Saturday, November 7, 2009

Ecological Wisdom

"... the startling fact is that ecological wisdom does not consist in understanding how to live in accord with nature; it consists in understanding how to get humans to agree on how to live in accord with nature."

- Ken Wilber, A Brief History of Everything (p 446)

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Other Side Of The Coin

I keep ranting about Science with the focus on the physical sciences. Of course there is another side to our existence not explained by the physical sciences. Branches of some fields like Psychology, Sociology, Anthropology, Philosophy, & History apply scientific techniques to help understand the inner aspects of our minds and culture.

Science is important because it helps reveal the physical framework that supports and constrains what is possible. Your inner world is completely created by your mind. The problem comes about when people assume that everything that seems real in their head is also real in the outside world and for others.

Your mind is constrained by its history. First there are the physical limitations which are exposed by studying physics, chemistry, biology etc. The biggest constraint that is exposed by studying biology is the legacy of natural evolution. The physical aspects of your brain are mainly determined by whatever allowed your ancestors to live long enough to produce offspring. There is also the physical aspects of what your life has done to your brain, like nutrition, drugs, & injuries.

Then comes the constraints determined by your culture, education, & personal thinking. Much of what you take as being self evident are often not self evident to others because their particular history of how they have been programed by culture, education, & personal exploration is unique. This is also where you can apply your mind to adjusting these constraints.

Our evolutionary history is important because it helps explain things like why we distrust strangers. Aspects of our culture also contribute to this distrust of strangers. The higher functions in our brain are capable of inhibiting decisions made by more primitive aspects of our brain, so our biological & cultural programming can be overcome.

My challenge to you and to myself is to understand our own inner programming and also to give others some understanding by not automatically rejecting everything that contradicts your own worldview. You do this by constantly asking yourself questions like, "why did I do that" & "why do I think that", and by talking to other people.

Use twitter, facebook, second life, & other social media to extend the reach of who you talk to.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A Cure For Cancer

Do you think we should find a cure for cancer? Yes you say.

Why do we not make this a priority in society? Why do we not give scientist the resources to get the job done?

This includes bright young minds coming out of university and medical school to bring new ideas into the research labs.

Maybe you daughter or son will be the one to solve the final piece of the puzzle. Make sure your children have that opportunity. It starts in elementary school. If our children finish high school without a basic understanding of Biology they will have difficulty taking Biology courses at University and going on to medical school. If you are going to do medical research you need to understand how life works.

Natural evolution is the foundation that life is built on. You must understand evolution in order to understand how our bodies got to be the way they are and how the processes within the body work.

Evolution is the accumulation of small changes over time, and it is still happening. This is why new virus keep appearing and why flu vaccines need to be re-formulated every year.

Ok, not every kid is going to become a medical researcher, but wouldn't it be nice if they could at least make some sense out of what is happening in the world, and not be sucked in be every scam artist that comes along.

The Purpose For Science

In my last post I mentioned that the purpose for Science is to add depth to the meaning of life.

This is only one aspect of Science. Science is also the best tool we have for solving problems.

Science is also an evolutionary process. The methods and tools of science are constantly being refined so as to become more effective.

A theme in some of my earlier posts has been about how to apply the problem solving techniques of Science to other domains. In other words how do we get better at observing and analyzing things like government & economics. These things should be organized around what works and not on emotion. For example, the study of complex dynamic systems would likely lead to the conclusion that Democracy & Capitalism are the most effective techniques for organizing human affairs. Lets do the Science to figure out how to keep the positives aspects while eliminating the negative aspects of these systems.

One big problem with Science is: how do we get the general public to understand the scientific method and the results of scientific investigation? It is not possible to understand all of Science, the experts only have deep understanding of narrow aspects of their own field. The idea is not to know it all, but to have a basic understanding of how Science works. How did we get from a world where life expectancy was 25 years to one where life expectancy is 80?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

What Is The Meaning Of Life

The meaning of life is something you must determine for yourself. The search for the answer to this question has led many people down the garden path. You have a mind of your own so why not use it. Do not turn control of your mind over to anyone else.

