September 13, 2010 § 2 Comments
This is great. I feel that one of the greatest ways for us to go further as a species, and to save this planet from a multitude of possible dystopian futures is through education. To see that children are able to do this research on their own is very refreshing. Education is key, because through ignorance the only decisions we can make are ill-informed and ignorant ones.
In this TED talk, Sugata Mitra is very funny and seems to really enjoy the work he does with children, and seems honestly surprised by the children all the time.
August 25, 2010 § 13 Comments
I wrote recently about the idea of a “Re-Enlightenment” and about moving forward toward a world which was not controlled by mythology, dogma, and religious doctrine. In a rather flippant final paragraph I wrote:
“We need to look at humanity to see how to fix it, not to look skyward and pray for intervention, or worse, the end of days. And I really do think we can do this; we have the knowledge, we have the means, let’s make this thing work for all of us.”
I really think this future is possible. And there are several important things I think we need to understand before we can achieve the kind of future we want to see. Keep in mind this is not everything, but these are the things I see as key to the way humanity survives into the future. And it will not be easy. Each and every one of us has to undergo a psychological change in understanding for this to happen. I am not suggesting any kind of manifesto for the future, as I do not have all the answers. But I see this as a starting point, and we have to start somewhere.
Firstly, and most importantly, we have to shift the way we view our existence in the universe, both individually and collectively. We have to understand that the universe does not care for us, either as individuals or as groups. The universe will exist more or less in its current state either with or without us in it. There is no unseen hand, not alien mothership (as far as we know), no deity out there to scoop us up into heaven, or our into space when things go bad for the planet. Nor is there anyone out there to judge us for our actions. We are here, on Earth, our home, isolated and floating alone. We are insignificant on a cosmological scale. As soon as we see this fact, we can move forward and start to see that what we ARE is unique in the universe (again, as far as we know), and that what we have here on Earth is special indeed. But we are not so special that the universe will cease to function without us.
By this, we are not blessed by our god or the universe, we are not being spied upon by extraterrestrials, and my country and countrymen are no more worthy to be here than yours. We invented these barriers between people, we can also break them. And whether or not there is life outside of our planet is irrelevant on the scale of things. If there is life out there we cannot be dependent upon it to help us.
This is not an easy task. Understanding the human scale in the universal scale is not only impossible for a human mind to do, it is also downright scary. I recall as a young boy of about nine when, while reading about space in a book from the library, I first realised that the universe was immense. Really, really immense. I remember feeling a little sickened by this realisation, and suffered a few nightmares about the vacuum of space (at least in hindsight, this is what I remember). I remembered thinking that we could all just float away from the earth and into the blackness of the night sky. But as I grew up, the initial shock of the idea of the immensity of space diminished, as my understanding of what it meant for me as a human being increased.
The second thing we need is for women to truly be seen as the equals of men, in all ways. Women worldwide are a great untapped wealth of skills and minds, who have been kept down by social and religious doctrines for centuries. What we used to do, what we used to believe was the right thing to do is no longer acceptable. We have grown up as a world, and I think that anyone who believes that women are inferior to men has never really associated with women properly. The dogmatic and systematic disfranchisement of women world-wide is on the wane, and this is positive. And women make up just over half of the human population. Just imagine what we could achieve if we used all the people we have at our disposal.
We were all born from women, and for the foreseeable future, we will continue to be. We all owe women our debt of gratitude, for our lives and the lives of others.
The third thing we need to do is concentrate on what is really important for us as a world in order to survive. Unfortunately for us, we have set up a society that is completely dependent upon fossil fuels in order to get us and our goods around. And nobody is really to blame for this fact. The irony is that what has brought humanity forward so quickly is also what threatens to be our undoing. Whether or not humans have a significant hand in climate change, the simple fact is that out transport and our electricity grids, upon which we ALL depend right now, in turn depend upon the burning of fossil fuels. And the absolute worst thing about fossil fuels, along with pollution, is that they are finite. When the world runs out of oil completely, what happens then? We need to face up to this inevitability, and soon, with a real plan of action that we can all follow. And I believe we should start by helping the poorest and the most densely populated communities and countries, and begin by implementing some sustainable practices there, because when things run out, the most densely populated nations are going to look for a way out of their predicament. If we can avoid that predicament, then we have made a step in the right direction.
The fourth thing we need to understand is that this is the only planet we have. Everything on this planet is finite, and while I have said in the past here and here that on a universal scale that everything we do is inconsequential, on a global and local level quite the opposite is true. Everything we do as human societies has an impact on what happens to the other inhabitants of the planet. And the problem here is that we have overcomplicated our existences, especially in the “first world” to a point where we depend heavily on the welfare of other nations for our sustained wellbeing. The Global Financial Crisis is testament to this, and believe me when I tell you, that was not the worst we will experience in the financial markets. Everything is heavily interconnected, and small changes in once place can mean large changes in another. And I’m not talking about “the butterfly effect” here.
I guess my point here is we can learn from our mistakes from the past, and tread lighter on the earth by making smarter choices. We know that we are capable of causing problems for ourselves, but the usual reaction to this is to apply a band-aid solution to the problem, rather than going to the source of the problem and fixing it there. And we have started on the road to fixing the way we do things, but it seems that it is with a half-hearted and short-term outlook.
The fifth thing we have to do is to, as a species, stop looking for a way out. By this I mean, while we can still strive for betterment of humanity, we should not be actively seeking a way to get off the planet, or as the religious can tend to do, stake our futures in divine intervention. And also, we cannot simply give in to a future of doom and extinction via nuclear war or asteroid hit. A while back I read this Pew Survey result, where a cross-section of more than 1,500 US citizens were asked a series of questions about how they perceive the future. And while I tend to think of surveys as fairly anecdotal, the results were interesting nonetheless. Some 41% of those surveyed said they expected Jesus to return before 2050, and even more alarmingly 53% of those surveyed said they definitely thought the USA would be struck by nuclear weapons in a terrorist attack by the same date. While the former group puts all its hope in being saved, the latter group puts all its dread into annihilation! Neither of these scenarios is acceptable for humanity to continue. Rather, we need to accept that there are some perils in the future for us, but we also have to see beyond this to strive for a better future. If, instead of a fatalistic view that the world is ending, we adopt a more positive stance, we can in fact affect the way our global future unfolds.
When we accept that we are the exception to the rule, that humans are all the same, that we all share the same fate, that our planet is in fact fragile and finite, and that we depend upon this planet for our very existence, only then can we hope to step forward and truly evolve as a species. We all need to be a little less selfish.
The premise of the betterment of society as outlined by Nikolai Kardashev is certainly one worth pursuing, even if it does prove to be unobtainable, or live in the world of science fiction. The idea that we are seeking betterment for the whole human race, AND every other creature that lives upon it, is positive. And if it does turn out that we obliterate ourselves with nuclear weapons, or an asteroid knocks us out of the solar system before then, so be it. At least we gave it our best shot. If obliteration doesn’t happen, imagine the world it could be.
To put this all into perspective, this quote from Carl Sagan says so much:
“We are the product of 4.5 billion years of fortuitous, slow biological evolution. There is no reason to think that the evolutionary process has stopped. Man is a transitional animal. He is not the climax of creation.”
My hope is that our evolutionary chain does not end with us.
Many thanks to:
The Lousy Canuck for linking back to this piece