Greetings, fellow Coppertops! This week Zion has entrusted us to investigate a group of fascinating topics: From knowledge pills that will let you pilot an helicopter –but what about the anti-doping tests??– to the passing of a researcher of alien implants; we’ll also analyze why so many Americans believe in medical conspiracy theories, and why so many media pundits believe ‘conspiracy theorist’ is a derogatory term; and as we review the global storm unleashed by a scientific paper predicting the collapse of our industrial civilization, we’ll also try to understand why the recent discovery of the BICEP2 telescope in Antarctica might just prove our little Universe is but a small bubble in an endless foam. Hmmm… does that mean God is taking a bath?
Ahhh… it’s so great when I have an excuse to mention The Matrix! I remember that badass cinematic moment when Neo opens his eyes, and matter-of-factly says to Morpheus that thanks to Dozer’s brain downloads, he’s now a martial arts expert. Wouldn’t it be great if we could ALL do that?
Nicholas Negroponte says we will! The founder of the MIT’s Media Lab was one of the speakers at TED’s 30th anniversary celebration in Vancouver, a fitting homage considering how he was one of the speakers at the very 1st TED event in 1984; after a recap of the many technologies he helped pioneer & are now perceived as ubiquitous –like GPS for our cars or even wearable computers– he made the bold prediction that in the future knowledge will not be learned: it will be simply ingested.
In 30 years, Negroponte said, we’re going to be able to literally ingest information. Once information is in your bloodstream, some kind of mechanism could deposit the information in the brain. You could take a pill and learn English or the works of Shakespeare. He said little else on the subject, but Negroponte assured the audience that the idea is not as ridiculous as it seems.
Methinks perhaps Negroponte was looking to 1-up Edward Snowden, who after his eerily telerobotic Q&A presentation received a standing ovation from the TED gatherers & had a chance to ‘air shake’ hands with Sir Tim Berners-Lee.
Nevertheless, the prospect of accelerated or even instant knowledge is very appealing. But the problem with it though, is that it’s still conceptualized by Negroponte from a purely materialistic POV. As a designer, I am in awe with creativity & the Eureka light-struck moment of inspiration, which I seriously regard to as an act of magic. So if ideas exist independently of our brains, maybe instant knowledge has to imply something beyond chemicals surging our bloodstream.
So go ahead & keep your ‘knowledge pills’, señor Negroponte. Me? I want a direct link to the Akashic records!
Although ‘knowledge pills’ still seem highly unlikely, by now almost anyone would say the same of cybernetic sensors & implants, which would theoretically augment the cognitive & mnemonic capacities of the wearer to unimaginable levels –Just think: no more lost keys or forgotten anniversaries!
Alas, as with all powerful technologies, the great possibilities of brain implants also come with a scary potential for abuse. What could stop the powers at be from trying to use such devices for spying innocent civilians? or worse yet, CONTROLLING their behavior?
But perhaps we shouldn’t think of these advances as a future threat? What if there were already groups or entities embedding implants into the bodies of hapless individuals? That’s what some abduction researchers have been suggesting for several decades, and at the forefront of this investigation was podiatric surgeon Dr. Roger Leir, who sadly passed away on March 14th.
Our friends at Open Minds prepared a fitting tribute:
Dr. Leir was an exceptional man. I choose to call him that not because I particularly agreed with his conclusions, but because he was an exception to how scientists react when confronted with someone like the so-called alien abduction phenomenon; instead of walking away, Dr. Leir chose to face the enigma openly.
Having said that, I think Leir erred in the way he tried to make the case for the extraordinary nature of these odd objects he kept pulling out of his patients’ bodies. Since most of them seemed comprised of ordinary materials, and not something that might have originated out of this planet, I think he should have focused the emphasis of his investigation in understanding how the implants were not rejected by the host’s immunological system; something that would have gathered the interest of his peers, regardless of their actual provenance –then again, we do have cases in which foreign objects have resided inside the bodies of humans for many years without causing any particular problems, like a WWII soldier who kept almost a pound of shrapnel in his thigh… for 68 years!
I’d also study other possibilities aside from an alien –or even MILAB– intervention, as well. Sometimes I’ve wondered whether these alleged implants might be something akin to the stigmatized wounds of Catholic saints, or even the vibhuti ash that some Hindu yogis are said to manifest as an etheric apport. In other words, whether the objects are more a result of the abductee’s own belief that he’s been taken by aliens.
