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Bigger Than Jesus: Art on Trial in Russia
Monday, June 12th, is judgment day for Yuri Samodurov, former director of Moscow’s Sakharov Museum, and Andrei Yerofeyev, a former curator of the Tretyakov Gallery. They face the possibility of three years of jail time for violating Article 282 of the Russian Criminal Code, which prohibits dissemination of racial, national, and religious hatred. When they exhibited in 2006 the show “Forbidden Art,” which presented to the Russian public works banned from Russia’s museums for religious and/or nationalist reasons, they drew the ire of the Russian Orthodox church. The eyes of the art world turn to Russia as the latest chapter in the long battle for freedom of expression versus societal standards of decorum. Is this the "Bigger than Jesus" of the twenty-first century? Or will it be a victory for those hoping to reclaim religious imagery from the hands of fundamentalism?
In August 1966, John Lennon made an off-hand comment that The Beatles had become "more popular" or "bigger" than Jesus in the eyes of young people. An always astute social critic, Lennon was actually bemoaning that situation as a sad sign of the times. Unfortunately, fundamentalist forces misinterpreted his comment as a celebration of celebrity over divinity. Despite Lennon’s clarifications and apologies, bonfires fed by Beatles records and paraphernalia raged across the American South and Midwest. Ironically, Lennon wanted youth to reexamine their values and recover the true message of Jesus Christ—what I like to call the Jesus of the Beatitudes rather than the Christ of the Ten Commandments.
Similarly, the works in “Forbidden Art” aimed at provoking a reexamination of religion through art rather than at mocking or degrading anyone’s faith. A painting such as This Is My Blood/This Is My Body (shown), in which Christ’s "blood" is a Coca-Cola advertisement and His "body" lies beneath the McDonald's golden arches, asks us, as John Lennon did nearly half a century ago, where our values truly rest—with the simple message of spiritual communion or with commercial messages of powerful conglomerate branding? Are Jesus and Christianity simply another "brand" for people to identify with on a surface level—with the unthinking attachment of brand loyalty—rather than the critically examined faith of true believers?
This case will set a standard either way. Other Russian artists already have felt the chilling effect of Article 282. Russian artist and blogger Lena Hades faces prosecution for comments said to "defame the Russian soul." In truth, nothing defames the Russian soul more than the legalization of limited speech through Article 282. How strong is a faith if it can never be tested or challenged by art? Art has historically served as a powerful conduit for greater spiritual awareness. To close off that avenue of spirituality would be a great loss, a defamation of religion as something weak and small rather than powerful and immense on a cosmic scale. Here’s hoping that the court exonerates Samodurov and Yerofeyev and sets off a domino effect in which art can continue to speak freely to free the people. I hate to imagine a domino effect set in the opposite direction, in which the powers of repression coupled with a misguided sense of religious certainty silence those simply trying to say something valuable about God and our understanding of Him (Her?). The separation of church and state in this country seems tenuous enough without an overseas example to help erase that line entirely.
UPDATE: The court found Samodurov and Yerofeyev guilty but fined them instead of imposing jail time. My initial reaction is that it’s a mixed victory. The fine seems to be a concession to the religious groups, while the lack of jail time sends a message that even the judges question the validity of the law. The real test will be how judges decide the next Article 282 case. Will they follow suit and further question the law itself in their decision, or will they impose jail time and swing the situation back to a more serious tone? Only time will tell.
How would the ability to genetically customize children change society? Sci-fi author Eugene Clark explores the future on our horizon in Volume I of the "Genetic Pressure" series.
- A new sci-fi book series called "Genetic Pressure" explores the scientific and moral implications of a world with a burgeoning designer baby industry.
- It's currently illegal to implant genetically edited human embryos in most nations, but designer babies may someday become widespread.
- While gene-editing technology could help humans eliminate genetic diseases, some in the scientific community fear it may also usher in a new era of eugenics.
