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  • Dr. Mike Brooks

Navigating Truth in a Technoformed World


Welcome back, my fellow connectors! I told you that I have a story arc to tell, and our journey started with my first article, Finding Greater Peace and Joy in Our “Crazy” World. I am not here to say I have some special corner on the truth that no one else has figured out. That said, I feel compelled to cover our search for truth because it is an essential part of the story arc.


In brief, this is what this whole series on Medium is about: Our world is changing rapidly, arguably faster than we ever have in history. We are experiencing some harsh realities of climate change because we have “terraformed” our planet. Simultaneously, through our technologies, we are “technoforming” our planet. Like climate change, technoforming our world has consequences. We have already seen how the internet, smartphones, social media, and other technologies are swiftly changing the way we socialize, learn, connect, educate, inform, and play. While technology can be great, we all know that there are some serious downsides as well.


Speaking of transformative technologies, let’s address the elephant — or should I say, the 800 lbs. gorilla — in the room: artificial intelligence. I firmly believe that, in the not-so-distant future, we’ll look back wistfully at the days when we were merely concerned about TikTok, Instagram, and Fortnite. Artificial intelligence (AI) isn’t just a game-changer; it’s a civilization-altering force. It brings with it a myriad of opportunities, challenges, and risks as it continues to evolve and spread. We’ll delve into this in greater detail in upcoming articles because AI is a HUGE…DAMN…DEAL.


While the transformative power of AI is undeniable, it’s vital to recognize that its ultimate impact — whether for good or ill — will be determined by our collective actions. This begs a deeper, philosophical question we must tackle: How do we navigate the intricate maze of truth in a world that’s accelerating faster than ever? This Medium series is, in a sense, my ‘calling.’ I’m convinced that humanity needs to unite with skill, wisdom, and a shared sense of purpose to manage the looming risks before us. We’re not doomed, but our happiness and suffering hinge on how adeptly we handle monumental challenges like climate change, extreme political polarization, and, of course, artificial intelligence. Truth is our guiding light, illuminating the path as we navigate through an increasingly complex landscape of unprecedented challenges.


While we do have numerous challenges ahead of us, the bright side is that our destiny is in our own hands. If we figure out how to work together, with greater unity, there are no limits to what we can accomplish. While it might be maudlin to some, John Lennon’s song, Imagine, captures this idea. For example, if we figure out how to put in effective safeguards, the power of AI can be be harnessed to solve so many of our problems, including slowing or reversing climate change, improving health and longevity, and curing cancer. But, to paraphrase Bono and my favorite band, U2, we must “get out of our own way.” We all know that humans can accomplish amazing things by working together or be our own worst enemy (e.g., slavery, the Holocaust, wars).


As AI companies madly pursue the tantalizing power, potential, promise, and profits, the stakes are incredibly high. There is an unknowable chance above zero that artificial intelligence, as it grows in strength and proliferates, could lead to catastrophic harm or, perhaps, even an extinction event. As we enter totally uncharted waters with AI, the law of unintended, and unimagined, consequences can also come into play even if we are cautious. We will not get a second chance at getting this right. Moreover, as artificial intelligence advances and offers new opportunities, challenges, and risks, we will consistently need to manage AI with great wisdom, skill, and unity.


“The future’s not set. There’s no fate but what we make for ourselves.” — John Connor, from the movie, “The Terminator 2”


Embracing the Realities of Truth

As we search for the light of truth to help us navigate this world skillfully, we might say that a truth about truth is that truth is complicated. This is known as a dialectical or paradoxical truth. That is, it is generally true that truth is rarely absolute or dichotomous, especially when we are talking about things like social problems, politics, values, ideals, psychology, human behavior, and how to manage artificial intelligence.


Navigating the Complexity: Avoiding the Trap of Dualism

In our quest for truth, we face the temptation of dualism, which lures us into an oversimplified view of life. This binary mindset forces us to categorize issues in stark, black-or-white terms such as nature/nurture, liberal/conservative, good/evil, right/wrong, and so on. While it’s true that categorizing helps us navigate a complex world, forcing these complexities into constraining boxes can be a stumbling block to genuine understanding. Reality cannot be constrained or limited to our ideas about it. Thus, forcing a dichotomy onto complexity will inherently cause problems. The truth is that dualism is mismatched with how the world actually is, and this incongruency can lead to unnecessary suffering.


Dualism, in part, is one reason for increased polarization we are seeing in America and elsewhere. The intricacies of this world, the complicated challenges of this world, and the dynamic nuances of human nature do not neatly fit into just two categories of Republican/Democrat or conservative/liberal. This mismatch between reality, which is complex, changing, and nuanced, and a dichotomous political framework leads to increased suffering for Democrats AND Republicans as we become more polarized and divided.

