Rhapsody #109 – Entropy and Disorder

Recently I wonder why don’t more of us,
Just spend our days crying?
I’m just so tired of being outraged,
But the things people do to each other.
It’s enough to really make you question: What is it all for?

I’m tired, and tired of being tired.
But what right do I have to complain?

The very essence of life is survive,
And there are some strong people out there,
Who have been at the receiving end of senseless cruelty,
That toughness might not look like much to you,
But even if they took the time
To stand on this Earth just a little it longer
There’s more toughness in them than you know.

And people have the gall to criticize safe spaces,
You can’t really know what another person’s been through,
Yeah you may be tougher, but so what,
Life isn’t all about toughness,
Toughness is just the cost of life,
It ain’t none of the flavor.
And everybody…I mean everybody has their safe spaces
Just for some people their safe space in their head,
That black and white world,
Full of a few simple rules that will keep them alive,
Those rules are the fiction they cling to,
Just to feel safe and rail angrily at everybody,
Simply because they recognize it’s all been made up.

Word to the wise,
None of us are safe.

The only real rules are in physics,
And it’s like a chess board.
Not that we know where all the pieces go yet,
But the set up looks ordered and tidy,
But the universe isn’t the set up, it’s the game.
And there are more possible moves in a game of chess,
Than there are electrons in the universe,
And somehow the universe has chess in it.

One thing makes me feel better and also worries me,
Is that from the perspective of the universe we are all idiots
The universe is behaving exactly as it should
We are too,
The problem is the universe is far more complex,
I mean we’re pretty complex and the universe has us,
We definitely don’t have the universe,
We’re just life, and life’s only purpose is to keep life going,
And there’s nothing wrong with that,
But sometimes I wish we could all understand the universe a bit better

You may think now that this should all come back to a single unifying point,
So that the strands of what I said could clump together,
Maybe a hammer that swings down and crushes life.
But that’s not this universe.
The last time we were one thing,
The last time we were all the same,
Somewhere in the neighborhood of 14 billion years
We were hurled off into space and change began
Branching into smaller and smaller strands,
Moment by moment,
And we’re all unique and we’re all beautiful
We’re all sort of freaks of nature,
And that’s how we’re all equal
And maybe accepting and loving that thought,
Is all we can really hope for.

And then I ask myself,
Is all this self-indulgent pondering of the grandeur of the universe,
Just a way to make myself feel better?
Maybe it keeps me strong to take on the world,
Maybe it just lulls me into inaction,
Maybe I shouldn’t feel so bad for a moment of calm,
I’m only human.

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Free Will and Changing Your Mind

There was a very good question posed to Sam Harris on his podcast which was:

“If free will is an illusion, why are intentions morally relevant?”

Sam Harris’ answer was very good, but I wanted to throw in my own answer as well.  This also brought to the fore questions I have been asking for years and has led me on a path to learn about the brain and cognitive science: “How effectively can we change our own minds about things?  And what is the manner in which we can change our mind?”  Now perhaps to some, the question posed to Sam Harris doesn’t seem related, but I think there is a very important connection here.

Whether or not you agree that free will is an illusion or not, isn’t something I want to debate with right now.  I haven’t heard a compelling reason in favor of the idea of free will in some time.  I think what the more interest question is to understand why people are against the idea of free will being an illusion.  Sure you could argue that religion is part of that reason, but even secular people are uncomfortable with the idea.  The question posed to Sam Harris says it all.  If there is no free will, how is anybody responsible for their actions?

The word responsible is the word that doesn’t belong here, and this is what most people seem to miss.  This has important consequences for our justice system.  So then why do intentions matter?  The reason why intentions matter is because of what it says about your brain.  Let’s say I’m driving and I accidentally hit a cyclist, what does this say about me as a person?  I may be careless on the road.  Maybe I need to take some more driver training classes.  Maybe I need glasses.  Maybe if I’ve gotten into numerous accidents it means I probably shouldn’t drive any more.   What if I feel genuine remorse for what I’ve done?  Doesn’t that say something about how my brain works as well?  Do I belong in jail?  I don’t think so.  But if on the other hand I see that cyclist and get a sinister grin on my face and speed up and mow that cyclist down, what does this say about me?  It says that I am a person who takes joy about causing harm to others.  I might not feel remorse…maybe I do…but there would be something troubling about my mind that speaks to what future actions I am likely to take.  What if I know the cyclist and hate the person and that’s why I mow them down?  This also says something troubling about future actions I might make.  Because who might be the next person I hate, and what might I do to them?

