PROGRAMMED OR NOT

Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Livewired (The Inside Story of the Ever-Changing Brain

By: David Eagleman

Narrated by: David Eagleman

David Eagleman (Author, neuroscientist at the Baylor College of Medicine.)

A bright future is outlined for humanity by David Eagleman in “Livewired”. His vision has to do with what is presently known of the brain and its interactions with the world. Eagleman believes what we know of the world from the physics of Newton, Einstein, and Bohr today will enhance human brain capabilities tomorrow.

Eagleman details what is known about the brain. He explains the remarkable capabilities of the brain to adapt to its environment. The neuronal activity of the brain interprets the environment in which the body exists.

The body responds to change by sending signals from the environment to the brain. The brain interprets those signals with synaptic transfer of information for thought and action.

Eagleman explains the creation of language in children begins with babbling which is testing their relationship with others and the world. The sensations they receive from verbal and physical contact are connecting their brain function to the world. The brain changes with contact from people and things in the environment.

World experience changes the brain. Change is widely dispersed by neuronal activity in the brain. Thought and action are not located in one place but in many parts of the brain. Those many parts allow memory of experience to be stored, sometimes forgotten, but capable of resurfacing in one’s thoughts or actions.

On the one hand Eagleman is saying the world is what we see. On the other, he notes the world is an interpretation of reality by the brain. Eagleman explains a brain interprets the world of events. The brain is not a recorder. It is a recreator of events.

The significance of that recreation is in unperceived facts of an event. Additionally, Eagleman notes-if an event continually repeats itself, the brain can hide the event because of the constancy of its existence. An example would be a constant machine noise at a factory or the smell of offal at a pig farm. The mind initially notes the noise or smell but if a person is exposed for long periods of time to the same event, the noise or smell disappears.

The fascinating consequence of Eagleman’s observation of brain function is the truth of events may be quite different from reality. This reminds one of the discoveries of Quantum reality which is probabilistic rather than definitive. What we see may not be what is real. The real-world impact of event recreation by the mind is the threat of misidentification of a person accused of a crime.

The brain can distort reality to create a story and a memory that are not true.

The malleability of the brain has been addressed by many in stories of stroke victims, epileptic sufferers, and handicapped people who overcome sightlessness, seizures, and hearing loss. Eagleman notes young people are quicker and more capable of adapting to these difficulties because they are not as limited by past learned experience.

Eagleman explains older sufferers have learned how to deal with life based on previous experience. That experience is a mixed blessing because it impedes new learning. The ramification is that new discoveries about the world are and will be from the young, much more often than the old. 

Eagleman goes on to explain brain input and malleability extend to all parts of the body.

The skin, the eye, the tongue can be used as a source of stimulation to aid the brain in sending signals to malfunctioning appendages. This realization has led to ways of helping patients with palsy to stabilize their condition, for patients to recover from strokes, for the handicapped to walk with a prosthesis, and for epileptics to manage their seizures.

The optimism engendered by Eagleman is explained in one of the last chapters, titled “The Wolf and the Mars Rover”. He recounts the failure of the Mars Rover because of a malfunctioning wheel that ends its productive life. The Rover is unable to decide what to do to overcome a wheel that would not work. In contrast, a wolf will chew its leg off when in a trap because its brain tells she/he will die if not released. The Rover has pre-determined limits to action. The wolf changes behavior based on brain malleability, and unforeseen environmental circumstance.

Eagleman reinforces Rovelli’s argument that information will reveal all there is to know about the quantum world, and the nature of reality. To Eagleman, that information will come from the malleability of the human brain. Despite Eagleman’s optimism, there are skeptics.

CRISPR REVOLUTION

Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Editing Humanity (The CRISPR Revolution and the New Era of Genome Editing)

By: Kevin Davies

Narrated by: Kevin Davies

Kevin Davies (Author, Ph.D in molecular genetics, Editor of Nature Genetics.)

The famous philosopher Søren Kierkegaard advised “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” 

He Jiankui (Chinese scientist who used CRSPR to modify genes of unborn twin girls.)

Kevin Davies reports the genie is out of the bottle with He Jiankui’s sloppy edit of genes in unborn twins.  Davies suggests science will move forward on gene modification to provide understanding Jiankui’s inept genetic experiment. With that forward movement, Davies implies human extinction will be delayed, extended, or ended by genome experimentation. Proof of Davies conclusion is in Britain’s plan to create a government owned company to investigate genetic diseases and cancer in adults. The pilot project is to sequence the genomes of 200,000 babies according to a May 14th article in “The Economist”.

What remains a danger is that evidence of genomic abnormality is a first step to experiments in changing genetic inheritance at birth. There is a great deal unknown about what some call “dark genetic matter”.