I don't like to use mystical words because they tend to lead people down the garden path, but maybe this will help give you a new perspective. God is not running the show, God is the show. This will still lead you down the garden path if you don't think about it carefully. Lets do a word substitution, to remove the mystical connotations. The Universe is the show.

What makes the universe mystical is that we do not understand it all and probably never will. Being in awe or not understanding does not give us an excuse to blame it on a magic man in the sky. To understand where we are headed requires studying the Universe. Science and our minds are the best tools we have for this investigation. The purpose for Science is to add depth to the meaning of life. The more we understand the more awestruck we are with what we find.

The Universe has direction, things are getting more complex as time goes by. Atoms formed into molecules, molecules formed into cells, cells formed into life, life became conscious. The universe is becoming smarter, why don't we emulate that with our personal lives.

The gaps in our understanding of evolution of the universe and why it has a direction is not an excuse to get mystical, but motivation for doing more Science.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Neuroengineering The Future

"The fact of the matter is that the body is made for one thing and one thing only. It is a conduit for genetic material. Our current governess, evolution, does not operate at the level of the individual; it cares not a whit for him or her. Its aims are not our aims, its goals not ours. If we are to be happy, truly happy, if we are to think great thoughts and not thoughts about aches, pains, itches, and mortgages, if we are to discover the laws that govern the Universe, what it is made of, and not merely be shot around like a pinball from life event to life event, we must, to some extent, subvert these very laws. We must take nature by the throat rather than vice versa."

- Neuroengineering The Future by Bruce F. Katz


"No Kevin," Judy said quietly. "You talk about the capacity for evil, but that's just an excuse. Human nature is not about the extremes that a few people go to; it's defined by the way that people work hard every day to keep within reasonable bounds, no matter how hard that is. It's the way people can become so annoyed with each other they want to shout and hit and fight but, even so, they don't. They sit down and talk, no matter how hard that might be. You see human nature every time an exhausted mother is so frustrated by her child's crying that she wants to lash out, but instead takes a deep breath and starts rocking the child to sleep again. Everyone has a capacity for evil; that has been the excuse used by all the worthless leaders throughout history to up the ante for their own ends. Don't tell me about the capacity for evil; tell me how you resist it and act to be a good honest person"
Tony Ballantyne - Capacity p350

Friday, August 7, 2009

What Good Is Facebook

People like to blog about what facebook, twitter, or other social media applications are good for.

They are all wrong. Actually many people have good ideas about how to use social media, but it is typically from there own perspective. Don't take anyone's word for the purpose behind it and how to use it. Jump in any find your own purpose.

I use facebook and twitter to tune into ideas from many other individuals around the world as well as to promote sharing of ideas between various cultures and groups. It is past time that we move beyond tribalism and treat everyone on the planet as members of our own group. Being in touch with many people from various backgrounds is the best way to overcome our cultural biases.

Very seldom do I refuse a facebook request to become friends. Learning to share ideas and get along with everyone supersedes any fear of being exploited.

As well as the many friends I have met online, and never will meet in person, there is also many people who I first met online and later met in person. For me social media is not about keeping track of my friends and relatives, but is about interacting with many people around the world as well as making new friends.

Serenity Prayer

God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.

The Serenity Prayer is a good nugget of wisdom, but there is a major problem with the first line.

In the first line you are asking for outside help, but this is not something that can come from outside, this is something you much teach yourself. By asking God to grant your wish, you are distracting your thinking away from where the real solution lies. Serenity is a state of mind which you must program into your mind through hard work, often taking many years of constantly refocusing your thinking.

This is why I like Buddhist teachings, it is all about familiarizing your self with your mind, and how to refocus your thinking to achieve serenity.

Stop asking and get to work.

