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Archive for the ‘philosophy’ category

Sep 21, 2016

A Free Education for all the World’s People: Why is this Not yet a Thing?

Posted by in categories: education, ethics, internet, open access, open source, philosophy, policy, theory

When we as a global community confront the truly difficult question of considering what is really worth devoting our limited time and resources to in an era marked by such global catastrophe, I always find my mind returning to what the Internet hasn’t really been used for yet—and what was rumored from its inception that it should ultimately provide—an utterly and entirely free education for all the world’s people.

In regard to such a concept, Bill Gates said in 2010, “On the web for free you’ll be able to find the best lectures in the world […] It will be better than any single university […] No matter how you came about your knowledge, you should get credit for it. Whether it’s an MIT degree or if you got everything you know from lectures on the web, there needs to be a way to highlight that.”

That may sound like an idealistic stretch to the uninitiated, but the fact of the matter is universities like MIT, Harvard, Yale, Oxford, The European Graduate School, Caltech, Stanford, Berkeley, and other international institutions have been regularly uploading entire courses onto YouTube and iTunes U for years. All of them are entirely free. Open Culture, Khan Academy, Wikiversity, and many other centers for online learning also exist. Other online resources have small fees attached to some courses, as you’ll find on edX and Coursea. In fact, here is a list of over 100 places online where you can receive high quality educational material. The 2015 Survey of Online Learning revealed a “Multi-year trend [that] shows growth in online enrollments continues to outpace overall higher ed enrollments.” I. Elaine Allen, co-director of the Babson Survey Research Group points out that “The study’s findings highlight a thirteenth consecutive year of growth in the number of students taking courses at a distance.” Furthermore, “More than one in four students (28%) now take at least one distance education course (a total of 5,828,826 students, a year‐to‐year increase of 217,275).” There are so many online courses, libraries of recorded courses, pirate libraries, Massive Open Online Courses, and online centers for learning with no complete database thereof that in 2010 I found myself dumping all the websites and master lists I could find onto a simple Tumblr archive I put together called Educating Earth. I then quickly opened a Facebook Group to try and encourage others to share and discuss courses too.

The volume of high quality educational material already available online is staggering. Despite this, there has yet to be a central search hub for all this wonderful and unique content. No robust community has been built around it with major success. Furthermore, the social and philosophical meaning of this new practice has not been strongly advocated enough yet in a popular forum.

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Sep 1, 2016

Cargo Cult Science

Posted by in categories: climatology, environmental, existential risks, health, information science, philosophy, rants, science, sustainability

Feynman told us clearly: “Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.” Check anything from first principles and experience, ignoring no logical holes, and that is science. Cargo Cult Science arises when the opposing arguments aren’t emphasized. Experts then form and pass down firm beliefs that are delusions. Cargo Cult science is like a perfect replica radio made all of wood: it may have all the trappings of degrees and chairs and journals, but it is missing the key ingredient and won’t function.[1][2]

Vaccine science is cargo cult science according to Feynman’s definition. There are a ton of peer reviewed papers demonstrating that vaccine aluminum is damaging, that vaccines are full of contaminants, that they can disrupt brain and immune system development, that the smallpox vaccine was ineffective, the polio vaccine is of questionable utility, other vaccines’ immunity wanes after only a few years. They never rebut as you can easily verify yourself by examining the citation list here for opposition and then searching the vaccine survey pdfs for the cites. They just ignore it.[3][4][5]

Climate science is cargo cult science. Climate “scientists” have been known to “hide” their own most interesting data, the data contradicting the prevailing theory which is what Feynman said a scientist should emphasize most prominently[6][7]. Alternative theories and methodological objections are ignored or white washed. (Search the IPCC reports for discussion of the opposition.) To say a science is cargo cult science is not to say that there are no papers published in it that are science, but it is to say one should repose zero or negative confidence in any pronouncement one has not personally verified from first principles.

http://TruthSift.com supports Feynman’s model of science applied to everything. Just as in mathematical practice, you can post proofs and refutations. But nothing is considered established unless every proposed refutation has an established counter-refutation. No proposed refutation can be ducked, and anybody who believes they have a rational objection may post it (and see the establishment statuses reflect the objection in real time). Try it out. Check out (and please contribute to) the ongoing diagrammings of the vaccine/climate science etc literatures. When they have passed through true logical review, confronting all the opposing arguments, what remains will be a genuine science.

