Comforting Words of Science Fiction

by James Wallace Harris, Monday, October 2, 2017

I’m restless. I became depressed after hearing about the mass killing in Las Vegas. I needed uplifting and realized I hungered for a comforting science fiction story, the kind I found inspiring in my youth. I pulled out my iPhone and brought up my ebook copy of The Big Book of Science Fiction, edited by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer. “Desertion” by Clifford D. Simak called me to read it. It’s a huge book, as big as The Bible. I believe I turned to this story today like the faithful turn to a favorite passage in their good book. My unconscious mind picked it for me, and as usual, it was right.

The Big Book of Science Fiction edited by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer

After reading the story I hankered to hear it. I prefer listening to fiction, and once again I prayed my atheist prayers for an audiobook edition of The Big Book of Science Fiction. (Audible, are you listening?) If you are a believer try listening to an audiobook version The Bible, and you’ll know why.

I was able to find “Desertion” in the audiobook version of City, a fix-up novel Simak created from several unrelated short stories that he tied together about myths of extinct humans told by surviving robots and dogs. I’ve saved the video to where the story starts.

For those you who prefer to read with your eyes, here’s a .pdf of the story.

Whether you listen or read, the story is not very long. Take some time to enjoy it. Any true believer of science fiction will find it moving, even heartwarming. “Desertion” provides the kind of sense of wonder that many of us true fans feel define science fiction. Warning, I hope this story will make you cry, it should if you’re not a misanthrope.

I’ve often written there are many similarities between the appeal of religion and the attraction of science fiction. Maybe that’s why I find the sense of wonder in this story so comforting on this bleak day.

“Desertion” is a tale of pantropy and transhumanism – think born again. I’m an atheist to both religion and science fiction. Even though their stories are unbelievable, they are comforting. I lost my faith in God when I was twelve. I’ve been a humanist ever since. However, in my last third of life, I’m even losing my faith in humanity. Does that make me a post-humanist?

JWH

To Be A Machine by Mark O’Connell [Annotated]

by James Wallace Harris, Saturday, September 22, 2017

Are you a transhumanist? I am not. I reject transhumanism for the same reason I reject religion – both unrealistically crave immortality. The faithful feel their soul will leave their body upon death and move into another dimension. Transhumanists believe technology will someday copy their soul to a machine or clone body. Science has never found any evidence for souls. I’m confident our conscious self-awareness can’t be separated from our bodies. In fact, I believe our body is essential in creating our consciousness.

That said, I find transhumanism to be a fascinating philosophical topic. Transhumanism is a very popular theme in 21st-century science fiction, and a goal embraced by many in our high-tech culture. Religion is the old way people hope to escape death. Transhumanism is the new way of fulfilling that old hope. I think both reject the reality of our finite lives. Transhumanism is just another belief system that lets its believers avoid who we really are.

To Be A Machine by Mark O'ConnellTo Be A Machine: Adventures Among Cyborgs, Utopians, Hackers, and the Futurists Solving the Modest Problem of Death by Mark O’Connell is a book about the future of humans I just finished. O’Connell, a journalist from Dublin traveled the world exploring transhumanistic endeavors by men and women whose goals feel more like science fiction than science. O’Connell is a skeptic of transhumanism, and so am I. However, wherever O’Connell went, he found brilliant, often eccentric people working hard on exciting projects. I thought it would be fun to find links to each of those endeavors and people he describes in the book.

I envy journalists who get to see in person the exciting events and people they write about. That’s why I love a good documentary. Seeing is believing, and O’Connell got to meet many far-out prophets of transhumanism. O’Connell’s book is well worth reading because he applies contextual history and philosophy to a growing belief system emerging our of technological culture. The men and women O’Connell interviews are the John the Baptists of Transhumanism.

Anyone who is interested in the future should enjoy this book, but especially science fiction readers and writers. I’m going to go chapter-by-chapter providing links to what O’Connell writes about. I envy him for being about to wander the globe to check out cutting-edge research.

System Crash

This first chapter deals with death and transhumanism. Transhumanists are people who seek everlasting life with the help of technology and not waiting on any promises from theoretical entities.

An Encounter

A Visitation

This was my least favorite chapter, about people who freeze themselves in hopes future medicine might give them life again, or transfer the contents of their brain to a new body or machine. We might eventually invent some kind of suspended animation, but I flat out disbelieve we can copy our conscious minds to another body.

