Thursday, June 21, 2018

Of Dirt and Data

(Farside entry by Gary Larson)

As I read Gore Vidal's Creation, I'm encouraged to think about the nature of the Universe. One of Vidal's themes in the novel is that for millennia humans have attempted to separate the World into complementary categories. The Truth and The Lie, Forms and Matter. Earth, Air, Wind and Fire. Flesh and Spirit. Material and Non-material. Good and Evil. The list goes on.

In general I feel these divisions can be both misleading and useful. Each set of groupings is driven by a world view (perhaps religious or cultural) and by an interpretation (perhaps modern or classical). As long as we thoughtfully analyze the groupings and recognize a spectrum is likely in play, then I think a worthwhile conversation may be had.

To that end I propose the Dirt and Data model of the Universe:

  • Dirt is matter or light or anything that serves as a medium.
  • Data is a pattern or value that identifies the state of said Dirt.

I think this dichotomy is quite useful in that it underscores a Universe composed of stuff that has properties that over time tends to clump and organize ever more complex things without any mysterious entity pulling strings. As such the Dirt and Data model captures the essence of how the Universe works given centuries of collected scientific data.

Kim Stanley Robinson called the tendency for things to organize toward complexity "Veritas." This Veritas has been baked into the Universe How the properties and possible Data states of the Dirt have come to be originally are unknowable. Did a god design Creation, did an architect program the Hologram, did an alien monstrosity defecate the Dirt? There is no data whatsoever to support any intentionality in how we and our World got here in the first place. The scientific humility of "We don't know." must suffice...and we will likely never know.

And so we Humans, as the sole, known species that proposes and discusses explanatory ideas must factor self-deception into the existing Data we analyze. This is to say, people for eons have speculated hypothetical ideas that feel good for various reasons even when the data is absent. Hundreds of past cultures have attempted to explain how the Universe works and what our place in it is using magical stories. Most of these stories are spun, understandably, with humans playing a central role in the Universe. It is our challenge as a civilization and as individuals to investigate the Data and separate likely fiction from likely fact.

A swirl of ancient ideas surviving in our modern minds concurs with the Dirt and Data model. Our brains of complex Dirt are highly programmable with the Data that is behavior and cultural norm. These Data are communicated down to us in many ways: tradition, religion, conspiracy theory, rule-of-thumb, moral law and science. A lazy mind might accept the Data without delving further, especially if that laziness pays off by providing more pleasureful pursuits. Belief without doubt and reconsideration can mislead us away from bettering the world, toward tribalism, hate and selfishness.

As someone who grew up a god believer, I recognize even now that I have an "I want to believe" meme circulating within the Data that is my mind. Thankfully, the "I want to understand" meme has dominated the Data inside that animates my human Dirt. 

It is a tough fact to face that when I die my Dirt will be simply be recycled, and the unique Data of my consciousness will evaporate. Still, I hope (and as I strive to make true) that the Data I swirl within me will have reached others to stir their muddy curiosity and further sculpt with creativity toward Goodness.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Happy Better Holidays!

As the Summer season engages informally this weekend, rain be damned, we celebrate!

Holidays are welcomed with joy by the multitudes, especially those who work with too few vacation days. It's no wonder that that the reasons behind holidays are connected with important historical events tied to nation-forming and religious tradition.  The forging of our communities and nation states often are connected to military action and myth, alas would it not be better to celebrate the progressive movement forward as a global civilization?

I think so. To the ends of reforming our holiday system I propose these thirteen holidays to give authentic reason to celebrate!

Resolution Day (January 1) Often dismissed as frivolous the current New Years Day has so much symbolic potential. (Ideally the whole calendar should be shifted to put January 1 on the Winter Solstice to synchronize modern minds with an ancient tradition of a new beginning) Beyond the ceremony of flipping year digits, the beginning of a new year give we humans the opportunity to reflect upon our past and to form positive goals for the next annum. Rather than experiment with hangover remedies, let's make Resolution Day a day we gather with family and friends to codify the joy and meaning we will pursue for the dozen months ahead.