What becomes clear is the potential for great good and great harm in the CRISPR revolution.    

CRISPR-This is an acronym for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats. It is a tech tool that reads DNA sequences that are fragmentary and not normal. In identifying what appears abnormal, the fragments can be manipulated to repeat what is believed to be the correct DNA sequence.                                                                                        

With the discovery of base pairing and the DNA double helix by Watson, Crick, and the (often-unrecognized) assistance of Rosaland Franklin, the basis for genome editing became possible. 

Beyond the syllabus: The discovery of the double helix. Erwin Chargaff (1951): Rule of Base pairing. Rosalind Franklin & Maurice Wilkins (1953): X-ray diffraction pattern of DNA. James Watson & Francis Crick (1953): Molecular structure of DNA.
Davies notes the key to editing genes are the replication errors between DNA strands.  Those spaces are indicative of disease risk that can be modified with CRISPR, a genome editing technique.

Davies offers a picture of Jiankui’s life.  He was educated at the University of Science and Technology of China and received a Ph.D. from the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Rice University in Texas.  From a humble life in China, Jiankui climbs a genetic mountain to arrive at a cliff of science.  One might characterize it as a cliff because a misstep in gene editing may injure or kill a patient and ruin a practitioner’s professional reputation.  Jiankui became a living example of a practitioner’s misstep. Jiankui is serving 3 years in prison and has been fined the equivalent of over $430,000 American dollars.  Davies notes the fate of the prenatal female twins is unknown.

Some would argue there are too many unknowns when genes are modified. As noted by Robert Plomin in “Blueprint”, the interconnection of DNA strands is complex.

Plomin notes the results of DNA modification are a matter of probability, not certainty.  Clearly identifying defective genes and modifying their code to eradicate disease or mental dysfunction is presently beyond current science understanding.

Adding to the uncertainty of results is the potential for creating a radical human cohort that defies societal norms, e.g., the creation of a destructive or superior race of humans.  An infrastructure would have to be formed to make decisions about the course of human civilization.  That infrastructure creates potential for radical authoritarian control of humanity by a select group of minders.

On the other hand, DNA modification holds the potential for eradicating disease.  The idea of eliminating HIV, and other viral diseases holds great promise for the future of humanity.  The cost and benefit will only be realized through experiment.  In one sense, it is like the experiments that doctors have taken since the beginning of medical treatment.  Heart disease and cancer treatments have become better over years of trial and error.

DNA modification is extensively used in agriculture to increase field productivity by reducing disease in plants and hardening resistance to blight.

DNA modification opens doors to regeneration when threatened by species extinction.

The light at the end of this tunnel may be a train or a new day. 

Davies’s underlying point is that CRSPR is here and will not go away.  Experiment will continue whether condoned by government or not.  All species on earth have a finite life. 

DNA modification is a fact, not just an idea.  It is here and will be used.  Science is grappling with rules to mitigate its potential downside while trying to insure its upside.  In the end, human survival will be decided by nature and the politics of control.

DNA

Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Blueprint (How DNA Makes Us Who We Are)

By: Robert Plomin

Narrated by: Robert Plomin

Robert Plomin (Author, American Psychologist and behavioral geneticist.)

As a psychologist and clinical geneticist, Robert Plomin seems well suited to explain how understanding of DNA has the potential of mitigating (possibly curing) many human psychological maladies. 

The scientific community notes that 70% of human variability is based on genetic differences among people. 

With a perfect picture of a person’s DNA, there is potential for reducing human mental disorders.  However, Plomin’s argument seems weakened by his research and experience.

Plomin has spent a great deal of his life researching DNA and genetic inheritance. 

What “Blueprint” reveals is how much progress has been made but, at the same time, how far science must advance to clearly understand what the other 30% of human experience has to do with who we are, how we think, and why we act as we do. 

Plomin acknowledges there are different patterns of genetic inheritance.  These patterns show susceptible psychological maladies and other genetic anomalies that cause Huntington disease, Marfan syndrome, cystic fibrosis, sickle cell disease, hemophilia, and others.  The inheritance patterns suggest those diseases are probabilities, not certainties. 

Plomin acknowledges DNA analysis remains too complex for precise understanding of the correlation between cause and effect.  Without precise understanding of genetic manipulation there will be unintended consequence, ranging from disability to death.  Further, there is the ethics of gene splicing that implies creation of a utopian society. 

Who would have the right to determine another’s role in society?  Whether as a philosopher king envisioned in Plato’s “…Republic”, or an Aryan race envisioned by Hitler, genetic manipulation opens a door to predetermined roles for human beings.  Who will make these decisions?  Is a planned society a good thing?  Does a human being want to be classified as a worker, a leader, a thinker, a doer because someone suggests society needs those classifications?

