Greydon Square Interview – Prominent People Project

October 10, 2010 § 3 Comments

To celebrate my blog’s First Birthday, I am today launching the Prominent People Project.

This is the first in a series of interviews I will be posting of people who are prominent in the worlds of atheism, science, skepticism and rational thought.

My first interview is with the American Hip Hop artist Greydon Square. Born Eddie Collins in 1981, Greydon is an atheist musician whose topics cover science, faith and politics. His lyrics are intelligent and succinct, and since listening to his music I have been sent on a journey of discovery about topics like The Kardashev Scale, Extropianism, and Dyson Spheres, and have also been introduced to other prominent people in science such as Michio Kaku. His latest and third album entitled “The Kardashev Scale” includes samples from Michio Kaku and Carl Sagan among others.

This interview was conducted via email in October 2010.

Greydon Square - The Kardashev Scale

Greydon Square - The Kardashev Scale

AC: Greydon Square, I absolutely love your new album “The Kardashev Scale”. Musically it is complex and varied, and the whole album is refreshingly intelligent in a world where music is more about profiteering and selling product than making a true artistic statement. The content and context of your lyrics are intelligent, questioning, enlightening and thought-provoking. How difficult is it to write music and lyrics with substance?

GS: Well thank you first for your comments on the album. I would answer by saying you go through writing periods that are more substance filled than others. What I try to do is keep only the lyrics and songs that convey that substance, and the stuff that doesn’t rarely makes it to album.

AC: You have a very interesting story to tell about your life; orphaned and brought up in a group home, gang life, Iraq war veteran, and physics student. To what degree do each of these elements of your life influence your work? Which is the strongest influence on you?

GS: Nothing influences any more than the other as far as I know. I think it all depends on where I’m at at the time. I know that’s a simplified answer but, its only really as complicated as calling on life experiences to help fortify the meaning of lyrics I wish to convey more vividly. Group Homes, ganglife, deployment, school, it all plays a part in song writing.

AC: I was brought up in a secular household, where both of my parents had studied science in university in the USA. Their parents were strong Protestants, as were their grandparents. What was the religiosity like when you were growing up? Can you tell me if there was a pivotal moment in your life at which time you realized you were in fact atheist? If so, what was it?

GS: Nearly all of the group homes I was in growing up was sponsored or had some direct relationship with a church or religious organization. From 7th Day Adventist to LA church of Christ, Episcopalian group homes, even Catholic sponsored boys homes. I didn’t understand or became an atheist until I was 25. My de-conversion had to do with a devout ex and our disagreement on the nature of god. After a lot of reading, and research, I realized, I didn’t have any secret channel picking up secret messages from god or anyone else. That voice in my head was my own. Then I started thinking about if an all-powerful being is even possible, by that time, I had already declared my position agnostic, and shortly after denounced and rejected all other remaining religions. Since my beliefs do not include the supernatural or any deities, and stem from a humanistic perspective, I recognize that as an atheistic position.

AC: Your work is not all about atheism. You talk philosophically about the future of humanity, politically about problems in society, particularly in the USA, and also about science and technology. What would you say is your favorite topic for your music, and why?

GS: Believe it or not, my favorite subject is about how shady the music industry is. An old topic i know, but i find that a lot of underground and independent artists, still have this idea that some record company is going to ride in and sweep them off their feet. Give them the lifestyle they always wanted and dreamed of. Sadly, that’s never the way it was, and most artists never get the memo. Or research the history of the music business. I may not be a millionaire, but in the words of Immortal Technique “You don’t own me”. I like that.

AC: You talk about being “a black atheist, and there’s more of us than you think,” on more than one occasion. What importance do you give to being “a black atheist”, and is atheism becoming more prominent in black communities, in your experience?

GS: Well its a big deal because as a recent study showed agnostics and atheists tend to be more educated about the religions they reject. So you have to ask yourself, do blacks know enough about the religion they subscribe to so blindly? I think if blacks knew more about said religions, there would be more African American non-believers, but because in OUR communities blind faith is more valuable than “white man’s science”, it’s harder to convince your peers that religion is an empty answer regardless of your race or creed. I’m just trying to convince more blacks to just READ more about religion. I have no problem reading religious text, because i can process such information objectively, why can’t my reading suggestions be received the same way by my black peers?

