Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Spying on Acquaintances

As mentioned earlier, when I retired in 2007 I became interested in looking up people from my past and contacting them. There were only three whom I actually met up with. One was a painter whom I knew from college who had dropped out of society and become a monk at a Hindu monastery in Ganges, Michigan. Another was a math major from college who became a computer science professor at Clemson University. The monk made no effort to keep up with me, and the professor always responds to e-mails, but the onus is on me. My high school graduating class had its fortieth anniversary reunion in 2008, and though I did not attend, I came into contact with several high school acquaintances that year. Of those, I met only one, a woman who happens to live nearby in Bristol, Vermont and is a weaver who married a potter. I've had e-mails from a few other former classmates and spoken to one on the phone. I have also contacted former coworkers, but they generally have a tepid response or I never hear back from them.

I had thought that past acquaintances might enjoy recounting old days, but the reality seems to be that most of them would rather not. This is an interesting topic in itself that I won't go into now. I think the ability to forget the past and dwell in a contemporary schema of one's own making serves to simplify and protect one from the overwhelming complexity of life. A poor memory is often good for your mental health. Beyond this, I tend to find my high school and college personas a little embarrassing now. I see myself and most of my early acquaintances as having been stupid kids up until about the age of thirty, and the closer you look, the more tempting it is to dismiss the period as a temporary developmental one. Furthermore, I tend to be analytical about these things and like to dig into them, whereas most others don't want to discuss them in any detail.

The upshot of all this is that I recently decided never to contact anyone from my past again, because the efforts I've made thus far have been fruitless. This excludes the very few people whom I have kept up with continuously since about 1975, though I probably won't have much contact with them either. Instead of actually communicating with people I've known, I now plan to keep up with their lives, when possible, through their online presence. Most of them have little or no online presence, but a few do.

Since I don't like having an online presence myself, I have recently not been making posts using my full name and have deleted previous accounts displaying it whenever possible. That makes it a little inconvenient, since I don't have any social media accounts, but it is still possible to access information about people without belonging to Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, Disqus, etc. When someone uses the Internet for publicity related to their profession or hobby, a reasonable amount of information can be found by anyone.

As mentioned in my post about my former girlfriend, Kimberly, she stopped communicating with me some time ago, but that has not stopped me from being curious about the progress of her life since 2000. As it happens, she has decided to become a writer and is attempting to sell her books. Bits of information about her can be found herehereherehere and here. This may all seem like trivia, but it is adequate for rounding out my picture of her life, and I would not have been able to do this without the Internet.

Kimberly apparently kept a journal during most of her adult life and is now starting to self-publish it in the form of memoirs. So far I think she's covered her early period in France, England and New York City. I'm not sure whether I will ever want to read her works, because even though she is quite literate she has a light, Southern-California-esque personality and is unlikely to delve into anything in a manner that I would find satisfactory. I would be interested to read her memoir about the years that I knew her, 1997 to 2000, but, judging from her LinkedIn profile, she has elided that period from her life. Interestingly, there are large gaps in her résumé for the periods that she'd rather forget. You would never know, for example, that she was born in Iowa and once lived in the Chicago area. She spent several unsuccessful years training in modern dance and later gave up teaching because she couldn't handle the unruly students in Roscoe, New York after getting her M.A. from Columbia. I felt sorry for her father, who died recently and whom I met more than once, because she projected an unwarranted animus toward him. He was a low-key Midwesterner who had been extremely reliable throughout his life. After being shot down over North Korea during the Korean War and escaping across enemy lines on his own, he became a successful engineer and essentially funded Kimberly's entire life, since she never held a demanding job even as she managed to travel the world to her heart's content. Her mother died young from leukemia, and Kimberly subsequently never got along well with her father, her sister or her father's girlfriend. Frankly, her self-presentation amuses me.

I won't bore you with more than you would care to know about Kimberly, but thought I'd mention this alternative to actually interacting with people who'd just as soon forget about you. I'm sure you've already Googled a few people yourself.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Equality

