WHAT NEXT?

As human beings we have a profound need for beliefs which can spur our spiritual awareness. Early in the 20th Century Freud proposed that the genesis of God had been driven by the pressures of our psychological demands and needs. However science, technology, the steady advances of astrophysics and our desires for rationality have overtaken much of the heritage of religions which had been a foundation of our beliefs.

Religion enabled us to resolve many of our fears and nightmares on a cosmic scale and to defy the oblivion which ultimately awaits us. The conceptualization of God some three millennia ago was powerful enough to overcome our fears of the unknown. Among our foremost thinkers in ancient Greece, Aristotle, tried intensely to expand on his belief that: “The Unmoved Mover is spiritual, immobile and eternal.” His profound efforts in no way affected the rise of the God of Judaism, then Christianity and ultimately Islam which attracted billions of believers over the centuries. Jews, Christians and Muslims developed remarkably similar conceptions of God — which also resembled previous constructions of the absolute.1

All our lives have a beginning and an end. We understand and accept the process. This has had an enormous impact on our perception of our existence as human beings. It also drives us to know more about the universe we inhabit although we have no idea how the universe was created and what its eventual end might be. Many now ask: Why should anything exist at all?

As thinking beings, we are desirous of more certainty about the un-definable spirit pervading the infinite of this universe. We try to penetrate the sequence of events surrounding the Big Bang some 13.7 billion light years ago. What kind of activity was behind the blank totality which preceded this moment of the unimaginable? What was there? No time. No space. No light. Perhaps a single nucleus? Probably some form of energy. Are the billions of galaxies, including the one which we inhabit, in the process of eternal expansion or are they ultimately headed towards the Big Crash? For us the fate of this Universe remains being guess-work.

Such deep mystery has engaged many of us and aroused our imaginations. It has led to the creation of God, angels, devils and multiple spirits since before the early days of Babylon. However, as the ancient ideas of God are steadily fading in popularity, our attention has gradually been shifting towards the universe rather than just the Earth we live in.

Religious believers have held that without the idea of God there is no absolute meaning, morality or truth. While existentialists like Jean-Paul Sartre moved to describe the desolation caused by the God-shaped hole in our human consciousness, many believers insisted that religion is basically an expression of our inner sense that there is God.

I have long believed that our spiritual awakening could come through a profound shift in consciousness. Cosmic factors such as solar activity, x-rays, photons, and other galactic signals may well have an impact on our mental process. This involves the realization that we have outgrown the dominance of our experiences here on earth. This can be seen and felt by how unreal our world seems to be these days and by our consequent urges to change it.

We should consider that in Gnosis (which is the Greek word for knowledge) light defines our visionary faculty. That is, our very existence was basically made possible by light. According to our 21st Century cosmologists, light only came into being with the cooling of some galaxies a few million years after the Big Bang. Out of the prevalent hydrogen atoms of that time, colliding protons and electrons created electro magnetic radiation in the form of ‘photons‘ or light! Light is now recognized by us as being at the very basis of life on our planet. It has also become a crucial force in the complex operation of our eyes and brains.

There was no light, no space and no time before the Big Bang according to astrophysicists. One observation we can make is that there seems to have been no plan, no direction nor purpose for the billions of galaxies which have been created. They do not appear to us to fill any goal. The galaxies are separate and move apart without any visible conflict or direction. Most of the galactic stars appear to circle around their centered black hole which gradually absorbs them. The uniformity of the universal spread of these distributed galaxies appears to be the very first constraint in observable cosmology. No clusters of galaxies nor groupings have thus far been viewed.2

But why did such an incredible Big Bang take place? Was it an accident? Was it or could it have been intended? Could it have been tried as an enormous experiment? And what about the nature of the incredible masses of “black matter” as well as “black energy” which supposedly make up at least 80% of all the substance of the universe? We have not yet determined its composition.

As humans we can explain that we are composed of trillions of molecules that seem to have an overall purpose and direction: Life. Furthermore, our brains had the power to create an imaginary God to correspond to the earliest learnt sources of purpose and social structure. The projection of some kind of a towering father figure underlined our historic need since tribal days to have a belief in something greater than ourselves.

Yes, even in our capitalist era, spiritual values can soar above the material. The path of spiritual awakening can be broad and overwhelming. Admitting it demands embracing purpose and direction. My philosophic and artistic partner, the sculptor Helaine Blumenfeld, has maintained that “shared beauty can impart a sense of order and elevate the spirit.”3 This is the kind of belief which could be promoted to civilize the 21st Century. The creative arts are our best hope for meaning. I suggest it confirms the powerful vision promoted by Karen Armstrong.

In her extraordinary book, Karen concluded that “human beings cannot endure emptiness and desolation; they will fill the vacuum by creating a new focus of meaning.” This will require a powerful shift in approach as well as in perception. Karen suggested that “The God of mystics might seem to present a possible alternative. The mystics long insisted that God is not an-Other Being; they have claimed that, as he does not really exist, it is better to call him Nothing.” Historically, mystics such as Sufis and Kabbalists suggested that their ultimate “is to be approached through the imagination and can be seen as a kind of art form, akin to the other great artistic symbols that have expressed the ineffable mystery, beauty and value of life… Mystics have used music, dancing, poetry fiction, stories, painting, sculpture and architecture to express this reality that goes beyond concepts.”4

In such creative beliefs, spiritual truth may be attained not by questioning, logic or rationality but through flashes of intuition, inspiration, insight and revelation, that is, The LIGHT.

Yes, light was the first phenomenon to spread throughout the Universe following the Big Bang and photons should be explored by us as a source of arousal. That’s next.


1Karen Armstrong, A History of God, (1993) p.46

2Jean Heidmann, L’Odyssee Cosmique (translation 1989) pp.18-63

3See images at www.helaineblumenfeld.com

4Armstrong op.cit. p.454

OUR HISTORICAL INSIGNIFICANCE

In this increasingly disturbed planet there has been a mounting interest not only in the possibility of exploring Mars with robots but even to settle it with humans. Launching people into space has become the obsessive passion of the director of Tesla, Elon Musk. His SpaceX plan is to have a crewed mission going to Mars in this decade and Musk tweets about the opportunities of shipping a million people to Mars in his starships by 2050.

Dominic Cummings, the Prime Minister’s “career psychopath” adviser, who has nightmares about the disasters facing us on this planet, would like to avoid “the difficult problems of keeping humans alive for thousands of years on spaceships.” For this reason, Prof Stefan Collini writes that Cummings would like to explore outer space to find somewhere habitable in which humans could escape the destruction of their planet.1

As someone who no longer enjoys long distance global travel in contemporary jets, I find the prospect of weeks cramped in gravitation-free rockets a total nightmare. However, there are increasing numbers of scientists, writers, astronomers, cosmologists and true explorers who dream of even longer travels into our own Milky Way.

I confess I am absolutely staggered when faced with the estimate that this Galaxy holds some 100 billion stars and that this in turn is just one of billions of other galaxies in the universe. This makes our planet seem far smaller than a particle of sand in the Saharan desert. On the other hand, it makes life on other planets more likely. Even in the Milky Way a number of planets could have surface waters and an atmosphere made up of hydrogen, oxygen, carbon and nitrogen. The synthesis and compounds of these elements could eventually interact to create primitive lifeforms which could then gradually evolve into more complex and increasingly advanced ones.

There is a widely discussed theory that life on this earth originated when spores, viruses, or even yeasts were dropped intentionally by unmanned rockets from advanced civilizations two or three billion years ago. This presumes that highly intelligent species developed much earlier in our gigantic Milky Way. I do consider global scientific efforts to identify our origins on this planet most worthwhile but extremely challenging.

The Nobel prize winning Swedish chemical physicist, Svante Arrhenius (1859-1927), believed that life did not start on its own on this Earth but was seeded with spores dropped into the atmosphere by unmanned rockets of more advanced civilizations. He called these microorganisms “panspermia” implying “seeds all over.” Forty years ago Francis Crick presented his theory of Directed Panspermia in his book, Life Itself: Its Origin and Nature (1981)2 which had the impact on readers — like myself — to ask whether we on this earth should try to infect other distant planets in the years to come in the hope of furthering new forms of life.

About four decades ago I had the privilege to talk to Francis at some length at his coastal home in La Jolla, California about his fascination with the use of asteroids, or even artificial ones, as transporters of our DNA lifeforms. Such contaminated deliveries could travel for endless centuries until they landed on some planet where primitive lifeforms, such as seaweeds, might evolve. But even his genius could not imagine any lifeforms that could transmit a record that would indicate human beings like us had once existed.