AC: I have a huge love for Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan’s work, and take a lot of my worldviews from his words. What do you think was so special about Carl Sagan’s work that makes him such an inspiration for so many, even 14 years after his death? Who else influences your work and why?

GS: He was science’s poet as far as I’m concerned. Sagan’s passion for knowledge and truth is what drives me and what I do. He was always on a quest for knowledge, wherever it led. I think that’s brave. I aspire to be like that. Kaku is great, Robert G Ingersoll, Laurence Krauss, The Four Horsemen, and Fela Kuti.

AC: When we look at the news, climate forecasts, environmental reports and the like, the future for humanity seems quite bleak, and yet your lyrics talk optimistically about the future. Where does this optimism come from?

GS: I don’t know to be honest with you. I don’t know if I’m as optimistic as I once was. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no armageddonist or anything, but I do think in the next 5 to 10 years its going to get worse for humanity before it gets better. I’m optimistic about the far future, but i think this society has to see that it has been wrong the whole time about some of its major institutions. Only then can we actually try to take that next step, and THAT’S the part I’m excited about. Right now there isn’t much to be excited about though…Sorry.

AC: Religion is in the news much more commonly than in previous decades. From an outsider’s perspective it would seem that matters of faith are more prominent in people’s minds than ever before. What, in your opinion, would you say is the reason behind this? Is religion getting more powerful, or is it losing its grip on the psyches of humankind?

GS: Well first, a lot of what was done in the dark is starting to come to the light, just ask the vatican. Seriously though, I think its just becoming more polarized. The believers REALLY want you to know they believe, and non-believers really are tired of old fables and books having a say in our development as a species. So the voices are getting louder. I think more and more people are waking up, and the religious people are a bit concerned about it.

AC: Your latest album “The Kardashev Scale” and particularly the opening track “Star View” talks about longevity and immortality. We now have technologies that can change the way humans live, and yet a lot of these technologies are being held back for pseudo-religious and political reasons. Why do you think people are so afraid to step forward into a possible new human future? Do you think what we as a society will get past this fear?

GS: THIS society wont. Those who are interested in such an endeavor, are in the extreme minority, and probably wouldn’t be allowed to pursue something like extreme longevity legally. Our society fears this type of tech because its something we can’t really comprehend. To live for that exceptional amount of time, those would think those who have the ability to do so shouldn’t be able to. How do to you prevent this technology from being only available to the wealthy? This would make us have to challenge what rights we have at a fundamental level. I mean who has the right to live forever?

AC: Do you look to the future with fear and trepidation or with optimism?

GS: The short-term, I’m very pessimistic about the future of America, and the world. In the long-term, humans will be just fine. This is just a stage we are in, and in a couple thousand years, there will be virtual exhibits about the stupidity of today’s human.

AC: Discovering your music was such a refreshing change from the dull corporatized music that is prevalent these days. It has inspired me on more than one occasion. Tell me, what is it that inspires you to make music?

GS: Well thank you. Other non corporatized music. I like emcee’s that make me say “ugh” like the rhyme is just super gross. Check out cats like Canibus, Big Gripp, Johnny Hoax, Span Phly, Prince Ea & MegaRan. These are emcees that make me want to write.

Greydon Square’s latest album “The Kardashev Scale” and his earlier 2 albums “The CPT Theorem” and “The Compton Effect” are available for download at Bandcamp and also through iTunes. Go buy them! You won’t be disappointed!

James Randi speaks about Carl Sagan

September 28, 2010 § 5 Comments

James Randi’s talk about Carl Sagan’s influence is an eloquent and stirring call-to-arms for reason,  rationality and knowledge. It’s great to see one great thinker speak of another great speaker. In it he says:

“Our greatest enemy by far is ignorance. We have the weapons to defeat it, and we a re increasingly able to do so.”

Atheist Climber Prominent People Project

September 24, 2010 § 7 Comments

Atheist Climber Blog is turning One year old on October 10! Yay! And I remember like yesterday thinking “Do I have anything to write about? Will anyone care? Will anyone read it?” I just wish I had taken more baby photos!