Listening to “Blueprint” leaves little doubt that understanding DNA is important.  What is in doubt is how that understanding is used.  Humanity has survived an estimated five or six million years.  To date, human survival has been based on random modifications of DNA and life experience. 

Maybe genetics offer the next stage in human survival, but abandoning natural selection carries risks based on human thought and action rather than natural selection.  Should science open Pandora’s box?

PUTIN’S INVASION

Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Invention of Russia

By: Arkady Ostrovsky

Narrated by: Michael Page

Arkady Ostrovsky (Author, Russian-born, British journalist spent 15 years reporting for the Financial Times from Moscow.

Arkady Ostrovsky’s book offers a personal perspective on post-1917 Russian political history.  Of particular interest today is in how Vladimir Putin came to power and how he may become an author of his own destruction.

Some listeners may conclude Putin’s invasion of Ukraine will doom his future as Russia’s leader. Others will conclude Putin will survive this political mistake because of Russia’s political history. 

Putin’s ascension after Gorbachev/Yeltsin seems foretold by Russian history.  As noted in Mark Steinberg’s lectures on Russian governance–since the 16th century, popular leaders (whether Czars or revolutionaries) prudently balanced authority and freedom. 

Though Gorbachev and Yeltsin were quite different as Russian leaders, they led Russia with an emphasis on freedom. Both offered freedom without adequate economic support for Russian Citizens.  In contrast, Ostrovsky argues Putin emphasizes authority with a measure of economic support that improves Russian lives.

Yeltsin fails because his reforms were largely political with little improvement in economic security for most citizens. Yeltsin’s support base came from oligarch’s economic gain rather than from policies designed to improve Russian citizens’ lives.  The early years of Putin’s reign emphasize authority with the help of media to influence public perception.

Putin uses secret service personnel and media to detain and restrain public opposition to the government. 

Ostrovsky notes the Chechen uprising is brutally suppressed by Putin. Chechens opt for a level of peaceful coexistence as a part of greater Russia.

Russian government control of media coverage emphasizes Chechen brutality while lauding Russian soldiers’ success in abating Chechen independence.  Ostrovsky suggests the reality of Chechen brutality is real but Russian soldier’s success in abating brutality is exaggerated by government-controlled media. Ostrovsky reports many Russian’ innocents are murdered in the process of rescuing children and teachers from a school attacked by Chechen rebels.

In 2004–Besian school massacre in Russia.

Ostrovsky explains the first President of Russia, Boris Yeltsin, personally endorses Putin as his successor.  Yeltsin is nearing the end of his life after a fifth heart attack.  He views Putin as the best hope of Russia to return to national prominence because of Putin’s relative youth and experience as a former KGB officer.  Putin has political experience as an aid to the former Mayor of Moscow.

However, Ostrovsky notes Yeltsin discounts the paranoia of Putin and how his experience as a KGB officer makes him suspicious of any activity over which he has no control. Ostrovsky suggests KGB training gives Putin the ability to hide behind a persona adopted to sooth the concerns of whomever he meets. That ability disguises Putin’s personal thoughts when dealing with controversial issues.

(The KGB is dismantled in 1991 but its apparatchiks remain in Putin’s government.)

The media during the Gorbachev/Yeltsin years grows as an independent oligarchic organization.  The two edges of power in media are telling convincing truths as easily as lies.  Yeltsin owes his electoral success to media according to Ostrovsky.  Yeltsin, before his last election as President, has a single digit approval rating from the Russian public.  With the help of a media oligarch and Yeltsin’s populist skill, he wins the election. On election day, Ostrovsky notes Yeltsin is nearly dead from a fifth heart attack.

Ostrovsky explains the growth of oligarchs begins with Gorbachev and gains momentum with Yeltsin.  The communist party leaders are losing their hold on governance, but they are well positioned to understand how things get done and can be controlled with acquired individual wealth.  Some of these former communist party leaders use their position to start personal companies with the financing of government money over which they have control.  They become behind-the-scenes movers and shakers for the Russian economy.  Their personal wealth grows, and the general economy begins to improve.

In the short term, these new barons of wealth improve the lives of many Russian citizens.  However, this unrestrained capitalist revolution begins to rot at its core.  Political power follows money.  Money supports political leaders that kowtow to oligarchic demand. An oligarch’s demand may or may not benefit the general public. 