I have talked about the idea of “personal responsibility” before and as I write this post it becomes even clearer why that phrase confuses me.  Having a party centered around personal responsibility seems to be an even bigger mistake.  We are a social species and it’s easy to say we are responsible for ourselves, but I don’t think that’s really the case.  It is the environment which shapes the individual and we have laws in large part not to control individual behaviors but to protect society.  It seems to me that it is we as a society, as other people in a person’s life that intervene to impact someone’s behavior.  And when a person does change their behavior it is a response to what society values, or through some personal experience in interacting with society or their environment that changes one’s mind.  If I am going around running people down with my car, whether accidentally, or on purpose, it is society that in some way says hey you can’t be doing that and finds an appropriate way to make me less of a danger.  If I take it upon myself to make changes, it is because of some emotional reaction to what I’ve done that is the impetus for change.  Rather than a decision to change, my body, my mind doesn’t want to feel a certain way and thus pushes me in a direction to not feel that way again.  My consciousness of that motivation is what gives me the illusion of free will.

Change in an individual seems to be a result not of an individual’s decisions, but rather the environmental context in which we live.  If society hasn’t shaped us to be more receptive to changing our mind, it is actively intervening to try and convince us to reform our views.  Sometimes successfully, sometimes not.  It seems that there is no real reason for me to want to change my mind about anything when I think about it.  I mean if what I believe has kept me alive so far, to be of an age to reproduce and raise children to a sufficient age so they can reproduce then what I believe must be pretty reasonable.  Now for a social species it could be that what I believe is very counter to surviving well with the people around me.  But as long as I generally believe what the “group” believes I’ll probably be alright.  Whether those beliefs are true or not makes no difference.  It really doesn’t even make a difference if they are harmful, providing that harm doesn’t lead to any consequences that would significantly reduce my chances to reproduce.

As we realize the global society that we live in, and that more and more of us are infringing on each other cultural and intellectual space, as we become more acutely aware of the harm of certain beliefs and values, not just in our community but over the entirety of the planet, I feel it’s important we start asking how can we all get along?  What values should this global community have?  What differences can we afford to maintain and still get diversity?  Does diversity’s value diminish over time if we hope for unity among humankind?  And given how difficult it seems to be to change one’s mind, what are some beliefs we could have that would provide a backdrop to growth for a better future where less humans suffer, and well being is increased?  It is this last question I want to explore a bit more in future posts.  I think tied to this is the area of human emotion which I have become more intrigued with of late.  I think that our emotional and reasoning side are more tied together than we think and that without emotions, at least for humans, growth isn’t possible.

The choice of having children: Not having children

In this series I have tried to take a look at the process of having children from the standpoint of essentially energy. In that what we have is a finite amount of it, and having children requires quite a lot. I have also tried to show that having children is a decision that is related to both the individual and the community. Population control is something practiced by man since we first became a species both through planned pregnancies and the unfortunate act of infanticide in extreme cases where the individual or group was threatened by a severe lack of resources. As we make our way into the modern era we find more and more couples in western countries with strong economies to be choosing to have fewer or no children. Should we be concerned by this?

Dhya_iowaAs someone who has entered the community of being a parent, I can honestly say there is a great joy to being a parent that no amount of rational thought beforehand could have prepared me for. No matter how many other parents I talked to and even if they could tell me their joy I would not know what it is like to have one of my own. Part of me wants to shout out to the world that this is an experience that is worth doing and yell at people to have some babies! But what do I know? We all know people who are extremely stressed, who are burning candles at both ends. Some are in imperfect marriages and feel unsupported by their spouse, or don’t get any joy about the combined effort of working with their spouse to raise children. Some people may have had horrible parents themselves, thus feeling ill-equipped to do the same. Some feel driven by their careers, feeling fulfilled in their everyday life, liking what they do and may actually prefer to give to the world in this way. Some, simply through deep introspection feel that they don’t have what it takes to be a parent, whether it’s a lack of energy or patience, too much anxiety or stress, depression, or other reasons. I came across this article, and I really loved it. There is lots of good stuff in it, but the important point that I got from it is, “Is it anymore selfish to have children than to not?”

