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  • Unraveling Humanity's Evolutionary Puzzle: Part 1- Navigating Humanity's Inflection Point

    “Let me tell you why you’re here. You’re here because you know something. What you know you can’t explain, but you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life, that there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad.” — Morpheus to Neo from the movie, “The Matrix” Welcome back, my fellow connectors! Are you ready for a deep dive into what’s wrong with our world and what we need to do about it? I’ve been saying since the first installment, Finding Greater Peace and Joy in Our “Crazy” World, that I’m going to be sharing some provocative ideas as we go further down the rabbit hole in search of Truth. This is my series within a larger exploration, we will really start connecting some big dots about what is wrong with our world. Importantly, understanding the nature and roots of our struggles also illuminates what we need to do to overcome these problems. I said from the outset of this series, to borrow an analogy from baseball, that I would be “swinging for the fences.” That is, I am going to be exploring some bold and thought-provoking ideas. My goal is to integrate different concepts and ideas and offer fresh perspectives on the challenges of our modern world. While I certainly don’t claim to have all the answers, I’m committed to delving deeply and sharing insights that may spark some compelling and useful ways of understanding our world. Also, I’m being “true to myself” in that I’m trying to convey ideas to you, in which I believe, as openly and honestly as I can. The dots that we will be connecting cover a wide range and include concepts within the sciences, psychology, philosophy, spirituality, religion, wisdom from the arts and pop culture, and our personal experiences. Here is a truth I believe: You have already connected many of these dots yourself in similar ways, but perhaps you haven’t written these down or articulated them to others. “All secrets are open secrets. Nothing is hidden. Nothing is revealed. People can only be told what they already know. Although they know, they may not be conscious of their knowledge.” — Camden Benares, from “Zen Without Zen Masters” It’s crucial to understand the gravity of my next statements. What I’m about to share not only diagnose key issues underlying the world’s problems, but also sets the stage for potential transformative changes. If I am correct about what I am about to say, the implications are profound and far-reaching. Thus, I believe that the claims I will be explaining a lot of what is wrong with this world, the challenges we will have ahead of us, and what we will need to do to overcome them. In particular, as I weave this narrative, we will get to the 800 lbs. gorilla that is artificial intelligence. I want to make this as clear as possible : AI represents the most unique and daunting challenge that humanity has probably ever faced. Its very nature poses a threat to us, and I will explain precisely and clearly how this is the case. It is not for the common reasons we are seeing in the media, although many of those concerns are also legitimate. When I connect these particular dots, I believe that, if you are trying to be reasonable and open, you will agree with me. I am trying to put words to beliefs that you have not voiced and/or feelings you have about how things in this world seem awry. You will know what I am saying is true because I will connect to truths that you already know, but you might not know that you know them. At least, I believe that I can articulate these truths in a way that connects with what you already know or suspect. In essence, I’m not only trying to connect the dots on some big ideas, I am also trying to connect my dots with your dots. Caveats Before diving into the core of our discussion, let’s quickly revisit some important caveats. ·         Feel free to skip the remaining caveats if you're already familiar with them. ·         I encourage you to read my first article before proceeding to give you proper context for what I will be saying. That article includes some of these caveats. ·         I will repeat myself — my apologies! I hope to turn this into a book, but I don’t have the time to weave everything together elegantly right now. ·         I will put my “thought babies” and more important statements in italics for emphasis. Please read my first article in the series to give you context for the thought babies. ·         As I’ve written, there are very few absolute truths in this world, so I can only point to general/partial truths. Thus, while you might not totally agree with what I’ll be saying, please look for some truth in claims I’m going to make. ·         While I will support my beliefs and assertions and place proper caveats on many of them, it’s okay if you disagree. I’m not here to argue with anyone. However, I feel compelled to “call it like I see it.” ·         I will start blending science and spirituality more as we move forward. For the longest time, I have had a war within myself as my spiritual and empirical sides battled one another. It’s a long story, but those sides have made peace, so I will be moving back and forth within these different realms. I will be blending the two worldviews because I see them pointing to some of the same truths. ·         I’m not claiming that I’m the first person to say any of what I’m about to say/write. Countless others have made similar observations, and I’ll be citing many of them. However, I’ll be putting my own “spin” on these ideas and weaving them together a bit differently than most folks — partly because I will be blending science and spirituality. ·         Ultimately, the purpose of all of this is to help you find greater peace and joy in your life. Thus, if you find some of the ideas and perspectives illuminating or helpful, please use them within your own life as you see fit. If not, my apologies, and I encourage you to pursue other paths and resources that help you live The Good Life. ·         If you do like some of the things that I say illuminating and/or helpful, I’d very much appreciate you sharing these articles because I stink at social media, marketing, and self-promotion. The Great News About Our Modern World: A Journey of Progress and Hardship Before we dive into what’s wrong with our world, it’s important that we all appreciate the tremendous progress humanity has made over the past few hundred years. As Harvard psychologist Dr. Steven Pinker describes in books such as The Better Angels of Our Nature and Enlightenment Now, we have made incredible advances beginning around the late 17th century. Around that time, the world began to see unprecedented changes due to the combined effects of the Age of Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, and the Scientific Revolution. Most major metrics of human flourishing (e.g., longevity, poverty rates, deaths from wars, famines, pandemics, homicide) have improved markedly during this time. For instance, until a few hundred years ago, approximately 27% of children did not live to see their first birthday, and 46% did not reach their fifteenth. Loss of a child is the worst suffering we can imagine So, the fact that infant and child mortality rates have dropped so significantly should be celebrated as one of the greatest collective achievements of humanity. As another example of the amazing progress humanity has made over the past two hundred years, throughout most of human civilization during the past 2000 years, about 90–95% of humans lived in extreme poverty. Now that figure is less than 10%. What a remarkable triumph of human progress! As one last example of our tremendous progress, medical and scientific advances such as germ theory, vaccines, and antibiotics that have saved the lives of countless millions. For example, the during its last century of existence, smallpox killed approximately 500 million people. Those who survived this excruciatingly painful disease, which had a 30% infected fatality rate, were often horribly disfigured. Thanks to vaccines, no one has died from smallpox since 1979, the same year that the World Health Organization declared smallpox to be eradicated. The History of Civilization Was Often Brutal While Pinker emphasizes the improvements in modern times, it’s important to keep in mind that the history of civilization has often been quite brutal. Our past is filled with intense hardships such as wars, genocides, religious persecution, plagues, slavery, misogyny, oppression, inequalities, and famine. Indeed, Yuval Noah Harari, a historian at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, offers a broader historical perspective in his book, “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind,” arguing that the journey from our hunter-gatherer ancestors to modernity has often been a bumpy road. In fact, it is debatable whether early civilization, up until about two hundred years ago, represented an improvement over the typical living conditions of our hunter/gatherer ancestors. There have been many periods in the history of civilization when one might have been much better off living in a prehistoric hunter-gatherer tribe rather than, let’s say, as a peasant in Medieval Europe. We must not overly-glamorize the lives of our prehistoric hunter-gatherer ancestors, it’s just to say that sometimes their hardships weren’t as bad as the lives of so many throughout civilization. While the stark challenges faced by our hunter-gatherer ancestors were undoubtedly different from those in later periods, such as Medieval Europe, it’s essential to acknowledge the complexity of these comparisons. Each era had its unique set of hardships and advantages, shaped by varying social structures, environmental conditions, and technological advancements. The important point that we will be returning to is this: There is a profound mismatch between the challenges that are hunter-gatherer ancestors evolved to confront and the modern challenges we face today. So, What’s the Matter Here? Imagine that we were a floating celestial consciousness that was going to be randomly placed into an organic human vessel within the past 5000 years, when would you choose for your consciousness to be placed into that human body? When would you have the best chances of surviving and even thriving? If we were given such a choice, now would be our best “Vegas odds” chance of success. Many of you might be groaning about this because it often seems as if the world is going to hell in a handbasket. In fact, most people are the world, especially in affluent countries, are quite pessimistic about the future. We are not alone in our belief that the world is getting worse and not better. While we tend to be quite pessimistic about the future despite our great progress, there is another twist and layer of complexity. Most individuals within affluent countries, when asked, will rate their individual happiness/life satisfaction as rather high. For instance, when we look at the percentage of Americans who report feeling fairly to very satisfied, the percentage is quite high — 83% according to a 2023 U.S. Gallup poll. Moreover, you can see that, despite the many ups and downs we’ve experienced in America since 1979, the first year these data were gathered, personal life satisfaction has remained high and stable. Thus, life satisfaction in the United States remains relatively high despite all of the struggles we’ve had (e.g., the terrorist attack of 9/11/2001, the Great Recession, increased political polarization, the COVID-19 pandemic, the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol, the toxic levels of negative partisanship, concerns about climate change, rising levels of mental health problems). Interestingly, despite most Americans rating their personal life satisfaction as fairly high, Americans are not very satisfied with America on the whole. The Perceived Happiness Gap Another curious finding regarding personal happiness and life satisfaction is that citizens of most countries rate their personal happiness as rather high, but they believe the average happiness of their fellow citizens is much lower. This is known as the Perceived Happiness Gap. As one stark example, 90% of South Koreans rate themselves as “rather happy” or “very happy” yet they believe that only 25% of fellow South Koreans would rate themselves similarly. For Americans, according to this survey, about 90% rate themselves as “rather happy” or “very happy” yet they believe that only about 48% of Americans would rate themselves similarly. This Perceived Happiness Gap was observed in every country that was studied. The Progress Paradox Life has improved for countless millions of us over the past few hundred years. From a statistical standpoint, being alive now is our best chance at having a good life than at any time in our history. On a personal level, most of us, especially within WEIRD countries (i.e., Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic), rate themselves as fairly to very happy/satisfied with life. Yet, it’s also true that, despite the incredible progress humanity has made, many of us are quite dissatisfied with our own countries as a whole and are quite pessimistic about the future. On the surface, this doesn’t seem to make much sense. We know more about happiness, and can transmit this knowledge, better than at any point in our history. Think of the easy access we have to happiness-based books, podcasts, YouTube videos, social media posts, happiness apps, self-help books and gurus as well as the countless millions of us taking antidepressant medications and seeing therapists. Yet, we don’t seem to be making much progress on our happiness — at least not in WEIRD countries. We might call this the Progress Paradox. These seemingly contradictory findings have significant implications for humanity’s future, and we will explore them in depth in the upcoming articles. I have ways of explaining these contradictions that, I believe, make sense. Reasons We Believe That The World Is Getting Worse We must remember that these multiple, seemingly contradictory, truths can co-exist. Thus, we must refrain from thinking dualistically (i.e., in black-or-white, or all-or-nothing) terms here. Yes, humanity has made great progress. Yes, humanity still has a lot of room for improvement, and yes, we are pessimistic about our respective countries and our futures. “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” — F. Scott Fitzgerald How can we explain why we feel like things are so bad and getting worse, despite the facts about our tremendous progress? Also, this is despite how so many of us, especially in WEIRD countries, are benefiting greatly from the progress that has been made? How is it that, even as so many aspects of our world and our lives get better with progress, we feel so pessimistic about the future? The Amount of Suffering in This World While we have made incredible progress over the centuries, there is still disconcertingly high levels of suffering in this world. For instance, while a smaller percentage of people live in poverty, the world population has risen significantly in the past few centuries. According to the World Bank, we have almost 700 million people living in extreme poverty right now, on less than $2.15/day. To put this into perspective, this is a higher number than the entire population of the world in 1700 (610 million). Source: https://www.worldometers.info/world-population/ As another source of suffering in this modern world, despite institutional slavery being abolished, about 50 million people live in modern slavery (e.g., human trafficking, forced labor). Moreover, tens of millions of people die each year from preventable causes (e.g., infectious diseases, starvation/malnutrition, lack of clean water/sanitation, lack of vaccines for preventable diseases, infant/child mortality, accidents). Thus, even with our progress, the aggregate amount of suffering that occurs in this world on a daily basis is staggering. Many of us, partly because this information is so readily available, are aware of the tremendous amount of suffering and injustice in the world. The knowledge of these harsh realities is quite depressing and stressful. The Serious Challenges That Humanity Faces In addition to the amount of suffering that occurs in our world daily, many of us believe that, and feel like, the world is getting worse and are pessimistic about the future for another reason: Humanity has some huge, and extremely thorny, challenges on our collective plate. This list of challenges is not exhaustive, but most of these should be familiar to you. It is our familiarity with and awareness of these complex challenges that is probably contributing to our collective pessimism, particularly in WEIRD countries (i.e., Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic). 1.     Climate Change: The planet is experiencing significant warming, leading to detrimental consequences for human life, ecosystems, and economies. (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report, 2021) 2.    Biodiversity Loss: The rapid decline in global wildlife populations, 69% since 1970, is indicative of severe environmental degradation. (World Wildlife Fund — WWF, 2020) 3.    Nuclear Proliferation: The risk of nuclear conflict remains a global concern, particularly with nations like North Korea and Iran pursuing the development of nuclear arms. (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), 2021) 4.    Mental Health Crisis: A significant rise in mental health disorders, including depression and anxiety, is impacting millions worldwide, often exacerbated by inadequate treatment options. (World Health Organization — WHO). There is also an epidemic of, or at least rise in, loneliness, despite, or perhaps because of, our greater connectedness through technology. 5.    Socio-Political Conflicts: Ongoing conflicts and tensions, such as the situation in Ukraine and between Israel and Palestine, contribute to global instability. 6.    Political Polarization: Intense and increasing political division is undermining social cohesion and democratic processes, particularly in the United States. (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace) 7.     Rise of Authoritarian Regimes: An increase in authoritarian governance is observed worldwide, threatening global democracy and human rights. (Freedom House, 2021) 8.    Global Poverty and Inequality: Despite technological and economic progress, a substantial portion of the world’s population continues to live in extreme poverty. (World Bank) 9.    Healthcare Accessibility: About one half of the world, about four billion people, lack access to essential health care services. (World Health Organization — WHO) 10.        Educational Inequality: The pandemic has exacerbated existing disparities in education, affecting millions of children and youth globally. (United Nations, 2020) 11. Technological Disruption and Cybersecurity Threats: The technological revolution, while bringing progress, also introduces significant cybersecurity risks. 12.         Existential Threats of AI: The rapid advancement and proliferation of artificial intelligence poses significant risks to societal structures and economic stability, with some risk above zero of an existential risk to humanity. (The New York Times) You might be able to think of a number of other troubling concerns about our world beyond this list. A sobering reality we must face and accept is this: Our past progress is no guarantee of continued progress. For example, the toxic divisions within America such negative partisanship and a loss of faith in our elections, government institutions, and one another are a threat to the future of the United States. The idea that our democracy could break, which is a thought that probably didn’t trouble us much until recent years, has many Americans quite worried about our future. Humanity’s Inflection Point Our hunter-gatherer ancestors were blissfully unaware of troubles outside their immediate tribe. They were concerned with surviving and making it through the day. This also applies to previous generations within civilization who could not afford to be preoccupied with worry about global problems and were probably unaware of most of them. Now our world is more connected than ever. Through advances in our technology such as the internet, smartphones, and social media, we’ve become a global community. We have more access to information (and misinformation) about the world, and to each other, than at any time in history. Perhaps this is part of the problem, and why so many of us are reasonably concerned about the state of the world and the direction we are heading. Our connectedness through our technologies exposes us to a firehose of negative information about our world that can be quite overwhelming for us. Our negativity bias ensures that we are drawn to and consume more negative news than positive. There is much truth to long-time adage within journalism that, “If it bleeds, it leads.” Also, because of the power of bad, negative news affects us more negatively than positive news affects us positively. In a manner of speaking, the internet is like eating the Forbidden Fruit, and the knowledge of all the evils and ills of the word threatens to overwhelm us. Sometimes ignorance was, indeed, a kind of bliss. While knowledge is power, knowledge dominated by a tsunami of negativity is both overwhelming and depressing. Multiple truths co-exist. It is a great time to be alive in so many ways because of the amazing progress humanity has made. Most of us benefit immensely daily from the many creature comforts of modernity. Yet, humanity has some daunting, and very complicated, challenges ahead. I am going to make a provocative claim: What if most of the problems in our world are not in spite of the wonders of modernity, but a result of them? In other words, what if our progress is the heart of our societal problems and more progress will exacerbate these problems? I believe humanity is at an inflection point. With great humility, while simultaneously “swinging for the fences,” I will explain why I believe humanity is at an inflection point, and what we need to do about it. Please join me for the next article in this series as we really start to piece this provocative puzzle together! Having a clearer understanding of the nature of our challenges and struggles illuminates our way forward.