Once Out of Nature

A Short Note on the Singularity

Talkin’ AI Existential Risk Blues

A Short Note on the First Robots

Mere Machines

Science and Invention 1924 May interior art

Biology and Its Discontents

Faith

Please Solve Death

The Wanderlodge of Eternal Life

JWH

The Soul v. Evolved Consciousness

by James Wallace Harris, Saturday, August 19, 2017

I keep trying to understand the core cause of our polarized political conflict that’s pushing us to destroy our current civilization. We have the knowledge and technology needed to solve our problems but we don’t apply them. We choose to viciously fight among ourselves instead. Self-interest is winning over group survival. Decade after decade I keep wondering why. I keep refining my theories, and the current one says this conflict originates in a divide between theology and philosophy.

Most people don’t think in terms of theology or philosophy, so how could cognitive tools be the cause of so much hatred? People act on beliefs without being aware of their beliefs or the origins of their actions. My current theory explores if we’re divided by a fundamental sense of self: either assuming we have an immortal soul or an evolving consciousness.

Because science cannot explain why we’re conscious animals the origins of consciousness remain open to interpretation from theology and philosophy. Of course, even when science can overwhelmingly explain such mechanisms as evolution, many people refuse to accept science because of their innate theology, even when they can’t explain that theology in words or logic. But where does theology come from? Why do some people process reality with a theological perspective and other people with a philosophical or scientific perspective?

Humans are not rational creatures. We are rationalizing animals. Our thoughts are not logical, but seek to reinforce our desires. The perfect lab animal for studying this irrationality of humanness is Donald Trump. From my perspective, humans are the product of billions of years of evolution and we’re currently at a paradigm shift of consciousness, where half of us perceive reality in the old paradigm and half in the new.

The old paradigm assumes God created us, giving us immortal souls with time in this existence being temporary because there’s a greater existence after death. The new paradigm is reality is constantly evolving. I use the word “reality” to mean everything. We used to say, “the universe” to mean everything, but it now appears our universe is part of a multiverse, and even that might not be everything. So, I call everything by the term “reality.” It includes all space, time, dimensions, and everything we’ve yet to discover or imagine.

Humans are bubbles of conscious self-awareness popping into this reality that eventual burst. I believe our consciousness minds evolved out of brain evolution, which evolved out of biology, and biology evolved out chemistry, and chemistry evolved out of physics, and physics evolved out of cosmology. Other people believe a superior being called God using the magical power of the Word created us.

It comes down to the soul v. evolved consciousness. Humans whose thoughts arise out of a belief foundation of the soul perceive reality differently from humans whose thoughts arise out of the belief we’re a product of evolution. I don’t think it’s a matter of conscious choice either. I’m guessing our unconscious minds work based on how each paradigm has wired our brains. Obviously, only one paradigm explains our true existence, but individuals live their lives perceiving reality from one or the other paradigm. That perceptual different makes all the cultural, social and political differences.

The people who act like they have souls want to shape reality based on their beliefs, and the people who act like they are evolved consciousnesses want to shape reality according to their beliefs. This causes our political/social/cultural divide. People with souls don’t care what happens to this planet, people with evolving consciousness think this planet is vital.

Sparrows and Prayers

by James Wallace Harris, Friday, July 14, 2017

Even as an atheist I’ve always loved the sentiment that God knows every sparrow that falls from a tree. It’s a comforting feeling to know that we’re watched by someone who loves us. A 2008 poll showed 60% of Americans believe in a personal God. But according to one estimate, there are ten times as many stars in the universe than all the grains of sand on Earth. The next time you’re at the beach, contemplate the sand and imagine that each grain contains as many humans as Earth, and then imagine what it would be like to hear all their prayers, and then remember you’d need to listen to all the beings on all the other grains of sand too. Can any mind no matter how vast discern so many voices?

There are over 7 billion humans on this planet and between 200-400 billion birds. How can God know every sparrow that falls from the sky or listens to every prayer we make? Now imagine multiplying 407 billion times every planet in the universe. Now multiply that times every universe in the multiverse.

sparrows and prayers

The only person that hears our prayers are ourselves, and maybe a few people who love us if we tell them. The idea that there’s a loving being that listens to all our wants, desires, and fears is a story primitive people told themselves. How can we believe it when we know so much more? Our reality is even larger than what we can see with the Hubble telescope. There’s no reason not to assume it’s infinite.