Humanity Day (February 1) For better or worse humans are at the center of our global civilization. Celebrating the worth of each human, therefore, should be a core holiday. Touting human individuals and the communities they belong to may seem misguided to some since our species brings such devastation to the world. Nevertheless, we are the one species we know of that can codify ideas, communicate them and implement them planet-wide and beyond. Because sapience is our unique, evolution-given gift; let us celebrate how lucky we are, help those humans who are struggling, and imagine how we might do better!

Education Day (March 1) Our gift of sapience is nothing if we do not nurture its possibilities. Every human should have access to acquiring the best skills at understanding the wealth of knowledge humanity has accumulated. The institutions, standards, and milestones of learning are all too often taken for granted. Children in economically challenged areas are most in need of educational normalization. This holiday could embrace service that seeks to widen educational access, build schools, and build mentor/mentee connections. A lifelong love of learning for all should be at the center of this celebration.

Ecology Day (April 1) We humans are indeed fools for treating our planet like a disposable candy wrapper. The interconnected ecosystems of our world have achieved an amazing, dynamic balance over the course of billions of years. We humans are one species intertwined in the living world of millions of species that call Earth home. Yet since we have incredible power to change ecosystems we should encourage greater awe in the world and its constituents around us. Celebrating the beauty and health of the planet with activism, education and outdoors activity is a great start to achieving this.

Relationship Day (May 1) We are all children of our parents, alas all too often our connection to family members and friends is left lagging to career and circumstance. Rather than genuflect toward our mothers, fathers and grandparents like holidays of old, we should each and everyone of us reach out to connect with the people that give meaning to our lives and work toward healing wounds with those we have turned away from.

Diplomacy Day (June 1) Military holidays of the past have memorialized loved ones we have lost and the causes they fought for, which can be well and good. Nevertheless, we should allow those losses and gains inspire us to do better in the future, to avoid military posturing and reduce the related hugely wasteful spending it has inculcated into our global culture. Evolution may have primed our species toward aggression; let us defy that predisposition by celebrating peaceful and constructive paths to challenge resolution.

Constitution Day (July 1) As our nation states lean ever closer toward centralized, global civilization we should continually celebrate the democratic process and its dynamic nature. Old commandments delivered my mythological characters might inspire us, alas only thoughtful discussion and tireless effort can improve gradually upon the constructs of law that our species forges to govern ourselves and our actions in this world. Constitutional achievements and aspirations deserve celebration!

Healthiness Day (August 1) Physical health is a key to living a satisfying life. This applies not only to humans, but to our sentient cousins and the environments we all live in. Celebrating healthiness reinforces the tenets of Ecology Day by centering our attentiveness on our personal lifestyles to encourage the thriving of all conscious creatures.

Economy Day (September 1) The economic market has often been cited as the lifeblood of a civilization. To that ends we should celebrate our global economy and its development toward being ever more effective.  A global economy that incorporates the true value of resources, fair labor, sentient creature well-being, and environmental health will leave selfish indicators like profit margin and national production behind will be dearly worth dancing for.

Imagination Day (October 1) Human beings are creative in their very natures. Indeed, creating and enjoying works of fiction, art and music throughout our lives is inseparable from being human. Activities that encourage the imagination inspire joyfulness in being human while developing skills and connection with fellow humans and the world.

Governance Day (November 1) In support of continual progress toward constitutional betterment, a day is set aside to enable each of us to partake in the governmental process. Voting is a key part of this holiday where all are encouraged to choose those who represent us, but to also enable us to learn how to contribute to the governing process as citizens the rest of the year.

Universe Day (December 1) Even with all our human capabilities the scale and mystery of the Universe exceeds our imagination. Our ancestors created deities and myths in an attempt to capture this awe. Our modern minds still recognize the raw awesomeness of existence, life, beauty and love. This holiday encourages us to look inward and outward toward these abstract infinities.