Crick gave an incisive explanation of why the microscopic organisms called Eukaryotes were the best “living” bacteria to take onboard rockets for eventual distribution on other planets.3 Billions of Eukaryotes could be packed into just a few cubic centimeters. Frozen alive most bacteria would survive until unfrozen for some 10,000 years. A single bacterium of the type that can live without oxygen, such as yeast, dropped into a prebiotic soup could infect an entire ocean of a presumably sterile exoplanet. These bacteria would also have a greater chance of survival than fully formed higher organisms. There were times when Francis made me wonder if our vast universe was truly ready for life.

Even though promoted by one of the greatest scientists, this Panspermia project was never accepted seriously by the “astroscientific” establishment. Distributing “Astrosperms” in our galaxy seemed both highly dubious and expensive. I also wondered whether human beings really wanted to spread such complex microscopic lifeforms as yeasts and viruses to other planets. Would the ultimate results, which would take a billion or more years, differ positively from the life which has evolved on this earth? If humans could be sent, that would be different, but trying to spread life to other galaxies, such as Andromeda which is a million light years away from our own galaxy, seems unimaginable.

At that earlier stage in my life I thought that the creation of more intelligent or cooperative life forms on other planets could be and should be an ultimate mission for us, the inhabitants of this earth. Lately, however, I come to see such an over-ambitious aim as a waste of our human capabilities. I now feel this would turn into an ultimate escape hatch from the challenge of improving our contentious species here on Earth.

I greatly admire the tremendous advances scientists have made during my lifetime in understanding the formation of life on Earth. However, the astronomers, cosmologists and physicists have not made equal advances in understanding the scope of this universe. We now speculate that more than 75% of material in the universe is composed of so-called “dark matter,” about which we know absolutely nothing. Evidence of its material existence is absent. Acknowledging such giant gaps does not help us to understand where this universe is headed or, indeed, whether there is more than one universe. Could there be a quantum universe? Were there any designs or inter-connections between the untold masses of galaxies? Major questions even float around as to where our Milky Way is headed in the billions of light years ahead? Einstein’s explanations of the junction between space and time did not help me. I find it almost impossible to grasp the incredibly large numbers involved when I can hardly acknowledge the fact that a single drop of water holds more than a thousand billion molecules!

Exploring the universe with telescopes on Earth, on the Moon, Mars and outer space is a pursuit that thrills astronomers, cosmologists as well as most curious human beings. After all, continuous search is what makes us human. I am fascinated by what the new giant telescopes are revealing: The Gran Telescopio Canarias has produced images of a galaxy 500 million light years away; The Hobby-Eberly Telescope in Texas has measured the incredible mass of a giant black hole in a galaxy some 220 million light years away. It was in 2009 using the Kepler space telescope that thousands of exoplanets, many of which were our size, were discovered. Kepler-22b, an exoplanet of our planet size was only 500 light years from our Earth and was orbiting within a possibly habitable distance from its star.4

Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz won the Nobel Prize last year for identifying the existence in 1995 of an exoplanet orbiting “star 51.” This exoplanet was 50 light years away but was orbiting a Sun-like star which in 1995 confirmed that there were other planetary systems similar to our own. However it turned out that this particular exoplanet was uninhabitably hot and the size of Jupiter.

Also admirable is NASA’s impressive exploratory efforts, like “Lisa” which is a Space-based observatory which will try to gather faint signals of gravitational waves in the cosmos. This kind of exploration will ultimately bring ever more insights into our vast universe.

Sweeping the entire sky with giant radio telescopes for signs of extraterrestrial life is becoming intense. The collaboration between VLA (New Mexico’s Very Large Array) and the Seti Institute which is funded by a senior Apple executive, John Giannandrea, will be using a dedicated supercomputer to cover any imaginable signals from Milky Way’s distant technologists. The Director of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (which also runs the VLA), is Tony Beasley who stated: ”Determining whether we are alone in the universe as technologically capable life is among the most compelling questions in science.”5

If we did receive some signals, besides saying “Hello!” or “SOS” there is little agreement about how we should respond to other Milky-Way “beings.” There is even disagreement whether such contact would be with “aliens” or with possible friends. Unless we ultimately do make contact, nothing of what has happened on our planet will remain. Indeed, over the next few billions of years, nothing will be left of the Moon, Venus, all the planets and the Sun itself. Astrophysics tells us that our Sun is gradually burning itself out and may ultimately explode to close its existence like most other stars.

Which is truly a reason to ask whether any of our concerns about the history or the after life of our planet are of consequence? It would appear that the future of our entire galaxy with all its billions of stars is also doomed. Speculation is that the giant “Black Hole” in the midst of the Milky Way might swallow most of the surrounding stars. There are also cosmologists who speculate that all of the galaxies will gradually disappear as they come together in one gigantic black hole. Then there are astronomers who believe all the galaxies are moving further apart …forever?

Whatever happens and how it happens is now irrelevant for those astounding scientists like Francis Crick, who have speculated in depth on possible ways to preserve our historical significance. The amazing evolution from our microscopic DNA origins billions of years ago to becoming the conquerors and destroyers of this planet is truly fantastic, but as far as we can tell ultimately our short existence will have been totally insignificant. FULL STOP!


1“Inside the mind of Dominic Cummings,” Stefan Olini, The Guardian, February 6, 2020

2Francis Crick, Life Itself: Its Origin and Nature (1981)

3op.cit. pp.124-128.

4Clarke, Madigan, and Melo, Our Place in the Universe, Bluesci Issue 47, Lent 2020, p.15

5Hannah Devlin, “Is anybody out there?” The Guardian, February 15, 2020

DIGITALLY ABUSED

Like most human beings, I like to feel that I have control over things I do, like writing a blog or using my mobile. Over the past two relatively calm decades, my digital days were regular. These came to a totally unexpected end on the 1st of  December 2019. Opening my blog after breakfast, I found  a completely irrelevant commercial at the end of six short paragraphs followed by repetitions after the second six paragraphs: Two pictures of a mother holding a young child promoting “Girl Earns $987 per day. How to get paid without a job. Don’t Miss Out.” Nobody had asked me, consulted me, or even considered the impact this would have on my blog which focused on the challenges of contemporary poetry.

My first impulse was to contact Word Press.com on the internet.  Via Firefox I automatically sought to open my Yahoo account and pursue the offenders but: Whoaa!!! Firefox notified me that if I wanted to continue their service, I had simply to press my finger on AGREE which would endorse their new format. I could also press another spot with NOT or, further down, more information regarding the new policy agreement with OTHER. Desirous of more information on this, and reluctant to sign up to dubious agreements, I spent the entire morning reading the new legal provisos blocking my entry not only to Firefox but consequently also to Yahoo and Yahoo’s new American parent company Verizon. The latter with a 16 page draft which told me I could also visit at “Privacy Dashboard” for “Account Deletion Controls”!1 Trying to escape the very similar and in many ways overlapping requests, I tried to open Google and found myself once again blocked with almost identical “protective” choices. UNBELIEVABLE!

Although I have little internet training, I immediately realized that all these groups had come together to protect their financial resources from threatened billion dollar suits by the EU, the US, and other nations. l also noted that there were only minimal clauses to protect the security of the hundreds of millions of their users, such as myself. These groups obviously did not expect people like me would spend hours examining all their provisions. I found this entire process infuriating. My time, understanding (legal and linguistic), the infinite limitations, as well as my own financial security seemed violated. Each wanted my agreement to enter a new relationship which they claimed would not alter anything at all for me.  Incredible, but very much the changed spirit of our times.

I had entered Yahoo some twenty years ago, giving my name, address and date of birth. At most this took two minutes. I felt this was far easier than opening a bank account. There were no questions asked, no demands and no payments required by this modest membership group. Indeed Yahoo thrived with the millions who signed up in the first decade.  Yahoo also changed my life in many positive ways: I was soon writing letters (long emails) to friends across the globe. At no cost, I was also receiving innocent messages from neighbors across the street about the barking of my dog. Generally my Mac screen was free of commercials, political appeals, or intentionally false information. Looking back, this newborn facility was most welcome. Its spirit was truly utopian.

