primary tool of implementation.  Perhaps it will quiet down into millions of years of more "normal" evolutionary change, however the big gigantic changes in direction are almost always accompanied by massive heat, destruction and then creation, how hot will it get, how much will be destroyed, and what will be created in its place?  Are we the destroyer of worlds, the creator, or all or none of the above?

Andrew Olendzki and observational systems

Today's muse, I had a chance to hear Andrew Olendzki talk yesterday.  I can only image the level of mindfulness and the organic observational system that grows out of such a set of practices conducted over the last 2,500 years or so.

I was listening for what Andrew had to say about the collective, and I found it interesting that he didn't have much to say.  Whether right or wrong, I assume that the collective is not very accessible from the practice, which I found personally unsettling.  Unsettling because with this much wisdom and history, that it is not apparent, may call into question any meaningful concept of the human collective.  It may also simply mean that with such a powerful focus on individual observation, that the collective is not particularly accessible through this approach.  So as is often the case, with anyone operating from a system of beliefs, if something is not "knowable" from the system, it tends to take on the characteristic of being uninteresting, which had I asked Andrew this question, is the way I think he might have responded.

For me the unsettling part, give the power and history of the practice Andrew described, is that he may be right, that any attempt to "see"' the collective from our "cell" like position, is doomed to tautological failure.  Perhaps the great questions are by definition unanswerable, and perhaps our thoughts are simply "events" on the wave of motions....

But I am a seeker, I seek therefore I am... or am I not?

Mindful change

Today's muse, stillness = mindfulness, motion = change.  How do we engage in mindful change.  Or, is the human system one in which some are still, providing mindfulness, and others are engaged in motion, providing change.  If this is the case, then is there a stasis that occurs in each culture, or in global humanity, with mindfulness balancing change?  And do the mindful communicate with those engaged in change?  My intuition tells me that there is a complex eco-system operating behind these concepts, one that we are dimly aware of at best.

Would it be possible to quantify mindfulness and change rates, in society, and see how or if they are correlated with other social phenomena?  While we as individual's will assume, perhaps in our ego, that we can hold mindfulness and motion in our individual selves, most culturally violent rapid action has a distinctly unmindful characteristic, and when was the last time meditators were engaged in revolution?

I have to say, the more I reflect on the human condition, the more I see us as operating in a complex web of interrelationships as though the human species is either some sort of super organism itself, or, engaged in creating one.  And I will risk a species-centric comment, and say that this collective organic ability seems to be unlike any other species we have on this planet with us.

Bio-tech evolution... the human species in motion

Today's muse, war, heat, energy, change. Looking at today's APOD showing Fermi Lab's recently discovered Gamma-ray Pulsars, I am reminded of how much motion/change is an integral part of our lives and the life of the entire universe.  When motion stops, we atrophy, just look at our bodies for example, if we lead sedentary, motionless lives.  Contrast this with mediators who sit in mindful quiet, paying attention to their breath and to their thoughts; and contrast this with today's childhood obesity epidemic, children it would appear, consumed by their electronic gadgets. 

What does it all mean, for example, is there a collective motion with some kind of meaning or intent?  Certainly one can image a war, like the mobilization of WW II, where from a motion standpoint, the world was highly agitated, almost frenetic, and change erupted.  Interestingly, as technology has advanced, it has allowed humans to move faster and faster, so fast, that we "spin" off the earth metaphorically, but also, as in our children, to move slower and slower.

Is there a coming social crisis of technology, where we as the human species will be confronted with a dialectic, either embracing wholeheartedly the motion that is the integration of technology into human evolution or repelling from it, into what, stillness?  Or to state this another way, will we allow biotechnology to morph into "techno-humanology", where the line between traditional evolutionary change and the merger with bio-tech enhancements becomes so blurred as to be indistinguishable, or, are we on the edge of a revolt and return to an "unenhanced" state, sort of a modern Luddite position.  

If we follow the high energy here, it seems almost inevitable that we are about to give new meaning to the term human evolution, in fact we may have already started, we just don't have a name for it yet.  What will we call this new species?  Will we become it, or battle it? 

Planetary Reproduction

Today's muse, the astronomer Carl Sagan remarked that from a cosmic viewpoint, the space probes since 1959 have the character of a planet preparing to go to seed. Sagan, Carl and Jerome Agel, (1973) "Cosmic Connection: An Extraterrestrial Perspective", (Anchor Press, , ISBN 0-521-78303-8)

It sometimes feels as though the planet, through us, is searching for its kin, or perhaps, its mate.  I wonder what planetary reproduction would look like?

Metamorphosis

Today's muse, what would a consciousness higher than ours look like, would we even be aware of its existence, or, are we somewhat unconsciously, building it right before our eyes?  Are we on some evolutionary path that takes us away from our biological roots, through many disembodied iterations, kneading our consciousness in an endless cycle?  Given the juxtaposition of the scale of evolution on earth to the scale of the universe, there are many opportunities for unimaginable metamorphosis.  It sometimes feels to me as though n-stage stellar consciousness is looking back on us as we look at the stars. 

Wisdom's stasis amid the growth of knowledge

Today's muse, we are building a gigantic repository of knowledge, and at the same time, building tools to manage that knowledge.  As our knowledge grows, our ability to change our environment in profound ways, also grows.