When political leaders act in ways that support oligarchic demand, they improve their prospect for re-election.  In some cases, dynamic political leaders gain some independence based on their popular appeal.  Putin seems to have achieved some level of that power. With the help of popular appeal, public support can become a source of power to challenge oligarchic demand.  It seems Putin may have achieved both power bases, but invasion of Ukraine may change that support.

Robert Kagan finely reveals the fundamental mistake made by Putin in a May-June 2022 “Foreign Affairs” article. History reveals the mistakes of great nations like France, Great Britain, Germany and Japan in thinking they could become world hegemons by force.

Robert Kagan (A neoconservative Republican scholar and member of the Council on Foreign Relations of the Brookings Institute.)

Kagan notes America became a world force by virtue of economic growth which led to a choice by other nations to recognize American hegemony. Rather than capitalizing on the natural resources of Russia, Putin chooses to waste his country’s wealth on a war Russia will lose. It is a lesson one hopes China realizes in its pursuit of its sphere of influence. Sphere of influence is determined by economic growth, not military power.

Ostrovsky argues media is reality in Russia. World media is not the same as the Russian media that is tightly controlled by government leadership.  Further Ukraine invasion is not a Chechnian rebellion.  Chechnya is a small area within Russia–with an estimated 1.2 million people. Ukraine is an independent country of 44.3 million. 

Russian media might be controlled within Russia, but the world’s news will seep into Russian citizen’s knowledge, either by the internet or other means. 

Russia may be an invention as Ostrovsky suggests but all nation-states in the course of history are inventions.  History changes with information.  Dissemination of information is increasingly uncontrollable. 

In time of war, Nagasaki and Hiroshima show what uncontrolled fission can do in the event of a nuclear bomb. Fukushima shows what uncontrolled fission can do in time of peace.

Invading Ukraine may lead to loss of Putin’s power and influence in Russia.  The tragic consequence of Putin’s decision is the unnecessary death of many Ukrainians and Russians. The decision to invade Ukraine may lead to Putin’s dismissal, imprisonment, or execution. It has certainly changed his reputation in the world.

MIGRATION

Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Next Great Migration (The Beauty and Terror of Life on the Move)

By: Sonia Shah

Narrated by Sonia Shah

Sonia Shah (Journalist-born in NYC to Indian Immigrants.

Sonia Shah takes a broad look at migration.  She personalizes her view and, at the same time, writes about the broad tableau of nature’s migratory imperative.  Myths and misunderstandings are exposed by Shah. 

The lie of Disney’s lemming suicide documentary is largely forgotten in the 21st century.  Disney implied overpopulation leads to a deep-rooted impulse to compel millions of lemmings to jump off a cliff to their death.  She notes the documentary is a staged lie.  The only truth is that scarcity and fear compel animals to migrate.  There is no mass instinct for death.  There is only an instinct for species survival.

Shah notes the fundamental motivation for migration is survival.  Whether writing about butterflies or human beings, the animal kingdom chooses to migrate because of changes in their environment that degrade their way of life.  It is not an easy choice to move. 

Shah explains humans fear change.  One imagines what it is like for a young adult to move to a foreign country that speaks a different language, is exposed to a different culture, knows only a few fellow countrymen, and is thrown into a job market that makes or breaks their future. 

Shah correctly identifies the idiocy of Trump’s classification of migrants that are “…bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists, and some, I assume, are good people”. 

That is true of all people in the world, whether American or foreign born.  Human nature “…is what it is” as Trump’s callous comment about Covid19 deaths reiterates.  

A young person may have left his home country because of economic, environmental, or political changes that threatens life, but it is a life he/she understands.  Shah notes, that is the “…Terror of Life on the Move”.

Though it is cliché—America is founded by migrants.  Even Trump’s parents were migrants. Shah’s parents are doctors from India that migrated and made a life in America in ways that serve the needs of their new home.  They gave birth to an American-born daughter who has contributed to America’s understanding of migration’s beauty and terror. Migrants are not America’s burden.  They are America’s hope.

Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983, American architect, systems theorist, author, futurist.)

Shah’s purpose in “The Next Great Migration” is not to solve the world’s problems but to explain all life migrates to survive.  As Buckminster Fuller noted, we live on “Spaceship Earth”.  Human life on “Spaceship Earth” depends on how humans are treated if we are destined to survive.

FREEDOM’S HERO

Audio-book Review
 By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Gorbachev (His Life and Times)

By: William Taubman

Narrated by Henry Strozier

William Taubman (Author, Political Science professor at Amherst College, received 2004 Pulitzer Prize for Biography of Krushchev.)

The length of William Taubman’s audiobook requires a Gorbachev II review.  The first review addresses Gorbachev’s personal life.  The second reflects on Gorbachev’s political life.  Gorbachev’s life is suffused with great accomplishment and tragic failure. 