Social demands on me were free. Information on Wikipedia, Google, Yahoo and others flowed smoothly. Indeed, in this era I had no awareness of being watched or spied upon. I had no interest in joining the social media groups like Facebook. Even as Yahoo became vastly more popular, it did not become intrusive. At the beginning of my second decade, I became concerned that changes in its over-ambitious directorate could result in the introduction of advertisements — which I had come to loathe on the radio and television of the United States. I regarded a blank screen, free of propaganda of any kind, a blessing.

Now in December 2019, when talking on the phone to my elder son, Remy, whose career has been in television, I expressed my ire at what was happening and told him I was writing a blog on my revulsion at the tactics of Yahoo, Firefox, Verizon, Google and WordPress. He expressed bewilderment at my extreme reaction. Remy countered that I had known all along that my privacy had been abused not only by malware but also by political groups, advertisers and many — others including informers. True, I certainly had been aware of these invaders for some time and the Cambridge Analytica scandal had awakened me to the extent that users of the internet were now being spooked.

What had so profoundly shocked me now was that suddenly, without any warning, I was faced with an ultimatum by the groups whose services I had been using: Sign this agreement or our services for you will be terminated. Basically all their demands were being driven by threats to their profits — although this was camouflaged by their need to cover privacy issues being introduced by the European Union and new concerns in the US Congress.

I must make it clear that in my very first book, One Viewer, (1959), I strongly criticized how US radio and television had swiftly become dependent on parasitic commercials. On the other hand, I admired and supported the operation of the BBC and select radio news services in the US which operated on a not-for-profit basis. The way commercials polluted the public airwaves in the US aroused my revulsion. When I came to England in 1969 I was much relieved by the calm, non-sales operation of the BBC’s various channels. This has mercifully continued to the present time, but the commercial channels here have multiplied and in many ways are “corrupting” the  air-waves. I find the promotion of material products ranging from underwear to dishwater tablets distracting and ultimately, irritating.

I can understand that Google, Verizon, Yahoo, and Firefox are all deeply concerned about the threats of regulation. Google’s search engine now cranks out more than $10 billion in annual sales and Alphabet (Google’s parent company) is the world’s 4th most valuable publicly listed company.2 It is not taxed on its enormous store of data (on you, me and more than 2 billion contacts) which is at the base of its profits. Google wants to retain its control of privacy online as do all the others profiting so profoundly from the internet.

The New York Times in “A guide to protecting your privacy online,” concludes: “You can’t stop all tracking unless you live in a dark cave, but you can fight back.” It argues that we must guard against our increasing inability to distinguish fact from fiction in the media. While, the media are pushing us towards a so-called ”free” superficiality, advertising has become the life blood of the media. However its applications can prove to be a form of leukemia. Tristan Harris, co-founder and executive director of the Center for Humane Technology, points out that “technology has outmatched our brains, diminishing our capacity to address the worlds most pressing challenges.” In his brilliant presentation Harris points out that this is because our brains are not wired for truth-seeking. Information that confirms our outlook makes us feel positive. Info that challenges our beliefs doesn’t. Our attention economy has consequently turned us into a culture maladapted for our survival.3

In One Viewer, sixty years ago, I wrote that television “should activate our common desire for self-improvement, rather than encourage the further acquisition of material possessions. It should not drug us with escapism.” The motivation of the media should be service to the public, not profit. Currently the prevailing accepted concept is that each commercial group is trying to improve its own commercial standing. If the profit motive were not so prevailing, it would be exercising a much more open, social, welcoming approach to the billions of humans than they are presently milking. It is this outcome which has perturbed me profoundly an leads me to protest so loudly against the sudden nasty and joint interjection by the new powerhouse internet corporations with their basically strangling demands. The truth is that I cannot passively accept being DIGITALLY ABUSED.


TO GIVE A FLAVORING OF VERIZON’S “MEDIA PRIVACY P0LICY”
and why it took half a morning to read the text

1At Verizon “We serve our consumers, partners, advertisers and talent through our portfolio of digital platforms, products and services offered under our AOL, Yahoo and other brands.” Verizon Media works with partners who “may access your device to collect data for ad and content selection, delivery, measurement and personalization. You have the following choices about how these partners use your Data.”

“In some cases, you can review or edit your account information, including your marketing preferences, location data, mobile choices, advertising settings and search history, as well as account deletion controls by visiting Privacy Dashboard.
“Please note that if you withdraw your consent to the use or sharing of your information for the purposes set out in this Privacy Policy, you may not  have access to all (or any) of our Services and we might not be able to provide you with all (or any) of the Services under this Privacy Policy and our Terms of Service

We may collect and combine information when you interact with Verizon Media Services

II Verizon Media may use device IDs, cookies and other signals, including information from third parties, to associate accounts and/or devices with you..iii. when you use our services to communicate with others or to post, upload, or store content (such as comments, photos, voice inputs, videos, emails, messaging services and attachments)

V For legal purposes. We may access, preserve and disclose information to investigate, prevent or take action in connection with  (1) legal processes, and legal and governmental agency requests (2) enforcements of the Terms  (3)claims that any content violates the rights of third parties ….(4-8)  This may include responding to lawful governmental requests.

IX a Verizon Media has technical, administrative and physical safeguards in place to help protect against unauthorized access, use, or disclosure of customer information that we collect or store.

c Verizon Media will retain our information only for as long as is necessary for the purposes set out in this Privacy Policy , for as long as your Verizon Media account is active or as needed to provide you with the services. If you no longer want Verizon Media to use your information to provide you with the Services, you can close your account and Verizon Media will delete the information it holds about you unless Verizon Media needs to retain and use your information to comply with our legal obligations to resolve disputes or to enforce our agreements.

XI Contractual necessity….“We  can’t provide you with our services without moving your data around the world….

XIII Changes. We may amend or update this Privacy Policy from time to time, so you should check it periodically. If we make changes of a material nature, we will provide you with appropriate notice before such changes take effect.


NB I  have added this compacted selection from the lengthy policy platform offered by Verizon as an example of what all the major groups like Microsoft, Google, and Facebook are producing. This might explain to why I spent  such  a long time in trying to contact WordPress.


2 “Search he Result,” The Economist, December 7, 2019,  p.10

3 Tristan Harris, “Our brains are no match for our technology” The New York Times. December 12, 2019, Intl. Edition

POETRY IN A TECHNOLOGICAL AGE

Science! true daughter of Old Time thou art!
Who alterest all things with thy peering eyes.
Why preyest thou thus upon the poet’s heart,
Vulture, whose wings are dull realities?
— Edgar Allen Poe

On a damp and autumnal afternoon with leaves falling, I remembered how important poetry had been for me years ago and had had such a strong impact on my appreciation of nature and the beauty of the seasons. This led me, after a while, to wonder: What poetry do we have today to counter the spiritual vacuum of our techno-scientific age?

I began to wonder whether contemporary poetry could change us, motivate us, awaken us, or even please us? In ancient Rome poetry addressed such basic questions as how did the earth come to be and what is it made of? For example, Lucretius (99-55 BC) in his epic poem, On the Nature of Things, challenged his Roman readers by focusing on the atom which is at the basis of science. Twenty centuries later, while romantic poets were beginning to write about nature’s wonderful landscapes, Erasmus Darwin, a doctor, wrote The Temple of Nature, a poem presenting a theory of evolution which began with micro-organisms and ended up with Man. This poem also tantalized readers with questions about the possible relationships between earth and stones as well as bees and clover.

Today environmental poetry tends to be more focused on the negative effects of human advances on this consumerist planet. In Earthlines, the American poet Jorie Graham, whom I have much admired, articulates that eco-poetry risks being viewed as moralistic and didactic. Readers feel they “know this information already, so why do they need it in a poem?” The point being that they “know it” but are not “feeling it.” In Jorie’s Sea Change and Place she leads readers to advance “feelingly” into “the deep future — seven to ten generations hence.”

Looking beyond eco-poetry, on Google I searched for more “optimistic poems.” There were a good number but the first I enjoyed was Robert Rittel’s, Melody of the Poet:

The melody of the poet for the soul to please,
with it chords of truth in spoken breeze.

However, most of the “New Optimistic Poetry” did not fill me with confident strokes of insight, hope, or future advances which could move me optimistically. Yes, there were poets struggling to give humanity hope — but primarily through being humorous or sometimes just adventurous. For example, there were few harmonious musical sounds in Dan Hoeweler’s A Binary Love Poem (2018).