We need to individually listen to our own prayers and answer them ourselves. We need to collectively listen to each other’s prayers and work together to answer them as species. Humans need to note each sparrow that falls from the trees and care for them.

We should all want universal health care, we all get sick. Why should the rich get their prayers answered, and not the poor? Why should the rich be the sparrows that get noticed?

JWH

33 Reasons Climate Deniers Can’t Give In

by James Wallace Harris, Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Yesterday, I read a moving article in the New York Times, “Climate Science Meets a Stubborn Obstacle: Students,” about a student, Gwen Beatty, waging an emotional war of words with her science teacher, James Sutter, over climate change. Gwen’s passion for defending her beliefs made me feel for her, but I agreed with her teacher. For years I’ve wondered why climate change deniers tenaciously cling to their beliefs in the face of overwhelming evidence they are wrong.

Gwen Beatty’s unmovable emotional stance is a clue to why deniers can’t give in. At first, I thought deniers were being pugnacious for political reasons, and then I realized there was a religious dimension to their stance. Here are 33 reasons why some climate deniers probably can’t give in.

Creation of Adam by Michelangelo_700

  1. To accept climate science means accepting science.
  2. Accepting science means accepting an indifferent random reality.
  3. Science shows reality is explained by evolution and not theology.
  4. There is no room for God if evolution is true.
  5. Without God, there is no need for Jesus.
  6. Without Jesus, there is no salvation.
  7. Without salvation, there is no heaven, hell, or eternal life.
  8. Without all of the above, there is no need of The Bible.
  9. If these things are true then liberals might be right about other things.
  10. If humans are the cause of climate change then we should fix it.
  11. Fixing climate change requires rethinking capitalism.
  12. To fix capitalism requires more regulations and control.
  13. More control requires a larger government.
  14. A larger government requires paying more taxes.
  15. Solving climate change means abandoning old sources of wealth.
  16. Solving climate change means telling businesses how to operate.
  17. Solving climate change means telling people how to live differently.
  18. If science if right about climate change it’s probably right about other issues.
  19. Humans are causing mass extinctions.
  20. Humans are polluting the planet and destroying the ecosystem.
  21. Humans are overfishing the oceans.
  22. Humans raise too many animals for meat consumption.
  23. Humans mistreat animals.
  24. Humans are ethically responsible for the balance of life on Earth.
  25. Humans, not God, decide what’s right and wrong.
  26. All people are equal regardless of their color, gender identity, or sexual preferences.
  27. That we have to think globally and not locally when it comes to human rights.
  28. That the soul might not come into existence at conception, or even exist.
  29. That it is unethical to let people live in poverty.
  30. That everyone deserves an equal education.
  31. That any kind of discrimination is wrong.
  32. That borders are arbitrary.
  33. That theocracy is evil.

I could go on. I wonder if accepting climate change is an uncrossable line some conservatives have drawn because they know crossing it means toppling the first domino that leads to the 33 beliefs above.

JWH

 

I Was Wrong

by James Wallace Harris, Monday, May 8, 2017

Yesterday I wrote, “Are Republicans the Party of Darwin?” accusing conservatives of applying their understanding of Darwin’s observations on nature to justify the laws they were creating. Their laws always seem to back the strong against the weak. But I had a revelation in the middle of the night.

Everyone acts on their instincts, and those instincts are Darwinian by nature. Duh! Darwin’s theory is the most widely accepted explanation for our behavior. I was crediting Republicans for consciously using Darwin’s ideas in the formulation of their political philosophy, and this is where I’m wrong. It wasn’t a conscious decision. My essay was based on the irony that conservatives profess to be Christians but enact laws that reflect Darwin’s theory rather than Jesus’ teachings.

heaven and earth

My point being there’s no compassion in nature or Darwin’s observations about how nature works, and there’s no compassion in the laws Republicans want to support. You’d think people who follow a personal philosophy based on compassion would enact compassionate laws. This conflict of action and belief troubles me and I keep trying to figure out what causes it.