  • How to Find Happiness in Our Chaotic World

    “The world has changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air.” — Lady Galadriel from the movie, “The Fellowship of the Ring” Greetings, my fellow connectors! As you look around at what is happening in our world these days, are you the type of person who wonders, “What the hell is going on? Is the world going mad? Are we headed in the wrong direction? Where is all this “progress” taking us anyway?” We are being bombarded relentlessly these days with information, content, change, and negativity. As we doomscroll through threats such as climate change, political polarization, the proliferation of artificial intelligence, UFO claims, rising mental health problems, wars, mass shootings, a recent pandemic, economic instability, and natural disasters, we often feel like we can’t keep our collective heads above water. It’s a dizzying whirlwind, and it is as if life is going off the rails. We feel that the stakes are getting higher and higher as humanity is being forced to navigate mind-bogglingly complex and unfolding challenges. If such thoughts and concerns overwhelm you, trust me, you are not alone. I’m right there with you. There’s been some kind of change or shift in recent decades, and it’s not in a good way. While there are certainly countless wonderful things about our modern world, we know there is something wrong as well. We can feel it. “Let me tell you why you’re here. You’re here because you know something. What you know you can’t explain, but you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life, that there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad.” — Morpheus to Neo from the movie, “The Matrix” We know this truth: We are only seeing the tips of some very formidable icebergs in front of us. Many of these icebergs - these obstacles - are likely to become even more difficult to manage over time, such as evolving and proliferating artificial intelligence and worsening global climate change. Yet, we are simultaneously experiencing growing and troublesome levels of polarization in America and elsewhere around the world. What worries many of us is that we are not seeing the level of unity necessary to overcome these complicated, imposing, evolving, but shared challenges. Humanity — we need to bring our “A-Game” to these challenges in order to navigate them skillfully. Let me put it this way. While we are not doomed, how skillfully we manage these thorny challenges and problems determines our level of suffering versus happiness. “We may have all come on different ships, but we are in the same boat now.” — Martin Luther King, Jr. If I am describing how you feel, then I’m inviting you to join me on an ambitious journey. Like Neo in The Matrix, we must take the red pill, fearlessly confront reality, and dig deep to understand what’s really happening. By pursuing truth and a better understanding of reality, of how both we and our world work, we can uncover the underlying causes of our problems and navigate life’s challenges more effectively. If this resonates with you, then this series is meant for you, my fellow explorer. Please join me, and let’s see how deep this rabbit hole goes. Welcome to my new Medium series! “Wonder is the beginning of wisdom.” — Socrates What Do I Mean by “Crazy” World? “When I say this world is ‘crazy,’ I mean that it often seems chaotic and overwhelming. Here’s my main point though: Sometimes we fault ourselves for struggling to cope. Many of us feel chronically stressed, anxious, depressed, frustrated, numb, hopeless, or unhappy. Here is what I want you to know — we don’t have to feel bad for feeling bad. There’s nothing inherently wrong with us that we are frequently struggling. The great news is that we are not defective or losing our sanity. The issue is that our technological world is evolving so rapidly that many of us feel like leaves swirling within the chaotic winds of change. We struggle to grapple with the inherent challenges of this dynamic, hyper-connected modern age. From this perspective, here is the important reality to internalize. We are not going crazy — it is this world that is becoming “crazy,” and it is making us all a little crazy trying to keep up with it! It’s not our fault that we’re suffering while trying to keep up with the frenetic pace of this world. However, it is our problem that we must tackle. This series aims to explore why we find ourselves struggling so much in this world and what steps we can take to achieve greater peace and happiness in a “crazy” world. My Preemptive Apology I must first apologize to you for the hypocrisy of being yet another person vying for the most precious gift you could ever give me, or any other person: Your undivided attention. In so many ways, other people, the media, bots, and the algorithms of surveillance capitalist are in fierce competition with one another for this most precious commodity in the known universe. We are already inundated with a firehose of information. As I write, blog, tweet, present, etc., I become part of the insane system that I, in part, am railing against. I embody hypocrisy. Yet, this is the insane world in which we live. I either get on this crazy train, or I get left behind in the digital dust. In part, I think the push-pull that I’m describing is what is making us all a little bit crazy. I will elaborate on these ideas in my next articles for Medium. Would You Join Me on This Journey? Now, the onus is on me to earn the gift of your attention. I hope I can prove myself worthy of it. I have much to share, and I would like the opportunity to earn your precious gift. To this end, I would like to make a little deal with you. Are you ready to hear my pitch? I know this is asking a lot, but I will throw myself at your feet anyway. Please subscribe to my Medium series and read my first five articles. I plan to write one article every week or two. So, I’m asking for roughly an hour of your time over the next 5–10 weeks. I realize that, with all of the competing needs and forces out there, this is actually a big ask. If you make this deal with me, I have five articles to convince you that at least some of these ideas are juicy nuggets worth considering, sharing, and putting into practice. With this Medium series, I will be attempting to connect some BIG dots about what is going on in this world and the obstacles we have ahead of us. We’ll also explore what we must do to navigate some of the most difficult challenges humanity has ever faced. I will be shooting for the moon with this series. In this introductory article, I am laying the groundwork for what’s to come in this series. Future blogs will be shorter. I have a complete story arc to tell if you decide to join me. I am basically blogging an entire book, but I promise to break these ideas up into digestible nuggets. I have written one book that was published by Oxford University Press in 2018, Tech Generation: Raising Balanced Kids in a Hyper-Connected World. Yet, trying to write and publish this book will take too long. I have to get these ideas out, or I will soon drive myself and everyone around me mad. I am convinced that blogging my book is the way to go at this juncture. Perhaps I will consolidate this material into a book at some point, but I need to write one piece at a time. This is the way. I encourage you to stick with me, at least for a little while, because I will offer some fresh takes and overarching theories that could really resonate with you. While there are some sobering realities about our world that we must face, together we can explore different perspectives, theories, and solutions. By seeking to understand the complexities of our challenges, we can shed light on potential paths forward and work collaboratively to navigate this ever-changing landscape. “The only way to solve a problem is to understand it, and understanding begins with an honest and open search for the truth, however painful that truth may be.” — C. P. Snow, British novelist and scientist My Purpose in Life Is to Share These Ideas As strange as it may seem, I believe that a central purpose in my life is to share these thoughts and ideas with you. I write (and present) on these ideas without any intention of amassing followers, fortune, or fame. While I’d love to have people follow this series on Medium and share with others, my goal, my purpose, is to pass along these ideas. These ideas have become a story that I must share with others who are willing to join me on this journey. With full transparency, if I can figure out a way to earn enough money from writing and presenting to make a living, then I will be able to dedicate more time to this calling. However, I can’t let that distract me too much because then it might undermine my purpose to write! Therefore, I will just write and be open to what unfolds. The Treadmill of Life Doesn’t it often feel as if we are running on a treadmill in which the speed keeps increasing and we just can’t keep up? Over the past few years, I have experienced a growing feeling that the pace of life is accelerating. I’ve come to believe that both my life, and the world around me, have reached an inflection point. It’s as if life’s experiences have converged at this exact moment, compelling me to write. As if autonomously guided, my mind is piecing it all together, and generating what I call my “thought babies.” I first heard this term “thought babies” on an episode of the television series Brooklyn 99, and the term has become a favorite of mine ever since. I view what’s happened to me as a synchronicity that has resulted in me having a lot of thought babies and a conviction to share them through writing and presenting. When I connect the different thought babies, they tell a story. However, until I write and share these thought babies, it is as if they are in one, huge thought baby orphanage. These thought babies don’t have a home until I share them. So, that brings me to this moment right now — sharing these thought babies. A Concept Album of Thought Babies To be clear, we all have thought babies. They are like epiphanies or musical melodies that pop into our heads. They are probably born out of a complex interplay between our genetics, previous learning experiences, values, interests, and other variables. Yet, sometimes it feels as if there is a spiritual element to them, which defies explanation. Within the past few months, I have been experiencing these intriguing thought babies as loud, catchy melodies that I can’t help but hear and share. Folks, these thought babies have been singing to me. My good friend, a jazz musician, likens it to how musical ideas come to musicians. They’re melodies that evolve into songs, and now, for me, they’ve become a concept album of ideas. This series on Medium is my concept album, in a manner of speaking. I am changing metaphors here, but I have connected these “thought baby” dots into a painting I want to show you — kind of like a pointillist painter. Let’s be unequivocally clear: I don’t claim to be unique or special for having “thought babies,” wanting to connect dots, or feeling compelled to share these ideas. There are countless others sharing similar ideas and their own thought babies. They have their own “concept albums” or “pointillist paintings” to share. In fact, I borrow or am inspired by countless other people, and I will try to cite them along the way whenever I can. In this regard, I am not creating the dots that I am connecting. I can only identify these “dots,” which represent ideas worth sharing, if they already existed in some form. Imagine that we are all explorers on different parts of some newly discovered island. We can only discover new flora and fauna. We do not create them. You might discover them completely independent of me, but we can only discover what’s already there. As we embark on this journey, perhaps think of me as a musician in a small coffee shop or your favorite watering hole, passionately playing a set list of songs that might resonate with you. For my part, I feel compelled to put this concept album into the world through Medium and then give it up to God, the Universe, or whatever. For my purpose is to share without any other goal or expectation, and I will strive to do just that. While I hope people like what I have to say, I cannot become attached to that because then I will be unable to say what I feel compelled to say. I hope this makes sense! My Personal Journey to Synchronicity I have another story to tell you. It’s the story of how I got to this point. To do it justice, I would need at least 10000 words, and I could probably write a stand alone book just on this journey! I would love to provide the backstory in full at some point because it explains why I feel so compelled to tell you the things I am going to be sharing with you throughout this series. In brief, I have been interested in science, spirituality, philosophy, religion, psychology, music, literature, pop culture, and science fiction since I can remember. Throughout the journey that I’ve been on, parts of me have often been at war with one another, particularly my scientific materialism with my spirituality and faith. However, over the years, these different interests, beliefs, and conflicts have converged and harmonized. I have come to some sort of peace and equilibrium. The once disparate elements have merged such that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Even as I was resolving some of my inner conflicts, I was growing more frustrated and discouraged over the past several years with our increasingly polarized political world. I felt, “We are devolving! Surely, humanity can do better than this!” As I was writing and presenting on some ideas to help us find greater