Your sensuous 01011001 01101111 01110101 01110010 00100000 01110011 01100101 01101110 01110011 01110101 01101111 01110101 01110011 Logic 01001100 01101111 01100111 01101001 01100011 Your bright 01011001 01101111 01110101 01110010 00100000 01100010 01110010 01101001 01100111 0110100 01110100 Pixels 0101000001101001 01111000 01100101 01101100 01110011 Light up my 01001100 01101001 01100111 01101000 01110100 00100000 01110101 01110000 00100000 01101101 01111001 00001101 00001010 Heart…

Well, I didn’t follow that poem to the end. Next came the poet G. Lars’ Tubular Times to Decide (2019).

The boob tube
Has morphed into YouTube
A vast wasteland
A potential waste of all your time
Into a depthless trance of misery and crime.

I then searched further in for optimistic approaches to technological advances but found only one which I enjoyed by Poet Dane: Virtually Nothing (2019)

We’re watching each other
with electric, all-seeing eyes,
cameras in our phones, our laptops, homes…
how long before we have them
implanted in our heads?
A third eye?

Oh, where were the superconducting “transmons” I read about in The New York Times mixed in with spooky entanglement where what happens to one qubit affects measurement of the other?

This was bravely advanced in a long poem by Lori Henrique (which I have no permission to quote but which, I hope, will stimulate readers to find and read a full version.)

An abridged version of Heisenberg’s Aha!

An electron looks like a particle
and it also acts like a wave,
and once I began to accept this
that electron began to behave

This is called complementarity
when a concept that seems a disparity
is the very best way we can show
how a set of phenomena go

You can either know where the electron is
or where the electron and uncertainty
both exist, we must agree.
The future’s unpredictable
no matter how well is going —
but you can’t know both at the very same time
’cause the measuring affects what you’re knowing

Quite a few great physicists have turned to poetry to give them a respite from the demands of science. The great James Clerk Maxwell of electro-magnetic fame wrote:

I come from empyrean fires—
From microscopic spaces,
Where molecules with fierce desires,
Shiver in hot embraces.
The atoms clash, the spectra flash,
Projected on the screen,
The double D, magnesian B,
And Thallium’s living green.

The physicist Paul Dirac, when visiting my home years ago, questioned why I had so many poetry books in my library. Dirac had told J Robert Oppenheimer that “The aim of science is to make difficult things understandable in a simpler way; the aim of poetry is to state simple things in an incomprehensible way. The two are incompatible.” Oppenheimer, who himself wrote some poetry, said he did so in order to express ideas for which there are no equations: “The deepest thing science and poetry share, perhaps, is the way they can tolerate uncertainty.”

In October 2019 the Lucy Cavendish College staged an event in which they paired eight scientists with eight poets and asked each pair to create a new work based on their academic theme: “Connections.” Then they had to follow with a proviso that “Poems can be of any kind — as long as they relate to research methodologies, outcomes or new research ideas — anything goes! The only stipulation is that it must be ‘connected’ to the theme.” This event was cross-disciplinary in all senses: science meeting art and creative writing. However in science any hypothesis must pass the test of “amenability to disproof,” but poetry never faces such a challenge.

The socio-philosopher Karl Popper once wrote that the poet needs to be in a state of uncertainty, not only working inclusively with ambiguity, but delighting in it. This was true in the case of the eight pairs cooperating in the Connections challenge. However the 8 poems they created have yet to be published. This leaves me wondering how far such an effort could ever go to handle emotions, beauty or the historical social impact of classical poetry? I shall await the results but in the meantime I have started to put together some techno-poetic pieces which I hope might make some of my readers smile. The tech expressions may cause some bewilderment but most are currently used by the science and technology reporters in The New York Times. The advances in their technological fields are so rapid that they have left poetry far behind!


I HOPE THAT MY THREE OFFERINGS WHICH FOLLOW ARE NOT WHERE POETRY IS HEADED!

1          QUANTUM SUPREMACY

Can the breakthrough electronic advances of G5,
With its post-quantum standards of cryptography, ever jive?
It’s with its Android giggle
Where mega hardware seizures begin to wiggle
That superconducting “transmons” they say
Will challenge quantum supremacy.

2          LOVE

How will binary love continue to slide
When between tech intrusions passionate circuits hide?
Can the yearning bonds of love survive on computers screens
When abrupt current changes disturb erotic dreams?
Overwhelmingly driven by quantum contradictions
Transgressive strip-search technology will push conflictions
With its existential threats to free loving tic-tocs.

3          HIGH END DEVICES

Cryptocurrency,  invasive Androids and face scanners
Strangle the moral imagination of the planners
Wearing electrodes with algorithm ability
“Authentic selves” without social mobility
Are crushed by mystic quantum woks
Assisted by high tech and atomic clocks
For we are running out of time,
As time is running out on clucks
When even AI cannot explain the weirdness of quantum states
While operations become exponentially crucial for all dates.


As provocative as these three tech-obsessed efforts might seem, are these not predictive of the wretched times ahead?


Scott Aaronson, “Google’s quantum supremacy milestone,” The New York Times International Edition, November 1, 2019.

NB: I found this one of the most complex introductions to quantum computers that I have ever seen.

LIFE EXTENSION CHALLENGES

I have been overwhelmed by the flood of conflicting articles on the possible impacts of extending our life spans. When I turned to Google to see what has been written recently, it came up with 245,000,000 items… quite a bit more than the few dozen articles in my files. Admittedly the subject covers multiple spheres: The genetic and bio-science challenges are enormous (even today I hear on the radio that we may be transplanting pig kidneys and hearts in three years). How to resolve the possible consequences of these fast moving developments? What is best for humans? There is strong resistance to life extension from different religious, social and political groups. The push for high profits on minor extensions by the pharmaceutical industry make controls almost unstoppable. Then there are a number of billionaires who are so concerned about the vision of being kept alive until they are decrepit, that they have launched foundations to explore more promising alternatives.

How to keep active and alert until our 90s is becoming a popular challenge which is also disputed. Ross Andersen wrote quite directly in the Atlantic: “We’ve already tacked three decades onto the average lifespan of an American, so what’s wrong with adding another few decades? So far as we know, the last hundred years have been the most radical period of life extension in all of human history. At the turn of the twentieth century, life expectancy for Americans was just over 49 years; by 2010, that number had risen to 78.5 years, mostly on account of improved sanitation and basic medicine. But life extension doesn’t always increase our well-being, especially when all that’s being extended is decrepitude. There’s a reason that Ponce de Leon went searching for the fountain of youth — if it were the fountain of prolonged dementia and arthritis he may not have bothered.1

Many articles question whether we really need the anti-ageing elixirs being offered by the pharmaceutical industry? As the population already is growing older while the global birth-rate is going down in economically advanced nations, do we really need life extension? Would we not be better focusing on youth extension medicare? Many see life extension as irresponsible, dangerous, harmful and against both nature and creation itself. And then there are critics who see anyone who opposes life extension as taking on the role of judge, jury and executioner all at the same time.

Andersen pointed out that as funding for anti-aging research has boomed over the past few decades bioethicists have expressed alarm. They contend that such longevity could have disastrous social effects. Others suggest that longer life spans will mean stiffer competition for basic resources such as water and food as well as creating a wider gap between rich and poor. However, many of those advancing life extension are also focused on improving the quality and not the quantity of life.

Another commentator, James S. Goodwin, wrote that around the year 2000, a commandment came down from the very heights of the Geriatric Olympus: “Thou Shalt Not Study Life Extension. Nay, nor shall thou speak wistfully of such a prospect. For it is written that life extension scares the bejesus out of the gods of policy.”2 The fear is that medical progress will result in longer lives without better health. A spectre haunts us with millions of empty shells in wheelchairs populating ever-expanding nursing homes.

Living longer does not necessarily mean that the fundamental process of aging has been slowed down. Joao Pedro de Magalhaes, a Professor at the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Ageing & Clinical Diseases, contends that living a healthy life will lower your mortality across the entire lifespan, even if there is no impact on aging and age-related changes.3 For example, longevity increased roughly 50% over the last hundred years and yet there is no evidence people age more slowly. We live longer now mostly because deaths caused by infectious diseases have diminished. This important distinction holds true for some animal studies as well. Royal jelly and fish oil can significantly increase the average lifespan of mice, but that does not mean that aging has been delayed by such treatments for humans. All it suggests is that some nutrients promote health. Therefore, an interpretation of the results is essential when examining life extension studies and this also results in controversy over what may represent “delayed aging.”