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Aug 24, 2016

Steve Fuller’s Review of Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari

Posted by in categories: big data, bioengineering, biological, bionic, cyborgs, disruptive technology, energy, evolution, existential risks, futurism, homo sapiens, innovation, moore's law, neuroscience, philosophy, policy, posthumanism, robotics/AI, science, singularity, theory, transhumanism

My sociology of knowledge students read Yuval Harari’s bestselling first book, Sapiens, to think about the right frame of reference for understanding the overall trajectory of the human condition. Homo Deus follows the example of Sapiens, using contemporary events to launch into what nowadays is called ‘big history’ but has been also called ‘deep history’ and ‘long history’. Whatever you call it, the orientation sees the human condition as subject to multiple overlapping rhythms of change which generate the sorts of ‘events’ that are the stuff of history lessons. But Harari’s history is nothing like the version you half remember from school.

In school historical events were explained in terms more or less recognizable to the agents involved. In contrast, Harari reaches for accounts that scientifically update the idea of ‘perennial philosophy’. Aldous Huxley popularized this phrase in his quest to seek common patterns of thought in the great world religions which could be leveraged as a global ethic in the aftermath of the Second World War. Harari similarly leverages bits of genetics, ecology, neuroscience and cognitive science to advance a broadly evolutionary narrative. But unlike Darwin’s version, Harari’s points towards the incipient apotheosis of our species; hence, the book’s title.

This invariably means that events are treated as symptoms if not omens of the shape of things to come. Harari’s central thesis is that whereas in the past we cowered in the face of impersonal natural forces beyond our control, nowadays our biggest enemy is the one that faces us in the mirror, which may or may not be able within our control. Thus, the sort of deity into which we are evolving is one whose superhuman powers may well result in self-destruction. Harari’s attitude towards this prospect is one of slightly awestruck bemusement.

Here Harari equivocates where his predecessors dared to distinguish. Writing with the bracing clarity afforded by the Existentialist horizons of the Cold War, cybernetics founder Norbert Wiener declared that humanity’s survival depends on knowing whether what we don’t know is actually trying to hurt us. If so, then any apparent advance in knowledge will always be illusory. As for Harari, he does not seem to see humanity in some never-ending diabolical chess match against an implacable foe, as in The Seventh Seal. Instead he takes refuge in the so-called law of unintended consequences. So while the shape of our ignorance does indeed shift as our knowledge advances, it does so in ways that keep Harari at a comfortable distance from passing judgement on our long term prognosis.

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Jul 14, 2016

Is physical pleasure bad for your health?

Posted by in categories: aging, environmental, life extension, philosophy

Philosophers have been debating the meaning of life for millennia. Billions of people believe that the principal aim in life is to experience pleasure, and they try to enjoy life as much as possible before they die. A minority of others, make it their life’s aim to achieve something which is over and above simple pleasure: not merely to help others, not even to help humanity at large. They aim, whether knowingly or unknowingly, to improve the evolutionary process of nature as a whole.

So far, so good. But it appears that the view we hold about our life, our worldview, has a direct impact on our biology. We know that thinking positively may help improve the immune system. But research also shows that people who aim for pleasure (Hedonia) may have an impaired genetic profile, compared to those who aim for higher virtues (Eudaimonia). There is a distinction between these two terms and it is worth providing a definition here:

Hedonia is an exclusive search for pleasure and avoidance of discomfort. It may involve increased emphasis on eating well, drinking, dancing, playing, and generally enjoying simple pleasures in life. It is contentment, gratification, fun, merriment, satisfaction and, perhaps necessarily, a lack of motivation to search for a nobler aim in life. One may argue that hedonia involves a risk that leads to bad health due to a tendency to excesses (smoking, alcohol, coffee, sweets), a general inclination to avoid uncomfortable physical activity, and a lack of challenging cognitive effort. The risk of addiction may be increased. Erosion of social bonds become a possibility when a hedonist is more concerned about his/her own pleasure and is less sensitive to the needs of others.