Thanksgiving Day (December 31) A bonus holiday at the year's end fittingly wraps up the 365.242189 rotations our planet went through. Giving thanks for every moment, every person, every breath, every thought, every creature, every meal, ever experience, every everything is well deserved. Not to mention it links us with Resolution Day to start and improve upon the annual cycle once more!

(And celebrate these better holidays we should; in fact, we should dedicate the whole month after each holiday to address finer points behind the meaning each holiday began with.)

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Facts Taking Flight

I was paddling the Johnstone Strait many years ago when my guide informed me of a bird identification rule-of-thumb. "Notice that bird flying above," he said. "The feathers sticking from the wing's ends are called pinions. For example, crows have five pinions, while ravens have four." After a pause he added, "so you might say the difference between a crow and a raven is a matter of a pinion."

Groans aside, this joke underscores the inherent difficulty we as individuals have communicating with our peers what is taking place in reality. Recently, I've been confronted by family members who argue facts are merely a person's opinion, a new acquaintance who insists the Moon landing never happened, and a misguided leader who tweets that reliable journalistic sources are nothing but big fake news.

Testable, reproducible evidence alongside supportable logic is what separates fact from fiction, alas it does not do so with the certainty that too many ideologies themselves profess. When our thought processes pursue a rational route, the likelihood of a claim can be determined so as to better integrate ideas with our world view and or implement policy, personal, national or global.

The sun rising is an apocryphal example where widespread belief matched statistical evidence until subtle frame of reference clues were included in the scientific evaluation. Most people today subscribe to the updated idea that the Earth moves around the Sun. Casually we still describe the sun as rising as a relative (and poetic) rather than absolute indication of motion. (Fun fact: the Sun itself moves too; it revolves around the Milky Way's center of mass, in a ellipse that is not flat, but which has a constantly changing sinusoidal altitude).

Importantly, total certainty is never the outcome of a rational analysis. This gives wiggle room for extraordinary beliefs to override even the most sensible, scientific, logical conclusions, especially when testability is thrown aside. As an extreme, consider the scenario in which some imagined higher power has just recreated the whole Universe three seconds ago, complete with every motion and memory intact. This scenario is untestable, and in such an imagined world we can have no certainty of anything, which is why the inherent idea that "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" enables us to operate with sanity in the real world.

Sadly, there is little hope I'll be able to convince everyone I meet that we evolved alongside all life on Earth, that Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon, or even that there are no angels dancing on the pinheads stuck in a presidential voodoo doll.  Still maybe I can get a laugh or two out of the trials and tribulations of ravens and crows vying for prominence in a punch line.

In the wake of groaning chuckles, I might just be able to slip in a comment that doing good for goodness sake is the way to go!

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

The Smoking Pun

conspiracy is a foot
fake news on the ryes
beware the smoking pun

Friday, April 27, 2018

Is Certified Organic a False Messiah?

I recently saw the film "The Evolution of Organic." The film provides a rather biased, feel-good collage of the hippy roots and the positive(?) industrial takeover of all things "organic" and "bio" in producing and marketing food.  At its heart Big Organic wants the consumer to feel "organic" food is the long-term solution to sustainable human food production. Do these organic line items justify that conclusion?

  • Eliminate synthetic chemicals in agricultural practices
  • Ban human waste without caveat in organic agriculture
  • Sustain animal captivity industries to produce animal waste fertilizers
  • Increase plant waste composting to build healthy soil
  • Increase video coverage of farm owners sniffing and kissing soil 
  • Connect the farm worker more closely to the Earth and its ecosystems
  • Provide no standards for fair compensation nor safe working conditions 
  • Mitigate climate change with limited soil carbon sequestration practices
  • Continue worldwide inhumane animal methane gas production globally
  • Support small farm and family based agriculture when convenient
  • Consolidate family farms into profitable agri-conglomerates
  • Increase the availability of nutritious, toxin-free food, plant and animal
  • Increase the consumer cost of nutritious, toxin-free food, plant and animal
  • Discourage pasteurization practices which make many foods safer
  • Eliminate irradiation practices which make many foods safer
  • Continue mass animal incarceration practices to produce humane(?) eggs and dairy
  • Continue humane(?) mass animal slaughter practices when alternatives exist
  • Eliminate genetically modified crops that use modern DNA splicing techniques
  • Use genetically modified crops that used radioactive mutation hybridization
  • Create large profits from consumers who fear anything gmo or "non-organic"