It occurred to me that the word "equality," which I occasionally use on this blog, is far more ambiguous than it may seem at first, so I thought that I'd take a brief look at what it means in the context in which I generally apply it. In common usage, when it refers to people, it carries the political connotation that, particularly in a democratic form of government, all citizens are to be treated the same with respect to the law. This means that if one type of adult is generally allowed to do something, every other type of adult should generally be allowed to do it too, and the same applies regarding various government protections and benefits. Since the concept has been phased in through steps in a legal context, the emphasis has shifted over many years from racial equality to women's rights to gay rights, in each instance legally guaranteeing certain rights to a specific group that had previously been treated unfairly. Under the Constitution, the general concept needs to be spelled out specifically for each group covered, which confuses the question by perpetuating the segmentation of society and never producing a blanket law that would, in one fell swoop, cover all citizens in all groups. In a way this legal process encourages people to continue thinking in the unacceptable terms that previously divided society, and it is certainly not the most efficient method for addressing the perceived ills. "Equality" is also used in the sense of economic equality, which focuses more on financial status than on legal status, and since that is more straightforward I won't specifically address it here. Economic inequality, for my purposes, is a special case of inequality that stems directly from capitalism and could theoretically cease to exist in an ideal post-capitalist society.

Perhaps the greatest confusion over "equality" has to do with its misinterpretation as "sameness." This may be because in ordinary usage "equality" means that people are entitled to the same treatment under law, but it does not mean that they are the same in any sense independent of this. Probably some of the thinking underlying the extreme political correctness that I find absurd is a result of this fallacy. I get the impression that on some college campuses, if a Maa-speaking Masai tribesman entered a room accompanied by a mute Inuit who communicated in Greenlandic Sign Language, the American students would make every effort to see them as identical and avoid all references to their obvious differences. The problem here may be the taking of the concept "person" and inappropriately applying it so rigidly and abstractly to all humans that any differences between people noted may be construed as a form of discrimination, since all people are the same according to their definition. Thus, if the Masai and the Inuit were asked "Do either of you speak English?'' there might be someone in the room who would interpret that as an unacceptable racial slur or as an insult to handicapped people, since the statement might give priority to spoken English over other languages and suggest that those who are unable to speak it are inferior, or that spoken language is superior to sign language. A pathological politically correct person such as this would be attempting to see people as equal in a sense that makes any public recognition of differences unacceptable.

When I write about equality, I am thinking of it mainly in a legal sense. I believe that all people should be treated equally under the law and base this not on legal theory or democratic principles, but on my acceptance of the idea that we are a eusocial species and, as such, we unconsciously tend to favor a legal framework that supports equality. It is a little tricky to pursue this argument from a biological standpoint, because biologically there is also evidence supporting the idea of the inevitability of war, genocide, murder, etc., but in this case I simply call upon science to adjudicate whether we as a species are essentially altruistic, cooperative and eusocial. I am willing to leave it at that, because in the long run I believe that humans do, by both reason and instinct, favor cooperation over conflict. Conflict has often been a last resort when cooperation hasn't worked, and there is no reason in principle why the rule of law could not one day eliminate any need for it. Thus, for me, equality is part of a legal superstructure that is necessary to impart order and cooperation on mankind by reducing the need for any subgroup or individual to do harm to or take advantage of others.

Where I depart from liberalism is in my skepticism about leaving the responsibility for reaching and maintaining a state of equality up to a democratic political system. In my view, the political system in the U.S. barely works and is still permissive regarding inequality. Here I think some history may be relevant. Democracies, rather than promoting the kind of universal equality that Western liberalism now seems to favor, have tended to promote equality only within elite groups. The authors of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution included slave owners, for example. An altered but similar system exists today which only disguises the actual control by what might be construed as a ruling class. Today the U.S. cannot honestly be called a democracy, in which each voter has equal say, because moneyed interests manipulate government policies by controlling who gets elected. There may be some elements of a true populist democracy in the mix, but it would be more accurate to describe the current U.S. government as a plutocracy, with little sign of an emerging increase in equality.

One of the central confusions of liberalism today is that is has adopted the market thinking, hence the capitalistic theology, of previous conservative governments. For example, the rhetoric that emanates from Barack Obama's mouth is a reworking of the rhetoric that emanated from Bill Clinton's mouth, which was a reworking of the rhetoric that emanated from Ronald Reagan's mouth. In all three instances, the gist is that free-market capitalism is a panacea; as Obama likes to say, if poor, unemployed people could just get better educations, everything would be fine. It won't be fine, because as, Thomas Piketty has shown, the current economic system promotes inequality. I oppose free-market capitalism because, among other reasons, it is unlikely to solve the problem of inequality on its own, and there is currently little to prevent its adherents from continuing to manipulate democratic governments in the pursuit of plutocratic interests.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Seclusion

The mice are seeking new ways to enter the house and winter is in the air. I always look forward to this time of year, when activity slows and people begin to retreat indoors as the weather becomes cold and snowy. The contrast is not as great for me as it used to be, because now that I'm retired I have little contact with people year-round. However, there is less social activity during the winter months, and I still get a sense of recovery from the presence of others.