Georgy Malenkov replaces Joseph Stalin after his death in 1953.  Malenkov is believed to be a reformist who plans to reduce military spending and Stalinist suppression.

However, within weeks, Malenkov is pushed aside by Nikita Khrushchev who takes supreme power within two years of Stalin’s death.  Surprisingly, Khrushchev becomes something of a reformist himself.

Nikita Khrushchev (1894-1971, First Secy. of the Communist Party 1953-1964)

 

Stalin’s autocratic, paranoid leadership is semi-privately exposed by Khrushchev in a speech to the Central Committee of the Communist Party.  Khruschev’s vilification of Stalinist suppression, imprisonment, and murder eventually become known to the world.

The overriding concern of Russian leaders is to maintain suzerainty over Baltic nations and satellite territories in the face of ethnic and economic diversity.  Taubman notes older Russian leaders tend toward autocratic dictate to maintain political control.  The younger and more politically astute lean toward confederation of adjacent soviet republics and East Berlin with the U.S.S.R. as an umbrella organization.  Gorbachev is in the “politically astute” group.

Mikhail Gorbachev rises to chairman of the Communist Party and eventual President of the U.S.S.R., with the expressed intent of democratizing the Baltics, Russia, and East Berlin into a democratic socialist block.  However, ethnic, and cultural differences, accompanied by general economic failure, defeat Gorbachev’s unionist objective.

There is no question of Gorbachev’s success in democratizing U.S.S.R.’ citizens. 

However, in that democratization, the drive for independence becomes paramount to the satellite countries.  German reunification, and the breakaway of Baltic nations from the U.S.S.R. is inevitable.  Freedom, based on ethnic and cultural identity, surmount all efforts by Gorbachev to reinstate U.S.S.R. suzerainty.  Only by force could the U.S.S.R. prevail over state and territorial independence.  Taubman notes force is not within Gorbachev’s nature as a leader.

Once socialist democracy is dangled before the electorate, the die is cast.  Gorbachev’s governance could not provide enough economic stability to justify confederation.  That is his tragic failure.

Gorbachev’s immense success is liberating millions of former U.S.S.R. citizens.  With liberation, former citizens of the U.S.S.R. return to govern as citizens of their own countries.  This at a time of Reagan’s conservative government in the United States, and European distrust of U.S.S.R. militarization.  Taubman shows Gorbachev becomes an international hero based on his personality and persuasive power.  He is greeted as the great liberator of the twentieth century even though his primary objective is to retain those countries seeking freedom within the U.S.S.R.

Gorbachev raised the bar for nuclear disarmament by cultivating American and European participation in the reduction of nuclear weapons. 

Taubman explains Gorbachev is a tragic hero because momentum-of-change is halted by a cult of personality, compounded by economic insecurity.  Gorbachev is replaced by acting President, Alexander Rutskoy, after the 1993 constitutional crises. Rutskoy is replaced by a second acting President, Viktor Chernomyrdin. Boris Yeltsin succeeds Chernomyrdin as President in an overlapping term.

The Russian economy falters in its transition from communism to democratic socialism.  Russian history of “rule-of-one” reasserts itself with the rise of an incompetent President (Boris Yeltsin) and an autocratic but effective leader, Vladimir Putin.  However, Putin’s autocratic effectiveness is in question with the invasion of Ukraine.

Taubman suggests and infers Gorbachev’s success, and world history in general, are two steps forward with one step backward. Based on historical precedent of “one-man-rule” (dating back to czarist Russia) Taubman’s inference seems spot-on. 

Gorbachev flipped a switch that released the power of democracy but failed to provide adequate economic infrastructure to assure U.S.S.R. survival.  Taubman optimistically infers economic infrastructure of eastern bloc countries will improve overtime, even with autocratic leadership by people like Vladimir Putin. 

The growth of democracy has always been messy, but it moves forward in the face of temporary setbacks.  Spheres of influence will always be in play.   It seems a matter of time for another Gorbachev to make two more steps forward with a repeat of the next leader’s “one-step-backward”.  It appears in 2022, Putin makes that “one-step-backward” with the invasion of Ukraine. Taubman reminds readers of America’s trial in the civil war. Slavery is abolished but institutional racism remains a work in progress. The risk is that the world destroys itself before freedom and economic security become real for all.

FORMULA FOR PEACE

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Anatomy of Peace

By: The Arbinger Institute (Third Edition: Resolving the Heart of Conflict)

Narrated by: Kaleo Griffith

The Arbinger Institute was founded in 1979 by Dr. C. Terry Warner.  He co-authored “Leadership and Self Deception”.  In 1967 he received his Ph.D. from Yale University and is a professor at Brigham Young University. 