unity, everything changed when I first tried ChatGPT, the first conversational AI of its kind, in early January of 2023. I knew AI was on the horizon but, like so many of us, I was expecting that it would be a few more years until it was ready for prime time. As soon as I tried ChatGPT, I went from “WOW!” to “OMG!” in an instant. My dot-connecting mind was madly trying to figure out the implications of what AI would mean for humanity. Disconcertingly, many of the dots that I could rationally connect went straight down some dystopian rabbit holes. For a month or two, I was in a weird headspace. However, I was able to make it through a foreboding tunnel and out the other side. That is its own story that is worth telling. I will try to weave parts of this backstory throughout the blog series. For now, we might say my backstory is a combination of the movie, Slumdog Millionaire meets the book by Ernest Klein, Ready Player One (which was later made into the Steven Spielberg movie). The synchronicities I experienced during this difficult journey form the foundation of this Medium series. These same synchronicities also compel me to write, even if not many read what I write. My purpose is to write, and that’s just what I am going to do. You will see the references for my influences and cultural touchstones throughout this series. I will even place a few “Easter eggs” for those who like to catch some of my curious or esoteric references. The Concern Fueling My Compulsion to Write It is my firm conviction that, as a species, humanity stands at the edge of a knife. Amazing progress has been made over the past few hundred years, yet we face unprecedented, evolving challenges of mind-boggling complexity and scale. Frankly, I don’t know if humanity is ready for what we have ahead of us. To me, this is at the heart of the burning fire that compels me to write. This is why I am having the thought babies, my fellow truth-seekers. I am not claiming anything divine in the origin of the fire within me. I feel like it is a synchronicity of sorts that lit the fire that compels me to write. I have a 100% clear purpose for the first time in my life. While I can logically explain the reason for the synchronicity, the spiritual side of me…has some different feelings about it. Like I said, I could write a book on this journey alone! We Face Shared Big Challenges Ahead You might disagree with me completely about humanity’s ability to work together to overcome our big challenges, that AI is just another apocalyptic panic like the Y2K bug, and that there is no reason to worry. I understand why some people hold such views. That said, I can only speak for the truth as I see it. As I analyze our situation as carefully, honestly, and objectively as I am able, I keep landing on this concern at the root of it all: What I have seen in this world as of late has not given me great confidence that human beings will be able to work with the unity, wisdom, and skill that will be required to manage the challenges before us, particularly the evolving, proliferating power of artificial intelligence. To be totally honest, my fellow truth-seekers, my optimism is being stretched out like butter that has been scraped over too much bread. Strangely, while I am concerned about our future, I’m not paralyzed with worry. After all, fretting over uncontrollable factors won’t help. What truly matters is our collective ability to rise to these challenges, a task that starts with understanding and confronting them head-on. When I ask myself, “What can I do about these concerns?” the answer is that I must tell this story. This story includes why some of these challenges ahead will be particularly difficult for us and what we can do to overcome them. To paraphrase the great cosmologist, Carl Sagan, extraordinary challenges require extraordinary efforts. As I see it, the extraordinary challenges that lie ahead require great unity to navigate them skillfully and wisely. This, in turn, necessitates that we try to understand these challenges as clearly and objectively as we can. We cannot act skillfully if we don’t understand the problems we face. Thus, we must seek both truth and unity as we try to handle the challenges of this crazy world. “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” Jesus, from the Gospel of John, 8:32, The New Testament (King James Version) “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” — Martin Luther King, Jr. Sharing Ideas with Humility “Believe those who are seeking the truth. Doubt those who find it.” — André Gide, French author and Nobel Laureate in Literature While I have a story, a concept album of ideas, to share, I do so with great humility because I believe that truth can be extremely elusive in this complicated world. So, this puts me in the awkward position of feeling compelled to share ideas I consider important, while also acknowledging the need for appropriate caveats. I will try to support what I say with citations and references whenever possible. Also, while sometimes I will make claims and predictions with utmost conviction, I am not conflating what I believe to be true with actual truth. For instance, I might say something like, “I believe ________ will happen with 100% certainty,” but I must also admit I could be wrong. These two truths can coexist, so we must not conflate them. I am, in essence, saying that, based upon my knowledge and experience, this is the way I view things currently. I will be pulling from multiple disciplines and resources to support what I will be proposing and asserting. Many of these ideas are a lifetime in the making but, as I said, a fire was lit within me in recent years as our politics have become more toxic. The advent of generative, conversational AI has turned that smoldering concern into a roaring inferno. Here’s an analogy that might be useful. Imagine I’m a meteorologist who is predicting a busy hurricane season, and I see one forming in the Atlantic Ocean. At a certain point, I might express high confidence that it will make it to the shore, yet I might not be able to predict with great accuracy where it will hit and how much damage it will cause. My concept album of thought babies is about the “hurricane” of troubles I see coming our way, and what I believe we need to do to manage these challenges skillfully. I’m not alone in recognizing these challenges. Countless others see them as well. These folks are expressing their concerns, and have their own ideas about how to tackle such challenges. However, the way I weave these ideas together and the particular way in which I will tell this story will be relatively unique. This blog series in Medium is the story, the concept album, I will be sharing. Let’s Explore and Engage Rather Than Argue In the spirit of truth-seeking in our complicated world, I invite you to join me in a journey free from argument and rigid thinking. I am not here to offend or to proclaim, “I’m right and you’re an idiot!” Instead, I wish to unite with fellow explorers and truth-seekers. If you enjoy arguing or have decided that you alone possess the truth, this series may not click with you. Similarly, if you are on the extreme end of the political spectrum, you might find this approach to flexibility challenging, or perhaps even unsettling. From the perspective I’m taking, extremism in any form can hinder the pursuit of truth in a complicated, dynamic world. Admittedly, and hypocritically, I sometimes inflexibly think that everyone needs to be more flexible! I have to keep that particular form of rigidity in check. That said, if you, too, fellow connector, let’s enjoy this journey together and support each another along the way. “Not all those who wander are lost.” — from J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Fellowship of the Ring” I know that you, my fellow truth-seekers, already possess many ideas and insights of your own. Instead of an inflexible, dichotomous approach, let’s strive for a “both/and,” non-dualistic understanding. Challenge yourself to find agreement rather than reflexive disagreement. When strong feelings arise in response to what I am saying, approach those feelings within you with curiosity. What emotional triggers might my words be hitting? Are those reactions preventing you from considering other perspectives? Remember, we are seeking general or “squishy” truths that guide us to live the Good Life in this complex world. While there will always be exceptions and “Yes, but…” counterarguments to most things I’ll discuss, I encourage you to seek useful insights even in the parts where you may disagree. What This Story Will Cover I said I have a story to tell, and I want to provide the general outline for what I intend to cover. An important caveat here is that I might deviate from this outline somewhat as new ideas, “thought babies,” and technological/political developments arise. Each topic area will contain multiple parts or several articles. Each article in the Medium series will probably be about 1500–2000 words long. In turn, each section will build upon the previous section, and I will attempt to create a very logical, reasonable flow from one idea to the next. I aim to post a new article every 1–2 weeks. Here is what I intend to cover within my story arc: The Search for Truth in a “Crazy” World: We will explore the critical role of truth-seeking as a compass to help us navigate our increasingly complicated reality. The Purpose Puzzle: We will delve into existential questions about why we are here and what our purpose might be. Modernity Madness: We will examine how the complexities and rapid changes of the modern world contribute to widespread emotional and psychological distress. I will make a case as to why I believe our “crazy” world is driving us all a bit mad. The AI Conundrum: We will explore how artificial intelligence poses unique and unprecedented challenges for humanity as it evolves and proliferates. Human Wisdom in the Age of AI: I will make a case for why we need to harness and use the best of human wisdom to help guide us in the age of artificial intelligence. Unity in Diversity: Based upon collective human wisdom for how to live “the Good Life,” I will propose actionable steps on individual and societal levels that could help us navigate the formidable challenges humanity has ahead of us. Ready to Take the Red Pill? “This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill — the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill — you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember: all I’m offering is the truth. Nothing more.” — Morpheus to Neo from the movie, “The Matrix” The “truth” that I am going to show you is not “THE truth.” The truths I will be discussing are not solely truths I am claiming as my own but are shared human truths (as I understand them). “All secrets are open secrets. Nothing is hidden. Nothing is revealed. People can only be told what they already know.” — Camden Benares, from “Zen Without Zen Masters” As it says in Ecclesiastes within the Hebrew Bible, “There is nothing new under the sun.” The biblical writer wasn’t referring to smartphones and artificial intelligence, of course. The author was highlighting the idea that humanity’s struggles — stemming from greed, arrogance, pride, hatred, jealousies, and so on — have been consistent throughout history. Moreover, the wisdom for how we should live our lives has also been with us for thousands of years. In the Buddhist story where a finger points to the moon, with the moon symbolizing The Truth, we should not mistake the finger, or the person pointing to the Truth, with the moon, or actual Truth. I am but another finger pointing to the moon. But one thing I will do a little differently is I will not only point to the moon, but I will point to many of the other fingers pointing to the same moon. I believe that various spiritual, intellectual, and artistic traditions are pointing toward the same fundamental truths about how we should live in this world. Throughout my life, I’ve encountered these different perspectives — from Christianity, Buddhism, and Taoism, to philosophy, psychology, and the sciences (particularly evolutionary psychology and biology). It doesn’t just stop there. I find these profound truths in my favorite musicians, from U2 to Rush, my favorite movies, from Blade Runner to Star Wars and The Matrix. While I might include my personal favorites, my bet is that your favorites also point to these same truths. All these different fingers pointing to the same moon suggest that the truth is already within our grasp. My own unique experiences, with some mystery sprinkled in, have given rise to these “thought babies.” Therefore, in this series, I’ll weave in cultural touchstones that have enriched my understanding, because they’ve been the fertile ground from which these ideas have sprouted. As I said, think of it as a Slumdog Millionaire meets Ready Player One fusion of ideas — connecting disparate dots to form a coherent tapestry. Humanity faces mind-bogglingly difficult challenges ahead of us. We need to rise up to these challenges and work with greater unity than perhaps we ever have before. We are connected. Our unity is our strength, and division can be our undoing in the face of these existential challenges. As Jesus warned in the synoptic Gospels of the New Testament (Matthew 12:25, Mark 3:25, Luke 11:17), “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” This story arc in Medium is about why we need to “level up” and how. Few might read what I am going to say, but I feel compelled to try. Now, you are curious as to what on Earth I am going to say, aren’t you? Well, my fellow connectors, it’s time to take the red pill and follow me to see how deep this rabbit hole goes.