Nevertheless, a friend of mine who met Leir in some UFO conference described him as a sweet man, who seemed genuinely interested in helping people. My friend also confessed via e-mail his suspicions that Leir might have been an alien abductee himself; in which case, the manner in which he died –out of complications for a foot wound that refused to heal, a twisted fate for podologist if there ever was one– might be seen as a sort of projection for his incapacity to acknowledge his own experiences. In any case, let’s hope that wherever he is, Dr. Leir is now closer to the answers he pursued during his lifetime.
Descanse en Paz.
There’s a price to pay, if one decides to dwell too long in the UFO subculture: You’ll end up becoming that guy; the one who “believes in all that weird crap,” and everyone you know will assume that if you entertain the notion that some UFOs may be evidence of an advanced non-human intelligence, then by default you also believe JFK was killed by the CIA, 9-11 was an inside job, and that fluoride is being poured into our water reservoirs as a plan to calcify our pineal gland & keep us all under control.
But here’s the thing: Even if you don’t believe that shape-shifting lizard-men are ruling the world & planning to install FEMA concentration camps, chances are you still might have suspicions about the pills your doctor is prescribing you to control your heart condition: The result of a recent survey lead by researchers from the University of Chicago, concluded that 1 in 5 Americans believe in at least 1 type of medical conspiracy theory, ranging from the bat-shit crazy –the US government deliberately infected African Americans with HIV– to the somewhat plausible –Big Pharma is preventing citizens from accessing alternative medicines.
J. Eric Oliver, the study’s lead author from University of Chicago, said people may believe in conspiracy theories because they’re easier to understand than complex medical information.
“Science in general – medicine in particular – is complicated and cognitively challenging because you have to carry around a lot of uncertainty,” Oliver said.
“To talk about epidemiology and probability theories is difficult to understand as opposed to ‘if you put this substance in your body, it’s going to be bad,'” he said.
A lack of grasp in basic scientific principles among the general public, may be 1 of the factors people nowadays are more mistrusting of the government & the medical system. But it would be naive to overlook the fact of how many times the establishment has decided to demonize substances & procedures, that might turn out to be substantially beneficial in treating many medical maladies. What does it say to you that marijuana is still labeled as a schedule 1 drug –meaning it has ‘no currently accepted medical use in treatment’– by the United States Controlled Substances Act?
Furthermore, I find it mildly amusing –and sometimes freakishly worrying– how modern media is adamant in turning ‘conspiracy theory’ into a pejorative term! It’s the alienation of dissent; and that, my dear Coppertops, is 1 of the tools of Fascism.
Arthur Miller once wrote: “An era can be said to end when its basic illusions are exhausted.” The illusion that has been exhausted in our present era, along with our dwindling natural resources, is the idea that the preservation of our current way of life is guaranteed to persist indefinitely.
Recently a post published by The Guardian caused quite a stir of global proportions: The post, written by Nafeez Ahmed, made reference to a ‘NASA-funded-study’ —still to be published— lead by applied mathematician Safa Motesharrei of the US National Science Foundation-supported National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center & other colleagues,which predicted the imminent collapse of our industrial civilization within a few decades –so I guess you could see why it grabbed so much attention!– brought by both the stretching of resources AND economic inequality between the elite upper class & the rest of the population.
Modelling a range of different scenarios, Motesharri and his colleagues conclude that under conditions “closely reflecting the reality of the world today… we find that collapse is difficult to avoid.” In the first of these scenarios, civilisation:
“…. appears to be on a sustainable path for quite a long time, but even using an optimal depletion rate and starting with a very small number of Elites, the Elites eventually consume too much, resulting in a famine among Commoners that eventually causes the collapse of society. It is important to note that this Type-L collapse is due to an inequality-induced famine that causes a loss of workers, rather than a collapse of Nature.”
Later on many critics pointed out a few problems with this gloom & doom scenario. For starters the paper hasn’t been published yet, and Ahmed failed to seek the comment of other experts in the field to add some possible counter-argument. The most damning element of the story seems to be that NASA didn’t really ‘sponsor’ this study at all! NASA sent a press release distancing the space agency from both the paper & its apocalyptic conclusions.
Keith Kloor, a blogger for Discover magazine –who seems to have a personal ax to grind with Ahmed– did seek the comment of some independent experts on the study: Joseph Tainter, who was amply quoted by the authors of the paper, was less than impressed by it; he also mentioned something worth noting in his e-mail response to Kloor:
It is interesting how collapse theories mirror broader societal issues. During the Cold War, we had theories ascribing collapse to elite mismanagement, class conflict, and peasant revolts. As global warming became a public issue, scholars of the past began to discover that ancient societies collapsed due to climate change. As we have become concerned about sustainability and resource use today, we have learned that ancient societies collapsed due to depletion of critical resources, such as soil and forests. Now that inequality and “the 1%” are topics of public discourse, we have this paper focusing largely on elite resource consumption.