Eudaimonia is a term reflecting the highest ‘intellectual good’. It is virtue plus excellence, superior ethical refinement, cognitive sophistication, as well as other qualities such as persistent motivation, wisdom, imagination, creativity, vision and a feeling of purpose. The term has been discussed by many ancient Greek philosophers particularly Aristotle and the Stoics. In modern times and in a wider sense, eudaimonia may be equated with meaningful technological hyperconnection, or ‘Intentional Evolution’, an attempt to constructively improve the human condition in all respects (including those relating to the wider universe). Hedonia is found both in animals and in humans, whereas eudaimonia is only found in humans.

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Jul 11, 2016

3 Reasons You Are Living in the Matrix / How to Make a Red Pill

Posted by in categories: complex systems, disruptive technology, education, governance, government, philosophy, physics, policy, rants, science, scientific freedom

Appearances have always played a much more important part than reality in history, where the unreal is always of greater moment than the real.“
–Gustav LeBon, The Crowd (1895)

I’ve gotten no substantive response to my last post on vaccine safety– neither in the comments, nor the TruthSift diagram, nor anywhere else, nor have the papers I submitted to two medical journals… but I have gotten emails telling me I’m delusional and suggesting I seek psychiatric attention. And this of course is integral to the explanation of how such delusions as vaccine safety persist so widely when it is so demonstrably a delusion: the majority who believe the majority must be right because its the majority are emotionally unwilling to confront the evidence. They assume the experts have done that, and they rely on the experts. But the experts assume other experts have been there. Ask your Pediatrician if he’s personally read Bishop et al and formulated an opinion on vaccine aluminum. Neither has the National Academy, except perhaps their members have and decided, perhaps tacitly, not to review the subject. Their decision not to review the animal literature was not tacit, they said they explicitly decided to omit it, although elsewhere they say they couldn’t find human evidence that addressed the issues. So everybody is trusting somebody else, and nobody has picked up the ball. And can you blame them? Because when I pick up the ball, what I receive in return is hate mail and people’s scorn. The emotional response cuts off any possible inspection of the logic.

On most questions where a majority with authority is facing a minority of dissenters or skeptics, the majority is delusional.
In other words, you are living in the matrix; much of what you and people believe is fundamentlaly wrong.

Reason 1, as above, is that the majority forms its view by circular reasoning, and rejects any attempt at logical discussion without considering it seriously, so it is prone to delusion.
Once the crowd concluded vaccines are safe and effective, for example, the question of whether the aluminum is damaging can apparently no longer be raised (even as more gets added to vaccines). And when I or others try to raise it, we are scorned and hated, and ineffectual in changing the opinion supported by circular reasoning. When new research papers appear that call it into question, they are ignored, neither cited in the safety surveys nor influencing medical practice in any way. This paragraph is all simple reporting of what has repeatedly happened.

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Jun 28, 2016

How VR Gaming will Wake Us Up to our Fake Worlds

Posted by in categories: architecture, augmented reality, economics, entertainment, ethics, futurism, holographs, homo sapiens, internet, journalism, philosophy, posthumanism, virtual reality

Human civilization has always been a virtual reality. At the onset of culture, which was propagated through the proto-media of cave painting, the talking drum, music, fetish art making, oral tradition and the like, Homo sapiens began a march into cultural virtual realities, a march that would span the entirety of the human enterprise. We don’t often think of cultures as virtual realities, but there is no more apt descriptor for our widely diverse sociological organizations and interpretations than the metaphor of the “virtual reality.” Indeed, the virtual reality metaphor encompasses the complete human project.