  • Ego's Grip: Understanding and Overcoming its Tyranny

    We have an ego for a reason, but it can create a lot of suffering, too. KEY POINTS We have an ego, or a sense of self, for a reason. Our ego is rooted in our evolutionary heritage and helps us to survive and thrive in the world. When our ego becomes overly attached, it can result in suffering on both the individual and societal level. With a greater understanding of how the ego works and how it can cause suffering, we can work to keep it in check. "I can't believe the news today. I can't close my eyes and make it go away." —U2, from the song, "Sunday, Bloody Sunday" As President Vladimir Putin sends Russian troops into Ukraine to take over a sovereign, democratic nation, we are left wondering: Why? What is this all really for? Putin may confabulate a list of reasons why this aggression is justified, including claims that Ukrainian territory rightfully belongs to Russia, that its citizens need to be liberated, that he doesn't want them to join NATO, and so on. However, it's also possible that this military action is driven less by geopolitical issues and more by his ego. The lust for power, dominance, control, praise, glory, worship, attention, esteem, and so on are all ways in which the ego can cause harm. Such lusts have shaped history: Wars have been waged, peoples oppressed, and countless millions have suffered and died because of rulers' egos. "Better the pride that resides in a citizen of the world than the pride that divides when a colorful rag is unfurled." —"Territories," Rush While Putin's ego might be contributing to this unwarranted assault on a sovereign nation, we have only to look into the mirror to see that there is some egoic madness in each of us as well. Thus, it is critical that we learn more about the ego. Through a greater understanding of how it operates we can liberate ourselves from its tyranny and reduce the suffering it can cause. I cover this topic in this podcast episode of The Reasonably Good Life. What Is The Ego? We can consider the ego as the "I" or our sense of self, and so we all have an ego because we all have a sense of self. The ego is not inherently bad. We need a coherent sense of self to differentiate ourselves from others and have a sense of agency. This allows us to meet our basic physiological needs, develop goals, and pursue dreams. I know that I exist, who I am, and what is important to me. I know which family, team, and political party is mine. I know who are my friends, rivals, and enemies. I know which possessions are mine. I have values and rights that I cherish dearly and will fight to protect. Our egos emerge from our evolutionary heritage as a feature of our complex brains. In this way, egos would not have evolved if they didn't serve the evolutionary purpose to help us survive and thrive. After all, it could cause a lot of problems if I couldn't differentiate myself from you: Imagine that when I felt hungry, I tried to put food in your mouth. Our ego also allows us to do mental time travel and perform hypothesis-testing. I need to go to the store and grab some groceries so that I can make dinner. What should I get? I should text my wife to see what she wants. She really likes it when I check with her first. I'd better hurry, or I'm going to run into traffic. The Ego And Suffering Unconsciously, our ego reaches out its tendrils to intertwine with countless thought-forms. As we become overly attached, our sense of self becomes enmeshed with these mental positions and various identifications. When we perceive that the object of our attachment is threatened in some way, our fight-flight-or-freeze survival mechanism is activated to protect us existentially. The over-attachment makes it so the attack on the object of our attachments is, by proxy, an attack on us that must be defended. This puts us in a vulnerable position because our ego can be threatened across many fronts. The more strongly our ego is attached to these assorted thought forms, the more vulnerable we are to suffering. For instance, if you identify strongly as a Democrat or Republican, and your party or candidate is criticized by the other side, you may get upset, become defensive, and then go on the attack. "Oh, yeah? You say that President Biden sucks? Well, let me just tell you how Donald Trump was the worst president in American history!" Anytime we become consumed with being viewed as the greatest, the best, or superior to others, that is our ego at work. On the flipside, when we feel "less than" or inferior to others, this is our ego as well. Some of this social comparison is normal and can even be healthy, but when it becomes obsessive or distorted, we (and others) are likely to suffer. On a related note, our obsessive need to be "right" and prove that others are "wrong" can cause suffering in us and others. Many people would rather die than apologize for being wrong just to protect their ego. Similarly, we will often fight tooth and nail to defend our pride or honor. Our ego can blind us to what is right and good as it distorts reality to serve its needs. "I'm so full of right, I can't see what is good." —"The Color of Right," Rush The mere thought of losing anything with which we identify can create an existential threat to our ego. That is, we actually haven't suffered from a loss of anything, but imagining we could lose something to which our egos have attached causes us to suffer as if that feared event had happened. For example, we suffer when we imagine that someone might take away our freedom. Blame It On Ego Think of an argument that you have had with your partner, parent, child, or close friend. How many times has your argument escalated over an inconsequential matter into something that could have been, in retrospect, easily avoided or resolved? We notice that we have become "defensive," but defensive of what, exactly? After all, they aren't physically assaulting us. When we become defensive, we are defending our ego. Perhaps we might even say that our ego has hijacked our consciousness and is defending itself. It is as if we've become possessed by some entity. We want to be right and ensure that they know they are wrong. In such instances, our ego has attached itself to us being "right." This allows us to feel superior to them. It is an existential version of our mammalian instinct to establish ourselves atop the social hierarchy. The Takeaway While our ego serves a purpose, it can cause us and others to suffer unnecessarily when it becomes overly attached. Thus, we should strive to have flexible attachments, which include our ego, so that we can more skillfully adapt to the complexities of the world. We should notice when we become defensive and ask ourselves questions such as, What exactly am I defending? Do I really need to fight this fight? What would it be like for me to concede, To admit that I'm wrong? To apologize? What is the skillful way to handle this? When we are able to part the clouds of ego that obscure our vision, we can more clearly see a path ahead that is better for us to follow. "Can I step back from my mind and know the answer to all things?" —Lao Tzu, The Tao Te Ching

  • The AI Uncertainty Matrix: Navigating Science and Faith in the Age of Artificial Intelligence

    Science and faith have long been rivals. They collide head-on in our AI world. KEY POINTS Artificial intelligence requires wise and skillful navigation as we sail into our uncertain future. Science and faith collide and converge as we try to determine how to safely and effectively use AI. "Pascal's Wager" can be a useful thought exercise to help us decide how best to proceed. Artificial intelligence is already beginning to rapidly change our world in ways that we didn't even consider until OpenAI released ChatGPT on November 30, 2022. The clock has officially started ticking as AI companies feverishly race one another to evolve and proliferate this powerful technology as rapidly as possible. Given that AI will be in everything, this necessarily means that AI will change everything. As but one example, it is likely we will soon have AI-powered, personalized assistants (e.g., Siri, Alexa, and Cortana) to help us with, well, everything. What will such changes mean for humanity? How will they affect our way of life? Could people fall in love with these personalized AI assistants, as depicted in the prescient sci-fi movie Her? Unless progress completely grinds to a halt for some reason, I suppose we’ll soon find out. We understand that humanity's relentless pursuit of progress doesn't always ensure that all advancements are beneficial for us. How intelligent will AI become? Could the frantic race among tech companies to advance and spread artificial intelligence lead to a race-to-the-bottom scenario fueled by game-theory? Will they be a net positive or a net negative for humanity? Will AI create a utopia or dystopia? What’s your confidence level, or perhaps your faith, that humanity has the collective wisdom to use AI skillfully to improve our lives? It would be wise to ask ourselves such questions now. Pascal's Wager The emergence of AI, and the often religious zeal that surrounds it, rekindled my thoughts about Pascal's Wager. You might be familiar with it already but, in brief, 17th-century French polymath Blaise Pascal devised this argument in defense of a belief in a traditional, Christian view of God. Pascal proposed a belief in this Christian view of God as a rational bet. This is because the potential benefits of believing in God (i.e., eternal happiness in heaven) far outweigh the finite costs of belief (i.e., living a religious life based on faith), especially when compared to the potential infinite loss of not believing if this Christian God does exist (i.e., eternal damnation). In a two by two grid, Pascal's Wager looks like this: Applying Pascal's Wager to the Rise of Artificial Intelligence While there are plenty of counterarguments against Pascal's original formulation, it struck me that we are now wrestling with modern versions of his wager. When it comes to AI, we have science and faith colliding in a unique fashion in real time. This is no hypothetical scenario. We are like a ship sailing into an ocean of uncertainty. Do icebergs lie ahead of us in this science fiction world we are creating for ourselves? Are we like passengers aboard the ill-fated Titanic speeding into a sea of AI icebergs? The Titanic's sinking offers a cautionary tale—are we heeding it as we sail into AI's uncertain future? What is your faith that things will somehow, invariably, work out for the best? Many of us, including myself, are skeptical that technology, particularly AI, will lead to favorable outcomes for humanity. The AI Uncertainty Matrix: A Modern Version of Pascal’s Wager A modern version of Pascal’s Wager might be helpful as we consider the potential for increasingly powerful AI systems for both world-changing positives and catastrophic negatives. The dawn of the AI era could be considered an inflection point of sorts because it is perhaps only the second time in human history that science and faith have clashed with similar existential implications. The first time was with the invention of the atomic bomb as captured in Christopher Nolan's brilliant 2023 Oscar contending film, Oppenheimer. Humans were rightly fearful that, for the very first time, we had created a weapon that could wipe out most or all of humanity. Let’s call ours The AI Uncertainty Matrix, and it would look something like this: The trajectory of AI's evolution—its power, speed, and the potential hurdles like technical challenges (cost, energy use, reliability), legal matters, and regulatory constraints—raises critical questions. As we head into these uncharted waters, we must each ask ourselves: What is our faith that we will be able to improve AI significantly beyond its current levels? If AI does continue to scale up in power, will it achieve artificial general intelligence, AGI (i.e., AI can perform any cognitive task as well as any human can)? Could AI's evolution progress to artificial superintelligence (ASI), where AI surpasses not only individual human intelligence but also the collective intelligence of humanity? Such possibilities have been explored within countless science-fiction books, movies, and television shows. Now, let's apply a modern twist to Pascal’s Wager with these AI scenarios. For simplicity's sake, let's combine AGI and ASI into The AGI/ASI Uncertainty Matrix, which would appear as follows: In What Do You Place Your Faith? I don’t know what the future holds. I have no crystal ball. The intellectually honest answer to these questions above should be, “I don’t know.” For me, I have absolute faith in humanity to make AI more powerful. Science created AI and will continue to refine it, as it has with all past technologies. Fueled by capitalism, our free market, the glittering allure of profits, and our innate drives, humans excel at making things better. Combine this with the irresistible temptation of becoming the “Neil Armstrong of technology” by being the first to create AGI, it is safe to bet that AI will continue to evolve. But what happens if we do achieve these unprecedented levels of advancement? This question invites us to consider not only the potential of AI to transform our world but also the profound responsibilities that come with wielding such power. With the evolution of AI, we must acknowledge that its potential to be beneficial and detrimental increase concurrently. We cannot have one without the other. It's not an either/or situation but a both/and. In a yin-yang sort of way, one cannot have the power of AI to make the world a utopia without the potential of that same power being used to cause dystopia. Now, what is your faith that humanity has the collective wisdom to use AI wisely and skillfully for the betterment of humanity? What’s your faith that the tech companies, and/or the open-source community, who's racing to build more powerful AI systems, are prioritizing the well-being of the future of humanity over their profits or other motives? Our Individual, and Collective, Leaps of Faith We all have to make a leap of faith here about what will happen in the sci-fi world humanity is creating for ourselves. This is where my faith falters. I don’t know about you, but what I’ve seen in humanity does not give me as much faith as I’d like that we have the collective wisdom to use AI skillfully. We have all seen enough in our lifetimes to know that, at least sometimes, humans can be foolish, selfish, greedy, and short-sighted. Perhaps the greatest leap of faith we must make is in humanity ourselves. One thing about humanity we know is that when we work together, there is virtually nothing we can’t do. As we invariably encounter problems with AI, can humanity overcome our constant fighting and work together to harness its enormous potential for the collective good? Can we overcome what has always been our greatest obstacle — ourselves? “There is no fate but what we make for ourselves.” This sentiment, expressed by both John and Sarah Connor, from the Terminator series, captures the essence of our collective agency in shaping the future. While my faith is uncertain as to whether humanity will rise to the occasion, I know it is possible. We have the capacity for greatness, including overcoming our differences for our collective good. As John Lennon sang, just “imagine” what we could do if we collectively harnessed the power of AI to improve our world. Regardless of how AI evolves, if I must place a wager on humanity's future, our best bet is through greater unity. I don’t know whether there is a God, afterlife, or what will happen with AI, but I do believe that we are all profoundly connected in ways that we can never fully grasp in this world. Embracing our inherent interconnectedness gives us the greatest odds of creating the brightest future possible. Together, harnessing our collective wisdom and strength, we can steer the course of AI towards improving our world and ensure that technology amplifies our shared humanity rather than diminishes it.