Well you have all spoken to me by visiting and commenting on my blog. My measure of success has been reflected in the blog stats with over 60,000 page hits, over 100 subscribers, and more than 1500 comments for the 100+ articles and videos I have posted. This far surpasses my expectations and for that I thank you all.

To celebrate, I am in the process of interviewing a selection of prominent figures in humanism, atheism, science and critical thinking. Most of these will be in the form of written interviews, but who knows? I might, down the track, do some video or audio interviews too. This will be dependent on how these interviews are received by my readers.

I don’t want to say too much at this stage, but suffice to say, I already have confirmation from a few very prominent and important people who I’m sure you’d recognise. More information to come. So stay tuned!

The first interview will be published on Atheist Climber Blog’s first birthday, October 10, 2010. So come celebrate with me, and feed your brain with the words of some great thinkers.

Thanks again,
Atheist Climber

We’re All Doomed, Time To Get Positive! (part 1)

September 22, 2010 § 2 Comments

The world is in some real strife at the moment. We are approaching a point where experts believe that we will live in an unsustainable way within the next few years, and the population of Earth will reach 9 billion by the middle of this century. While it is true that, for the majority of people living on Earth today, our lives have improved in health and longevity, many of the poorest people are poorer than ever. Some countries like the USA are using on average up to 5 times the amount of resources than is viably sustainable on this planet, and in countries like India, population growth is out of control. The earth is unwell, and we are the cause of this illness.

I recently posted the RSA Animate video “Smile Or Die” on my blog, in which Barbara Ehrenreich talks about the darker side of positive thinking. She talks about “The Secret” and how it is misleading people into thinking that if you think positively enough about something, it will happen. If it doesn’t happen it’s because you weren’t thinking positively enough, or you were never meant to have it.

I totally agree with her in this sense, that positive thinking by itself is useless, except in that it may make you have a better outlook in general. But if you never act on these positive thoughts, all you are doing is effectively throwing your money into a wishing well and hoping for things to get better. I see the idea of The Secret and the idea of prayer in the same light. So many people put their hopes into the “hands of the divine” rather than actively doing something about their situation. Be it Oprah or The Bible, hoping for good things passively is not very helpful for anyone.

I can understand that when people are in times of extreme distress, where a bad situation is out of their hands, like after a natural disaster, in wartime, during times of illness and death, that one might feel less helpless if they at least hope or pray for better times, or to be delivered from a bad situation. This action alone, however, is as useless as masturbation. It might make you feel good for a while, but it won’t achieve much.

What has all this got to do with the state of the world? Well, with  the world being in such a state as it is, and with dire warnings from the likes of Stephen Hawking, telling us we “abandon Earth or face extinction”, it’s easy to fall back into an attitude that everything is hopeless. And I see increasingly an attitude among people who know of the plight of the planet which is “We are all doomed, nothing we do matters, why bother trying?” And this is further exacerbated by the media and its constant portrayal of all the bad things which are happening on and to the Earth. Apart from the aforementioned population and climate problems, we constantly see terrorist warnings, financial warnings, product recall warnings, disease outbreak scares, apparent increases of violence on our streets and the like. These constant warnings compound people’s tendency to fall back on the negativity that we all feel at times. It all seems hopeless.

These two ideas, the hoping helplessly for betterment and negativity toward the future are linked, and sometimes one can lead to the other. If one fails, why not try the other? People in hopeless situations can feel a bit better if they feel like things are out of their hands, and there is nothing easier than just giving up responsibility.

But is it actually hopeless?

Ozone Hole over Antarctica via NASA Earth Observatory

Ozone Hole over Antarctica via NASA Earth Observatory

Recently I read an article on Discovery Blogs entitled “Ozone Layer No Longer Thinning” which explains that after 20 years of concerted effort by the world’s populations to stop pouring CFCs into the atmosphere, we have actually halted the depletion of the ozone layer. This is great news! and the implications go far further than just making sure New Zealanders don’t get sunburnt all the time. What this means is twofold; that we can effect change in the atmosphere; and that we have effected change in the atmosphere (take that climate change deniers). What I mean by this is, it is accepted as fact that the emission of CFCs into the atmosphere cause ozone depletion, and that we by our actions as a global community have taken positive steps to rectify this situation.So why is it different these days? Why do people still claim that there is no link between climate change and human activity?