If having kids is as wonderful as I’m feeling about it, and I’m doing this act that gives me an intense amount of joy, what difference is there between me and the woman who wants to focus on her career, wants to travel, wants to have smashing social gatherings with her friends? Should we force anybody to give up the things they want to do so that they can instead save money for her child’s tuition, travel less because every trip requires more money than it did before, seeing their friends less socially because babysitters are expensive, or trading a night out for dinner for a play date with a fellow parent? In todays world, having children may actual decrease happiness for many people, and is this the environment we want kids raised in?  If I’m honest there is a part of me who misses my life before children, but not so much that I regret it in any way. None of it feels like a sacrifice and I had a lot of freedom for a lot of years, and then I chose, with my wife, to have children.  We did, and are happy with our choice in every possible way. Why should it feel like sacrifice if it is what I wanted?  And if you’re a parent and it does feel like a sacrifice you probably should have thought about it more before having children. There are some hard days, but it’s just part of being a parent and I really don’t mind.

In my last post I looked at the issue of abortion, because here is a situation in which we judge women for terminating a pregnancy and killing an unborn fetus, and yet we also find we are treating many women who choose not to have children with nearly the same level of incredulity.  I am not saying the anti-abortion crowd is the same as those that are critical of women who don’t have children, but it’s sad that women really can’t win it seems unless they are popping out babies and loving every minute of it. Regardless of whether it was planned, or unplanned if you don’t want kids women are made to feel that there is something wrong with them. Like they are “going against the natural order of things”, to quote the article above.  And this is not a fair judgment.

But this is why I wrote this series is because human life is not simply about reproduction. Certainly a species needs to reproduce, but remember what I said in the first post? Our evolutionary advantage is intelligence. So here we have this social species, living in a now global community, who is intelligent. We are the most intelligent species on the planet (at least in theory) and our survival is not just about a numbers game. There is a reason other species have big litters, lay a 1000 eggs, or reproduce more frequently.  It is simply because if they didn’t, they would not survive. They are preyed upon, they have more accidents, they cannot cure themselves of disease, they cannot heal their injuries. Living in the wild is a hard life. In fact given that we evolved in the wild, and were limited in our rate of reproduction given our non-sedentary lifestyle, it reveals how important our intelligence was to our survival. But even if you wanted to argue that it was a numbers game for humans too, well you might have something…we’ve quite successfully made it to 7 billion people, I would say that we aren’t in any danger of dying off too quickly unless some gigantic asteroid hits the planet without warning.

As we move into the modern world, the newly acquired sedentary lifestyle which has led to a massive population has also led to a wide variety of roles that people can play in society and specialize in. Instead of everyone being a jack of all trades, we have people who are just really good at a few things and really just do one job. Whether that is a better way to live, I can’t say, but that’s sort of how society is right now, and we all work together with our different skill sets to make society function. Some people really want to be parents, some people really don’t. And we really need to be okay with that, because we are just fine. I can guarantee you that should something happen that would leave only a few thousand of us standing, everybody would pull together and start breeding like bunnies again to the best of our ability. Even homosexuals would probably kick in a few sperm here and a few eggs there to help humanity out. And if you want to be a lover of the natural order of things, I ask you to think about what is natural about dumping massive amounts of carbon and other pollutants into the air, hunting species to extinction, dumping plastic and toxic waste into the oceans, collective radioactive material and bringing it to the surface, and then expecting everybody to create even more people to do even more of all this stuff we are doing to the planet, all so they can experience the joy of having children. Now who is selfish?

But listen, I’m not knocking parents either, I’m only saying that we need to all relax and recognize that we all might feel passionate about different things and this is okay, because it is that diversity that enriches humanity.   What is best is that we all fulfill our roles well, not all fulfill the same role. If civilization is to have any advantage to our hunter-gatherer days it is that we can use the extra time that farming has given the rest of us to make the world a better place, and this doesn’t need to be done by everybody having children. For many there are some pretty good reasons not to have children, and we should respect the intelligence that was shown to make that decision, and the same intelligence should be put into those who want to have children as well. Raise your children well. Raise them to decrease the suffering of others. Raise them to make the world a better place.   Spend less time worrying about whether or not other people are having children, because there are many ways to make the world better. Future generations will be fine as long as, whatever we do, we use that intelligence that has helped make it this far.

