Saturday, August 22, 2009

Is Technology the Ultimate Answer?

I’ve posted about Juan Enriquez before and his talks on the TED web site. His latest talk about the future of our species is both troubling and exciting on a number of levels.

What Enriquez posits is that we are in the midst of a “reboot” in which our entire civilization will be transformed by developments in genetic reprogramming, tissue regeneration and robotics. He suggests that the developments in these fields will be able to overcome the current economic problems with long term solutions to both human health, and generate a new boom economy. In his talk he suggests that without these developments our current economic situation is direr than we even imagine.

The examples that Enriquez points to are amazing—including a fully mobile robot on four lets that moves elegantly and can carry 350 pounds called “Big Dog” from Boston Dynamics. (Don’t bother looking up the stock listing, I did and the company seems to be private).

Toward the conclusion of his talk Enriquez goes through a brief history of the universe and points out, once again, how brief the tenure of homo sapien is on the planet and suggests that any concept that we are the apex of evolution is “a bit arrogant.” Nonetheless, he suggests that the reboot that is taking place is evolutionary, and will result in the ability of humans to control their own evolution (homo evolutus) and that of other species (which is already happening).

Of course it can be argued that we are currently controlling other species mainly by exterminating them at an incredible rate, and that the same may happen to us. Eckhart Tolle, for one, thinks the jury is out on our ultimate survival or extinction, particularly if we fail to respect Life itself.

And that is where I think Enriquez again poses some amazing questions, but falls a bit short with the answer.

It was Enriquez’s original talk at TED on genomics that profoundly influenced me in my current belief in the existence of higher intelligence; the analogy between computer programming (devised by our intelligence) and the genome (DNA programming based on logic and not random events), when considered on the level of a scale much higher than we can imagine, indicates to me that existence is not chance.

In fact, genetic programming is part of the reboot that Enriquez describes.

But science has also found that while Enriquez may certainly be right and we are on the verge of “managing” our own evolution, that evolution itself may not be a random occurrence. Bruce Lipton, in Biology of Belief describes how microbes will change their cellular biology (evolve) to become immune to toxins and survive.

To him as well, and to a growing group of scientists, this is evidence that Life evolves intelligently and not randomly.

So is this impending ability to manage our own evolution just a lucky break for humans (our brains got really big at the right time), or something that is influenced by a higher level of understanding?

My contention would be that the ultimate outcome of homo evolutus will be determined not on the basis of how smart he/she becomes, but on how wise.

It is certainly foreseeable (one need only look at Nazi Germany) that these amazing scientific advances will be used not only for good, but to control and conquer.

It is also fascinating to note that the scientific advances Enriquez touts come at a time when parts of science (quantum physics, biology, neuroscience) are being stretched and teased to venture beyond former materialistic boundaries.

So it would seem to me that concentrating only on mechanistic evolution in terms of reengineering our species is a miss. Without the simultaneous psychological and perhaps moral evolution, our species will still be in big trouble, even if Enriquez’s “reboot” is successful.

The technologies Enriquez describes would fall under the heading of a currently popular buzzword – they are “disruptive.’

In the currently popular social media space, disruptive technologies are hailed as those that revolutionize industries and culture and lead to new opportunities and perspectives; however, the concept of disruptive as inevitably good is misguided.

The worship of disruption has taken over our culture to the point where dark and violent films are incredibly popular, and its opposite – harmonious – is viewed with scorn and derision as “boring.”

Unfortunately, it would seem that being disruptive to life as opposed to harmonious with its innate intelligence has already gotten us in a lot of trouble. Our oceans are dead, our air is polluted, and toxins are everywhere. If anything, it would appear that for the reboot of technology to succeed in revitalizing not just our economy but our civilization, it will need to be accomplished in alignment with the principles and intelligence of life, and not just for profit or the sake of materialistic science.