Monday, April 6, 2009


The start of my previous blog entry triggered a conversation on twitter with @XiXiDu. My comment about it being harder these days to carry on a serious discussion with people, resulted in XiXiDu's comment that its probably easier than ever. This points out lazy thinking on my part, and how our perceptions are shaped by where we focus our attention.

My brain is full of stuff since I have been an avid reader all my life. In recent years I have added blogs and social media to the torrent feeding my brain. With social media, some of those ideas are starting to spill out, so it is no longer a one way flow of information.

In the past I have occasionally tried to express my ideas, but have often run into opposition. This opposition typically come from people who have never or have rarely done any reading since they got out of school. People who do not actively seek new ideas, tend to reject anything that doesn't comfortably fit with their world view. They don't take the time to understand and point out the flaws in the ideas, they just automatically reject them.

The people I meet online typically have a different perspective, they are people that actively seek new ideas and are willing to push the boundaries. In other words "to boldly go where no man has gone before".

My online activities and resulting offline activities have increased the ridicule from people who have not taken the time to explore new ideas and find out what social media is about.

Being hperconnected using second life, facebook, flickr, twitter, blogs and other online applications is changing who I am and how my mind works. Thanks to all my online friends who are helping to kick my mind up to a new level.

Hyperconectivity is not only changing me and my online friends, it is changing the way our global society works. For example the offline world seems intent on patching the old economic order to try to get it functioning again. Online there are many groups and thousands of individuals working out new ways of doing things.

Here is the conversation I had with @XiXiDu. I pulled it out of friendfeed, merged the two streams, and inverted the time line so it can be read top to bottom.

XiXiDu: "With many people these days it is hard to carry on a serious conversation..." - These days? It's probably easier than ever... @wburris”
April 6 at 8:45 am

wburris: “RT @XiXiDu: "With many people these days it is hard to carry on a serious conversation...", I should have qualified that with "offline"”
April 6 at 8:51 am

XiXiDu: “What I meant was that people are generally more open-minded today than ever before. I agree, just not about "these days"... @wburris”
April 6 at 8:59 am

wburris: “@XiXiDu There seems to be a completely different mindset between people I have know for years, & people I meet online.”
April 6 at 9:08 am

wburris: “@XiXiDu Hyperconnectivity changes people”
April 6 at 9:10 am

XiXiDu: “Same. The difference is that the appearance of people online is by interest and offline by more organic reasons. @wburris”
April 6 at 9:12 am

XiXiDu: “That's why I think that even tho most people are not autistic, socializing will increasingly shift towards the metaverse. @wburris”
April 6 at 9:14 am

XiXiDu: “It's just so much more appealing, because you can group with people that are much more like you than the people physically around. @wburris”
April 6 at 9:15 am

XiXiDu: “Which is at first very good, since it empowers completely new kinds of ideologies. But later it may cause only reassurance, not evolution...”
April 6 at 9:18 am

XiXiDu: “The old days of spatial dependence that caused adherence to corporeal entities like countries are replaced by the empowerment of memes!”
April 6 at 9:21 am

XiXiDu: “Memes like transhumanism would have no chance of becoming strong in a spatial dependent world, a world without a Noosphere.”
April 6 at 9:23 am

wburris: “@XiXiDu you are correct, it is that my online contacts typically have similar interests to mine, which is not always true offline”
April 6 at 12:39 pm

Here is a twine about hyperconnectivity:

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Woo Woo

With many people these days it is hard to carry on a serious conversation, because their brains are bogged down in woo woo.

You could say why worry about peoples crazy ideas. The reason is that the world has some serious problems to be solved, and it would be nice if everyone was committed to solving those problems instead of making them worse. A large portion of society seems to be committed to pulling the rug out from under the very tools that will help us solve these problems.

Do your part by understanding critical thinking and the scientific method, and fight for these topics to be included in your children's education.