Prof Magalhaes, who also created and directs Senescence.info, points out that the levels of many hormones go down with age. Some of the oldest and still most popular anti-aging treatments are consequently based on the premise that hormonal changes contribute to aging and therefore reversing age-related hormonal changes could be beneficial. I remember hearing about the demand for monkey testicles in the late 1930s when it was believed in Europe that this would extend virility. I was more impressed how outraged my father was by the experimental cruelty to monkeys.

The most famous of such anti-age treatments now involves human growth hormone (hGH) injections. Some results suggest hGH can have beneficial effects in the elderly. Supplements of hGH may increase muscle mass, strengthen the immune system, increase libido and even make the elderly feel younger. While hGH was hailed as a major breakthrough a few decades ago, like many other anti-aging products it failed to live up to expectations. This was because its negative side-effects might include weight gain, high blood pressure and diabetes. While hGH stimulates growth, Magalhaes points out that concerns have also been raised as to whether hGH also could stimulate cancer growth and whether it would contribute to cancer development in patients with existing malignant or pre-malignant tumors.

While there is general agreement that everyone deserves to live a more fulfilling life, how are we to decide how long humans should live? Ray Kurzweil, an inventor and futurist now 67, takes about 100 pills a day to ward off further ageing. His ultimate goal is to live forever. To do so he must stay healthy until scientists get us to Bridge Two when the biotechnology revolution will reprogram our inherited biology. This would in turn be superseded by molecular nanotechnology which would enable the full reconstruction of our bodies. This could put a welcome end to death suggests Kurzweil.4

What is now accepted is that we are heading towards dramatic increases in the over 80s who are plagued by the loss of memory, Alzheimer’s, and dementia. The cost of their treatment is fast becoming a serious economic problem as well as a political issue. The WHO (World Health Organization) has just revealed that global obesity also has almost tripled since 1975. Feeding billions naturally has been feeding troubles. This could result in the younger generations coalescing as they became pitched against the slowly ageing who will increasingly demand care and whose needs will drain the resources of the young. This challenge will mount especially if the world’s population rises to an estimate of 9 billion by 2050.

I must admit that most adults in the 21st century now seek out aspects of that mystical Fountain of Youth. A steady flow of new treatments intended to slow the process of ageing are continually being tested. Collagen is promoted as the key to anti-ageing because by the time we have reached middle age our bodies produce half the collagen we had in our youth and now produce less with each passing year.

This debate concerning what anti-aging means is a major source of confusion often used by pharmaceutical companies, and even by a few scientists, to mislead the public. Certainly, some products pitched as anti-aging may be healthy and/or may soften the effects of aging. For example, a given anti-wrinkle cream may ameliorate one particular effect of aging (wrinkles), but it will not impact on any other aging sign. Importantly, an anti-wrinkle cream will not increase longevity much less delay the mortality acceleration with age and hence its effects on aging will be so superficial that scientifically I do not think it can be considered as anti-aging.

Today the diet of “life extensionists” often includes daily handfuls of pills directed to slow down the ageing process. Hormones and anti-ageing agents, pushed by the pharmaceutical industry, are often included without having been rigorously tested. Jim Mellon, a British extensionist millionaire, supplements his diet with masses of nootropics, or “smart drugs.” He contends “If you can stay alive for another 10 to 20 years, if you aren’t yet over 75 and if you remain in reasonable health for your age, you have an excellent chance of living to more than 110.”5

Ironically, the most praised “anti-aging” drugs, such as resveratrol, rapamycin, and metformin, are believed to mimic the effects of shifting body energy balance from storage, growth, and self-reproduction simply to self-maintenance. “Enabling women to prolong their fertility would be a scientific advance worth celebrating” writes Sonia Sodha. ”Imagine how liberating it would be to know you have 15 years of fertility left, just as many men of your age do.” Sodha concludes that we might need to use science to rethink some aspects of our biology.6

James Strole, a real-estate investor who founded the nonprofit group Coalition for Radical Life Extension, supports those sciences which may significantly prolong human life. The Coalition’s website states: ”It’s time to look beyond the past of dying to a future of unlimited living.” Strole, who is an evangelist of immortality, desires extending life by decades and even centuries so that mortality becomes optional or an end to The End.7

Aubrey de Grey, yet another British gerontologist, regards life extension as a health issue not a matter of ending death. “We’re interested in people getting sick when they get old.” Gerontologists are keen to reduce such causes of death as cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s.8

The opening of regenerative medicines, stem cell research, and mitochondrial electron adjustments are all, amongst others, opening up new potentials in life extensions. The biogerontologist Joao Pedro de Magalhaes explained in an interview that “my work integrates different strategies, its focal point is developing and applying experimental and computational methods to help decipher the genome and how it regulates complex processes like ageing. In practice, that means developing and employing modern methods for genome sequencing and also bioinformatics to analyze large amounts of data, for example networks with hundreds of genes. We now know that aging and longevity, like many other biological processes, derive from many genes interacting with each other and with the environment.”

Ending this broadly inconclusive survey of these purveyors of life extension, I must assert my fears are magnified by the threat of our ever increasing population. Areas without adequate water will slow down ageing, but that is not a humane solution. Those without adequate medical treatment or healthy food, are also unlikely to pass their sixties. Politically this could never be openly accepted.

Commentators have made it clear that ageing is so biologically complex that it encompasses innumerable different and contentious processes. Even with gene editing it is unlikely that any single technique or “breakthrough” will add decades of lives to our children. What we can strive for is to work towards a slow, incremental lengthening of our current “teen-age stage“ which has encompassed “the best years of our lives.”

The gerontocrats may be out to “cheat the reaper” but the truth is that radical life extension could produce extremely negative effects on our social structures affecting childbirth, marriage, and the ever greater burden of caring for the increasing numbers of the elderly. As it is, the extravagant consumption in the narrow areas of wealth may radically reduce this planet’s capacity for 9 billion to eat, drink and BREATHE!


1Ross Andersen, The Atlantic, May 21, 2012
2James S. Goodwin, The Fear of Life Extension, 2017
3Joao Pedro de Magahlaes, an interview by Nicola Bagala, July 30, 2018
4Ray Kurzweil, “We’re going to overcome ageing,” The Financial Times, April 11, 2015
5Jim Mellon, Juvenescence, Investing in the age of longevity , 2016
6Sonia Sodha,”…postponing the menopause,” The Observer, August 11, 2019
7Alex Moshakis, “We want to live forever,” The Observer, June 2019
8Aubrey de Grey, Ending Aging, 2007

FROM DENIAL TO DENIALISM

“I didn’t do it!” is one of the first sentences I can remember hearing. From my earliest years I never understood why there was so much denial all around me. Denial then was about silly things like eating chocolates, hiding coins, or feeding the dog. The famous psychologist Bruno Bettelheim had a greater insight than I had into the very first stages of denial:

“The small child who denies his misbehavior does not simply lie to fool us; he is at least as anxious, or more so, to fool himself. Afraid of punishment, and convinced we will learn the truth sooner or later, what he is after is not to fool us but to convince himself that his crime never happened. Only then can he feel safe, both now and in the future.”1

Today, examining denial in this fast changing world is most challenging. Denial is extremely complex: Its scope ranges from manifestations at a personal level and extends to broad social denials. At the basic personal level not only is it a way of concealing our acts, but also our feelings and desires. It can be a way of protecting ourselves. It can enable us to cope with illness because denial allows optimism for the patient.

Being “in denial” can be a form of self-deception or a refusal to recognize different aspects of our lives, like dying. Death is just one of the life-threatening illnesses which we find difficult to confront and prefer not to recognize. In this vast field of options, denial is one easy way of avoiding a challenge. However, we seldom ask ourselves how or why we face up to such denial and putting aside the very thing we do not want to deal with.

There are indeed aspects of our personal realities that we human beings are not able to confront. Many overweight and anorexic people cannot accept how they look naked in the mirror. Their minds deny what their eyes tell them: “That’s not me!” Denial is so fundamental to their psyche because self-protection is built into the ego. Denial is thus one way we try to deceive ourselves and others because we cannot accept aspects of our desires or situations which we find threatening.

Every day denial is partially based on our response to a social climate in which mistakes, obfuscation and lies have become commonly accepted because people want to hide desires which they cannot openly acknowledge, writes sociologist Keith Kahn-Harris.2 However, there are some people who practice personal denial simply because they are fatigued trying to meet the unending demands of the truth.