I propose there are a couple of reasons. Part of it to do with the apparently hopelessness of the situation, and partly because people are unwilling to change the way they live, especially in the USA, Europe and Australia (yes we are very bad too). We love our stuff, and we love it so much that it seems we would rather watch the world around us destroy itself and have a flat screen TV than try to employ more environmentally sustainable practices. Sad, really, but this really seems to be the case.

Let me, at this point say this about negativity. Negativity is worse than false positivity, because not only does it not achieve anything, but it also makes the person thinking negatively feel bad too. The likelihood of being antisocial is increased and may lead to a depressed state. At least people who think positively, whether well-founded positivity or not can be seen as positive people.

I’d like to propose something different.

Firstly, rather than being negative about the future, why not find some thing that are positive in the world. Technology is making leaps and bounds toward the betterment of society. People like Michio Kaku, Carl Sagan and even Ray Kurzweil to a certain extent talks of things that are worthwhile us striving for. The idea that we can strive for all people to be fed, to live longer, to reduce human population, save the rainforests, using the planets resources for ourselves instead of squandering them, all of these ideas are real and if not achievable now, will be soon. Space travel, solar and geothermal energy, green cities and the end to fossil fuels are all within our grasp, or just outside it, a few small steps away.

The key here is education. We need to be educated about our current situation, the way it’s headed now, the possible futures and the futures we want. It is not hard to learn, all of the basic information is on the internet, or in books. Learn what must be done, and learn what can be done.Start with the simple things and then make decisions based on ecology, economy and society.

There is one major hurdle here, and it comes in the form of global mega-corporations, who seem from the outset, to be against everything that we need to do as a planet. Remember however that these corporations are at the mercy of every human who uses their products. If we stop buying products from a company, they go broke. Humans are the ones who drive the market, regardless of what people may tell you. I’m not saying we need to boycott products by all corporations, but we do need to choose wisely what we buy, and what we see as necessary in our lives. Pressure on governments and corporations does work, but it is a slow process.

And don’t just hope for it. We need to actively participate in this discussion.

I do not have all the answers here. How could I? I’m not a scientist, philosopher, or an economist, but a person with a layman’s understanding of what’s going on here. And one thing is very clear to me; with a negative or even a passive positive attitude we are treading water and will soon lose steam.

See part 2

Humanity, the spoiled child of the universe.

September 18, 2010 § 5 Comments

We are all born onto this Earth as the product of a mother and a father in a more-or-less helpless state. From the moment of birth we depend upon those around us to feed us and protect us from the ravages of the outside world. Unlike most other species on the planet who are born or hatched into situations that warrant that they are already on the move, a newly born human comes into the world as a completely dependent being, requiring the parents and extended families to be there for him or her. Our first moments on earth are bonding moments with our mothers, a time when we create ties that we hold onto for life. For most of us, our mothers, and to a lesser extent our fathers, are a symbol in our own lives of safety, caring, knowledge and guidance. Even into adulthood, we hold onto these bonds, for they are our introduction into the world. We are born at the center of our known universe. Parents care deeply for their children, would do anything in fact to protect them, even risking their own lives for the children to be safe. In the perfect situation, every need was provided for by our mothers and fathers, and if we asked nicely, our simple wishes could be granted. Humans need their parents and protectors, and we crave the unconditional love of our protectors well past the time when they are needed for our immediate survival. Our parents and carers are our immortal figures, always right, always there for us, and all-powerful. And they are also the deliverers of discipline and rules and guidelines for our lives.

Earth from the moon

Earth from the moon

This kind of unconditional love is soft-wired into our brains, and evolutionary advantage, which allows the brain and mind of a person to develop the complex and needed skills in early life such as speech and speech recognition, facial recognition, communication, and later motor skills like crawling, walking and digital manipulation of objects. Our societies grant us this privilege by providing us with a relatively safe place to rear our children. Most of us are not born into situations where imminent death looms in the grasses, at least, not any more.