What Makes A Good Human?: Love

My second quality for what makes a good human comes as no surprise to anyone.  Who doesn’t like love?  Who doesn’t want love?  Is this a quality I really have to try at? Is this something that I have to be vigilant about?  The word love tends to conjure up images romance and being in love.  But anybody who has thought about love for any length of time knows that romantic love is really just one aspect of love.  In fact I would argue that your ability to romantically love someone has little to do (at least in a direct sense) with your ability to be a good human.  We all have the capacity for love and this wonderful human trait gives rise to many of other ideals and qualities that make the world a better place.

If you’ve tried to define love before, most likely you’ve had difficulty.  Music, poetry, art have all had their attempts, and one could argue that through the medium of the arts one might be more successful. Love, like art, is often open to some degree of interpretation and means different things to different people.  While neuroscience has made a lot of headway in look at love and attachment as a biological drive, I want to go back to older Socratic definition of love that separates love into four categories.

  1. Eros – Romantic love
  2. Storge – Familial love
  3. Philia – “Brotherly love”, or the love between friends
  4. Agape – Love of humanity

So in terms of having the quality of love, I assert that every one of these is important to both ourselves and others on a variety of scales.  Think how much happiness all these types of love can bring, both in loving others and feeling that love towards you.  Now from a biological level storge, and philia are shown to both to be important drives in our brain, with eros still up for debate, but at the very least eros is a secondary drive that helps give us the attachment and friendship to a possible mate.  And it is our capacity to love that I believe gives us agape as an emergent property that can extend to all humanity.  It should also be noted that most of us learn first about love from the familial love.  How our parents love each other and love us.  This, perhaps, makes storge the most important in giving us a healthy sense of what loving each other is really about.  And since loving is learned, it should also be noted that there are those who adopt and raise children that are not their own that do wonderful jobs, so the biological connection of family need not be there for familial love to be shown to children.  In fact one of the strongest cross-cultural morals we have is protecting children from harm, so it’s not surprising that love and bonding can occur between adults and children who are not their own.

Love, at least to me, is the best cure we have for suffering, whether it is suffering from sickness, poverty, fear, depression or any other situation that causes harm and pain.  When you love you have a desire to stop another’s suffering.  Thus love leads us to both compassion and empathy.  Ultimately I find that our capacity to love motivates us to do so in the best way we know how.  I would also argue that love without feelings of compassion and empathy is pointless.  It’s insincere and unhealthy and can sometimes be destructive, because then you are just loving for your own sake and not because you truly care about the other person.  Perhaps that really isn’t love at all.

Now love as a verb can be tricky.  Above I said “the best way we know how” and this can often lead to honest attempts at love that are ineffective.  Sometimes loving someone is staying close, sometimes loving someone means to let them go, sometimes loving someone is being tough and unyielding.  At this point I’d rather not get into a discussion about how best to love, because when we talk about all the other qualities that will be discussed in this series, I believe the answers about how best to love someone reveal themselves. So knowing how best to love someone is another part of what makes love so difficult to define. However, I believe that love is love, it’s just that the ways in which we can experience love, show love and give love are far too numerous to list.

Biologically we are a social species that operates on reciprocal altruism.  Love is therefore the primary way in which we build attachments to each other for our long term survival, both for reproduction and bonding.  Thus the idea that there is no unselfish act is somewhat true as a whole.  However, we are not always so shallow that we expect kindness to be repaid right away, In general if we love, and show kindness and caring to others they will hopefully love us and thus want to do the same for us when we are in need.  In a broader sense, our ability to love tells us that we survive better when we cooperate, and your motivation for cooperation is increased by the love you feel for those in your group.