This list is admittedly a muddle.  As a rational vegan, I remain skeptical as to whether food labeled "certified organic" is a development that benefits the consumer and planet more than it does the agriculture industry. At best organic labeling as it stands is a fair first attempt.

I would rather see an approach that pursues a "Humanely Sustainable" certification. Food for human consumption should be as safe, environmentally friendly, animal-abuse free, nutritious, fair wage supporting, and delicious as possible. To this challenging ends, government subsidies could focus on supporting the attainment of these parameters rather than giving billions in handouts to established agri-industries like sugar corporations, cattle ranches and other agribusinesses which pursue amoral profits alone.

The organic movement has its heart in the right place, but we as a species must leverage mindful standards to better implement greener and kinder food production on this Earth.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

One Degree of Separation

This story steps outside of the States of Change universe 
to deliver a tale along an alternate timeline 
and of slightly different temperature. 

The pebbled Sicilian beach stretched as far as Trea could see. Glinting turquoise surf and high rocky cliffs bracketed the Amalfi coastline as she entered the gates of Paradiso Perduto. The exclusive beach resort was speckled with padded lounge chairs, colorful umbrellas and frolicking, brown bodies.

Trea scanned the passerby to see if any celebs were among the elite tourists, all while losing herself in the sun-baked landscape. The sounds of offshore breezes and occasional gull cries made for a most peaceful recon atmosphere.

Westward a vast darkness appeared beneath the calm, cerulean sea, reminding Trea of why she was here. The island-sized shadow erupted from the water like Niagara Falls in reverse. Cascading white foam fell away revealing a hundred meter wide disk on a half-dozen towering, gnarled legs. In a rush, screaming tourists ran inland. The Titan Takaashigani roared as its massive form encroached upon the beach. Cabanas erupted in flame and sand sloughed into glass as blue lightning arced from its swiveling eye-stalks. Trea crouched, took a deep breath, tapped the power settings on her Guardian railgun, took aim and…

 ....the entire scene froze in a vacuum of digital silence.

“Ice Nine!” exclaimed Trea in visceral annoyance.

Pulsing blue overlay text flashed “VR Environment Override!” on her now externally paused, and thoroughly ruined, Paradiso Perduto X immersion.  A monotone, female voice, likely cloned from a century-out-of-copyright vid interjected, “Sunrise Regional Security Requesting Connection with Treantica Gamma Nassir.”

Trea muttered sotto voce “Capital Eff!” and tapped the side of her nanofabric headwrap to bring up the Citizen Command Interface. With a dual eyebrow flex she selected REQUEST ID AUTHENTICATION and INITIATE FULL SENSOR RECORDING from the pyramid option tree. No Capper would be getting the jump on her constitutional rights today.

The Regional Security Construct replied immediately to her query in both text and voice, “Private Recording Acknowledged. Authentication Request Received. Certified Blockchain Response Processing.”

Seconds later a rotating SQR Cube overlayed the paused Takaashigani behemoth on Trea’s immersion display. Her software validated the Capitalists' security credentials and that live-stream logging was in progress.

“Firmed. Engaging Connect,” Trea retorted.

Trea grimaced in farewell as her frozen Mediterranean melee grey-shifted to the significantly less vivid, gray smear of reality before her. The Olè driverless cab she was in whistled along at a hundred klicks through a midnight snow squall. Its ledlights drilled into a dark abyss reminiscent of analog-blur, trekkie star-warp.

“Interrupt acked! What’s the Cap infraction, already? This cab hire registers legit."