Most often denial is a way of directly addressing a situation which is too difficult, unpleasant or frightening for us to face up to. Indeed, the truth may be hard to accept particularly when it comes to our desires. The fear of the exposure of our sexual mores has for centuries led to the denial of sexual violations in the Catholic Church. “Denial is a more ‘natural’ human function than reason” propose the authors in their book, Denying to the Grave: Why We Ignore the Facts That Will Save Us.3 Let’s face it: denial has for centuries become a simple way to avoid facing the facts of life!

Denial can involve active avoidance. The challenges presented by Lyme Disease, a tick-borne illness, were dramatically outlined by Kim Lewis, a professor of molecular microbiology, who said: “When doctors are faced with a problem they cannot solve, it is human nature to sweep it under the rug, to argue it away, to say the problem does not exist.” Lewis continued: “Because doctors have a simple choice, to tell the patient we have no treatment for your condition or to say you don’t have any condition.”4

Thus denial can dismiss situations with finality. Freud, however, also came to regard convenient forgetting as a form of denial. Such interpretation can incorporate denying with the inner significance of experience such as hatred or depression. Other psychologists have come to view delay as one of the deadliest forms of denial. Melanie Klein held that “Denial may stifle feelings of love and guilt, undermine sympathy and consideration and disturb the capacity for judgment and the sense of reality. As we know denial is a ubiquitous mechanism and is also very much used for the justification of destructiveness.”5

Despite all these perspectives on denial, there also is an unspoken expectation that the  expression of denial be respected. Denial can be personal or public, but numbers of deniers have become engaged over the past few decades into a socially collective response which is now being called “denialism.” Although we can see their different aspects socially, what these denialists have in common is their conviction that the truth is being crushed by their enemies: the prejudiced media, the hated social experts, the wide range of protected academics, and the scientists whose conclusions are so often disputed by others. We see these denialists in the collective response of Donald Trump’s followers much as it was for the majority of Germans who accepted the follies of Adolph Hitler in the 1930s.

Such denialists may have begun as personal deniers but have extended to become a public phenomenon. They are driven by the desire to make the electorate as well as the masses doubt in generally accepted ‘myths’ (as the denialists describe it) such as climate change, evolution and the Holocaust. As this denialism is so different from the personal denial on which I have focused so far, I must treat this ‘new phenomenon’ separately.

Denialism describes the preference of individuals and groups to deny reality as a way to avoid an unacceptable truth. This includes denying certain historical events and the existence of consensus arising in some fields. Keith Kahn-Harris in his book on the subject suggests that “Denialism offers a dystopian vision of a world unmoored, in which nothing can be taken for granted and no one can be trusted.”6 As a social force denialism is driven by the desire for some specific aspects to be disproved.

Although deniers are not outspoken liars, dumb or ignorant, they are pathologically stubborn and not always coherent. They depend on a public loss of faith in capitalist economics, on social and scientific advances and in progress itself. They insist on “the inescapable indeterminacy of figures and statistics.”7  Deniers float conspiracy theories which dismiss data or observations by suggesting that the experts or scientists are involved in a deep conspiracy to suppress the truth. Writer Mark Hoofnagle suggests that denialists employ “rhetorical tactics to give the appearance of argument or legitimate debate, when in actuality there is none.” It is amusing to note that “expert” denialists are not specialists in the field being examined. Astonishingly this is often not held as a negative factor by sectors of the media.

Denialists are obsessed with using details to create the impression that there may be multiple uncertainties in an overall proposition when doubts may have been raised in one minute aspect. Such focus on the smallest of details may not only inject doubts but may also suggest that any larger theory being disputed could be suspect.

Denialists count on public ignorance and capitalize on their ability to produce ideological obfuscation on already complex issues like global warming and governmental regulation. Their denialism is a barrier to acknowledging moral as well as ideological differences. For example, the prospects of an intolerably polluted world is so frightening that it has largely been denied (or covered up) for several decades not only by the media but even by the deniers!

I am still bewildered how Trump — who cannot really differentiate between truth and fiction — can dismiss the warnings of scientists on the environment. The evidence is that Trump simply is not interested in mankind’s future. That itself is a powerful form of denial. He is entirely focused on his own status. He tries to remake the truth for himself. Trump’s denial is not based on any careful examination of the facts. He is hooked on interpreting events according to his own desires. This is so impulsive and impetuous that psychiatrists stamp it as “wacky!” But what about all those people around the world who are liberated from coherence and still deny aspects of the Holocaust, evolution, or even our spherical planet?

Deniers seek the public validation that science delivers. They do not deny the value of scientific or scholarly methods. Indeed, they are eager to be acknowledged by scientists and university scholars. Denialists have used the money of wealthy admirers to promote research centers, internet sites, think-tanks such as the Institute for Historical Review, as well as publishing journals and promoting conferences to cast historical doubts on everything from the Holocaust to global warming. Disputes between academics as well as experts are used as ways to cast further doubts on contentious issues.

Deniers produce impressive quantities of dubious promotions on the internet, articles, books, lectures and even videos. These focus on spreading popular doubts with purported “facts” which may ultimately be uncovered as false, fake or untrue. There is an unwillingness to face up to the consequences of the denialist’s hopes, aims or desires. Global warming denialists want to preserve the world as it is. Sociologist Kahn-Harris observes that in their desire to maintain carbon-based capitalism, they refuse to acknowledge the suffering that denying action would entail.8 Denialism’s social direction is based on efforts to prevent change or to face the truth. Deniers, personal or societal, do not want to be confronted with harsh reality. They are fully aware that few of us want to face up to the impact of the dismal prospects of high levels of poisonous carbon dioxide.

Despite their bluster, deniers are often dependent on erroneous assumptions which are deeply held. Denialism cannot be breached by rational arguments. Even excluding them from academic journals and conferences does not bring reform. We are reshaping our world at such a high tech speed that it is also affecting our minds. If denialism were suddenly exposed, it soon would be replaced by “revisionism,” or some other similarly distracting expression. France has prohibited Holocaust denial by introducing strict legislation. It is not yet clear if this will drive the French deniers underground.

Denial, is a social form which could be transcended. Kari Marie Norgaard believes personal denial should be understood as a “testament to our human capacity for empathy, compassion, and an underlying sense of moral imperative to respond, even as we fail to do so.”9 Denialism, as opposed to individual denial, could be seen as an obstacle to progress which must gradually be reviewed and examined. However, even from such a generous perspective little advance can be made until the deniers themselves recognize the damaging extent of their efforts and gradually work towards a more open approach to the truth.

Alas, western societies have been all too reluctant to recognize and face up to the vast extent to which denial in its varied forms now consumes us.


1Bruno Bettelheim, The Informed Heart  (1960 ) p.281
2Keith Kahn-Harris, Denial:The Unspeakable Truth (2018) p.4
3S. E. Gormans and J.M. Gorman, Denying to the Grave: Why We Ignore the Facts That Will Save Us ( 2016) p.13
4David Cox, “Lyme Disease,” The Observer, July 21, 2019
5Melanie Klein, Our Adult World, (1963) p.47
6Keith Kahn-Harris, Denial: The Unspeakable Truth(2018) p.7
7Ibid p.12
8Ibid p.158
9Kari Marie Norgaard, Living in Denial: Climate Change, Emotions, and Everyday Life (2011) p.61

MISSION OF THE GALACTIC INSPECTORATE

THIS IS A TRANSLATION INTO ENGLISH OF THE REPORT BY GALACTIC ROBOTS MANY DECADES FROM NOW. DATES, TIMES AND LOCATIONS ARE ALL BEYOND OUR COMPREHENSION AS THEY HAVE DIFFERENT CODES FOR MEASUREMENTS IN THE MILKY WAY.

MISSION OF THE GALACTIC INSPECTORATE

REPORT FOR |||/|…/\\…|||

Rocket carefully circled Planet ||| (Earth) many times. Much metallic satellite rubbish floating in planet’s surrounding space. Satellites evidently used for communication by developed species. Mission’s extending grasper picked up larger satellite unit and examined its weird operations. Decoding imprints on titanium surface to be be done later. So would structure of hard to decipher operating system of originators.

Coming closer to surface of Planet ||| which circles its star while spinning at steady speed. Complicated by murky atmosphere. Immediately evident unusually high levels of carbon-dioxide. Also radioactivity. Our observing onboard mechanisms recorded imbalance of magnetism of poles. Same for imbalance of planetary mass.

Several flares coming from limited volcanic activity observable. Also lightening strikes in northern hemisphere. No other lights of any kind. Small fires as are often visible on other formerly prominent planets. With this affirmation there would be no trouble when/if landing made.