Ancient, tribal tendencies and biases subconsciously distort our perceptions of reality (e.g., myside bias, ingroup bias, confirmation bias, motivated reasoning) as we separate ourselves from one another into two opposing camps. In this way, tribalism trumps truth. However, this is not a right/left problem — it is a human problem that equally affects people on both sides of the political divide.


Arguing over which side (e.g., liberal vs. conservative) is more “right” or more to “blame” is like fighting with your partner over who does more household chores. The reality is, the household chores need to be done and fighting over who does more/less is a dead-end to actually addressing the problem. I will elaborate on this critical problem because it is an impediment to dealing with the complicated challenges of this world that do not lend themselves to simple answers.


Taking a Nondualist Approach to Life

So, if dualism is a major problem, what’s the solution? Enter non-dualism as the philosophical antidote to our black-and-white thinking. To be clear, there are many different views of non-dualism (there’s not just one!). Some philosophers and spiritual seekers spend their entire lives exploring non-dualism and related philosophical concepts. So, I can’t pretend that I am covering this beefy topic in-depth, but I just aim to cover it enough so that the basic ideas make sense.


At its core, non-dualism is about making space for complexities, continuums, nuance, exceptions, and subtleties. It isn’t a lofty, mushy philosophical stance but a pragmatic tool for surviving in an ever-changing world. This nuanced approach is especially crucial as we venture into the complexities of artificial intelligence, a force that defies simple categorization.


“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” F. Scott Fitzgerald


As we confront the disruptive potential of artificial intelligence (AI), it’s clear that its impact — whether positive or negative — will largely depend on our collective actions. We know this to be true — when humans work together, there is almost nothing we cannot accomplish. However, humans have often been our worst enemy. Our future depends upon how well we work together. For us to truly unite, we first have to be honest with ourselves about the complexities we face. This is something that’s easier said than done.


“Our ability to reach unity in diversity will be the beauty and the test of our civilization.” — Mahatma Gandhi


Let’s Be Honest About Truth

Now, you might be thinking, ‘How hard can it be to solve some of these problems?’ Well, let’s put that to the test. If we are all being intellectually honest, our world’s problems are mind-bogglingly complicated. We might want to play armchair quarterback at times and imagine how we would “fix” all of our problems in the United States, but being the President of the United States of America, or any world leader, would be tremendously difficult.


Nobody knew healthcare could be so complicated.” — Donald Trump, February 2017


So, You Think You Have All of the Answers?

Let’s imagine you were tasked with solving the urgent issue of climate change. Here are some challenging questions you’d have to consider:

1.     Carbon Tax or Cap-and-Trade?: Which economic instrument would you use to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and why?

2.    Renewable Energy: How quickly should we transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources? What’s your plan to manage job losses in the fossil fuel industry?

3.    Global Partnerships: How would you convince other nations to adhere to your climate policies, especially those that are economically dependent on high-emission industries?

4.    Adaptation vs. Mitigation: Where would you allocate more resources — into adapting to the inevitable changes or into mitigating the changes that haven’t occurred yet?

5.    Public Opinion: How would you handle public resistance or apathy toward drastic climate policies?


If you find these questions complex and difficult to answer, that’s the point! Solving societal-level problems like climate change isn’t a walk in the park. It requires nuanced understanding, collective action, and, above all, a commitment to truth as we navigate these uncharted waters. Another important yet unfortunate reality that we need to overcome when tackling these wickedly complicated problems is this: In America and many other countries, you would likely have half of the country despise you no matter what you did as the leader. We must figure out a way to overcome this.


There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.” — John Adams, 1780, in a letter to Jonathan Jackson


The Rabbit Hole Beckons: Flexibility, Truth, and the Quest for Life’s Purpose

The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.” — Albert Einstein


In this article, we’ve explored the urgent need for truth in a world rapidly transformed by technology, especially AI. We’ve delved into the complexities of truth, the pitfalls of dualistic thinking, and the necessity for a nuanced, non-dualistic approach. As we stand on the brink of unprecedented challenges, our collective destiny hinges on our ability to navigate these complexities skillfully.


Truth is elusive in this complicated world, and that’s why we must pursue it with flexibility. Our world of modernity has grown increasingly complex, and the pace of change has exploded due to technological innovations like artificial intelligence. Importantly, flexibility isn’t just crucial for survival in our modern world. It is essential for fulfilling our life’s purpose. Given the formidable challenges before us, it behooves us all to ‘level up’ to meet the demands of our unpredictable world…because I 100% guarantee that it will quickly become even crazier than it is now.


So, as we prepare to delve deeper into the facets of truth and its role in our lives, my fellow connectors, I invite you to continue this journey with me. With a greater appreciation of why truth matters more than ever, let’s go further down the rabbit hole. In the next installment, we’ll explore the vital role of flexibility in navigating our complex world and how it ties into the very purpose of our existence.

 

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