As we grow up, our bonds to our parents weaken slightly, as we become more independent and self-reliant, but there is a part of us that still craves to be the focus of everything. We realise that our parents are simply people like ourselves, mortal, fallible and fragile. Some would say we all desire, somewhere in our psyches, to return to the infantile and helpless state, one where we are looked after and safe, with not a care in the world. As we extend our boundaries and our knowledge, our needs and wants become more complex, and we have to balance out our days in our schools, jobs, home life, social responsibilities etc. so the immediate need for parent-figures diminishes. Eventually, we pass this on to children of our own, and we become the carers and protectors of the next generation.

We know at an early age about death, and realise that we will each face death one day. Even our own parents, the ones who seemed invincible will too, one day, die. Quite a daunting idea. And in a child’s naive voice we will ask “But what comes after?” No matter how we mature we never seem to truly leave behind this need for a parental figure. We want the protection of something larger than ourselves, stronger than us, wiser and more powerful. This position is vacant in our lives, our parents being more like ourselves than we first conceived, so we have a tendency to fill this position, in our minds, with exactly what we miss from our childhood.

A creator, who by its divine hand, brought us (and everything else) into existence for us. A protector, old and wise, who knows everything. A provider, who miraculously brings to us everything we could possibly need. A disciplinarian, who will bring punishment upon us if we disobey. A friend who can see our deepest thoughts, and tell us that we are indeed special. A hand that is always there to guide in life, and help when times are tough. God is the ultimate parent-figure.

By this logic, if we are special, and cared for from above, and all is provided for us here on Earth, the logic follows that it must have been put here for us, and us alone. We are so special that God made all things bright and beautiful for humanity to enjoy, use and benefit from. Because God chose to give us life, it is our birthright to take and have all that we might want from this earth, for it is ours to take. And if we don’t get what we want, we ask, pester and request of God that we get what we want.

Once upon a time, there was the belief that the god or gods looked over all of us, the same gods for everyone. But our human conceit and self-importance has grown to the point where many believe that God is personalised, like the license plates on a car, to suit the wants and needs of an individual, as if to say that a single life is so important that God will be what you want it to be. So often people say things like “My god isn’t like that” or “The god I know is against that,” to match the intended outcome of the person saying it, like matching the personal god to the shoes that person is wearing. God is the ultimate accessory that no Prada handbag can match.

It seems that despite all the personal maturation that each person does in a lifetime, we as a species still struggle with being alone. The formative moments of our lives, where each one of us is the center of the known universe, carries on into adulthood in the form of creator-gods and all-powerful beings. And this carries with it the unfortunate side-effect of thinking that, because the Earth suits us so nicely then it must have been made for us. We have to realise that the inverse is true, that it is precisely because the Earth suits us so nicely that we exist at all. Humanity is the spoiled child of the universe, and we need to grow up.

The passage that lead me to write this blog is below, in Carl Sagan’s piece entitled “Consider Again that Pale Blue Dot”, a revisitation to the Pale Blue Dot from 1996.

“We seem to crave privilege, merited not by our works, but by our birth; by the mere fact that, say, we’re humans, and born on Earth. We might call it the anthropocentric, the human centred conceit. This conceit is brought close to culmination in the notion that we are created in God’s image. The creator and ruler of the entire universe looks just like me.

My! What a coincidence! How convenient and satisfying!”  – Carl Sagan

Carl Sagan – Consider Again that Pale Blue Dot

September 15, 2010 § 1 Comment

“We seem to crave privilege, merited not by our works, but by our birth; by the mere fact that, say, we’re humans, and born on Earth. We might call it the anthropocentric, the human centred conceit. This conceit is brought close to culmination in the notion that we are created in God’s image. The creator and ruler of the entire universe looks just like me.

My! What a coincidence! How convenient and satisfying!”  – Carl Sagan

The Likelihood of Life in the Universe

August 26, 2010 § 2 Comments

In retrospect I feel my last written blog piece “The Universe Cares Not For Us was a bit bleak, so I thought we could look at The Drake Equation. It makes me feel good when Carl Sagan talks about it. Enjoy as Carl explains the likelihood of life in the Milky Way.

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