The impression I have is that most people have a greater need to socialize than I do, and that they are less sensitive to the differences in perspectives and interests of those around them than I am. Many of them seem to revel in a kind of herd mentality in which they spend time together not really communicating anything important but simply occupying the same space and imagining that they somehow form a cohesive group. On close examination I usually find that the groups are far less cohesive than anyone thinks, though they may fulfill some basic animal instinct. Nevertheless I must be susceptible to the same phenomenon myself, because I like to participate in male bonding rituals occasionally, though less often than most.

I find that I have so little in common with most of the people I run into that there is hardly even much point in attempting to engage them beyond the most superficial levels. At this stage in my life I don't expect anything more than what I might get from a brief chat with the mailman. Our neighbors and most of the people with whom I come into contact seem less curious about me than I am about them, and the people whom we know socially, perhaps with the exception of one or two, seem to have no interest in us beyond a very narrowly-defined social context that includes no real engagement. In short, for an independent person like me, most socializing is a complete waste of time even when I have nothing better to do. These days I see the value of socializing partly as a way to double check whether or not my relative isolation is putting me seriously out of touch with reality.

Over the years I've come to break down the groups I've encountered into two main kinds. I've spent some time with well-educated, socially mobile people whom I classify broadly as social climbers and some time with less-educated, socially static people who are ordinary, unpretentious and just trying to get by. You might expect from my intellectual leanings that I would favor the social climbers over the ordinary people, but I usually find it easier to relate to ordinary people because they are less pretentious, and, being somewhat imperiled themselves, they are often more sensitive to the imperilment of others. It is true that less-educated people are less capable of engaging in sophisticated discussion, but the surprise is that social climbers aren't usually any better at discussion, because their focus is on social prestige, and beneath the veneer you may find someone who has never thought much about anything of interest. Sadly, a college professor or a multi-millionaire with advanced degrees may be just as intellectually bankrupt as an uneducated, unemployed assembly-line worker. All things being equal, I would prefer the assembly-line worker, who at least is likely to be honest.

Another area of interpersonal interaction that interests me is family relationships. Having come from a somewhat dysfunctional family that I avoided during most of my adult life, my attitude has changed in recent years with the death of my mother and the continuing evolution of the family. Here I am finding that some of the herd mentality that I experience elsewhere may have firmer footing. Family members do seem to genuinely enjoy some level of contact with each other, and I notice that this has a basis in the palpable fact that we have similarities based on kinship. Although on the whole we are still a somewhat discordant group, I can see distinct genetic traits in sisters, children and a nephew that are more substantive than any socialization process. Perhaps the frenetic activity of social climbers is a misguided attempt to simulate a herd feeling that can only be found among relatives. Some kinds of social angst may be a product of human migration and overpopulation, which have forced us to live in groups that are now more genetically and culturally mixed than in the past.

You have seen from my writing what I find interesting and spend time thinking about. In routine social exchanges these subjects rarely, if ever, come up. Thus it is more satisfying to me to formulate my ideas here in seclusion, and perhaps the blog is better than nothing if one of my readers happens to benefit from it.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Edward Snowden

Edward Snowden took on some aspects of a folk hero in 2013 when he blew the whistle on NSA spying. He seems to have had completely pure motives about protecting the privacy of individuals and acted from his conscience with no thought of personal gain. In fact he was willing to make significant personal sacrifices to release information on the surveillance that goes on behind the backs of ordinary citizens. He comes across as far less sinister than Julian Assange of WikiLeaks, who seems in comparison arrogant and self-promoting. I'm not sure that either of their quests will amount to anything important, and I'll just say something about what looks to me like naïveté in the case of Snowden.

Two years after the fact it doesn't look as if Snowden has had much of an impact. This may be because the U.S. and many other governments still favor the data collection methods used by the NSA, which they believe to be essential for identifying terrorist threats. Meanwhile the public either hasn't paid attention to what Snowden has exposed or agrees with the government about the importance of continuing the NSA's procedures. It currently looks as if anti-terrorism techniques will largely go unchanged, and Snowden will never be able to return to the U.S. without facing significant jail time.