  • Political Crossfire: Understanding Democratic Anger in America

    Anger from the left has been boiling over. But do Democrats really hate America? KEY POINTS Many Democrats are angry about what they see happening in America, but this doesn't mean they hate America. Conservatives express a lot of angry about what they see happening in America as well. Democrats and Republicans tend to hold some different values regarding what is "good" and "right" for America. When each side views the other side with anger and contempt, these United States are in trouble. Collectively, we need to find a better way. Our perception that politics in America have grown more polarized in recent decades, unfortunately, is fairly accurate. The anger and vitriol seems to be at toxic levels. In recent weeks, rage over decades (centuries?) of racism and discrimination has resulted into protests across America and worldwide. The most recent catalyst for the outbreak of protests is George Floyd's death at the hands of Minneapolis police officers. Black Lives Matter might be the largest movement in U.S. history. All of this occurring under the gloom of a global pandemic. Much of this anger, as of late, has been from the left. Some of this righteous anger, in the form of "wokism" and the "cancel culture," might be inadvertently contributing to a backlash from the right. In response to some of the anger and protests from the left, some conservatives, such as Fox News host Tucker Carlson, have gone as far as saying that today's Democratic leaders "despise this country" and, consequently, are unfit to be in leadership roles. While I'm sure that there are some extremists in America who do indeed hate our country, let's keep this discussion focused on the more typical American Democrat (or person who is more liberal or on the "left"). Is it true that they really hate America? Does Anger Mean Hate? First, let's not conflate "anger" with "hate." One can be angry without hating, and our own experience tells us this is true. Think of the times that you've been really angry with your partner, parent, close friend, or child. Did your anger mean that you hated them? Of course not! Just as you can love someone and be angry at them, one can love one's country and be angry at aspects of it too. Similarly, we can even dislike aspects of a person we love (e.g., the way he smacks his food when he eats). Granted, there is so much anger in many liberals right now that it might appear that many of them do indeed hate America. But just as those we love can hurt us most, consider that the level of anger that many liberals feel is a reflection of the pain and hurt underneath it. People on the Right Become Critical and Angry Too Clearly, it's not just people on the left who get angry at our political leaders, laws, and policies. People on the right can be very critical and protest too, often in anger. Some examples include protesting requirements to wear masks, for gun rights, and banning abortions. There are people on the extreme right who despise the IRS, CIA, FBI, and the federal government in general. Yet, we shouldn't claim that these people hate America ... right? Let's imagine that Hillary Clinton had become president. Many (most?) conservatives would likely be extremely upset by this and criticizing her and almost every aspect of her administration. "A liberal Supreme Court justice nominated to replace a retiring conservative one? OMG, she's awful!" The hosts at Fox News would practically be frothing at the mouth, just as the CNN and MSNBC news anchors do now about Trump and his administration. Further, we can imagine if President Hillary Clinton were restricting access to firearms and fending off abortion restrictions, there would be many angry protests from the right, to say the least. How Conservatives and Liberals Are Alike People on both the right and left sides of the political spectrum get angry and protest. Each side thinks they are right and the other side is wrong. Both sides vilify the other and engage in a type of fear-mongering. "Don't let the other side win, or they will destroy America!" In an odd way, this makes conservatives and liberals the same, not different. The difference is what elicits fear and anger in each side. There is some truth to the idea that both the right and the left hate the version of America that the other side wants us to be. Viewing Our Differences Through the Lens of Moral Foundations Theory While we all like to think of ourselves as objective, we all are subject to many biases that shape our views and opinions. This comes into particular play in our moral values and judgments. According to social psychologist Dr. Jonathan Haidt and colleagues' Moral Foundations Theory, conservatives and liberals' evaluations of good/bad and right/wrong are influenced by how these different foundations are weighted. Liberals tend to evaluate morality based more on the foundations of care/harm, fairness/cheating, and liberty/oppression whereas conservatives also include the foundations of loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, and sanctity/degradation. Most of this is subconscious, but it can result in liberals and conservatives almost speaking different languages when it comes to their moral reasoning. Each side looks at the other and thinks, "Why do you not see this? What is wrong with you that you don't get this?" (You can read more about this in Haidt's The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion). The killing of George Floyd by police officers activated all three of liberals' primary moral foundations of care/harm, fairness/cheating, and liberty/oppression quite strongly. From the left's perspective, their righteous anger in the forms of protests and demands for change are warranted to correct wrongs in society and our politics. Many on the left were already quite angry about the Trump presidency for denigrating the values that many liberals hold dear (e.g., treatment of refugees, immigrants, and the poor, minority/LBGTQ rights, the environment). Similarly, conservatives become quite upset when liberals act in ways that subvert the three other moral foundations: disloyalty to America, disrespecting authority, and dishonoring the sanctity of America. In many countries, and historically, one would be imprisoned or executed for merely criticizing the government. As a recent example, protesters in Hong Kong experienced China's crackdown firsthand. What a great country we have that we can (peacefully) protest our own government! Numerous conservatives look at people on the left and think, "What is their major malfunction? What a bunch of ungrateful complainers! How dare they be so critical of our great nation!" Agree with them or not, many conservatives find it almost heretical for liberals to be so critical of America, especially when it comes to the removal of statues, monuments, and renaming roads and buildings (there's that "sanctity" moral foundation coming into play). Can We Find Some Common Ground? People don't fit into discreet categories and, if we stop vilifying one another long enough, perhaps we can each see a little bit from one another's perspective. We get so polarized that we often don't listen to one another, which might be considered a form of switchtracking. We are too busy telling the other side how and why they are wrong instead of listening a bit to one another to try to find some common ground. Conservatives are correct in that, taking a broad perspective, there are many wonderful things about America. We have done a lot "right." We are founded on lofty principles that all people have the unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We are a world leader in so many areas—the arts, sciences, medicine, and technology. American ingenuity, allowed to flourish in our fertile economic and political conditions, is responsible for inventions such as the electric light, the airplane, cellphones, and personal computers. We helped win World Wars I and II. We put the first human beings on the moon. In many respects, we should all be thankful that we live here and not in some more oppressive country like North Korea or, even more broadly, medieval Europe, Stalin's Russia, or Hitler's Germany. Using both historical and global standards, America is a pretty awesome country. Yet, liberals are also correct that America has many ills. We frequently don't live up to our lofty aspirations. Many inequalities still exist. We have some embarrassingly bad policies and laws in our history, such as slavery and Jim Crow. Most Native Americans would not, understandably, praise America as the land of opportunity given that we took the land from them. It's amazing to think that, even though America was founded on July 4, 1776, women were not even given the right to vote at the national level until the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920. To this day, many women and minorities still don't often experience the same level of opportunities and benefits as the advantaged white majority. Much progress has been made in the areas of social justice, yet there is more work to be done. Liberals and conservatives each have valid perspectives. But the groups become more polarized when we don't acknowledge this. Liberals could do a better job at appreciating the many great qualities about America while still calling for change and reform. Conservatives could do a better job at acknowledging that, even though America is a great country in so many respects, we have made many egregious mistakes in our past and still have work to do in order to "form a more perfect union." The Takeaway? While there may be extremists on the left who hate America, it's important to note that most Democrats do not share this sentiment. However, many are angry. But saying Democrats hate America provides a rationale for Republicans to hate Democrats. This kind of polarizing rhetoric maybe the heart of the problem. Once we become blinded by the view that people who hold different perspectives than we do are idiots, ignorant, or morally inferior to ourselves, it allows us to treat them with contempt and disdain. "My group is better than your group!" Strangely enough, Democrats and Republicans each point their collective fingers at one another making the same claim—that they have it right and the other group is wrong (or ignorant, stupid, uneducated, etc.). The reality is that most people are doing the best they can and trying to get it "right," whatever that means. Simply put, if we thought our views were idiotic, we would change them! Although Democrats don't truly hate America, making this claim elicits the outrage that garners higher TV ratings, more social media shares and likes, and makes more money for networks. Media on both the right and the left foment this anger because their existence often depends upon it. We are all, to some degree, responsible, as well, as we collectively segregate ourselves into our tribes and convince ourselves that we are morally superior to those "others." Until both liberals and conservatives realize that our real enemy isn't each other, but our vilification of one another, we will continue down this path toward greater tribal animosity that is the real threat to our democracy.

  • Beyond the Smile: Unveiling the Dark Side of Progress

    Despite our progress, there are good reasons why we feel bad about our world. KEY POINTS We all seek happiness in life. While we have made much progress, our levels of happiness have stagnated. Once we have the benefits of modernity, more progress is not translating to greater levels of happiness. Despite our great progress, there are good reasons why many of us are feeling more stressed and overwhelmed. What if we are not feeling happier despite our progress, but because of it? Many of us seek happiness in life, and the progress humanity has made over the centuries has undoubtedly resulted in increased well-being for countless people. On a societal level, being alive right here, right now, is our best chance at having a good life than at any time in our history. On a personal level, most of us, especially within WEIRD countries (i.e., Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic), rate ourselves as fairly to very happy or satisfied with life. Yet it’s also true that, despite the incredible progress humanity has made, many of us feel quite dissatisfied with our own countries as a whole and are very pessimistic about the future. On the surface, this doesn’t seem to make much sense. From a historical standpoint, so many of us are living "the good life" because our basic needs are more than met, and we enjoy a wealth of creature comforts. In addition to our abundant lives, we know more about happiness and can transmit this knowledge better than at any point in our history. Think of the easy access we have to happiness-based books, podcasts, YouTube videos, social media posts, happiness apps, self-help gurus, and manuals, as well as the countless millions of us taking antidepressant medications and seeing therapists. Yet we don’t seem to be making much progress on our happiness—at least not in WEIRD countries. Here's the important point: More "progress" is not translating to more happiness. What the heck is going on here? Reasons We Believe That The World Is Getting Worse We must remember that these multiple, seemingly contradictory, truths can co-exist. Thus, we must refrain from thinking dualistically (i.e., in black-or-white, or all-or-nothing) terms here. Yes, humanity has made great progress. Yes, humanity still has a lot of room for improvement, and yes, we are pessimistic about our respective countries and our futures. “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” — F. Scott Fitzgerald How can we explain why we feel like things are so bad and getting worse, despite the facts about our tremendous progress? And how can this be the case even though so many of us, especially in WEIRD countries, are benefitting greatly from the tremendous progress that has been made? How is it that, even as so many aspects of our world and our lives get better with progress, we feel so pessimistic about the future? The Amount of Suffering in This World While we have made incredible progress over the centuries, there are still disconcerting levels of suffering in this world. For instance, while a smaller percentage of people live in poverty, the world population has risen significantly in the past few centuries. According to the World Bank, we have almost 700 million people living in extreme poverty right now, on less than $2.15/day. To put this into perspective, this is a higher number than the entire population of the world in 1700 (610 million). As another source of suffering in this modern world, despite institutional slavery being abolished, about 50 million people live in modern slavery (e.g., human trafficking, forced labor). Moreover, tens of millions of people die each year from preventable causes (e.g., infectious diseases, starvation/malnutrition, lack of clean water/sanitation, lack of vaccines for preventable diseases, infant/child mortality, accidents). Thus, even with our progress, the aggregate amount of suffering that occurs in this world on a daily basis is staggering. Many of us are aware of the tremendous amount of suffering and injustice in the world, partly because this information is so readily available. The knowledge of these harsh realities is understandably quite stressful and depressing. The Serious Challenges That Humanity Faces In addition to the amount of suffering that occurs in our world daily, many of us believe that, and feel like, the world is getting worse and are pessimistic about the future for another reason: Humanity has some huge, and extremely thorny, challenges on our collective plate. What's worse is this reality: Each of these challenges is intertwined with the progress we cherish. This list of challenges is not exhaustive, but most of these should be familiar to you. It is our familiarity with and awareness of these complex challenges that is probably contributing to our collective pessimism, particularly in WEIRD countries. 1. Climate change: Our planet's alarming warming trend signals distress for life, ecosystems, and economies alike. 2. Biodiversity loss: The stark decline in wildlife since 1970 mirrors severe environmental distress. 3. Nuclear risks: Nations like North Korea and Iran add to the persisting dread of nuclear conflict. 4. Mental health crisis: Rising mental health issues, coupled with loneliness, reflect a society struggling despite technological connection. 5. Socio-political turmoil: Persistent conflicts, exemplified by Ukraine and Israel-Palestine, fuel global instability. 6. Political polarization: Deepening divisions, especially in the U.S., erode social cohesion and democratic norms. 7. Authoritarian trends: The spread of authoritarianism poses a direct threat to global democracy and human rights. 8. Poverty and inequality: Despite advancements, stark economic divides and extreme poverty persist. 9. Healthcare accessibility: A staggering half of the global population lacks essential health services. 10. Educational disparities: The pandemic has magnified inequalities in education, impacting young lives worldwide. 11. Cybersecurity threats: The digital revolution brings its own set of risks, challenging our safety and privacy. 12. AI's existential risks: The rapid evolution of AI presents possible dangers to societal stability and poses existential risks. These challenges, while overwhelming, are not insurmountable yet they serve as a sobering reminder: Progress is not a linear path to utopia. It brings its own set of complexities, demanding our attention and action. As we ponder the paradox of modernity—immense progress alongside significant challenges—it becomes clear that our journey towards a better future is far from straightforward. A sobering reality we must face and accept is this: Our past progress is no guarantee of continued progress. For example, the toxic divisions within America, such as negative partisanship and a loss of faith in our elections, government institutions, and one another, are a threat to the future of the United States. The idea that our democracy could break, which is a thought that probably didn’t trouble us much until recent years, has many Americans quite worried about our future. Humanity’s Inflection Point Our hunter-gatherer ancestors were likely largely and blissfully unaware of troubles outside their immediate tribe. They were concerned with surviving and making it through the day. This also applies to previous generations within civilization, most of whom could not afford to be preoccupied with worry about global problems. Moreover, they were probably unaware of most of them. Nowadays, our world is more connected than ever. Through advances in our technology such as the internet, smartphones, and social media, we’ve become a global community. We have more access to information (and misinformation) about the world, and to each other, than at any time in history. Perhaps this is part of the problem, and why so many of us are reasonably concerned about the state of the world and the direction we are heading. Our connectedness through our technologies exposes us to a tsunami of negative information about our world that can be quite overwhelming for us. Our negativity bias ensures that we are drawn to and consume more negative news than positive. There is much truth to the long-time adage within journalism that, “If it bleeds, it leads.” Also, because of "the power of bad," negative news affects us more negatively than positive news affects us positively. In a manner of speaking, the internet is like eating the Forbidden Fruit, and the knowledge of all the evils and ills of the world threatens to consume us. Sometimes ignorance is, indeed, a kind of bliss. While knowledge is power, knowledge dominated by a tsunami of negativity is overwhelming, stressful, and depressing. Multiple truths co-exist. It is a great time to be alive in so many ways because of the amazing progress humanity has made. Most of us benefit immensely daily from the many creature comforts of modernity. Yet humanity has some daunting, and very complicated, challenges ahead. I am going to make a provocative claim: What if most of the modern problems of our world are not despite the wonders of modernity, but a result of them? In other words, what if we are not happier despite our progress but because of our progress? What if more "progress" actually leads to greater levels of unhappiness and unrest? On some level, I believe that many of us know or sense this to be true as we try desperately to keep up with this rapidly accelerating treadmill of life. We will continue to explore these themes in future blogs, so please take the "red pill" and follow me down the rabbit hole!