Just as we humans are the constraint in jet fighters, and are slowly being replaced, I wonder if humans are also a constraint in another more profound way.  Wisdom, or perhaps I should say the lack of growth of wisdom, seems to be equally constraining in this system (for which I don't really have a name).  Wisdom seems to be self-limited by the biological constraint of the human organism i.e., we have to learn and relearn wisdom in each one of our lives. As knowledge and power continues to grow exponentially across thousands of generations, wisdom continues to cycle, limited by our lifespan.  Unfortunately, wisdom does not seem to lend itself to growth as does knowledge, or at least I have not been able to see a clear trend of a growth in wisdom over the ages.

Perhaps this is natures way of limiting how destructive we can be, as our inability to grow wisdom almost guarantees our own self-destruction, or perhaps, we have in our future a way to learn wisdom.  Here's to the latter!

The hyperkinetic human collective

Today's muse, there is no real example in our natural world, of ourselves. We create machines to transport ourselves, we create memory enhancements, we mess with the reproductive systems of ourselves and other species, we have taken unto ourselves the role of "King/Queen" of the planet.  Aren't we quite the upstarts.

Individually, especially as we age, we seem to begin to understand that we are not "above" this system, we are part of it, no matter how much we think we are in control, even the largest ego has to come to the understanding it is not powerful enough to transcend the system of its birth.  So there is a natural ebb and flow of life, that we all come to grips with, and is written and talked about in countless ways, religious/spiritual, philosophical and scientific.

What interests me is that this system of individual gnosis that we are all forced to deal with by the end of our individual lives, seems strangely absent from the species i.e., the human collective, the human species ego, seems unbridled, almost out-of-control.  What is going on here? 

- Does our almost unique tool making ability foster this collective hubris? 

- Is there a collective human species evolution occurring, one that scientists have yet to quantify, and are we in the equivalent of adolescence? 

- Or, are we simply at the top of the food chain, and is this the result of having no real predators (other than ourselves of course)?

- Are we really out-of-control, or is this hyperkinetic human collective energy really a means to some unseen end or a part of some unseen evolutionary process?

One final thought, I try and monitor the latest goings on in human tool building, and I often look to the work of  MIT's Media Lab, they have something called the MIThril project:

The goal of the MIThril project is the development and prototyping of new techniques of human-computer interaction for body-worn applications. Through the application of human factors, machine learning, hardware engineering, and software engineering, the MIThril team is constructing a new kind of computing environment and developing prototype applications for health, communications, and just-in-time information delivery. 
Of course the researchers call themselves the MIT Borglab, but this does pose an interesting question, are we as a species being "accelerated" to create a new "species", in a non-traditional way because there is a some kind of planetary level need that we do not yet see.  We often think of our species as causing great pain to our planet, and perhaps even destroying it, but what if we are actually in the process of evolving, or creating, a species that may be able help?  Or maybe the earth is "hatching" itself, and we are the new born.

The human planetary tool

Today's muse, we humans think we are in control, that we are the ones "inventing", but are we really the preeminent tool creators and users that we think we are?  Perhaps we are the tools, but to what purpose?

A friend pointed me to an article the other day that takes a geophysical perspective of calling the earth a "living super-organism".   While this was strictly a geophysical view, if this view was to be expanded to include biology, I suspect we might be able to step back and see the geophysical life cycle, and planetary biological life cycle operating in unison, and symmetry.  The challenge of integration here is both scale and impact.  Most biological time frames, even when figured on a macro-level e.g., mammals rather than humans etc..., are dwarfed by geophysical life cycles.  And second, as much as we see human/biological planetary impact, this impact is dwarfed by the impact of geophysical life cycles.

Certainly human/biological planetary engineering skills are growing, and it does cause one to wonder if there is some grand design here, will the "planet" need these human tools at some point in the future?  I am reminded of all the symbiosis we see in nature, particularly underwater.  Perhaps we should worry less about our ability to destroy our own planet, and worry more about what our planet has in store for us.

And the human forecast for today is...

Today's muse, I was watching Wimbledon tennis on TV the other day, and they have a neat feature showing a player's court coverage. Every time a player hits a ball, they freeze a picture of the player at the time of the ball strike, and continue the video until the next ball strike, freezing a picture at every ball strike of a point.  When the point is over, they have a series of still images illustrating the player's court coverage.  For those that follow the sport, Venus Williams' court coverage, when illustrated with the this technique, is amazing, but I digress.

What if we were to use this technique to trace our movements as a society of people.  I keep coming back to the image of an ant colony, all purposefully moving about with clear collective goals in mind, at least as observed by us, but convinced, at least so I image, that they are acting from "free will".  There are of course lot's of motion studies, automotive traffic engineers have built up an entire science on traffic flows, and I am sure retailers have reams of data on pedestrian flows in malls and of course the demography of migrations.  But I am thinking about human flows on a far larger scale, both in numbers or people tracked, the time frames and the data points. Perhaps using a freeze frame concept of tracking as a data point, for example, every time someone talks in person to a "different" individual.

What would we learn?  We would certainly see the rhythms of the day, but I suspect that given time and scale, we would see more subtle attributes.  For example, would we see any correlation between inventiveness and communication?  Correlations with income, education...?  Leaving the issues of privacy/big brother aside, this is computationally at least, akin to weather forecasting, would we then have human forecasting, if so what would a human forecast look like?  And of course there is the age old question, would watching ourselves to this level of detail and scale, change our collective behavior?

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Blog is currently on hiatus. kts, summer 2010.