I sympathize with Snowden's acts in the sense that the complete invasion of privacy of which the NSA is capable could create an ideal scenario for the abuse of power. That information could be used to manipulate elections or, in the worst case, to selectively eliminate individuals who pose a threat to an unscrupulous political regime. What started as an innocent effort to identify Islamic terrorists could possibly evolve into another Stalin-like regime, with millions of people disappearing without explanation.

One area in which I don't seem to agree with Snowden is in regard to the long-term viability of the American political system. He seems to accept the conventional model of the U.S. as a democracy in which the citizens live in freedom and collectively express their will through the political process. As I've said, I don't think the political process has ever worked particularly well with respect to equality, while the growth of corporations and the increasing concentration of wealth have already severely distorted the balance of power in politics. Moreover, even if the deck wasn't already stacked against individual citizens, as I've also said, the complexity of the world is so far beyond the cognitive abilities of nearly everyone that it is foolish to expect that citizens will make good decisions collectively even without the intervention of special interests.

Another area in which I disagree with him is the desirability of a high level of freedom for individual Americans. If it were possible to devise a system that automatically preempted the ascent of autocrats and special interest groups to a level where inequality would rise or national security would fail, there would be less need for many of the individual freedoms that exist now. For example, if everyone had a high standard of living and there was effectively no chance of any regime taking over that would materially reduce anyone's quality of life, there would be little to object to about government surveillance. As things stand, Americans churn out volumes of information about themselves that is available without much restriction to whoever chooses to access it, and most people seem to be fine with that. Returning to my "dangerous animal" thesis on humans, as long as we remain the same species, there will always have to be restrictions on our activities, which are not only compassionate and sacrificing, but also destructive and selfish.

Edward Snowden comes from family of government workers and seems to have a respect for somewhat conservative political values, along with a libertarian streak. This puts him in a camp that doesn't seem to understand economics or how many of the ills currently facing Americans are directly or indirectly the consequences of capitalism. The problem with libertarians is that they tend to operate in an idealized version of American history in which our forefathers omnisciently saw hundreds of years into the future and created a Constitution that would work forever. From my point of view the Constitution is a dated document designed to maintain a balance of power within the U.S., but it has been failing in various ways ever since it was first written and is constantly in need of revisions that have become increasingly difficult to enact. Snowden's model is obsolete as far as I'm concerned.

Nevertheless, I am impressed by Edward Snowden's youthful zeal, intellectual honesty and computer expertise. He is the kind of person who might one day help create the software that would eliminate our need to depend on ignorant, ineffectual and corrupt politicians to organize our lives as well as society as a whole.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Marriage

Because marriage has been in the news a lot lately due to the Supreme Court's ruling on gay marriage, I thought I'd say something about it. Regarding my personal background in this matter, as mentioned earlier, I was married somewhat coercively in 1974 because my girlfriend's parents didn't approve of her living with a man to whom she was not married. I was unceremoniously dumped eleven years later for reasons which included the stress of raising children, the feminist ideology at the time, a quest for greater social status and a touch of mental illness. The minor financial issues that came up early in the marriage do not seem significant now, because we still managed to see our children through four-year colleges and we both retired early, she at 55 and I at 57. I have remained unmarried since 1985 and will never marry again. Marriage is a complex topic with a long history, so I'll just mention a few aspects of it that interest me.

In modern society marriage is a lingering artifact of the past that no longer serves much of its earlier purpose. Once it was a formal way of recognizing the union of a man and a woman in the eyes of society and served as a statement of their commitment to each other and as an announcement of their withdrawal from availability as potential mates. In many societies intermarriage was a device consciously used to maintain harmony among conflicting groups. Outside the U.S. arranged marriages have been popular for centuries. Marriage has often been unrelated to love and has served a transactional role with respect to money and power. According to my current thinking, there is no valid reason to elevate the importance of marriage, and it would be just as well to phase it out as an institution.

Cultural and economic changes in the U.S. and most developed countries have been rendering the institution of marriage obsolete over the last fifty years. The reasons for men and women to cohabitate now probably have more to do with sex, child rearing and companionship than any of the more complex social functions that marriage once entailed. The economic independence of women eliminates their need to marry for financial reasons, and there is now little stigma associated with remaining single. With less incentive to marry, people are now marrying later, if at all, and divorce rates remain high. Lavish weddings are popular, but, according to recent statistics, the more expensive the wedding the shorter the duration of the marriage is likely to be.

Many of the laws regarding marriage seem dated to me. They are hangovers from the puritanical days of America's past in which all normal adults were expected to marry. The more recent social engineering that has encouraged marriage and home ownership through tax breaks has done little to stabilize society and should be reevaluated without relying on religious doctrines. If the legal framework that currently supports and encourages marriage were dropped, marriage as an institution might soon fade away.