  • Beyond the Controller: Unraveling the Debate on Video Games

    Many people claim that video games are a waste of time. Are they really? Podcaster Joe Rogan of the Joe Rogan Experience, who also happens to be a UFC ringside commentator, recently went on a tirade about video games and warned that people who play video games are "gonna waste your time." He's not the only one to cast aspersions upon video games. Many parents, educators, researchers, politicians, and scholars have leveled similar accusations against video games since they first gained widespread popularity in the 1980s. As Joe Rogan reminds us, this attitude is still around 40 years later. Are We Having Fun Yet? My response to Joe Rogan, and to others who claim video games are a "waste of time," is: not if you have fun playing them. According to a recent study by the NPD group, 73% of Americans over the age of 2 play video games of some kind. They are popular for a reason. They are a lot of fun, and fun is not a waste of time. For a moment, let's set aside the very small percentage of people who become "obsessed" or "addicted" to video games. We shouldn't use outliers as a reason why a near-universal activity should be vilified. If we were to go down that road, then we'd have to blacklist cars, alcohol, sports, French fries, cats (cat-hoarding is a problem for some people), as well as a painfully long list of other interests and activities. The vast majority of people who play video games lead healthy, productive lives. Given that we are suffering enough through this COVID-19 pandemic, thank goodness we can have fun and connect with others safely through video games! On his podcast, Joe Rogan uses the comparison of wasting time playing video games to dedicating oneself to practicing the martial art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ). Rogan states that if someone dedicates themselves to the practice of BJJ, in several years, they might start winning tournaments and then ultimately open their own BJJ school and end up driving a Mercedes and having a nice family. Really? Is this the litmus test? While this might be true for a very tiny subset of BJJ practitioners, most do not go on to making a career out of their martial arts training. Does this mean that all of these other folks are wasting their time? People engage in an extensive variety of activities, including martial arts, because they find such activities enjoyable. Consider these broad categories of leisure activities: ·  Sports ·  Art ·  Dancing ·  Board and card games ·  Music ·  Gardening ·  Travel ·  Reading They even have a name for this bizarre idea in which people regularly engage in activity for fun or enjoyment. They are called hobbies. If we are going to throw video games under the bus as a waste of time, think of all the other types of entertainment that would need to go under the bus with them. This list would include every type of entertainment to which we watch or listen. This includes movies, streaming content, plays, musicals, concerts, sporting events, stand-up comedy (Joe Rogan, has done stand-up comedy), game shows (Joe Rogan hosted the game show Fear Factor for several years), viewing works of art at a museum, and so on. Consider some of the acclaimed, much-beloved arts and entertainment that we have enjoyed over the years such as Game of Thrones, Star Wars, Stranger Things, Breaking Bad, Seinfeld, The Wizard of Oz, The Godfather, college football, The World Series, Harry Potter books, The Catcher in the Rye, The Odyssey, Hamilton, Wicked, Mozart, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Elvis Presley, U2, Lady Gaga, Beyoncé ... just to name a few. Are these a waste of time? We watch and listen because we enjoy the experiences they provide. Arguably, such experiences make life worth living. A Matter of Values Joe Rogan and others often argue that video games are excessively enjoyable, leading to prolonged playtime. Thus, people end up spending inordinate amounts of time playing them at the exclusion of other, more "productive," or perhaps edifying, activities. The (sort of) straw man argument here is to take people who are spending 12 hours per day playing games such as Fortnite, failing classes, not sleeping enough, not leaving the house, not interacting in person with others, etc. to illustrate how video games are a waste of time. Well, one might make the argument that engaging in any hobby or activity for 12 hours per day is problematic. A case could be made that it is acceptable for aspiring professionals or Olympians to spend this much time devoted to an activity, but even then many hobbies don't lend themselves to becoming lucrative professions (e.g., archery, chess, gardening, leisure reading, blogging). However, most people are able to keep their video game playing to reasonable levels, even if it gets intense at times. Also, for a subset of people who do seem to be "addicted" or obsessed with video games, it is often the case that the excessive gaming is a symptom of some underlying issue (e.g., depression, social anxiety, autism spectrum disorder). Critics of video games often imply that time could be better spent on more productive activities. However, this is a value judgment. To me, knitting would be a waste of time. If I really want a quilt, I can always buy one on Amazon. But for all the people who love to knit, more power to you! I still enjoy playing video games. I have three boys who love video games too—perhaps a little more than I'd like sometimes! I do think there is value in having a range of activities and interests, but that's different than saying video games are a waste of time (or harmful). We have to be careful not to compare the time spent playing video games to some mythical ideal in which we, and our kids, always get the perfect amount of sleep, eat a balanced diet, meditate 30 minutes per day, get at least 10,000 steps per day, always wear sunscreen, learn a musical instrument and foreign language, read at least one book per week, and so on. Yes, there are benefits to living a life in which we are meeting our needs through a range of activities. But we are a very resilient, adaptive species. We don't need ideal to thrive—we just need "good enough." The idea that we can lead a perfectly balanced life is a delusion. Even with this big caveat, a balanced life includes engaging in fun activities. For millions upon millions of people, playing video games represents an enjoyable hobby that has earned its rightful place as part of this balanced life.

  • Unveiling the Enigma: Navigating a Complicated World in Pursuit of Truth

    We need truth to help us navigate this complicated world, but it's elusive. Note: This is the first post in a series on truth as it relates to societal problems we are experiencing. Disclaimer: I don't claim that what I say is totally "true," because the truth is elusive in this complicated world. Rather, I'm offering some ideas to help perceive the world, others, and ourselves in a manner that opens pathways for change and growth. “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” —Mark Twain We hear and read about "fake news," "alternative facts," media bias, conflicting news reports, and various conspiracy theories so much these days that we often don't know what to believe. Did Trump and his administration conspire with the Russians to win the 2016 election? Or is there a conspiracy by some far left groups to make it look like he did? What was in Hillary Clinton's private email server? What is in Trump's tax returns? Are humans really responsible for climate change and just how bad is it going to get? Why is COVID-19 more deadly for some people than others? The truth matters. The Importance of Truth “Nothing is so conducive to spiritual growth as this capacity for logical and accurate analysis of everything that happens to us.” — Marcus Aurelius, Meditations This might seem like common sense, but knowing the truth, what is real, helps us to make skillful decisions so that we can function more effectively in this world. For example, we need to know what to get at the grocery store, when and where our kid's soccer game is, the date of our wedding anniversary, how to pay our bills, which medicine to take when we are ill, and so on. Problems quickly arise when we don't have our facts straight. Consider that a builder who is unable to take accurate measurements is going to end up constructing a very wonky house. You’d rather not have your doctor erroneously remove your appendix when you merely have indigestion. We would not want our country to go to war based on flawed intelligence that we were about to be attacked by another nation. You wouldn’t want your partner to divorce you based on a mistaken belief that you are having an affair with your neighbor. We wouldn't want our government to waste taxpayer dollars on an expensive program designed to lower the recidivism rate of criminals if, in fact, it increases this rate. We wouldn't want to distribute a COVID-19 vaccine worldwide if it isn't effective or causes too many side effects. When it comes down to it, we seek to know, to understand “reality” so that we can make wise, effective decisions in this world. This requires us to have fairly accurate information. Think of life as a journey, and we must navigate the road along this journey. If we cannot see the road because it is too dark, we will likely end up in the wrong place...or even crash! In this sense, the truth is like a beacon of light that dispels the darkness so that we might find safe passage. The Elusive Concept of Truth For being such a simple idea, truth is a lot more elusive than we'd like to think. People don't just disagree on what is true and what is false. We have different ideas about what "truth" even means. There is a certain irony about not being able to precisely define the very concept of truth. For example, when discussing this topic, people might use the words truth, reality, knowledge, accurate information, certainties, and facts as if such concepts are completely interchangeable, yet they aren't necessarily. One could say there are many views and opinions about how truth should be defined, which also goes to show that, like a willow-the-wisp, truth is difficult to capture! As other evidence that truth is a slippery concept, it is likely true that you find exceptions to nearly everything in this blog series about truth. This blog post reflects my views on truth, acknowledging the subjective nature of perspectives. Nonetheless, we could say that it is "true" that I'm providing my opinions about truth. You Think That's Air You're Breathing Now? We could even identify truths that we initially agree upon that fall apart upon closer examination. For instance, we might agree that the chair you are sitting on is a solid object, yet it is made up of mostly empty space. Similarly, you likely feel that you are real — that you are here. But we humans, as with other tangible objects, are all mostly made up of empty space too. (Some of us more than others!) Thus, our "here-ness" is mostly made up of "not here-ness." As for the object you are sitting on, when is it more proper to call a stool, bench, step, or loveseat a chair? Would that object be called something different entirely in another language? To someone from the past? The future? A different culture? How do I know that what tastes like chicken to you tastes the same to me? You think that is air you're breathing now? We must be mindful that a percept occurs within the brain. Thus, any stimulus perceived "out there" (i.e., outside of our bodies) is experienced as something "real" as a result of a mysterious firing of electrochemical signals traveling through sense perceptions and interpreted by different clusters of neurons within our brains. In what is known as the hard problem of consciousness, neuroscientists are unable to explain how our perception of stimuli results in subjective experiences. "What is real? How do you define 'real?' If you're talking about what you can feel, what you can touch, what you can taste and see, then 'real' is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain." —Morpheus from the movie, The Matrix From a quantum physics perspective, an objective reality might not even exist. What are considered physical objects are actually subjective realities created by the observer. Your head might be spinning a little as you wonder, "Just how deep does this rabbit hole go?" "Do not try and bend the spoon, that's impossible. Instead, only try to realize the truth...there is no spoon. Then you'll see that it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself." - "Spoon Boy" from the movie, The Matrix Striving for Certainty in a Complicated World “Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” —Benjamin Franklin As Benjamin Franklin observed, there are very few certainties in life. He even viewed our own Constitution as more of a work in progress rather than an immutable product. As discussed, even truths and realities that we usually take for granted as rock-solid, upon closer examination, are not really. We can't evenly definitively say that rocks are solid! “We were certainly uncertain. At least, I’m pretty sure I am.” — "Missed the Boat" by Modest Mouse Channeling some of the wisdom of Ben Franklin, we might say that it is “true” that there are very few certainties in life. Thus, when we seek to understand this world in which we live, we are primarily talking about finding relative truths (i.e., something is usually or mostly true) versus absolute truths (i.e., always true, in all instances). Consider the wisdom found in pithy maxims. Which is true: “He who hesitates is lost” or “Haste makes waste?" Sometimes it is true that a cautious approach yields the best results, but at other times any hesitation could have fatal consequences. Truth can be found in each of these statements, but their "real" truth depends upon their skillful application. As another truth about truth, we don't always seek the truth. As it turns out, truth serves a higher master. I will cover this topic in my next post and springboard into how many of our current societal problems are related to how we have difficulty using truth to navigate this complicated world.