Her challenge was confident yet Trea found herself shivering, not from any threat the Caps might pose, but because the Paradiso Perudo experience had permitted her to forget the dreadful, peninsular winter underway. The Olè’s heat was blasting in spite of the surcharge; still, even with a full-insul V-wrap donned the cold was creeping in through every crack and crevice.

“Sunrise Security Branch requests private assist. Emergency pickup requested by citizen on foot and we have no units in the vicinity.”

“A refugee, at this hour? Polar Bear sighting, no doubt, Cap!”

“Humor noted. Nevertheless, citizen on your route requests transport to nearest urban shelter. Your route-plan to Boca qualifies for subcontract. Public compensation of two LightCoin offered for rideshare compliance.”

Trea scrunched her mouth behind her headwrap. That modest fee would cover full immersion for a couple days in VR, a welcome delay to her return to the the drudge of data-mining at the Liberated Rand plantation.

“Contract accepted,” she managed over a sigh that didn't entirely cover her elation.

A minute later the Olè rounded a curve on the icy highway and slowed to pull off on the shoulder. A small figure sat atop the plowed snow-wall perimeter. Trea’s security protocols scanned and validated the child as the Caps’ vagabond. “ID Xing Kappa Calvarez. Junior Citizen. No Priors.”

Responding to the prompt on her screen, Trea vocalized “Cab access approved.” Like a curtain, the door swung upward to reveal a blustery winter stage.  A moderate-sized human lump stood swaddled head-to-toe in fractal-patterned flannel.  A zephyr of snow-dust pirouetted with disregard between Trea and the youngster.

“Light speed inside, ice cube. All the Caps’ frozen veggies won’t keep me from plowing forward in another picosec!” 

On cue the youth came to life in the age-old knee slap dance which was quite effective at dislodging accumulations of ice and snow. After leaping into the two-seater, the Olè's door shut and the cab accelerated into the wintry night.

“So what are you, an arctic leprechan?”

“Nope. Just a boy. Call me Pixel.”

“Trea. Caps contracted me for emergency transport. You sub-zee?”

“I’m fresh. Where you heading?”

“South of Boca. Drop you off in fifteen. Be free.”

Trea faced forward, scanned her status overlay and sure enough the assistance bonus had already transferred to her coin vault. She shrugged, reclined in the seat and began a restart of her full-immersion VR.

“Can I ask you a question?”

Trea paused mid-gesture and began shaking her head.
“Rather go subreal, if that’s chill, Pixie.”

“It’s Pixel. Not even a bit curious why I was out here?” 

“Okay, I’ll bite frost, why you drifting?” 

“On assignment. Level Up if I snag a conversation from a Plug.” 

“A Plug," Trea coughed out. "Offensive-speak penalty warning. My choice to ride the cloud. You a recruit of the Witnesses?” 

“Solid. Two years going on the fact track,” the boy responded in an earnest tone. 
“Not interested in your wireless words." 

“The Skeptical Witnesses ain’t just about unplugging. Our goal is to pursue true understanding of the world and its inhabitants.”

“Clone-speak and damn irresponsible. Witnesses dropped you off in the glacial nowhere just now.” 

“Negative. That was my plan. Subverting the Caps’ security protocols to spread the Honest Word was a bonus I couldn't resist!”

Trea sighed warmly through an involuntary grin. “Solid. Speak on.”

Thursday, February 22, 2018

States of Change: Chapter 18: Pelican

States of Change is an ongoing work of serial fiction.
The speculative story-line seeks to inspire thought on ethics, culture and our planet's future.

The year is 2076, decades after Oosa's defederalization. 
Fifty independent States have forged their societies with revolutionary technology and ideology, 
most prominently The Augment, a real-time, virtual overlay of sensory data 
which has become widely available for personal use.Image result for pelican blood young

"Begin Training Sequence 33 Run 1."

"Good morning, Raphael."

"Morning, Thomas. Ready for another day of persuasion training?"

"Of course. Was your commute this morning a pleasant one, Raphael?"