Based on my experience and observation, marriage is handled by society in too haphazard a fashion with respect to education. It is difficult for most single people to know what they will need to do to sustain a marriage or whether they will even want to sustain a marriage after a few years, and no wide-scale system exists to guide them. If I had been able to see into the future of my relationship with my ex-wife I would never have married her. Similarly, married couples are often insufficiently prepared to be parents, and all could benefit from training in that area. The ceremony of marriage itself could be replaced with training and the reaching of formal or informal agreements between couples. Government involvement could be restricted to clarifying and enforcing the legal responsibilities of parents to their children and to subsidizing relevant education for couples who choose to live monogamously. In this scenario, every person would be seen as a single individual from birth to death from a government standpoint.

With these views in mind, there is little to applaud about the acceptance of gay marriage, which looks to me like a poorly-conceived attempt to provide affirmation to gay people. Now we have more people participating in a pointless ritual that makes them feel good about themselves and is a boon to the wedding industry. I suppose my skepticism about the value of democratic processes is confirmed whenever pointless-seeming events like this occur; an outcome in which marriage went out of fashion would make more sense to me in the long run. Now we are looking at wider acceptance of an institution that I think of as irrelevant.

I don't think that romantic love is central to heterosexual or homosexual relationships. The primary fact is that almost no one likes living completely alone. This becomes more apparent as you progress through life and your relationships evolve. Early in their lives most people are motivated by heterosexual attraction and have a tendency to develop monogamous relationships which may or may not remain intact. If children follow, that provides some incentive to continue a relationship but is not sufficient in itself. The underlying force, if you want to look at this deterministically, is probably chemical activity in the brain that makes us feel good and consequently affects our behavior. Generally, the chemicals that favor long-term relationships are going to play a more important role in determining whether one is happy or not than the chemicals associated with romantic infatuation. It should also be noted that we have not evolved to engage in fifty-year marriages, because our ancestors simply didn't live long enough for that.

For the record, my current relationship is with a woman I've known for fourteen years, of which we have lived together eight. We each have grown children, will never marry, keep our finances separate and intend to stay together until one of us dies.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Why Don't They Have a Trigger Warning for That?

Journal, September 9, 2015

I've been going through college orientation for a couple of days now, and something just happened that makes me feel uneasy. They gave us a list of reading material to help us get up to speed, and it included an article by a writer named Marilynne Robinson, whom I had never heard of. I think it was supposed to make us feel as if someone was addressing the issue of fear in America, or maybe even fear on campus, but I found it unsettling. My parents are secular Jews who moved from Russia to the U.S.A. before I was born. Both work in biotechnology and are atheists. When I was growing up, before we moved to New York, my father privately made fun of the outspoken Christians in the town where we lived in South Carolina. He used to read us quotes from books by Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins. We were taught that Christian fundamentalists are a pretty scary bunch of people who deny the validity of science.

According to the article, this is a Christian country, which is news to me. What happened to separation of church and state? The author also claims to be some kind of American patriot, which I know is pretty stupid without anyone explaining it to me. In an ideal world there would be no countries or religion, and college freshmen like me wouldn't have to worry about being brainwashed by Holy Rollers or anyone else. Another thing that gets me about the article is that Ms. Robinson seems to think that she can heal the country by making contemporary Americans more like the ignorant peasants who swarmed here from across the globe to escape persecution, among other reasons, and who boosted their morale by believing in fairy tales. The Calvinist fiction that she prefers isn't much better than any other if you ask me, though she thinks the Calvinists were less violent than modern Americans.

I attempted to discuss the article with some of my fellow freshmen, but they didn't have much to say. Maybe they're just trying to fit in and don't want to seem opinionated. This is disappointing to find at an exclusive college. Even though Ms. Robinson's article reads like a rant, I respect her right to say what she thinks. It is just disconcerting that a rather poorly-argued position could pass muster with students who are supposed to be intelligent. If no one ever speaks up, any environment can become ripe for thought control. In my family we used to debate different topics, and nothing got swept under the rug. I am beginning to think that my classmates may have been groomed for conformity.

Some other articles that I've read recently say that there may be a lot of things going on here on campus that might make me feel unsafe. Some guy might try to get me drunk and rape me - though I wouldn't let him. Someone might offend my sensibilities as a persecuted minority - though I don't care about Judaism. No, my real fear is that I'm going to have to spend my next four years pretending that fantasist evangelists like Marilynne Robinson are serious thinkers even as they spout nonsense that I outgrew when I was twelve. Why don't they have a trigger warning for that?