Figure 2

Virtual Reality researchers, Jim Blascovich and Jeremy Bailenson, write in their book Infinite Reality; “[Cave art] is likely the first animation technology”, where it provided an early means of what they refer to as “virtual travel”. You are in the cave, but the media in that cave, the dynamic-drawn, fire-illuminated art, represents the plains and animals outside—a completely different environment, one facing entirely the opposite direction, beyond the mouth of the cave. When surrounded by cave art, alive with movement from flickering torches, you are at once inside the cave itself whilst the media experience surrounding you encourages you to indulge in fantasy, and to mentally simulate an entirely different environment. Blascovich and Bailenson suggest that in terms of the evolution of media technology, this was the very first immersive VR. Both the room and helmet-sized VRs used in the present day are but a sophistication of this original form of media VR tech.

Read entire essay here

Mar 18, 2016

Who’s Afraid of Existential Risk? Or, Why It’s Time to Bring the Cold War out of the Cold

Posted by in categories: defense, disruptive technology, economics, existential risks, governance, innovation, military, philosophy, policy, robotics/AI, strategy, theory, transhumanism

At least in public relations terms, transhumanism is a house divided against itself. On the one hand, there are the ingenious efforts of Zoltan Istvan – in the guise of an ongoing US presidential bid — to promote an upbeat image of the movement by focusing on human life extension and other tech-based forms of empowerment that might appeal to ordinary voters. On the other hand, there is transhumanism’s image in the ‘serious’ mainstream media, which is currently dominated by Nick Bostrom’s warnings of a superintelligence-based apocalypse. The smart machines will eat not only our jobs but eat us as well, if we don’t introduce enough security measures.

Of course, as a founder of contemporary transhumanism, Bostrom does not wish to stop artificial intelligence research, and he ultimately believes that we can prevent worst case scenarios if we act now. Thus, we see a growing trade in the management of ‘existential risks’, which focusses on how we might prevent if not predict any such tech-based species-annihilating prospects. Nevertheless, this turn of events has made some observers reasonably wonder whether indeed it might not be better simply to put a halt to artificial intelligence research altogether. As a result, the precautionary principle, previously invoked in the context of environmental and health policy, has been given a new lease on life as generalized world-view.

The idea of ‘existential risk’ capitalizes on the prospect of a very unlikely event that, were it to pass, would be extremely catastrophic for the human condition. Thus, the high value of the outcome psychologically counterbalances its low probability. It’s a bit like Pascal’s wager, whereby the potentially negative consequences of you not believing in God – to wit, eternal damnation — rationally compels you to believe in God, despite your instinctive doubts about the deity’s existence.

However, this line of reasoning underestimates both the weakness and the strength of human intelligence. On the one hand, we’re not so powerful as to create a ‘weapon of mass destruction’, however defined, that could annihilate all of humanity; on the other, we’re not so weak as to be unable to recover from whatever errors of design or judgement that might be committed in the normal advance of science and technology in the human life-world. I make this point not to counsel complacency but to question whether ‘existential risk’ is really the high concept that it is cracked up to be. I don’t believe it is.

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Mar 17, 2016

Don’t Turn Away From the Art of Life — By Arnold Weinstein | The New York Times

Posted by in categories: education, philosophy

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“In a letter written in 1871, the Symbolist poet Arthur Rimbaud uttered a phrase that announces the modern age: “‘Je’ est un autre” (“‘I’ is someone else”). Some 69 years later I entered the world as an identical twin, and Rimbaud’s claim has an uncanny truth for me, since I grew up being one of a pair. Even though our friends and family could easily tell us apart, most people could not, and I began life with a blurrier, more fluid sense of my contours than most other folks.”

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Jan 29, 2016

The 21st Century Philosophers — By Melanie Ruiz | OZY

Posted by in categories: futurism, philosophy, robotics/AI

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““If you think it’s too early to think about something, it’s probably slightly too late.””

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Nov 21, 2015

Why it matters that you realize you’re in a computer simulation

Posted by in categories: entertainment, futurism, philosophy, virtual reality

Screen Shot 2015-11-21 at 2.59.28 PM

What if our universe is something like a computer simulation, or a virtual reality, or a video game? The proposition that the universe is actually a computer simulation was furthered in a big way during the 1970s, when John Conway famously proved that if you take a binary system, and subject that system to only a few rules (in the case of Conway’s experiment, four); then that system creates something rather peculiar.

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