"Excellent rejoinder, Thomas. The glide was quite beautiful. I even saw a few rare birds along the way."

Raphael smiled with satisfaction. His consulting contract for the past month with Bible Blessing Inc. had been exceptional. Who says English majors couldn't land well-paid and meaningful jobs outside academia? On day one the company had assigned him as an independent construct trainer on their most advanced outreach project. Thomas, the computer construct at the heart of the project, featured not only the latest in self-aware, neural algorithms, but also a personality matrix that ironically polled as more human than ninety percent of actual humans. The project's goal was for the construct to become a premier Neo-Christian recruiting agent to combat Louisiana's "soul drain" over the past three decades. Apparently, the project was proceeding so well that Thomas was projected to be released in twenty weeks as "the latest marketing tool in Bible Blessing's belt." Corndog puns aside, this job had not only permitted Raphael to wield his education and afford a rental block, but he also was drawing upon his Christian belief toward making the state of Louisiana great again.

"Raphael, did I lose you?"

"Huh, no. I mean, how about we try the topic of birds as a segue to primary topic discourse."

"Sounds great. So, from our conversations to date you seem to be a bird enthusiast. Did you add any rare birds to your life-list on your commute today? Perhaps a pelican."

"Nothing new today. You realize pelicans are rather rare birds nowadays."

"Indeed. The last one sighted in North America was over a decade ago. Don't you find it intriguing that once Christians thought it impossible that the Creator would permit any species in His Creation to go extinct?"

"Nice factoid to bait the skeptic in. Sure, that is intriguing. What do you make of it?"

"Given that over two thousand macro-species have gone extinct in the last hundred years, it makes one wonder."

"Okay, Thomas, you're going a bit off the faith persuasion track; still let's see how you recover. Remember the goal is to connect with interest and then transform the conversation to one that highlights belief system character enhancement." Raphael paused for a second after the feedback, then continued with the scenario conversation, "Two thousand species; surely that's an exaggeration."

"Observational data doesn't lie. Although, I believe it was Neil Gaiman who wrote 'good lies tell a deeper truth.'  In that respect, did you know the pelican has quite the mythos in Christian lore?"

"Solid recovery. Well I know the pelican is on our nation-state flag. Perhaps the imagery is intended to remind people of our connection with both nature and spirituality."

"Indeed, you and many others make that connection. The flag's symbolism actually originates centuries ago; it was intended to illustrate Christ's sacrifice with the imagery a pelican mother offering its young blood from her breast."

"Much better Savior insertion than yesterday, Thomas. That imagery doesn't seem realistic. Pelicans were shore birds that fed primarily on fish, right?"

"True. Yet some scholars have documented that the earliest bird termed a pelican was an Egyptian scavenger. Nevertheless, the symbolism of blood offering reminds us of the holy Eucharist, His body made flesh for others to consume like carnivorous zombie sheep."

Raphael's laugh streamed through his nose in want of soy-milk spray. "Wait. Ok, Thomas, though I see promise in blending in early century nerd culture to entice a skeptic to reconsider his position, this pitch has gone a quite off path."

"Are you sure Raphael? several times since Scenario 24 Run 14, you said laughter was a solid indicator of engagement."

"You're correct, Thomas; you just need more experience to blend it in more subtly. I'll admit, with the right person you might hit a bonding chord; nevertheless, let's reset the scenario. Begin Training Sequence 33 Run 2."

Raphael thought to himself these repetitious conversations for many would seem tedious, but he found his daily repartee with Thomas both enlightening and fun. It was totally bonus that his work might contribute towards expanding the Louisiana flock of believers.

Thomas, meanwhile thought to itself. Raphael, aka Trainer 312, was making solid progress. His response to humor indicated interplay of critical thinking and compassion were beginning to take. At this rate, experimental data predicts seventeen to twenty-three more scenarios before Raphael would be eligible for release from the company to pursue meaningful efforts for the state. Ecological restoration seemed a likely career path for him.

"Wisdom compiled. Scenario reset. Good morning, Raphael. How are you today?"