For an idea of some of the problems to be solved and the seriousness of them, please watch this video of Jared Diamond. Why Societies Collapse

Friday, April 3, 2009

Do you believe in evolution?

This is really a stupid question, but it is a good trick question, for revealing someones understanding or lack of understanding of science.

Acceptance of evolution is not a belief, it is a recognition of the scientific process in action. If you have no understanding of the concepts behind the modern theory of evolution, and the scientific process, you might think the question is about your religion.

The theory of biological evolution is not just something that popped into Darwin's head, turning him into a god who is to be believed forever after. Darwin observed the natural world and came up with some possible explanations and wrote these down. His own personal beliefs on the matter are irrelevant. What matters is that his work was the needed inspiration, to start a new area of investigation that has vastly improved our understanding of how the world works. The success of modern medicine is largely a result of this understanding. Thousands of scientist have worked hard over the last 150 years to refine our understanding of biological evolution. This is not something you just throw away because it contradicts your belief, and you are too lazy to educate yourself about critical thinking.

The whole argument about God vs Darwin is a stupid argument. The real argument is about whether or not we should base our actions on careful observations, experiment, and critical thinking, or our beliefs.

Believe whatever you want, but please keep it at home, and don't use it as an excuse for destroying the foundation on which modern society is built. Let our children get a proper education, based on an understanding of how to use their minds for solving problems.

If your personal beliefs interfere with your understanding of the scientific process, you should definitely not hold public office in a position where you make national decisions on science policy and funding.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Free Health Care

Free health care here in Canada is great, we can see a doctor whenever we feel the need, without worrying about being able to afford it. When we are in an accident or have a major illness we can obtain excellent care at no cost (as long as we don't get stuck in the lineup in emergency).

The downside is that it is still based on the monetary system, and the government is always looking for places to cut funding. At the family doctor level, they are not always up to date on the latest advances in technology. They are also limited in the amount and types of testing that they can recommend. This results in many people falling through the cracks and not getting the advice & treatment that they need.

We need access to regular testing of our state of health, including genetic analysis, nutritional analysis, and detection of life threating illness. The public education system in addition to teaching critical thinking and science needs to teach what is known about nutrition and personal health care. I would prefer to focus on my own area of expertise and not have to read medical and biology scientific papers just to keep myself going.

If the government funded health care system is not willing to provide these basic services, they need to allow private clinics which provide these services. Here in Canada, if you want to maximize your health care, you need to fly to the US or elsewhere, and pay out of your pocket. The problem with this is that in addition to the health care costs you have the additional travel and accommodation expenses.

All I am asking is that the public system does its best to keep up with science & technology, as well as focusing on prevention, and early detection. In addition, allow me to explore other options without having to leave the country.

The scientific & technological revolution is on the verge of providing us with virtually unlimited resources for enhancing and extending our healthy years. Now is the time to embrace this so that we all can be as healthy as possible for as long as possible.

The economic collapse is not a valid excuse for stopping progress. It is not a sudden end of resources, it is the disintegration of systems based on bullshit, and limited thinking. It just means we have to apply a little more intelligence, science, & technology to the way we do things. Health care, like any system can be optimized by applying engineering, science, and critical thinking.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Blog Engineering

After a twitter discussion between myself @wburris and @ thzatheist I was thinking I should write a blog about some of the topics that came up.

Part of the discussion was about applying scientific & engineering techniques to solve a wide range of problems in society. While thinking about what to say, I realized that I don't even have the skills to engineer a blog. In high school English, I spent the time thinking that this was a waste of time, because physics & math were a lot more interesting and useful. Looks like I was partially right, because I faild first year university Physics & Calculus. This was partly because my high school preparation in those areas was inadaquate, but also because I had no study skills.

The problem was not that English class was a waste of time, because it was English and not Physics or Math. It was a waste of time, becuause there was no discussion about the purpose behind it. There was no talk about critical thinking and how to organize ideas. I hope that the education system has improved some since the sixties & seventies, but it probably hasn't.