Expansive seas appear to be polluted. Violent storms scattered around center of hemisphere. Large crumbling structures huddle closely together in waters. Possibly may once have been ports. Large rusting floating metal forms, some having dozen levels, also visible.

Snooper launched to examine the surface. Here and there areas of vegetation amidst large tracts of sand, desert, and stringy stretches of concrete. Some cacti as well as various evergreen trees also evident. Snooper able to gather number of ants, termites and cockroaches. These only signs of life encountered on land.

Anything to learn from this planet? Carbon Dioxide levels above those of other deceased planets. Indicative of high over-populations.

Any prospects for future connections? Limited. Not in next 1,000 “light years.” Large orbiting asteroid likely to hit this planet in upcoming period.

Notable relics? Many primitive stone structures. Decaying, high steel constructions indicating consequences of over-population.

Comments: When last surveyed many light years ago there had been positive expectations from primitive species that had evolved. Tribal groups then had mastered fire. Their rapid advance led to being overwhelmed by extremes of pollution as well as technological warfare and plutonium levels from which no recovery.

II

REPORT FOR |||/|…/\\…||||

Landing on Planet |||| (Mars). Rocky and barren planet indeed. No signs of any life. Low oxygen levels. Low carbon dioxide.

Three separate groups of small structures inspected. These fitted with electronic machinery. Everything covered with ageing dust – even piles of trash. Each group had three or four parked large “winged” rockets. Most probably for travel to and from Planet |||.

Massive empty metal and plastic containers to hold water. Evidence of unsuccessful extensive drilling. Also ashes from past fires evident.

No evidence of corpses but small mounds of rubble, rocks and sand topped with plastic red emblems and small colorful flags. This suggested burials.

Connection between two planets had come to abrupt end. Due to lack of food and agricultural failures on Planet |||| Also destructive nuclear conflict on Planet |||. This ended shipment of essentials needed for survival on ||||.

As star which warmed these planets slowly cools, range of evolutions essential for genetic breakthroughs in bio spectrum. This most unlikely for currently hot planets | (Mercury) and || (Venus) or remote colder ones.

Rocket will be going past largest of planets before escaping this star’s pull. Next headed for nearest galactic star’s potentially habitable planets.

This concludes planetary report for star |||/|…/\\…

KEEPING IN TOUCH

We are living in a time when “keeping in touch” has never been more important. The dramatic advances in technology and electronics are deeply affecting the way we now regard touch. Electronics are altering our ways of feeling and being. Tapping on our mobiles and computers has begun to overtake touch as a way of communicating. The speed with which these changes are occurring is such that we hardly seem able to absorb their impact. I am not going to propose a resolution in this blog — I shall simply try to awaken readers to what is and may be happening.

The feminist #MeToo movement is declaring that men should not touch women without their consent. This revealed the depth of our current confusion as well as hypocrisy: We all touch each other every time we shake hands and our hands are among the most sensitive parts of our body.

Touch is one of the bases of social expressiveness in many cultures. In our effort to redress the long history of  unwanted aggressiveness and “touching” are we in danger of seeing indiscretion in every innocent gesture?

“I touch, therefore I am,” is integral to our being. Touch is essential in confirming our physical reality. It is also at the basis of “the common good” for both the self and our social relations. In the stories and videos of Joseph Biden, this candidate appears to be inflicted by an ignominious case of touchy-feeliness. Seven women came forward to claim that Biden had touched them in such a way as to make them feel uncomfortable. He has acknowledged that social norms have been transformed. His touching was his way of showing that he cares, but he recognized that the boundaries were being reset. Indeed, “If the thought of touching anyone in your office makes you shudder, then you will empathize with those who say hugging and kissing should be banned at work,” wrote one commentator.1

Most women in the advanced economies have experienced variations of inappropriate touching by over-familiar men. “Many women tolerate a range of creepiness from men who plead ignorance about what they are doing,” admitted Suzanne Moore.2 Touch can be an expression of intimacy but she writes that “unwanted touch is an expression of power.” Whatever the politically powerful may think they are doing, “they are actually embracing inequality. This doesn’t make women merely uncomfortable. It makes some of us rigid with anger.”

The effect on humans of touch can be so strong that even the lightest can have powerful effect. Studies have shown that waitresses “accidentally“ touching a customer while bringing the bill will receive bigger tips. Indeed, a passing touch can lift the mood of two people in a flash. Touch can release neurochemicals like endorphins and neurohormones such as oxytocin in the brain which heal feelings like anger, loneliness, and isolation. Nurturing touches, like hugs, can lift serotonin levels, elevating moods, relaxing muscles, and balance the nervous system.

How far have we moved since the expression of “Let’s keep in touch,” first came into use. Indeed some societies have entered an era of “Touch me not!” In general the role of touch in society has been demoted, according to Prof Steve Cole, of the UCLA School of Medicine. “We’re not necessarily designed for this distance,” Cole said. We should be able to touch each other without recrimination. Physical contact has been shown to help reduce stress and increase empathy.

Touch of the skin, or tactile sense, is the body’s shield and makes us aware of the environment which surrounds us, such as the temperature, pain, as well as the lightest breeze. Without this sensory system we would have no physical self-awareness. It would appear that the cognitive capacities of touch, which was among the first of the sensory systems to evolve, are only recently being appreciated. Touch leaves a memory trace that persists long after the physical experience is gone. As a consequence, memories of touch can manifest in curious ways. For example we may not be able to verbalize how something felt, but we might be able to recognize it later: a single touch can have a far greater impact on the mind than we acknowledged at the time. It was quite different in the past.

In the Middle Ages, it was believed in the Royal Kingdoms that a touch from the King could heal scrofula, a swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck caused by tuberculosis. This practice began with King Edward the Confessor in England and Philip I in France. Subsequent French and English Kings continued a practice which was supposed to demonstrate that the right to rule was God-given. In splendid ceremonies these kings touched hundreds of the afflicted who also received special gold coins called “touchpieces” which were often worn as amulets. By the late 1400s it was believed that the ill could be cured by touching coins called “Angels” which had been handled by the monarch. King Henry IV of France was said to have touched up to 1,500 at one session. Queen Anne, who died in 1714, was the last English monarch to hand out such gold embossed medallions, but in France the practice continued until Charles X ended it in 1825.

I have been deeply moved by a story in Granta magazine by “Poppy” Sebag-Monfefiore who reported on her experiences being touched in China and Asia.3 She started: “Every day I was touched. Many times, by friends, by strangers, by a lady who swept the street by the courtyard where I lived. By water sellers, restaurateurs, by old men playing chess, by people I didn’t know. Most I would never meet again. I was handled, pushed, pulled, leaned upon, stroked, my hand was held. And it was through these small, intimate, gestural moments that I began to get a hold on how macro changes imprinted themselves onto people’s relationships and inner lives.”

Poppy described the way “Touch had its own language.” I shall not repeat her extremely moving experiences of touch in public which “had a whole range of tones that were neither sexual nor violent.” (But were not neutral either). The way an elderly man used her body to help him stand is something I should like everyone to read in Granta. For Poppy usually “touch was like a lubricant that eased the day-to-day goings-on….”

How I wish this could happen in our fear-filled English speaking cultures. For all my adult life I have felt both urged and privileged to touch the stomachs of expectant mothers. Of course I ask permission and it is rare that women refuse. I consider it is an honor to be in contact with the miracle of life itself and women are proud to share one of the most important of all human experiences.

In his studies of emotional signaling  Matthew J Hertenstein suggests that humans can communicate numerous emotions with touch and can decode anger, disgust, fear, gratitude, love and sympathy via touch.4

The Collective branded as mindbodygreen believe the pillars of wellness are interconnected and are integral for our shared journey in which touching  and hugging are a powerful way of healing. Despite the resistance to touch from some quarters, there also is broad appreciation and celebration in others: the just opened “Please Touch Museum” in Philadelphia focuses on the ability of children and parents to focus on the variety of ways we can touch. So some touches are advancing us all!

“We’re post-touch, post-truth. How will society communicate now?” asks Poppy Sebag-Montefiore. Not by ever more rapid systems but only by greater appreciation and understanding of our sentient beings can we return to the open enjoyments of touching .


1Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett., The Guardian, April 25, 2019

2Suzanne Moore, “This touching is about power,” The Guardian, April

3Poppy Sebag-Montefiore, “Touch” in Granta Winter 2019, The Politics of Feeling, pp.17-28

4Matthew J.Hertenstein,  The Handbook of Touch: Neuroscience,Behavioral and Health Perspectives (2011)

Noise

Noise has become a universal environmental problem which we haven’t a clue how to tackle. Enter the streets of any major city in the world and you will be swept along by continuing noises. But do we truly need to be exposed to such uncontrolled electronic noise levels?

  • Have you ever gone into a restaurant where the noise was so disturbing that you wanted to get out?
  • Have you entered an underground train where the noise was so powerful you wished you had earplugs?
  • Have you experienced such pandemonium at a party that you went to the bathroom just to escape?

None of these were questions which would have been posed in the 19th century. The truth is that noise can be “a stench in the ear” as the wit Ambrose Bierce described back in 1906.

Until the industrial revolution, noise had seldom been regarded as a social threat. As long as noise was a natural phenomenon people were not offended: the sound of horse-drawn carriages or the rolling of beer barrels was not noxious. The ringing of bells was welcome. Everything changed with the introduction of trains, cars, airplanes and the various electrically driven machines ranging from telephones to television. Noise became intrusive as well as a threat to our well being.

In today’s world we have almost forgotten the pleasures of calm, quiet and silence.  These states of being have become harder and harder to come by.  Peace and quiet have come to be regarded as luxuries enjoyed by those living on secluded islands or in gated and walled compounds. Given such a state of affairs, a number of social scientists think peace and quiet should become a human right.

 In recent decades American and European restaurants are being overwhelmed by high decibels of background noise.  Such cacophony becomes a social killer, keeping talk and discussions down to a minimum. I often ask a waiter or manager to please lower the volume, but the result is usually unnoticeable.

The top complaint of diners in the US is noise. The typical  restaurant “background noise” is around 65 decibels . Customers begin to raise their voices at 70 db and conversation becomes difficult at 75 db.1 I would recommend restaurants with a “Three-star Quiet Award” (unknown until now)  but a few reviewers have begun to warn readers of the noise levels along with the ups and downs of the cuisine. “Quiet Restaurants” would be a good beginning. Silence on trains has also been introduced in some trains (“quiet carriages”) but without much appreciation.

It would be good to make “all the right noises “ but noise is composed of many unwanted sounds. The foundation of this problem is that in modern times unwelcome noise has spread widely, loudly and endlessly. The noises made by automobiles and airplanes generally disturb us the most. Purportedly road traffic is not defined as a noise nuisance. The courts have declared it as “subjective” because there are varying decibel levels that people can withstand. Screeching automobile brakes are horrid and arresting. Screeching infants can be highly distracting but are somehow acceptable. So one must conclude that machine noises are alien and natural noises are almost acceptable.

The World Health Organization reports that irritation with noise has led 8 million people in Europe to place traffic noise claims with their local authorities. This leads us to ask why noise levels aren’t set in law? New York was the first city in the US to enact a noise code, but unlike air pollution or water pollution, noise does not leave any traces in the environment. There are some local laws regarding noisy neighbors who defy an acceptable decibels level, but residents should have stricter statutory legal rights.

In the UK neither the Noise Act of 1996 nor the Anti-Social Behavior Act of 2014 have brought much peace and quiet. Shrill noises can trigger the release of cortisol, a stress hormone. Annually half a million people who suffer from noise nuisances make complaints to their local councils. I know from friends in London how maddening the  constant flights from Heathrow airport can be. The noise is so intrusive that it has become a raging political issue. The eardrums of close to a million Londoners are affected by the roar of jet engines.

Regrettably, noise has spread everywhere. While the rich pay for quiet, the poor have to bear the noises surrounding them. Escaping to calmer public places in the city is challenging. Antonella Radicchi , a Berlin soundscape scientist, has created an app called “Hush City” so people can find places which are quiet in their settings. She has expanded her app so that city dwellers in the US, the UK, Germany, Italy and Spain may enjoy the more secluded spots of  our congested cities.

Little has been designed by builders, architects or developers who had noise in mind. Noise absorbing pavements and soundproof building materials are rare. The extent to which inhabitants in Europe and North America go to escape into their own protected sound worlds is impressive. All those who travel and walk about with earbuds, or more massive noise cancelling headphones, do so not only to listen to music but also to cut out noise.

I have written this blog because I would like to encourage more concerted efforts towards a quieter world and not a mechanically and ever more obtrusively noisy planet.

For more insights into noise and how it affects us, listen to this podcast on Cacophony at Jared Blumenfeld’s Podship Earth.


In noisy technoville

Cars are screeching while radios, TV and loudspeakers
are merely shrill;
Saws, blenders and washing machines are
Humming and buzzing wih skill
Alas, the ringing of bells becomes rarer and rarer.

In noisy technoville
Phones are ringing, jackhammer workers drilling
while speakers are screaming, Siri is merely being
appealing.
*Yet one of the least noted of human clicks
Are those rare misadventures of dentures creaking.

*With thanks to the immortal writings of Willard R. Espy, Words at Play (1975)


1Richard Goodwin, “Why noise is killing us,” The Guardian, July 3, 2018

WHY IS THERESA MAY STILL IN OFFICE?

As an American reporter covering the scene in the UK for the past fifty years, I am astounded that such a divisive, obdurate and short-sighted figure should still be leading the Conservative Party after four years of ineptitude. How can this be? The former Minister of the Treasury had portrayed her, following her snap election as “a dead woman walking.”

I first observed Theresa as a vengeful fighter some eight years ago when, as Home Secretary, she took on the police, cutting 20,000 from its ranks without considering the consequences. The effects have been disastrous, but she has evaded being held responsible for her actions.

Immigrants — who unlike the police, have no union, no funds, and no organization — were another group whose numbers she wanted to reduce. She professed to support immigration while creating a “hostile environment” which served to erode social cohesion in the country. During her time in the Home Office, it became possible to be hostile to Jamaicans who had been formally invited to work in the UK in 1962. The treatment of “Windrush” group’s members was so embarrassingly disgraceful that even Theresa finally had to publicly apologize last year.

As Home Secretary, her general approach to civil liberties could at best be described as careless. For example, after various extended consultations with “experts” she pledged to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights and was only deterred from this misguided effort by the intervention of Brexit .

Amidst the political infighting which followed the Referendum, Theresa was selected by Conservatives as the least objectionable of the contesting candidates to become their Prime Minister. Overnight she became a devout convert to Brexit after she personally had voted to remain in the European Union. She became beholden to the extremist Leavers who had become most prominent in the Conservative party. Since then, without considering the possible negative consequences, Theresa has been steadfast in pushing for the UK’s exit from the European Union.

In an extremely foolish move she called for a snap election in 2017 expecting that she would increase her majority in Parliament. Instead she nearly lost and became dependent upon the ten members of the DUP delegation to stay in power. Since that time, she has been determined to keep to her “red lines” no matter what. This has prevented her from looking after the well-being of the nation.

Teresa has continued as Prime Minister primarily because there is no prominent figure, not even within the extremists in the so-called “European Research Group”, who wants to take over the agonizing job of concluding Parliament’s Brexit nightmare.

The “ERG” succeeded last autumn to gather the 48 members of the parliamentary Conservative party necessary to trigger a challenge to the Prime Minister’s tenure. However when it came to a vote by all Tory MPs, she received an endorsement of 200 in her favor and only 117 against. Under the Party’s regulations, this meant, Theresa could not be challenged again from within for an entire year.

The absence of a truly popular leader in a divided Parliament worked in her behalf. Most politicians would have had the good sense to resign if they suffered a 432 to 202 defeat in Parliament as this stubborn Prime Minister did this year. Not Theresa! She has plodded-on with weak promises of “short delays” to be followed by further tactics to postpone conclusive Parliamentary votes for as long as possible in order to avoid defeat and cover her inability to come up with a satisfactory agreement with the European Union.

Only now are the ardent Brexiteers slowly beginning to acknowledge that her administration is a failure. However, she seems to be oblivious to what might lie ahead: If Britain does leave the European Union, the subsequent breakup of the United Kingdom might be in the cards. Theresa, who has seriously lacked vision has irresponsibly side-lined the Scots. Most likely the Scottish Nationalists would decide to hold another referendum and because of a floundering and economically desperate United Kingdom, it would most likely succeed.

We are not there yet, but Theresa (who cannot bear any talk of the extension of Article 50’s deadline) may finally have to admit that her strategy failed. This will put an end to the tenacious hold on power of an obstinate Prime Minister who never should have accepted the leadership of her party.