          The Arbinger Institute offers leadership training and consulting to organizations, families, and individuals around the world.   

              In “The Anatomy of Peace” a story is told about an Israeli and Palestinian who run a  youth camp for troubled children.  One presumes this is a story, not an actual event, that is designed to advise reader/listeners of the “…Institutes” beliefs.

“The Arbinger Institutes” objective is to identify the causes of human conflict and how it can be resolved.

              As the world knows, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict continues to rage without any evidence of resolution.  Some argue the solution is splitting the area into two states.  Others insist only one state is necessary with representation by resident voters.  “The Anatomy of Peace” argues neither solution addresses the fundamental cause for conflict, nor will it result in peace.

              Before explaining the camp leader’s histories in the middle east, the story begins with a young girl arguing with her family about being left at the camp for two weeks.  The young girl refuses.  The camp is in Arizona where temperatures rise well above 100 degrees in the summer.  This young girl runs away with no shoes on her feet.  She is followed by two young people who were once miscreates enrolled at the camp but are now employees.  They follow her, and catch up after several hours of flight to find her feet bloody and burned.  One of the two camp employees offers the shoes she is wearing to the runaway.  The runaway refuses.  Both employees choose to take their shoes off and continue running after her.  When she stops in a shopping center where she sees a friend of hers, they all come together.  The runaway looks at the camp employees and is shocked to see her pursuers had taken off their shoes.  The runaway agrees to stay for two weeks at the camp.  Her reason for staying is symbolic.

              The troubled children’s camp is run by an Israeli and a Palestinian who are at peace with each other despite the conflict in their home country.  Both have lost their fathers because of war.  In their younger adult lives, both harbored hate for their enemies, the killers of their fathers and countrymen.  Their respective stories are about how each overcomes their hate.  It is same as the story of the runaway.  They recognize each other as human beings.  They refer to Martin Buber who wrote the book “I and Thou” which recognizes the importance of reverencing the humanness of all human life.

Martin Buber (1878-1965, Author, 20th century philosopher.)

              The point is made that all people conflict with themselves when they treat others as objects rather than fellow members of humanity.  The principle of meditation is raised to get in touch with yourself, to understand yourself, to realize that in-common humanness is what must be recognized for peace to come among combatants.

              What the authors argue is that humans create boxes that carry the weight of who they are–which is not who they really are or mean to be.  In knowing oneself and the boxes we create for ourselves, we act in ways that defy the truth of all people’s humanness.  This idea is old.  It is the same idea that ancient Greeks spoke of when saying “know thyself”.  The Institute teaches that in self-understanding (knowing what boxes one is in) and realization of all people’s humanness, one can find peace. 

              The idea is to stay out of boxes that define you. This seems too simple. However, it is not simple or easy because of our inability to break out of boxes that have been formed over years of experience.   The first step is to not objectify other human beings.  Human labeling puts one in a  box.  The box creates someone who is an object, not a fellow human being.  The second is to know yourself and understand your boxes.  The last step is to get rid of the boxes.  Have empathy and do the things that make you feel good about your humanness.

The author makes the point that many things in life are beyond our control but those thoughts and actions that are within our control should be done in ways that make us feel good about ourselves.

                They argue you are in a box if you do not feel good about what you do.  Self-awareness sets one free to find peace.  There is a great deal to offer leaders and managers of other people in the teachings of the Arbinger Institute. A skeptic may find the Arbinger Institute’s formula for peace Pollyannaish. It will only change those who choose love and self-understanding in the face of human nature’s desire for money, power, and prestige.

The Arbinger Institute’s formula for peace seems to have no application in the realpolitik of Russia’s interest in Ukraine and Georgia.

BUDDHISM

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Being Peace

By: Thich Nhat Hanh

Narrated by: Edoardo Ballerrini

Thích Nhất Hạnh (Author, Buddhist Monk, Zen Master, Political Activist.)

“Being Peace” is a layman’s introduction to Buddhist belief.  Thích Nhất Hạnh offers a “let it be” philosophy of life while being a political activist.  Hanh’s philosophy of peace comes through meditation. Hanh finds through meditation human life is found to be neither good nor bad. 

There is no evil in Hanh’s world.  In one sense that reminds one of Christian’s belief in “turning the other cheek”.  The difference is that Christian’s believe there is evil in the world, and it must be punished.

Hanh tells a story of a Sudanese pirate that rapes a girl-child and throws her into the sea to drown.  Hanh suggests he could have become a Sudanese sea pirate by having experienced Sudanese poverty and depredation.  Hanh’s view is that the circumstances of life and environment create miscreants, rapists, and murderers.