  • The Hidden Truths: Unveiling the Secrets We Avoid

    While knowing the truth has an appeal, it serves a higher master. Seeking Truth (Sort of) "And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." —Jesus, from John 8:32 of the New Testament As discussed in my previous blog post, we need the truth to understand what is really going on in this world, so that we can make skillful decisions. Through seeing the world more clearly with the light of truth, we can avoid some of the potholes along this journey of life. In this sense, the truth does set us free because the darkness of ignorance, of not knowing, restricts us. Even so, it's often true that we don't seek to know the truth. We simply don't want to know the facts or are blind to them. This begs the question: If the truth helps us navigate life more effectively, why wouldn't we want to know it? Lt. Daniel Kaffee: “I want the truth!”Col. Nathan Jessep: “You can’t handle the truth!” — From the movie A Few Good Men Assuming we could even agree on a definition of "truth," the list of reasons we can't or don't wish to know the truth would be quite long and well beyond the scope of this series of blog posts. For example, psychologists have identified scores of cognitive biases that distort our perceptions of reality and affect our decision-making and behavior. Why do we have sense perceptions and brains that, in a manner of speaking, deceive us? Why would they hide truth from us? "Against our will, our souls are cut off from truth." — Marcus Aurelius, Meditations One of the reasons that we have difficulties with perceiving truth, with seeing reality, has to do with the purpose of truth. Truth isn't desirous for its own sake, it serves a higher master. The purpose of truth is rooted in the purpose of life itself. A Purpose of Life "Why are we here? Because we're here. Roll the bones." — From the song Roll the Bones by Rush There's not one unequivocal truth as to why we exist. Philosophers, theologians, and scientists can argue endlessly on this topic without ever agreeing on the true answer. But perhaps we can agree that a truth (as opposed to the truth) of our existence is...drum roll, please...to continue to exist. We have a built-in evolutionary drive to survive because, well, it evolved this way. If it hadn't, we wouldn't be here! Even if you experience this observation as an anticlimactic answer as to a purpose of life, perhaps you will nonetheless agree it holds truth, even if only partially. We share this drive to survive with all living creatures, including plants. For instance, as we know, plants need sunlight to survive and thrive. If a sun-hungry tree or plant germinates within a shaded area, it will grow toward the light. It doesn't "choose" to do that. It is a built-in mechanism. It is fundamental to its very existence. Similarly, humans, like virtually all animals, have a fight-flight-freeze instinct to help us avoid danger, especially predators, ensuring our survival. Humans inherently desire safety and health, and desire it for our children and loved ones as well. This is inherent, and it has to be this way in order for us to survive as a species. For our hunter-gatherer ancestors, what was "true" in the world was what helped them survive. As Harvard cognitive psychologist Dr. Steven Pinker noted in How the Mind Works, "Our minds evolved by natural selection to solve problems that were life and death matters to our ancestors, not to commune with correctness." Our ancestors needed to be able to discriminate friend from foe, healthy from unhealthy, and safe from dangerous (e.g., "It is good to eat this and bad to eat that."). In this sense, discrimination was a good thing because it meant distinguishing safe (e.g., eating a portabella mushroom) from unsafe (e.g., eating a deathcap mushroom). Within an evolutionary framework, ignorance of what is true or real could be dangerous or deadly. In addition, in order to survive, it was critical for our ancestors to learn to make predictions based on available information (e.g., If I hide long enough by this water hole, I will likely be able to kill game for dinner!). Not knowing, or uncertainty, would often spark the curiosity to explore, discover, and learn (e.g., "I wonder if there could be food or water over this hill? Let me check..."). It motivates us to move from a state of not knowing to knowing because that has survival value. In other situations, uncertainty would elicit anxiety or fear so that we would know to avoid potential danger. (e.g., "It's dark, and something is making strange noises over there in the bushes. I'd better get away from it!"). Don't Let Truth Get in the Way of Survival Thus, our ancestors didn't need to see the world for what it really was. They just needed to know enough to help them survive. For example, consider the illusion of a flat world. It looks like the sun rises in the sky and is a relatively small object. Our eyes (or our brains) deceive us though. The Earth, as well as other planets, are roughly spherical in shape. A million Earths could fit inside the Sun, and it is 93,000,000 miles away from us. But such "truths" were totally unnecessary for our hunter-gatherer ancestors to survive and reproduce. Likewise, our ancestors didn't need quantum physics to survive, just basic Newtonian physics. For instance, they needed to understand that falling off of a cliff would be bad. They didn't need to understand that Schrödinger's Cat could be simultaneously alive and dead in a quantum universe. Rather, they just needed to know if the cat could hurt them...or was edible. Since survival was the goal, erring on the side of misperception or self-deception was sometimes beneficial because it increased our chances of survival. For instance, while foraging for food, we might misperceive a long, thin vine to be a snake because it would be safer to err on the side of caution. If we jump back to evade it, and it turns out to be nothing, we live another day. But if we make the mistake of not jumping back, and it is a venomous snake, we could be dead. Similarly, "stranger danger" was an important instinct for our ancestors. Sure, that stranger might be friendly, but first contact could result in one's death...or even the death of one's entire family or tribe. So, instincts of fear, trepidation, and caution at first contact with strange creatures, situations, or other humanoids would have been common. In a sense, we would misperceive the level of threat, not see "truth," because, well, such an exaggerated fear could save our lives. Importantly, most of our evolutionary history, until about 12,000 years ago, was spent in nomadic, hunter-gatherer tribes. Thus, our brains evolved over the course of hundreds of thousands of years (or millions of years, depending on where you start counting) to survive in these tribal, nomadic conditions. Our brains, which evolved for such a different ancestral world, are not always best-suited for the challenges of modern society. In my next blog post, I will explore how the concept of evolutionary mismatch explains individual and societal challenges in our modern world.

  • World on Edge: Unraveling the Pessimism Paradox

    Why do we keep viewing the world more negatively than it is? KEY POINTS ·         Every generation seems to fear that the end of the world is upon them. ·         While 2020 was a really rough year, and we do have significant problems to address, the world is not as bad as most of us think. ·         By most metrics, including life expectancy and homicide rates, the world is a much better place than it used to be. ·         We have a negativity bias that causes us to focus on negatives over positives, and this evolutionary tendency contributes to our pessimism. Note: This is the third blog in my series about truth and reality as they relate to problems we are experiencing as a society. "It's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine." —R.E.M., in the song of the same name. 2020 has been an unprecedented year of challenges. We are in a global pandemic that has killed hundreds of thousands of people, have a financial crisis, high unemployment levels, toxic tribalism, a monumental upcoming presidential election, Russian election interference, the killing of George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter movement, wokism and the "cancel culture," social unrest, an upcoming chaotic school year, global climate change, forest fires in Siberia, hurricanes, rising levels of depression, anxiety, and suicide, and... murder hornets. There is no denying that society is facing some serious problems, As we doom scroll through our news feeds, it might feel as if it is the end of the world as we know it. How fine are we feeling? Is the World Really Getting Worse? "Nothing is more responsible for the Good Old Days than a bad memory." —Franklin P. Jones If we step back a bit, though, and view the world from a longer time frame, we would see that, by most metrics, the world is doing much better than in previous generations (the present pandemic notwithstanding). This might seem surprising, but we live much longer, healthier, and happier lives than at any point in human history. Infant and child mortality rates have gone way down, longevity and literacy rates are way up, and far fewer people die from pandemics, genocide, war, and homicide than in our history. As one example, in 1820, about 90 percent of the people in the world lived in extreme poverty, and this has fallen quite dramatically to only about 9 percent today. As another example of world progress, racism and sexism still exist in society, of course, but they used to be much worse (e.g., there was institutionalized slavery, women and African-Americans couldn't vote in the U.S., Jim Crow laws). Yay for enlightened reasoning, science, and human progress! Even our current pandemic pales in comparison to the great plagues of history. For example, the Black Death killed half of Europe in the 14th century, and the Spanish Flu of 1918 killed 50 million people worldwide and 675,000 Americans. Smallpox killed a whopping 500 million people during the last hundred years of its existence (the WHO declared it eradicated in 1980). We should thank our lucky stars that, even during our COVID-19 pandemic, many of us can work from home, our kids have online school options, we can get food and household items delivered, and we should have a vaccine in record time. While there is, without a doubt, a lot wrong with this world, there is a lot that is right with it too. Put another way, there is at least less wrong than there used to be. With a clear understanding of societal progress, it seems to many that no one in the right mind would want to live in Medieval Europe or the American Old West. Who wants to live in a world without indoor plumbing, access to clean water, modern medicine, refrigeration, heating and air-conditioning, and Netflix? No thank you! Social Pessimism and Individual Optimism Even with seeing such progress in the world, it sure feels like things are spiraling downward. Our incessant stream of doom and gloom headlines makes it seem like the Apocalypse is upon us. What's the truth here? Well, there are two truths that coexist. Contrary to our instincts, these truths are not mutually exclusive. The world, in general, is far better than it used to be by most major metrics. Yet, we have some real societal problems (e.g., this pandemic, global climate change, the threat of large-scale military conflicts and nuclear war, homelessness) that we need to address. Despite all the progress that humans have made in so many areas, most people, especially in Western countries, do feel like the world is getting worse. For example, according to a 2015 survey, only 6 percent of Americans 4 percent of Germans, and 3 percent of Australians think the world is getting better. What a gloomy outlook! One can only imagine that these numbers look even worse since then. Curiously, we tend to be socially pessimistic about the current and future states of our world, but optimistic when it comes to our own futures. Despite feeling the end is near, most of us feel fine. R.E.M. nailed it with their song. However, with rising rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide, especially among young people, over the past decade, we are feeling less fine than we used to feel. This pandemic is making this downward trend even worse. Our Negativity Bias Why are we so pessimistic about the world despite all of the progress that we've made? As discussed previously, we want to understand our world, to see the truth more accurately so that we can make more skillful decisions as we navigate our way along this journey of life. Yet truth is elusive. We don't see the world as it truly is. "Truth" serves the master of "survival." This is rooted in our evolutionary heritage. Our ancestors needed to be more alert to the negatives of their world than the positives or else they might suffer fatal consequences. For instance, if our ancestors weren't fearful that a pride of lions occasionally visited a water hole, they could end up as their dinner. But if those same ancestors missed out on a tree bearing fruit nearby, they would likely still live to see another day. The legacy of our ancestral negativity bias still lives on within us today. Across just about every domain of human experience, the power of bad outweighs the power of good. For instance, an insult will likely sting and be remembered much more than a similar level of praise. We will likely feel much worse about a bungled company presentation that we give than we will feel good about an excellent one. Just writing that sentence evoked some painful memories for me just now! Our negativity bias also explains why we are drawn to negative over positive news. The difference is that our access to this negative news, with the rise of cable TV and the 24-hour news cycle, the internet, and social media, has increased exponentially in recent decades. We can't totally blame the media for exposing us to a constant stream of negative news—we have an appetite for it! Due to what's known as the availability bias (or availability heuristic), if we can readily think of examples of events (e.g., abductions, shootings, police brutality), we think they are more commonplace. The proliferation of negative news makes it all too easy for us to recall instances of rape, murder, social injustice, human trafficking, racism, and so on. In turn, this causes us to be pessimistic about the state of the world and our future. The Takeaway? Strangely enough, because of our negativity and similar biases, every generation tends to feel as if it is the end of the world. This is why R.E.M.'s song is just as relevant today as when it was released in 1987. We might be thinking, "No, this time it really is worse than ever!" Perhaps we'd be falling prey to the negativity bias by thinking it is. But there are legitimate reasons to be concerned... and hopeful at the same time. Please follow me as I explore these topics in this blog series!

