divendres, 28 de febrer de 2020

The chirping bugs of my childhood


The China of my youth was poor and undeveloped. I feel I was happier then. Now I live in a new era of prosperity and modernity, but I have a great sense of loss. I miss the croaking frogs and chirping bugs of my childhood. The wild flowers blooming in the field. In the past few decades I have built so many factories. Have I taken de peace away and destroyed the environment? I don't know if I'm a contributor or a sinner. But I only tink that way when I'm unhappy. The point of living is work. Don't you think so?


Cho Tak Wong, CEO of Fuyao Group. American Factory.

dilluns, 17 de febrer de 2020

Love your enemies!


I want to turn to the words of the ultimate original thinker, history’s greatest social entrepreneur, and as a Catholic, my personal Lord and Savior, Jesus. Here’s what he said, as recorded in the Gospel of Saint Matthew, chapter 5, verse 43-45: You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”
Love your enemies! Now that is thinking differently. It changed the world starting 2,000 years ago, and it is as subversive and counterintuitive today as it was then. But the devil’s in the details. How do we do it in a country and world roiled by political hatred and differences that we can’t seem to bridge?
First, we need to make it personal. I remember when it became personal for me.
I give about 150 speeches a year and talk to all kinds of audiences: conservative, progressive, believers, atheists and everything in between. I was speaking one afternoon some years ago to a large group of politically conservative activists. Arriving early to the event, I looked at the program and realized I was the only non-politician on the program.
At first I thought, “This is a mistake.” But then I remembered that there are no mistakes —only opportunities— and started thinking about what I could say that would be completely different than the politicians. The crowd was really fired up; the politicians were getting huge amounts of applause. When it was my turn to speak, in the middle of my speech, here’s more or less what I said:
“My friends, you’ve heard a lot today that you’ve agreed with —and well you should. You’ve also heard a lot about the other side —political liberals— and how they are wrong. But I want to ask you to remember something: Political liberals are not stupid, and they’re not evil. They are simply Americans who disagree with you about public policy. And if you want to persuade them —which should be your goal— remember that no one has ever been insulted into agreement. You can only persuade with love.”
It was not an applause line.
After the speech, a woman in the audience came up to me, and she was clearly none too happy with my comments. “You’re wrong,” she told me. "Liberals are stupid and evil.”
At that moment, my thoughts went to … Seattle. That’s my hometown. While my own politics are conservative, Seattle is arguably the most politically liberal place in the United States. My father was a college professor; my mother was an artist. Professors and artists in Seattle … what do you think their politics were?
That lady after my speech wasn’t trying to hurt me. But when she said that liberals are stupid and evil, she was talking about my parents. I may have disagreed with my parents politically, but I can tell you they were neither stupid nor evil. They were good, Christian people, who raised me to follow Jesus. They also taught me to think for myself —which I did, at great inconvenience to them.
Political polarization was personal for me that day, and I want to be personal to you, too. So let me ask you a question: How many of you love someone with whom you disagree politically?
Are you comfortable hearing someone on your own side insult that person?
This reminds me of a lesson my father taught me, about moral courage. In a free society where you don’t fear being locked up for our opinions, true moral courage isn’t standing up to the people with whom you disagree. It’s standing up to the people with whom you agree —on behalf of those with whom you disagree. Are you strong enough to do that? That, I believe, is one way we can live up to Jesus’ teaching to love our enemies.

diumenge, 16 de febrer de 2020

The great book of the universe


If mathematics is part of the universe that is independent of mind, then can be relatively certain that extraterrestrials will understand our mathematics. If they are an older civilization than our own, they may have read further in the great book of the universe, but we can rest easy in knowing that we are at least reading the same text. Yet if we abandon mathematical Platonism, we immediately find ourselves in more uncertain territory. If mathematics is a product of the embodied human mind, then it is perhaps more accurate to say that we are actively writing one version of the great book of the universe from a uniquely human perspective. Although an extrarrestrial is observing the same universe, their intepretation may be much different from our own if their experience as an embodied mind is sufficiently different. Advances in the cognitive and neurological sciences have revealed how the nature of our phyisical interface with the world –our body– affects our cognition. Thus, it is worth considering whether we can expect an extraterrestrial intelligence to share many physical characteristics with ourselves, which will help inform whether we can expect them to share a similar mathematics.
In some ways, it would be more disturbing to make contact with an intelligent extrarrestrial civilization populated by fleshy, mostly hairless hominids than a civilization of eight-eyed cephalopods, but this possibility is not entirely out of the question. Indeed, as the astrobiologist Charles Cockell has argued, empirical evidence suggests that certain features of life are deterministically driven by physical laws. Extrapollating from this, it is reasonable to believe that "at all levels of its structural hierarchy, alien life is likely to look strangely similar to the life we know on Earth" (Cockell 2018). Cockell's argument is analogous to the case made by Marvin Minsky that extraterrestrials are likely to think like us because they are a subject to the same basic physical constraints. It would be naïve, of course, to suggest that evolution is totally determined by the laws of physics given the significant and obvius role that chance plays in the trajectory of evolution. For example, research suggests that the probability of an asteroid impact resulting in global cooling, mass extinction, and the subsequent appearance of mammals was "quite low" 66 million years ago. It was sheer cosmic bad luck that an asteroid impacted the relatively small portion of the Earth's surface that was rich in hydrocarbons and sulfur that utimately choked the Earth with stratospheric soot and sulfate aerosols. In this case, the site of the asteroid impact changed the history of life on Earth in a way that could never be predicted by deterministic evolutionary laws (Kaiho and Oshima 2017).
The point is that although the trajectory of evolution isn't predictable in advance, the variety of spieces it produces is not boundless. This contradicts the intuitive interpretation of Darwinian evolution, which suggests that natural selection results in a "tendency of species to fom varieties" in infinite number. On the contrary, Cockell (2018) argues that "evolution is just a tremendous an exciting interplay of physical principles encoded in genetic material" and "the limited number of these principles means that the finale of this process is also restrained and universal." Consider, for example, the emergence of cellular life on Earth. Is the cellullar form something that we might expect to emerge on an extraterrestrial planet, or would extraterrestrial organisms find a different mode of self-assembly? In the 1980's, the biologist David Dreamer used carboxylic acids extracted from the famous Murchison meteorite to demonstrate that these simple molecules would spontaneously form cellullar membranes when added to water. According to Cockell, this suggests that the ingredients for cellular life are "strewn throughout the Solar System in carbon-rich rocks." which means "we might expect the molecules of cellularity to form in any primordial cloud, ready to deliver their cargo of protocell material to the surface of an planet with a waiting abundance of water."