The ideas that come out of conferences like TED are incredibly exciting, and I find Enriquez’s work in particular thought provoking and inspiring, but if anything it points to the inescapable conclusion that for our evolution to be truly intelligent, it cannot be based only on the ideas in our human left brain, but in harmony with the higher level of intelligence at work in the 13.7 billion year history of the universe. If we continue to celebrate our disruptive capabilities we do so at our peril.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Taking a Twitter Ego-Trip?

In my blog on Social Media as a Woman's World, I mentioned the shift from considering social media as a standard marketing and self promotion platform to making a commitment to active participation and building relationships.

I still think that this is where Facebook and Twitter are taking us—the well known concept is "don't sell the dogfood, talk about dogs", and when we share our ideas and passions about dogs then out of that community a sense of connection, growth and well being can develop which is really powerful.

On the other hand, as we all know, a big part of Twitter and Facebook, is just people telling the world what they're doing and how great it is.

I may get in trouble here, and I am certainly open to comments, but there is a fine line between sharing something of deep interest to yourself, your art, your passions, your ideas and interests, and talking about the fabulous parts of your life is in a way that may convince others and yourself of your importance.

When our use of social media crosses over into this "I can top what you're doing" area, it becomes, I believe, what Eckhart Tolle calls "compulsive doing."

He describes in his books how the ego is constantly trying to be first, to be better, to be more, and how this is such a trap to any peace of mind, because anything you achieve in this state is so transitory.

This kind of grasping is an automatic escape from your conscious self and any effort to be mindful, present and aware, and to listen and respond to the real concerns of others around you.

How many people do we know or see that make a show of how busy they are – frequently as an excuse for not keeping one commitment or another?

I suspect that this treadmill of constant achievement is a big part of what led to the financial meltdown and literal "slowdown" that is taking place today. It is an absolute requirement that people finally take a deep breath and consider what is really important in life.

This was brought home to me by an experience I had during the past couple of weeks.

There is a person who had been on the periphery of my circle of acquaintances whom I finally met at an event, and we spoke for a fair amount of time.

About a week later, I saw this person and our eyes met as we approached but there was not the slightest recognition in their eyes, and we did not acknowledge each other. I had been on the verge of saying hello but pulled away.

Immediately I began thinking about other similar experiences where I had met people on more than one occasion, and they had acted similarly, and I had judged them as either being rude or oblivious.

Then a few days later this person friended me on Facebook.

Now I reexamined the situation and decided that I could have easily lifted the veil between us and spoken up, and reached out to this person, rather than expecting the opposite.

The bottom line is that we were both unconscious in our own way, and in many ways in the grip of a set of fears, not the least of which was being overlooked, being insignificant and probably most important, being completely wrapped up in our own drama and not open to other influences. We were both "busy".

My ego had made me right as I judged our encounter.

But we were both wrong—actually I may have been more wrong because at least I was present enough to recognize this person and I pulled away.

The same thing happens online.

Some of us broadcast on social media. We ego trip on Twitter and Facebook. But more and more people are learning to engage—to listen and to respond—and even in what some men like me may perceive as idle chatter, this channel is opening up between people as they share things of personal significance.

Of course, no one really knows the motivation behind someone else's post or update, just as no one knows the motivation behind the blank look.

And we can post online and go a long time without acknowledgment, and then the sheer amount of chatter and information can easily overwhelm us. We can feel more isolated as we begin to think we're alone in this vast sea of information where everyone else is connected.

That's the fear again.

The alternative is to participate openly and without expectation of immediate reward or gratification-- which the "experts" tell us is the essence of social media.

Can we truly feel community through an electronic device? I'm not sure and I'm still inclined to view the online world as a conduit for something more "real"—connecting in person (not romantically but humanly).

But if we pay attention to what others post, and our own reactions to it and the motivation in our own online efforts--we can make some amazing connections, not the least of which, to ourselves.

We can begin to observe our own fears and motivations and perhaps grow beyond them, evolving from a space of service rather than the fear that separates us from one another.

On a more mystical or philosophical level, I recently tweeted "What if everyone followed everyone? Then there would only be one Mind—the meaning of Twitter?" No one responded. Oh well.