The downside of reciprocal altruism is that it makes love mostly beneficial for those in your immediate circle.  Loving humanity as a whole becomes a somewhat abstract extension of our ability to love those closest to us.  Showing love to humanity may involve acts of charity, but how do we know that we are helping?  We are used to having love returned when we show it, so how does humanity give back to us?  Trying to better humanity as a whole is also an extremely slow process. The impact you may have may not be felt until beyond your lifetime. The problems of humanity are large and it takes great momentum to affect change that no individual person can do on their own.  Even great people like Gandhi And Martin Luther King, Jr. needed the support of the people.  In this way acts of kindness and charity for the greater good may be the most unselfish acts other than it give you a sense of well-being and happiness.  But just because loving humanity as a whole is more abstract, and can feel like we are just adding a drop to the ocean, it does not excuse us from the fact that it is more moral for us to love humanity.  To move from the abstract to the tangible one has to remember that empathy and compassion also have an intellectual side that must be fed.  I will address this more in another part of the series, but for now remember the following:

  • All humans are of the same species.
  • The biggest factor in why you are what you are has much more to do with where you were born and the circumstances you were born in than any inherent ability you have (or think you have).
  • Any race or gender put into the same set of circumstances will produce similar outcomes.

Therefore when we feel empathy for those suffering that we can see, feel, hear, etc it takes little imagination to determine that even those beyond our senses suffer in the same way and that doing something to alleviate the suffering of others is the moral thing to do.  One of the chief ways to morally justify inflicting pain and suffering on others is to dehumanize them.  Getting people to believe that another group of people are not of the same species lessens our empathy, therefore, logically, dehumanizing is immoral.

If love has a darker side it is only perhaps to let it envelop you to the point of not paying attention to anything else.  The oft portrayed young couple in TV shows or movies who give no thought to other things claiming they can “live off love” are ridiculed for a reason.  We’d like to believe that John Lennon was right and that “love is all you need”, but anybody past about 30 years of age knows that’s a crock.  The world can be a shitty place, and love can be hard to muster at times, and so life has to be full of other things as well that are fulfilling and happy.  Love can also be unhealthy when we direct it towards inanimate objects.  We’ve all met people who love money too much, their car, sports teams, drugs, other material goods, etc.  While love shouldn’t be predicated on whether it can be returned, it should at least have the potential to be returned.  Pouring love into things that cannot feel your love, or return your love might be okay for a light hobby, but should never take a backseat to the suffering of the living. Perhaps the common theme to the darker side of love is obsession.  Obsessions usually don’t serve one well in the long run.

It could easily be argued that love is the most important of any virtue, and given how much of our lives are spent looking for it, maintaining it, and grieving over it, it’s probably true.  Nevertheless I hope to convince you with this series that there is more to life than love and there are many things we can do to be better at love.  I encourage you all to celebrate love and show love as often as you can, and keep striving to diversify the ways in which you add love to the world.

Equality, I Spoke The Word As If A Wedding Vow

Recently I’ve been thinking about the word “equality” and what it really means. I always think that when you are thinking about word and are unsure what it means a good place to start is the dictionary.  But that didn’t help much because the major definition simply says “the state of being equal” or defines equality in terms of mathematics. I think most of who think equality is important would define it in terms of equal status, equal rights, and equal opportunities.  Such equality might be easy to legislate, but it is not easily found.

The interesting question to me is why equality is something that some people thing is important and others don’t. Part of the reason is that many simply don’t see other people as equal.  And most troubling are those who see someone as inherently unequal simply due gender or race.  It seems to me that those who fight for equality and who believe that equality is important in a society don’t see inequality as inherent, but rather a product of environment.

Equality, like freedom may be a difficult ideal to obtain, but it seems to me the true inequality in this world is between those who think we can attain it and those who think inequality is inherent for whatever reason. And so I wonder, what is the common bond between people in both those groups of people?  Since race and gender have nothing to do with how smart you are, your physical abilities, your potential to be successful, or your ability to show love and kindness, why are there people who think that race and gender automatically pre-determines such things?  Children carry no inherent sense of inequality in regards to race and gender, so where does it come from?  What trait oh of humanity leads people to adopt the idea that one person is less than another?  When does it start to develop?  Is it a desire for power? A fear that in balancing the equation that for one group of people to rise up, that we must then relinquish some power and come down?  Maybe equality isn’t something we can attain, but maybe we can at least see everybody as valuable if not equal.  To be honest, the fact that we are all equal regardless of race or gender seems so obvious to me that I find it vexing that anybody should think any other way, so I am interested in hearing thoughts from others.