Contrary to belief in evil and punishment for moral transgression, Hanh finds empathy for those who pillage, torture, murder, and rape. 

Hanh’s solution is to accept Buddhist belief in peace through meditation.  In accepting life as it is, evil doers disappear.  This is certainly an oversimplification of Hanh’s teaching. 

Hanh notes world leaders squander world resources that could be used to create and sustain peace for all people in the world.  He decries wasted dollars for military defense.  His argument is predicated on abundance that is unevenly distributed.

Hanh lives through the French and American atrocities in Vietnam.  

Hanh undoubtedly observed the senseless murder of innocents by both western powers and communists.  

Ironically, until more recently, Hanh was banned from Vietnam because of the crowds he attracted to his teaching.  Fear of competition from someone independent of the government frightens communist bureaucrats.  Hahn is now allowed in Vietnam, but his forums are restricted to small groups of believers.

Money, power, and prestige seduce the poor, middle class, and rich, whether in a democracy or autocracy.  There are few exceptions–maybe only Buddhist meditators, and Socratic philosophers–not the general public.

Hanh’s book is insightful but inadequate when measured against the innate nature of humankind.  On a personal level, one can accept the value of meditation in seeing things as they are and how they should be.  However, on a global level, it is difficult to imagine broad acceptance of meditation.

CULTURAL EVOLUTION

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

To You We Shall Return

By: Joseph M. Marshall III

                                             Narrated by : Joseph M. Marshall III

Joseph M. Marshall III (Author)

Joseph M. Marshall is a native American Indian of the Lakota tribe.  He argues that humanity must balance economic growth with nature to preserve cultural, particularly American Indian, identity.  The foundation of the argument is his life in a Lakota family and a felt loss of cultural identity.  His recollection is that his family’s life ambition is balancing the Lakota way of life with the natural world. 

Marshall creates an argument based on a false dichotomy. 

The world has never been a static place.  One cannot dispute balancing change with nature is critical to survival of humans on earth.  However cultural evolution is an integral part of that balance.

Marshall notes his family modified their culture to adjust from hunter/gatherer life to a farming life. 

He decries the destruction of his native culture by non-native explorers who, without question, deceived, evicted, and murdered Indians for what foreign settlers believed was a new frontier to conquer and exploit.  

But that is not the theme of Marshall’s book.  His belief is that ethnic cultures should be retained by emphasizing balance of nature to maintain the environment in a fragile world.

What is disturbing about the emphasis on balance of nature is the discounting of science that saved many homos sapiens from disease, starvation, and death.

With discovery of the causes of disease, ways for cure, and methods for increasing food production, people’s lives and standards of living were improved. 

Marshall recalls an idyllic history of his Lakota family that lived in the wilderness by adjusting their lives to the exigencies of nature.  On a larger scale of life, rebalancing lives of humans with earth’s environment is a never-ending process.  New scientific, political, and social discoveries require cultural adaptation.

Cultural evolution is a consequence of human nature and manufactured law.  Human nature is formed at birth and evolves based on life experience that modifies the psychology of being, human desires, and behavioral traits.  Manufactured law is a social construct based on either authoritarian, socialist, or democratic political ideals and institutions. 

Contrary to Marshall’s explanation of the ideal of a culture that is disappearing, some like Norman Borlaug, imply the survival of humanity is dependent on the interplay between human nature, science, and manufactured law.  (Borlaug was an agronomist who found a hybridized wheat seed that saved millions from starvation.) 

Knowledge gained through science offers the opportunity to rebalance the relationship between humanity and nature. 

Cultural evolution is a part of that rebalancing.  Cultures collide and reform.  Cultures are compelled to adapt.  Over the life of the universe, one presumes earthlings will have one culture, and other worlds will have their own distinctive cultures.

This is not to minimize the monumental loss of identity to the Lakota or any other culture. 

The history of indigenous Indian cultural decimation in America is heart breaking in the same way that all human beings have not been treated as equals. 

Marshall’s wish for cultural permanence is an unreasonable expectation.  Human nature is a brutal and often unfair quality of being human.  Adaptation by cultures follows Darwin’s path of evolution.  The animal kingdom adapts to its changing environment, or its species dies.

SCIENTISTS VIEW OF AI

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Making Sense: Conversations on Consciousness, Morality, and the Future of Humanity

By: Sam Harris

                                                                  Narrated by : Sam Harris,  David Chalmers, David Deutsch, Anil Seth, Thomas Metzinger, Timothy Snyder, Glenn C. Loury, Robert Sapolsky, Daniel Kahneman, Nick Bostrom, David Krakauer, Max Tegmark.