Later he went on enumerating the many flaws in the study & how they didn’t even bother to define what ‘collapse’ means. For example, the paper mentions the fall of the Roman Empire, but many historians will be quick to point out how the Roman civilization morphed & its influence continued to persist well into the Middle Ages & the Renaissance.
So what are we left with? A study that is yet to be published, yet will hardly make a bigger splash than it already did, and a viral phenomenon caused by how many people were willing to embrace it unquestioningly –me being one of them initially!– The fact that we’re so aware of the growing inequalities between the 1% & the rest of us should tell you something about how thin the ice is getting between our feet, regardless of whether our current situation is comparable to the Roman, Mayan or Chinese cultures that preceded us.
Whenever a Roman general returned after achieving a major victory, he would enter the city in all his glory, preceded by all his armies & wearing a laurel crown; but accompanying them would be a slave entrusted with the duty of whispering to the victor’s ear these words: “remember that you are mortal.”
Indeed, if there’s one thing one learns during this incarnation is that NOTHING lasts; not even our own Universe! We know that it began some 13.8 billion years ago, and we assume that it will eventually cease to be. But now we also have confirmed that during its 1st fleeting moments of existence, the Universe ballooned to gigantic proportions with a speed greater than that of light itself; the proponents of this idea called it The Inflationary theory, and the recent evidence of ‘gravity ripples’ gathered by the BICEP2 telescope in Antarctica has just bagged them the Nobel prize.
So why should we care, right? After all, we already knew The Big Bang theory was supported by the red-shift ‘Doppler effect’ observed in faraway stars & galaxies, by which we infer they’re moving further & further away from us. And at this point I think it’s pertinent to point out that ‘Big Bang’ was conceived as a mock term for a theory 1st proposed by Georges Lemaître, a Roman Catholic priest & astronomer –let’s see if Neil mentions HIM on Cosmos 2.0!
But here’s why we should care: If the Inflationary theory is true, then it gives further support to the idea that we live in a Universe that is just a tiny part of a much bigger & complex Multiverse.
“In most models, if you have inflation, then you have a multiverse,” said Stanford physicist Andrei Linde. Linde, one of cosmological inflation’s inventors, spoke on Monday at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics event where the BICEP2 astrophysics team unveiled the gravitational wave results.
Essentially, in the models favored by the BICEP2 team’s observations, the process that inflates a universe looks just too potent to happen only once; rather, once a Big Bang starts, the process would happen repeatedly and in multiple ways.
“A multiverse offers one good possible explanation for a lot of the unique observations we have made about our universe,” says MIT physicist Alan Guth, who first wrote about inflation theory in 1980. “Life being here, for example.”
I personally have no problem with the concept of the Multiverse. The idea that what we can observe with our instruments is but a tiny bubble in an infinite foam of energy & matter is awe-inspiring & poetic. But what rubs me the wrong way, is that nowadays many cosmologist want to push the Multiverse agenda because they see it as a way to leave God out of their equations.
To cosmologists, our universe looks disturbingly fine-tuned for life. Without its Goldilocks-perfect alignment of the physical constants—everything from the strength of the force attaching electrons to atoms to the relative weakness of gravity—planets and suns, biochemistry, and life itself would be impossible. Atoms wouldn’t stick together in a universe with more than four dimensions, Guth notes.
If ours was the only cosmos spawned by a Big Bang, these life-friendly properties would seem impossibly unlikely. But in a multiverse containing zillions of universes, a small number of life-friendly ones would arise by chance—and we could just happen to reside in one of them.
“Life may have formed in the small number of vacua where it was possible, in a multiverse,” says Guth. “That’s why we are seeing what we are seeing. Not because we are special, but because we can.”
So in order to get rid of an infinite deity that enabled the emergence of intelligent life –or rather, some unexplained principle guiding the Cosmos towards systems of increasing complexity at odds with the rise of entropy– cosmologists feel much more comfortable with an infinite multiverse in order to preserve our own particular non-importance.
Maybe it’s just me, but ‘I don’t know, therefore Multiverse’ sounds as pedestrian as ‘I don’t know, therefore God.’ –But hey, to each its own…
Until next time, this is RPJ jacking out. Hey, why don’t we grab that Cosmic Egg & make some huevos rancheros with it?