Join Together With the Band

Whether self is an illusion or not the end result is the same.  We try to set ourselves apart.  Even with respect to those we are closest with.  It can be a simple thing such as the way we style or hair or the clothes we like to wear.  But more often we set ourselves apart from people through bigger traits, such as intelligence, style, athleticism, friendliness, openness, leadership, etc.  To do this often we must make judgments.  Sometimes those judgments are through evidence, but many times they are not.  Our sense of self not only wants us to be unique but often more special as well.

This is all clearly one side of the coin, because on the other side is the part of us that wants to be part of a collective.  Here we find a

From http://www.oakland.edu

strong desire for community, a need to fit in, a want to be surrounded by those that are like us.  It seems that most people exist on a spectrum between pure individualism and pure collectivism.  Some people need community more than others.  Some people value their individualism more than others.  Many people I know who are religious, while they may talk firmly about their religious convictions, when they talk about what they enjoy most about their faith, it is being with groups of people who share the same beliefs.  The sense of community is often strong with them; whether it is fond memories of big family gatherings surrounding religious holidays, or socializing with members from their church.  I know at a lot of Sikh temples, the women get dressed to the nines to go to church because it is much more of a social gathering than a simple practice of faith.

What really interests me about a group or a collective are the mechanisms in which they work.  Besides the psychological comfort of being surrounded by like-minded people, there is also safety and protection with in a group.  A group, singular in purpose, will often be more successful and have higher productivity than an individual.  Sometimes that purpose can be positive such as a group of volunteers cleaning up a neighborhood or park.  Other times large groups can become a mob and be damaging and irrational.

From webteachertools.com

What I think is fascinating is that despite how singular the purpose the group may have, it seems that the most successful groups are the ones in which there is diversity and a good deal of individualism.  A sports team may have an overall purpose of winning a game, but a football team will never win if everybody is only good at throwing the ball.  Each player must have their specialty and those individual efforts must be coordinated in achieving a purpose.    Most things that require a group of people require diversity as well; whether that is diversity in skills, talents and ideas.  Diversity generally benefits the entire group.  All people have a chance to grow as they learn from others and appreciate others for the special skills that they bring to the collective.

I am a big fan of the rock band Queen.  I remember watching an interview once with Freddie Mercury or Brian May.  I can’t quite remember who said the words, but the words themselves have always stuck with me.  It was something along the lines of “We are

From http://s.cdon.com

all very different people and studio sessions are exhausting as all 4 of us fight to get a little of what we want on each album or track.  But because of all that fighting we are able to produce something better than what any of us could produce individually”.    Dealing with diversity is exhausting.  It would be much easier if everybody thought exactly the same way and things didn’t have to turn into arguments, and that you didn’t have to compromise.  When the value of diversity is not appreciated that is when groups fall apart.  This is true whether it’s a leader who doesn’t listen to others, or a team member who forgets that it is teamwork that wins in the end and not solely an individual effort.

Our desire for individualism and being part of a group or community is a fundamental part of humanity.  People say that the U.S. is a very individualistic society and that we are built on a strong sense of individualism. Yet the first words of the Constitution are “We the people…”.   I do think our desire for both does often lead to struggle though.  If self is a product of knowing others than the group even becomes more important as we try to define ourselves as individuals.   As the world gets connected more globally, it is easy to feel more lost and unsure of who we are as individuals and how we can contribute to this large community.    Maybe that’s why I’ve always valued learning and education.  The more I know about the world, the more I learn about myself.

Isolation in a crowded world

I have been reading a lot of Isaac Asimov lately.  I am not sure if all lovers of science fiction would love Isaac Asimov, but if you are interested in the human condition I think Asimov would be your thing.  His understanding of human nature is phenomenal and his writing of the future seems to me more of a commentary on who we are as a people and what we are capable of then attempt to be some sort of prognosticator of the future.  To me that

From http://www.media.tumblr.com

is the best part of good science fiction and I am sure it is to many as well.

One of his books that really got me thinking was The Naked Sun which is part of his Robot Series.  In it he paints a picture of a planet called Solaria that has been colonized by Earth and is similar in size to Earth but has only 20,000 people.  The people are very spread out having vast estates that are similar in size to something like Delaware.  In this future people have robots and especially on Solaria where the ratio is around 10,000 to 1 for every human.  Robots do everything.  Build all the houses, maintain the grounds, cook the food, and basically tend to every human need.  It is a world without human contact, where even sex becomes mechanical and only for the purposes of breeding.  And that breeding is only selective because they always maintain the population at exactly 20,000.