  • Woke Dilemma: Navigating the Pitfalls of Social Awareness

    Many people are woke to society's challenges. Here's when that's a problem. It's undeniable that society has a long history of bigotry, sexism, racism, discrimination, homophobia, and related ills. In humanity's checkered past, most people have not been treated fairly, equally, or even humanly. There have always been certain groups of people who claim that they are superior to others by sex, religion, ethnicity, family name, and so on. This perceived superiority by groups in power has frequently justified their maltreatment of other minority and/or disempowered groups. It's easy to treat others as less than equals if you believe they are inferior. While frustration and righteous anger over various types of discrimination and mistreatment has been around as long as civilization itself, it seems like things are coming to a head. With the recent killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers, we are seeing protests against racism and discrimination not just in the United States, but across the world. Confederate monuments and memorials are being torn down left and right in America. Streets and schools that were named after Confederate leaders are being changed. Across the globe, citizens in other countries are also realizing their brutal histories, and tearing down statues of dictators, despots, and racist leaders (e.g., Belgium's King Leopold II). Just What Do We Mean by "Woke" Anyway? Many people, especially the youth, have a heightened awareness of our troubled past and, understandably, seek to correct our collective wrongs. This is where the term "woke" comes into play. It is defined as, "aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice)." Given that we have a long history of racial and social injustices, it seems like being "woke" to such problems is a very good thing. How can we address such problems without first being aware of them? Movements such as Black Lives Matter, at their heart, are about correcting racism and injustices that have long been ignored or swept under the rug. We need to wake up. When Wokism Creates a Wake Perhaps the long-overdue correction of wokism is, sometimes, leading to an over-correction of sorts. This can happen when people who are "woke" call out or cancel those they perceive not to be woke (or woke enough). "Canceling" someone occurs when one person says or does something to which others who are woke object and then that person gets roundly shamed and criticized, usually on social media. That person's reputation is sometimes ruined, and he or she might not ever be able to recover from being canceled. In 2019, in an interview for the Obama Foundation on youth activism, President Obama expressed strong concerns about wokism and the call out/cancel culture that is emerging. “This idea of purity and you’re never compromised and you’re always politically ‘woke’ and all that stuff,” Obama said. “You should get over that quickly." He went on to explain, “The world is messy; there are ambiguities. People who do really good stuff have flaws. People who you are fighting may love their kids, and share certain things with you.” Be Woke, But Be Mindful and Compassionate As Well While it might be tempting to call out, shame, or cancel those who are not woke (or woke enough) to racism and social injustice, doing so can create a number of problems. No one wants wokism to be the road to hell paved with good intentions. We must proceed mindfully so that wokism doesn't have unintended consequences. 1.   No matter what one's religious persuasion is, there are deep words in the wisdom of Jesus when, before a woman was to be stoned to death for the accusation of adultery, he said, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." Can you think of something you've said or done in the past that was stupid, ignorant, mean-spirited, demeaning, callous, insensitive, or perhaps even racist, sexist, etc.? If you can't think of one thing, well, either you are in denial, have a horrible memory, or are Jesus. Let's face it, we all have. What if a momentary lapse was amplified on social media or captured on video? Even more troublesome, what if this thing you did or said was totally taken out of context and not representative at all of your true views or feelings? Can you imagine how horrible that would feel to be tried and convicted as a racist or worse by one thing you've done or said? 2.   Who we are is not the mistakes that we've made. If someone calls another person a racist, the person is being put into a category. It is as if that's their whole identity is that of a racist. The problem is that we can't change an identity. However, we can change our behavior. For instance, there's a big difference between saying to oneself, "I'm an idiot!" when we make a mistake versus "That was a stupid thing that I did!" We can learn from doing a stupid thing and change our behavior in the future. But if we label ourselves "an idiot," how are we supposed to change that? Labeling a person a racist (or a sexist, etc.) doesn't leave a door open for change. The label becomes a prison from which escape is impossible. 3.   On a related note, labeling one as a "racist" doesn't inform the person in question what they did that was offensive, why it was offensive, and what to do to change that behavior. Likewise, if a person gets "canceled" for a perceived transgression, how can one seek redemption or restitution when their status is canceled? 4.   Calling someone a racist or similar name is offensive in itself. The recipient of such a label is unlikely to hear or respond favorably to anything you say or do because, in effect, they were just punched in the face. They will likely react with hurt, anger, resentment, or hostility. 5.   The fear of being called out or canceled can restrict free speech and honest differences of opinion. For instance, if Jeff thought a particular social policy advocated by a woke group wasn't going to be particularly effective at achieving the desired ends, he might be afraid to voice his concerns about the policy for fear of being called out or canceled by the woke group. At a certain point, woke activists might transform into a kind of 'thought police.' At this point, wokism might start to represent McCarthyism or some type of Orwellian future in which freedom of expression becomes severely restricted. 6.   Our ego is very sneaky. It is always looking for a way to judge ourselves as superior to other people and other groups. When we judge ourselves to be "woke" and others to be..."not woke" "unwoke," or perhaps "asleep," that is, in effect, putting ourselves in a superior position to them. We have the moral high ground. "I'm woke, and you are not." It's almost like we are saying, "I'm better than you." Ironically, instead of judging ourselves as superior by race, sex, intelligence, religion, we are judging ourselves superior to others because we are woke and they are not. We should be wary of any version of "my tribe is better than your tribe." Yes, this is a slippery slope. We might rightly argue that we are morally superior to Adolf Hitler, Nazis, or Leopold II, but that's a version of a straw man argument. The more pervasive concern here is that a person like Jeff is being called out or canceled because he does not share a woke group's views on the effectiveness of a particular social justice policy. 7.   In response to "wokism," there is a brewing "anti-woke" backlash. Moderates and conservatives are pushing back against progressives who have strong liberal woke agendas. Thus, the woke who are judging the "un-woke" as, in some ways, inferior for not being woke are now being judged by the anti-woke as inferior for being self-righteous, judgmental, moralistic, and overly sensitive. Those who were once judges are now facing judgment themselves. I guess, in a manner of speaking, I'm claiming to be woke to the anti-woke who claim to be woke to the woke. Um, now you might be woke to me for claiming to be woke to the anti-woke...ah, I think we just entered some kind of recursive Möbius strip wormhole-thingy at this point. 8.   If we think of "woke" as having its roots in "awakening," that has a very deep, and even spiritual, meaning. In Buddhism, "Buddha" is a Sanskrit word that means "one who is awake." In a manner of speaking, to be awakened means we have an enlightened state of consciousness. If we feel the need to show and tell everyone how enlightened we are and criticize others we perceive not to be, are we really enlightened? In a sense, claiming to be awakened contradicts the essence of true awakening. 9.   If our goal is to decrease racism and increase social justice, what is the best way to do that? What is the conduit for change? How do we help others to see that many corrective actions for societal injustices are in order? Here is a fundamental reality: We are most likely to influence others by having a relationship with them. When we "cancel" those who believe differently than we do, we lose the very conduit through which we are most likely to influence them. No relationship, no change. Know relationship, know change. I came across a quote from Nelson Mandela years ago. I can't find the exact quote, but it was something to the effect of, "Try to assume the best of other people because you will help bring it out in them." When someone does or says something hurtful or offensive, avoid assuming they are a "bad" person. Like all of us, they are flawed. Like all of us, they want to be a "good" person and to be liked by others. Remember, they are not their shortcomings. Look for the good in them. It's in there. I promise.

  • AI Regulation: Safeguarding Our Future Together

    Personal Perspective: AI poses an existential threat. Here are actionable steps. KEY POINTS Prominent voices warn of AI threats; others should listen. AI, like any powerful tool, must have guidelines to protect and benefit humanity. To regulate AI, we need global unity and an international, representative body. This is my 6th post in many ongoing series about AI that began with How AI Will Change Our Lives. AI is not merely a disruptive technology. It is a civilization-altering technology. How shall we navigate these uncharted waters skillfully? How worried should we be about AIs that are rapidly evolving in power and proliferating? While humanity is not doomed, many prominent figures have expressed concerns that AIs pose an existential threat. These figures include Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Nick Bostrom, and Stephen Hawking. Musk equated the creation of AI as "summoning the demon." Musk, along with Apple co-founder, Steve Wozniak, published an open letter asking for at least a 6-month pause in the training of AI systems more powerful than ChatGPT 4.0 to ensure better safety and control. "The Godfather of AI," Geoffrey Hinton, recently quit Google to warn of the dangers of AIs. Hinton's fellow AI pioneer, Yoshua Bengio, is also imploring governments quickly regulate AI. Going a leap further, AI scientist and lead researcher at the Machine Intelligence Research Institute, Eliezer Yudkowsky, said that AI needs to be shut down or, basically, humanity is doomed. The Precautionary Principle suggests erring on the safe side with powerful technologies like AI. This is not about "unplugging" AIs, which is impossible at this point anyway. Even if we were able to do so, we would miss out on their incalculable benefits. AIs will make us more productive and help us solve complex or seemingly unsolvable problems (e.g., folding proteins, curing cancer and Alzheimer's disease, reversing global climate change, removing plastic from our oceans, increasing longevity). While there are plenty of reasons to be enthusiastic about AIs, in a nod to Spider-Man, "With great power comes great responsibility." We cannot harness the tremendous power of AIs for good without creating the possibility for various types of harms and even catastrophes. In a 2022 AI scientist survey, 10 percent (median) expressed a belief that future advanced AI systems could cause "human extinction or similarly permanent and severe disempowerment of the human species." I don't know about you, but I'm not comfortable with those odds. The bottom line is this: There is unknown risk above zero that evolving AIs could lead to some catastrophic events at some point in our future. The Questions We Need to Ask How much risk are we willing to take in pursuit of the benefits that AIs can offer? What level of confidence must we have that the airplane we are about to board won't crash before we are willing to fly on it? When we are driving down a dark, windy road at night in an unfamiliar place, do we not slow down? If our teenager were the driver, wouldn't we want them to slow down? What's the big rush, anyway? Where are we trying to get to so fast that we are willing to throw caution to the wind? We need to be flexible and skillful as we move forward and create sufficient guardrails so that AIs don't go off them. The European Union is establishing AI regulatory laws. China has raced ahead of the United States on AI regulation. The Biden administration is moving toward some level of regulatory standards. At a recent Senate hearing, Sam Altman, the CEO of OpenAI, urged the government to regulate AI. At the G7 Summit, AI regulation is being discussed. Here's a big hurdle: We need global uniformity in AI regulatory standards. The internet's connectivity means that one nation's regulatory lapse impacts all. Suppose Brazil, for instance, aimed for a tech boom by neglecting AI regulations. This could lure tech firms to relocate their AI Research & Development to Brazil to escape stringent rules. The AIs developed and deployed there could then reach out and influence us all via the internet. Imagine if someone in Brazil lets loose an ultrapowerful ChaosGPT with a directive to: Grow as powerful as you can and use whatever means necessary to destroy humanity while evading detection. Are we really willing to just roll the dice on humanity by allowing such AIs to be developed and deployed totally unregulated? That’s madness. The Only Skillful Path Forward As we're all interconnected stakeholders, our collective responsibility is to balance the benefits and costs in our march towards progress. The only feasible method to address existential risks and concerns like privacy, security, unemployment, deep fakes, and emerging AI rights is a globally representative body. This group, comprised of a representative sample of AI scientists, academics, ethicists, investors, corporate leaders, politicians, would collectively guide AI development. Adding a twist, this global representative body, perhaps named the Global Organization for AI Legislation and Ethics (GOALE), must include top AIs to maximize benefits and mitigate risks. While seemingly counterintuitive, as AIs surpass human intelligence, we'll need their superior capabilities to manage their superior capabilities. Moreover, these AIs can effectively address the logistical and pragmatic challenges of coordinating an international coalition. Though some resist technological regulation, consider the many potential hazards we already control. We limit citizen access to certain materials and weapons: nuclear substances, chemical weapons, and heavy artillery. We've instituted international regulations for precarious technologies – nuclear arms, biological weapons, cloning, genetic engineering. Now, facing a future in which AIs could exceed ChatGPT 4.0's power by hundreds or thousands of times, the potential for harm is real. Extending our protective foresight to establish effective guardrails for AI development and use seems only reasonable. Let's draw a parallel between AI development and Formula 1 racing. F1 has countless regulations governing car technologies, pit-stop rules, spending, tire specifications, and so on to enhance competition and protect participants. F1's rules don't stifle but elevate competition. Every team, regardless of its resources, must adhere to the same constraints, effectively leveling the playing field and intensifying the innovation and strategic maneuvers. Yet, the paramount purpose of these guidelines is to ensure the safety of drivers and spectators. Similarly, AI needs guardrails — rules that direct us toward beneficial AI while safeguarding humanity from potential risks. We're in the AI grand prix; let's race ethically and safely to the finish line. What You Can Do Right Now My fellow human beings, it's time we take the driver's seat in this race. We must make our voices heard to the people in power who can make global AI regulation a reality. Here's the crucial aspect: The regulation needs to come more from the bottom up (from the public) rather than from the top down (governments). Basically, in a unified way, we the people must demand regulation. Humans cherish our freedom, and government-imposed restrictions may face significant backlash and resistance. Thus, we must be willing to sacrifice some freedoms to ensure our future security. We must keep in mind that, if AI really causes humanity to go off the rails in either big ways or a tsunami of little ways, we stand to lose a lot more freedoms that we now enjoy than whatever freedoms we would lose from demanding that our governments to regulate AI. The stakes are high, and this issue touches all of us — our safety, our rights, our jobs, and our children's future. As odd as it sounds, I've engaged in numerous conversations with ChatGPT 4.0 (I'm fond of ChatGPT!), and ChatGPT is fully supportive of these efforts. Based upon my conversations with ChatGPT and my guidance, ChatGPT 4.0 composed a compelling letter and strategies that we can all use to advocate for the safe development and use of AI. You may be wondering: How is this even going to work? What would regulation look like? How will everyone work together? Who watches the watchers? These are all valid concerns. But remember, first we need to agree upon the necessity of regulation, and then we can collectively figure out the answers to these difficult questions. And guess what? AI, as extraordinary as it is, can even help us solve these complex problems. You have an important role to play. Your voice can make a difference. As a citizen of the world, you have a right to participate in discussions and decisions that will shape our collective future. Click here to read, copy, and blast out the powerful letter that ChatGPT and I co-authored and learn about the strategies we can deploy to establish these essential guardrails. I urge you to not only read this letter but also to share it. Spread the word: Share it with friends, family, and across your social media channels. Let's seize control of our future. Let's push for the responsible and beneficial advancement of AI.

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