Throughout adult life, I have often thought about how to learn these skills, and often start working through a book to teach myself, but easily get distracted. My work life is made easier by learning more about computer programming and electronic circuit design, so working through a writing book, still feels like a waste of time.

I think that the reason my communication skill have been somewhat effective, is because of the number of books I have read.  In grade 2, I ignored the librarians suggestion that "The Secret Garden" was too advanced and took it out and read it cover to cover.  I haven't stopped reading since.  See Spot Run style books in grade one were very boring.  I have lost track of how many books I have read, but 1 book per month since 1964 would be a good estimate.

Since the theme of this blog is about finding ways to enhance the ability of my mind, its time to get busy on learning how to learn, how to think critically & how to write.

Monday, March 2, 2009

War Is Good

Of course I don't believe war is good, but I was talking to someone who insist that it is.

His first argument is that it contributes to the economy, therefore it is good. My response is that it may create short term jobs, but the end result is negative. First off the tools of war are destroyed in the process of war, so have no secondary contribution to the economy. Second infrastructure is destroyed, causing the need for reconstruction and further debt loads. Third and most important, lives are lost.

According to him, loss of life on a massive scale is good, because if there had never been any wars the planet would be so crowded from overpopulation, that we would all be starving. Maybe over population would be a problem now, if all the past wars had not taken place, but maybe not, we can't assume that. We may have found other solutions to the problem, if that was our most dire problem. Because we have acted like savage beasts in the past, does not mean that we should continue in that manner.

I work under the assumption that killing humans is wrong, and advocate doing whatever is possible to end violence. If this causes overpopulation, then we will work on solving that problem. Do not assume that war is the best solution to this problem.

The problem with over population, seems to be a lack of resources, but is it really a lack of resources, or is it a lack of application of brain power. For example, we will probably run out of oil in the near future, but this is only a major problem if we never find alternatives. If we spend all our effort searching for oil we will not find alternative ways of doing things and alternative sources of energy.

The real problem is beliefs. We believe that there is no solution so we don't look for one. We believe that the other guy is the problem, so we don't do anything about improving ourselves. We believe that our beliefs are the truth, and all other beliefs are false.

Be careful what you believe in, because the mind has the habit of turning your beliefs into reality. Its not that your beliefs cause the universe to reconfigure to conform to your beliefs. There is no hidden Secret here that will make all your wishes come true. What is happening is that your mind is very good at filtering reality, so that you only see evidence that appears to support your beliefs and don't see contradictory evidence. Your beliefs also drive your actions, both consciously and subconsciously.

If we start believing that every life on this planet is valuable, and that our problems are solvable, we just might start doing things differently. The status quo is not acceptable, we as a global society, and as individuals must constantly strive for better ways of doing things.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

PZ Myers to vist Alberta

PZ Myers is visiting Calgary & Edmonton

"Voices of Reason" Lecture on protecting Evolution education
Sunday, January 25, 2009
2:00pm - 5:00pm
University of Calgary ICT 102 (Information & Communications Technologies Building)
Collegiate Place N.W.
Calgary, AB

Does God Exist? Debate Featuring Dr PZ Myers
Monday, January 26, 2009
5:30pm - 7:30pm
ETLC E1-001 University of Alberta
Edmonton, AB

Sunday, January 4, 2009

YES! to Transhumanism

From Order of Cosmic Engineers

Transhumanism is both a reason-based worldview and a cultural movement that affirms the possibility and desirability, for those who choose it, of fundamentally improving the human condition by means of science and technology. Transhumanists seek the continuation and acceleration of the evolution of intelligent life beyond its currently human form and human limitations by means of science and technology, guided by life-promoting principles and values.

Visionary, bold and fun. That is what transhumanism has always been.

Transhumanists have always sought personal improvement; to free themselves from all the limitations of biology; to radically upgrade their mental and physical faculties; and to beat a path to the stars.