Earth on the other hand is crowded with everybody living in cities and all cities at populations of 10 million or more.  While human touch is still a part of everyday life, there are many social conventions that act to keep people’s privacy intact.  Not overly different from today’s city life really.

Both societies seemed very plausible in the way they developed and I started to think of how we might be trending in a direction of isolation whether it is an isolation in which we are surrounded by others or a physical isolation in which human contact in unnecessary or unwanted.  We know from studies of anthropology that we started off in hunter-gatherer groups; a society in which we were dependent on each other for survival.  Survival was a result of the coordination of each member’s skill set applied with extreme vigilance.   As we have developed civilization, larger populations, and new technologies, life has essentially become easier for some of us, and quite a bit harder for a lot of other people.  The disparity in standard of living makes the culture of the “haves” admirable to the “have nots”. It seems, at least in this country, that many spend a lot of time reducing the value of the poor, on whose backs our comfort is maintained.  It seems to me though that the culture of the “haves” is not necessarily one to admire, and is perhaps not beneficial for our health.

In the house I grew up in, my parents knew most of the people on our street.  Perhaps not well, but knew their names, and a few of our neighbors they did know well.  I know there are some neighborhoods where people remain very close, but think there is a lot more distrust towards neighbors today than there was in the past.  I know the names of two people on my block and that’s it.  As I write this article to post it on my blog I am reminded that while it may touch the lives of others, perhaps many of them I will not meet.  I will not shake their hands, not see their smile, not hear their laughter, not embrace in warmth and friendship.  Like the people of Solaria a large percentage of my interactions are not face to face.  Is it simply because these types of interactions are not part of the mental grammar in which I was raised or are we moving towards a world in which physical interaction is less and less necessary?

And the truth is that if I wanted I really don’t need to rely on anyone if I so chose to except for in very impersonal and indirect ways.  I can still conduct

my business, get groceries, get a car fixed etc, but don’t really need to get to “know” any of them and certainly no need to touch them or for them to touch me.  You can do most of your shopping on-line and have things brought to your door.  Banking and paying bills can be done on-line.  As a professor I could even be a solely on-line teacher.  And while I would still be reliant on society, my need to actively engage in it is not necessary.  Of course, that is not to say I couldn’t be a good person and give money to charities, I’d still be paying taxes, I may even be a fantastic teacher who can write well enough and give interesting exercises that will expand the minds of others.  The question is, is that the kind of future we want to be.  Clearly what I’ve outlined is a lot of personal choice, but it seems that this is a trend amongst those who are as privileged as me and worse yet it seems that this type of lifestyle is almost admired.

For those who do know me, you know I’m not a technophobe and I don’t think technology is evil, but I do think it is worth stopping and thinking about the lives we lead and whether we are going in a direction we want to be going, not only as an individual but as a species.  Is it simply not part of our

From http://www.stupidman.com

mental grammar to be surrounded by millions, making cities a place of almost fighting against the idea of community due to sensory overload in comparison to smaller and more rural communities?  Do we have specific social traits that come from millions of years of evolution such that we do ourselves harm as we become less and less reliant on the close proximity of our fellow man?  Or do we simply adjust easily to the times and simply find happiness where we find it?  What seems clear is that many of our prejudices and distrust comes from a lack of familiarity and empathy with struggles and hardships of others.  In some ways the power of the internet and new technologies bring us so much closer in an informational way, but less so in a physical way.  Does learning about someone’s struggle from a distance build the level of compassion necessary to help them in any meaningful way?  Or is it something that I can just say I care about, disseminate the information to others and then move on to the next interesting tidbit of information.

If I had something important to say, I should be glad that it could so easily reach a million people or even more.  But is it better to reach a million people without my smile, a friendly tone of voice and warm embrace?  Or do I change the world more through the interaction with a few hundred people that I meet while volunteering at a soup kitchen?  I guess Isaac Asimov’s writing made me worry that despite global warming the world might be getting colder.  It made me pause and wonder whether we may be trending towards more separation and isolation and thus towards less empathy and more apathy.

For me I will keep working on it, try to find the right balance.  I have now spent too much time in the digital world and I will now go spend time with the family. 🙂