My revelation last night is everyone acts Darwinianly, despite what they profess philosophically. I am an atheist, but I give Christianity credit for inventing many compassionate philosophical concepts. I attribute those ideas to Jesus like we attribute other philosophical ideas to Plato or Aristotle, but I’m not sure they came from the man we historical think of as Jesus. Many of the ideas were developed by his followers and attributed to him in the first few centuries after his death.

Organized compassion for the weak is a relatively new idea in history. Limited forms of compassion have been around in evolutionary terms for a very long time, even in plants and lower animals, but to develop a religion, philosophy, or political system to protect the weak wholesale is relatively new.

I just think it’s ironic that the political party that claims to be the most Christian reflects it least in their laws, and the party that folks general assume is least Christian reflects compassion the most in their laws.

Our political divide really comes down to how much we want to support the common welfare over the freedom of the individual. The more socialistic we are, the more we want everyone to contribute to improving society, the less socialistic we are, the more we want to give the maximum freedom to individuals and ignore the suffering of the masses. Such socialism counters Darwin’s observations on animal behavior.

Thus Christianity is inherently anti-Darwinian. For twenty centuries it seemed like Christianity was catching on, especially in the Western world. But that’s probably an illusion. What really caught on was a belief in life after death via easy salvation. The idea of heaven on Earth hasn’t.

In other words, conservatives are Darwinian on Earth, but Christian in their hopes about an afterlife. Which might explain why liberals are more socialistic. Many of them doubt the afterlife, and thus they’d want to create heaven on Earth. The conservatives are more pragmatically Darwinian, they want all they can get while living, and then assume things will magically go great after they die despite what they do while living. Liberals evidently feel this is all there is so we better make the best of it.

This is a huge problem for liberals. To get more people to vote for social welfare might require convincing people to think less about an afterlife. In other words, the concept of heaven has corrupted people’s attitude towards Earth. This might also explain climate change deniers. They might unconsciously realize to think more about Earth means to think less about an afterlife.

JWH

 

 

Are Republicans the Party of Darwin?

by James Wallace Harris, Sunday, May 7, 2017

As a lifelong atheist, I find most of my political convictions comes from the words printed in red in The New Testament. Shouldn’t unbelievers use Charles Darwin’s scientific insights to model how society should be governed? Yet, as I study Republicans, the party I oppose, I wonder why they act the way the do. I can only conclude they base their philosophy on the survival of the fittest.

Darwin-Jesus

I hate Republicans for not carrying about suffering, whether it’s the suffering of people, animals, plants, or the biosphere. If you study Darwin’s observations you realize that nature ignores suffering too. The Republicans work with all their might to create a political system that helps the strong while ignoring the weak. In fact, Republicans are the strong feeding off the weak. Yet, publically Republicans claim to be Christians. Shouldn’t a Christian political party promote the way of life Jesus taught? And wouldn’t that be anti-Darwinian?

If you study the Sermon on the Mount, you know it’s impossible for a Christian to own an AR-15. The meek will not be carrying Glocks when they inherited the Earth. Darwin’s red tooth and claw philosophy would embrace such weapons. Darwin would be pro-gun, but not Jesus. Yet, typically Republicans express a hatred for Darwin and a love of Christ.

The Democratic party which wants to feed the poor and heal the sick is labeled the Godless party. However, if the beliefs in The New Testament were converted into a political system it would be socialistic, and look much like the political goals of the DNC.

Is it possible to create a political system that reduces suffering while still encouraging all its citizens to become stronger? If Republicans were honest they’d admit they believe far more in Darwin than Christ. Yes, helping people can make them weak, but ignoring their suffering also makes you heartless.

Isn’t there some kind of compromise we could make? Can’t we start the competition for survival on an equal playing ground? Wealth inequality shows the competition isn’t equal like what Darwin saw in nature. Human intelligence allows us to multiply and horde our strengths, which is why we’re destroying all the other species, and why those humans on the receiving end of wealth inequality can so easily destroy those on the losing end.

Republicans appear to totally embrace Darwinism, including ignoring suffering. Democrats want to create a political system that eliminates some sufferings. I would think any political system that ethically allows for some members to become billionaires should allow for universal healthcare. How can any system that allows for some players to have everything and others nothing be Christian?

Isn’t Christianity about compassion? I can understand why conservatives embrace Darwinian actions. Republican ideals are very close to nature. And don’t Christian beliefs defy the natural? Isn’t The New Testament all about protecting the weak?

JWH