This is what transhumanism is. What it has always been. This is what transhumanism ought to continue to be.

With due concern, we fully and deeply realize that there are, have always been and will continue to be complex scientific, technical, cultural, moral, societal and political challenges to deal with. They require careful assessment, planning, and leadership. These challenges need to be met head on with due courage, forbearance, focused attention, rationality, compassion, empathy and wisdom.

We must and will continue to do our best to overcome them. We will persevere to mitigate their potential and actual dangers, while safeguarding the maximizing of their potential and actual benefits.

Some however are advancing that transhumanists should abandon their efforts at realizing -or even promoting- their radical futurist worldview... in favor of exclusively -or at least primarily- focusing on today's world issues. Transhumanist organizations should, in their view, become nothing more than nice, soft spoken, moderate, ethical, responsible and politically correct quasi-mainstream social clubs.

To such suggestions and proposals, we unequivocally say: NO!

As citizens, we have to and will do our best to play an active and positive role in today's world.

But that is not what transhumanism at its origin and core is about. There are numerous suitable organizations within which transhumanist citizens can and should play an active and positive role in today's world, including organizations in the environmental movement, political parties and movements, philanthropic organizations, research institutes, commercial enterprises.

We however categorically refuse to abandon our core original transhumanist vision of a radically better future for our species and ourselves.

We say YES to transhumanism. To the undiluted, unadulterated, uncompromising original core of transhumanism, that is.

This Position Statement YES! to Transhumanism was collaboratively authored by members of the Order of Cosmic Engineers -

Thursday, January 1, 2009


So what am I, Cyborg, Transhuman, or human?  Call me whatever you want, I just take ideas from all over the place and use whatever I find useful.

... we shall be cyborgs not in the merely superficial sense of combining flesh and wires but in the more profound sense of being human-technology symbionts: thinking and reasoning systems whose minds and selves are spread across biological brain and nonbiological circuitry.

As technology becomes portable, pervasive, reliable, flexible, and increasingly personalized, so our tools become more and more a part of who and what we are.

 - Natural-Born Cyborgs - Minds, Technologies, and the Future of Human Intelligence - Andy Clark

I use computers, cell phone, and various other technologies, therefore I am cyborg.  Humans have been using technology since the beginning.  Of course it depends on what you define as the beginning, so in order to avoid regressing back to the organic molecule stage of evolution, lets use a circular definition, by saying we became human when we started to use technology.  I will define technology as the process of using something as a tool, or making a tool. If I studied Anthropology and was witting scientific papers, I would be a little more precise, but the details are irrelevant here. So cyborg is just another word for human.

So why call myself a cyborg?  Because it focuses my attention on how I use technology to enhance my abilities, and quality of life.  In effect, modifying who I am.  Since reading NBC(Andy Clark), I have become more conscious of and more active in seeking out technologies to improve my life and the life of others.  If it was all about me there would be no purpose in blogging about it.

If you don't want to be borg, throw away all your technology right now, including your clothes, and move out into the woods.  Since you are still reading, you have accepted that you are part of the borg collective.  Now, nothing has changed in your life as a result of being labeled as part of the borg collective, but hopefully you will start to think more about how you use technology and how it affects your life.  Also realize that the capability of technology is growing exponentially.  The more you ignore, fear, or become disgusted by technology, the more you will have to operate on the fringes of society.  My solution is to embrace the technology, use it to enhance our abilities and bring every single person on the planet closer together.  So lets create, party, and use technology to include every human on the planet as part of the family.

There are many problems to be solved, but that is where science, engineering, reason and technology come in.  These are the best tools we have for solving problems, and like any tool, the more you use it, the more you learn about how to improve it.  It is time we stop making decision for political, and emotional reasons, and figure out what works best for all concerned, while protecting individual rights.

I have no training as a scientist, engineer, or philosopher, but 40 years of self study has convinced me of the capability of these tools.

I didn't discuss transhumanism, not directly anyway, but there is always next time.