Sam Harris (American author, philosopher, neuroscientist, and podcast host.)

This audio presentation is a series of podcast interviews by Sam Harris of some remarkable students of humanity.  They discuss the meaning of morality, consciousness, and the future.  Listeners will come away with a degree of wonder, appreciation, and hopefully understanding of what these men (sadly no women) say about human intelligence, A.I., and the future.

Three explained points of view can be taken to work tomorrow morning–1) Human intelligence is not adequately represented by I.Q. tests.  2) Interviews of prospective candidates for a job will not tell an employer how well a prospective candidate will do his/her job.  3) Machines can be programed to be more efficient and less error prone than humans in the production of goods and services.

Less immediate but more consequential points of view are–A) The advance of artificial intelligence has potential for both good and evil, a secular rather than religious morality to these scientists. B) Leadership in A.I. is critical to the future of humanity.  C) The future of work is indeterminate but is based on the physics of existence. 

1) Intelligence comes from a brain gathering information and experience and using that gathering to provide order to thought nd action.  An I.Q. number is a measurement with limited insight to one’s ordered thoughts and actions.

2) Job applicant interviews tells little about a candidate’s ability to think and act based on the needs of a job.  Experience in similar jobs is of some value but interviews only reinforce an interviewer’s prejudices and biases.

3) Machines can be programed to be more efficient and less error prone than humans in the production of goods and services.

  • A) Intelligence comes from sentient life gathering information and experience to inform thought and action. A.I. designed to only act without thought is not intelligent.  It is simply software for a machine designed to perform a task, like vacuuming the floor, turning a lathe, or assembling an automobile.  Intelligence in those performances only come from human supervisors.  The only good or evil in that circumstance is from the human supervisor.  

The advance of artificial intelligence has potential for both good and evil. 

In contrast, when a machine is programmed to gather all information available in its environment and acts in accordance with that environment, it begins to reach beyond the intelligence of human control.  A machine acquires some level of control over its own thought and action.  The consequence can be death in the case of a car driven by A.I.  On the other hand, accidents also occur with human drivers.  What is the difference? 

Self Driving Tesla car wreck causing a deadly crash.

The difference is that true A.I. will learn from past incidents and self-correct.  This is a first step to creation of thought and action for intelligent machines.  In the short term, in the case of automobiles, it benefits society by having fewer accidents.  In the long term, software programing that gathers information and acts, independent of humans, may give rise to a conscious “self” in machines that could replicate themselves to the point of a kind of evolution that mirrors human nature’s gene replication.  Neither the private nor public sector is adequately investing in safety when new A.I. products are created. 

Expressed concern in these interviews is that little is being spent by either the private or public sector to design safety into software development.  The evidence of that failure is criminal hacking. Not enough investment is made to secure private information when proprietary information or software is stolen and/or modified by criminals.

There is a brief allusion to the idea of melding man and machine but no discussion of the ramification of a machine equipped with human emotion.  Humans have historically killed each other.  That ability may only be enhanced by melding a human brain with a machine.  The black box of consciousness and the mechanics of consciousness are not revealed in these interviews.    

It appears these podcast interviews were either prior to the idea of cortical columns in the brain noted by Jeff Hawkins (a neuroscience engineer) who wrote “The Thousand Brains”.   Or, the scientists who are interviewed by Harris do not believe Hawkins’ experimental proof is convincing.  

An optimistic view struck by Max Tegmark suggests there is potential for abundance created through development of A.I.  Humans have squandered much of the world’s resources that could be better managed by A.I.  The need for human work could be exchanged for life’s enjoyment if A.I. were safely employed to balance human life with natural resources of the world.

  •  B) A.I. leadership is at a critical juncture.  Software development needs to include more investment in transparency and safety.  Boundaries must be defined and established to mitigate potential for conflict between human intelligence and machine intelligence.  There is a human as well as machine threat of authoritarianism without investment in software transparency and boundary imposition.
  • C) History shows the future is indeterminate.  The hope is that human thought and action will mitigate Luddite-like resistance to the productive potential of A.I.  Leadership knowledge and experience when an evolving technology requires equal investment in transparency and safety in the growth of A.I.  Without leadership, the potential for a dystopian future, wrought by technology and the fundamental physics of life, becomes as likely as its opposite.

Leadership in A.I. is critical to the future of humanity. 

Future prediction is an oxymoron, as evidenced by the history of change in agriculture and the industrial revolution. No one can reliably foresee the impact of A.I. on humanity. The future of A.I. is like God to Kierkegaard, humanity waits with fear and trembling.

This is only a cursory and inadequate review of Harris’s fascinating interviews of fellow scientists.