Ariadne Zinger

Monday, September 7, 2015

Living in Harmony with Nature

During most of my lifetime living in harmony with nature has been an important idea to me, and it has become popular generally in Western culture. As mentioned, when I was growing up I had an unrecognized sense of separation from the natural environment, and life in the suburbs wasn't satisfying in ways that I couldn't fully understand until later. In the 1960's the hippie movement seemed to change everything. Looking back, the conceptual basis for natural living then doesn't seem particularly coherent. Part of it was a rejection of the corporate lifestyle represented by the military-industrial complex, part of it was the rise of an idealized conception of the lives of Native Americans and other indigenous cultures, part of it was the popular interpretation of Eastern religions and part of it was an increased awareness of the health risks associated with chemicals in the environment. Many of the same ideas can be seen today in environmental activism, particularly in regard to global warming, but also in sustainability thinking, recycling, resistance to GMO's and the growing popularity of organic foods. Ultimately, preferring to live in harmony with nature probably has a strong instinctive basis, which nevertheless becomes obscured by capitalism, fads and religion.

For practical purposes I still advocate living in and preserving the natural environment, and that was a factor in deciding to move to Vermont, which is not only one of the most environmentally-friendly but also one of the least damaged states in which to live. It is obvious to me that people who live in an uncrowded region with natural features intact are likely to be happier than people who live in urban areas, as long as they have sufficient means to support themselves and don't hate their jobs. In my opinion, those who say that overpopulation isn't problematic are in denial, because we are already witnessing multiple problems that would not exist if the world population were still at 1800's levels. There would, for example, be no global warming, no energy crisis, no mega-cities and perhaps even less war and terrorism than there is now if population had been better controlled.

Living naturally involves the recognition that our planet is a giant ecosystem of which we are but a small part, and that as organisms we live on a continuum with all other life forms, though some species evolved via different paths. Although this is all fairly obvious, it still flies in the face of the anthropocentrism that seems to dominate the thinking of many people today. Anthropocentrism, to me, entails the false concept that we, as humans, occupy a higher plane of existence than other organisms and in a sense live outside the realm of ordinary causality and evolution, which is a notion that is becoming increasingly at odds with scientific data. False thinking like this is perpetuated by our antiquated ways of organizing ourselves and society and the illusory impression we have that, as the dominant species, we truly control the planet.

You may be surprised to hear this kind of talk coming from me because it sounds a little New Agey, but it really isn't, and it ties in with other things I've said related to the diminishing centrality of mankind as we come to understand the universe better. So, even if there is a little overlap with, say, the Gaia hypothesis, my view isn't really warm and fuzzy, picturing us living cozy lives alongside our plant, animal and fungal friends here on earth. Rather, like E.O. Wilson, I see us as living in a rare and fragile pocket of the universe that is the only place to which we are adapted, and we are lucky to be alive at all in such a dangerous and unforgiving universe.

Anyone who studies astronomy will come to see how dissimilar our world is to most of the universe. For this reason, I prefer to restrict my thinking on harmony with nature to harmony on our planet. We are merely part of a local phenomenon that is cut off by vast distances from most of the universe. Manned space exploration is a waste of resources in my opinion. We have to think about a future on earth that is likely to include enormous changes due to technological advances, and it is more important to focus on that than to fantasize about human space travel. The short-term picture on AI seems to indicate an acceleration in human obsolescence as employees, and the long-term picture, though murky, could include anything from higher-performing genetically modified humans to human-AI co-evolution to the complete digitization of humans, or some other process that would effectively make us immortal. New technologies make it harder to reconcile our instincts, which provide our sense of what is real and natural, with choices that have never existed in this world.

Utopian thinkers seem to favor fanciful scenarios such as Heaven without considering that we are not physically or psychologically adapted to immortality. As I said in an earlier post, I think super-intelligent beings might prefer to die if they became immortal, because the meaning of life springs from the toil of survival, and I don't think a life without challenges could have much meaning to any creature. In effect, immortality would be a transcendence of nature, and that isn't something that I could relate to. This is an area that could be explored in the arts and the humanities, but it seems to me that they are generally retreating to simplistic escapism. I wonder, for example, what our great writers will do when AI begins to produce better writing than they can - it wouldn't be that hard.