Tribalism and discrimination<p>One question the "Genetic Pressure" series explores: What would tribalism and discrimination look like in a world with designer babies? As designer babies grow up, they could be noticeably different from other people, potentially being smarter, more attractive and healthier. This could breed resentment between the groups—as it does in the series.</p><p>"[Designer babies] slowly find that 'everyone else,' and even their own parents, becomes less and less tolerable," author Eugene Clark told Big Think. "Meanwhile, everyone else slowly feels threatened by the designer babies."</p><p>For example, one character in the series who was born a designer baby faces discrimination and harassment from "normal people"—they call her "soulless" and say she was "made in a factory," a "consumer product." </p><p>Would such divisions emerge in the real world? The answer may depend on who's able to afford designer baby services. If it's only the ultra-wealthy, then it's easy to imagine how being a designer baby could be seen by society as a kind of hyper-privilege, which designer babies would have to reckon with. </p><p>Even if people from all socioeconomic backgrounds can someday afford designer babies, people born designer babies may struggle with tough existential questions: Can they ever take full credit for things they achieve, or were they born with an unfair advantage? To what extent should they spend their lives helping the less fortunate? </p>
Sexuality dilemmas<p>Sexuality presents another set of thorny questions. If a designer baby industry someday allows people to optimize humans for attractiveness, designer babies could grow up to find themselves surrounded by ultra-attractive people. That may not sound like a big problem.</p><p>But consider that, if designer babies someday become the standard way to have children, there'd necessarily be a years-long gap in which only some people are having designer babies. Meanwhile, the rest of society would be having children the old-fashioned way. So, in terms of attractiveness, society could see increasingly apparent disparities in physical appearances between the two groups. "Normal people" could begin to seem increasingly ugly.</p><p>But ultra-attractive people who were born designer babies could face problems, too. One could be the loss of body image. </p><p>When designer babies grow up in the "Genetic Pressure" series, men look like all the other men, and women look like all the other women. This homogeneity of physical appearance occurs because parents of designer babies start following trends, all choosing similar traits for their children: tall, athletic build, olive skin, etc. </p><p>Sure, facial traits remain relatively unique, but everyone's more or less equally attractive. And this causes strange changes to sexual preferences.</p><p>"In a society of sexual equals, they start looking for other differentiators," he said, noting that violet-colored eyes become a rare trait that genetically engineered humans find especially attractive in the series.</p><p>But what about sexual relationships between genetically engineered humans and "normal" people? In the "Genetic Pressure" series, many "normal" people want to have kids with (or at least have sex with) genetically engineered humans. But a minority of engineered humans oppose breeding with "normal" people, and this leads to an ideology that considers engineered humans to be racially supreme. </p>
Regulating designer babies<p>On a policy level, there are many open questions about how governments might legislate a world with designer babies. But it's not totally new territory, considering the West's dark history of eugenics experiments.</p><p>In the 20th century, the U.S. conducted multiple eugenics programs, including immigration restrictions based on genetic inferiority and forced sterilizations. In 1927, for example, the Supreme Court ruled that forcibly sterilizing the mentally handicapped didn't violate the Constitution. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes wrote, "… three generations of imbeciles are enough." </p><p>After the Holocaust, eugenics programs became increasingly taboo and regulated in the U.S. (though some states continued forced sterilizations <a href="https://www.uvm.edu/~lkaelber/eugenics/" target="_blank">into the 1970s</a>). In recent years, some policymakers and scientists have expressed concerns about how gene-editing technologies could reanimate the eugenics nightmares of the 20th century. </p><p>Currently, the U.S. doesn't explicitly ban human germline genetic editing on the federal level, but a combination of laws effectively render it <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">illegal to implant a genetically modified embryo</a>. Part of the reason is that scientists still aren't sure of the unintended consequences of new gene-editing technologies. </p><p>But there are also concerns that these technologies could usher in a new era of eugenics. After all, the function of a designer baby industry, like the one in the "Genetic Pressure" series, wouldn't necessarily be limited to eliminating genetic diseases; it could also work to increase the occurrence of "desirable" traits. </p><p>If the industry did that, it'd effectively signal that the <em>opposites of those traits are undesirable. </em>As the International Bioethics Committee <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">wrote</a>, this would "jeopardize the inherent and therefore equal dignity of all human beings and renew eugenics, disguised as the fulfillment of the wish for a better, improved life."</p><p><em>"Genetic Pressure Volume I: Baby Steps"</em><em> by Eugene Clark is <a href="http://bigth.ink/38VhJn3" target="_blank">available now.</a></em></p>
The father of all giant sea bugs was recently discovered off the coast of Java.
- A new species of isopod with a resemblance to a certain Sith lord was just discovered.
- It is the first known giant isopod from the Indian Ocean.
- The finding extends the list of giant isopods even further.
The ocean depths are home to many creatures that some consider to be unnatural.<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzU2NzY4My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNTUwMzg0NX0.BTK3zVeXxoduyvXfsvp4QH40_9POsrgca_W5CQpjVtw/img.png?width=980" id="b6fb0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2739ec50d9f9a3bd0058f937b6d447ac" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1512" data-height="2224" />
What benefit does this find have for science? And is it as evil as it looks?<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="7XqcvwWp" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="8506fcd195866131efb93525ae42dec4"> <div id="botr_7XqcvwWp_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/7XqcvwWp-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/7XqcvwWp-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/7XqcvwWp-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> <p>The discovery of a new species is always a cause for celebration in zoology. That this is the discovery of an animal that inhabits the deeps of the sea, one of the least explored areas humans can get to, is the icing on the cake.</p><p>Helen Wong of the National University of Singapore, who co-authored the species' description, explained the importance of the discovery:</p><p>"The identification of this new species is an indication of just how little we know about the oceans. There is certainly more for us to explore in terms of biodiversity in the deep sea of our region." </p><p>The animal's visual similarity to Darth Vader is a result of its compound eyes and the curious shape of its <a href="https://lkcnhm.nus.edu.sg/research/sjades2018/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow" style="">head</a>. However, given the location of its discovery, the bottom of the remote seas, it may be associated with all manner of horrifically evil Elder Things and <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cthulhu" target="_blank" rel="dofollow">Great Old Ones</a>. <em></em></p>
Max Planck Institute scientists crash into a computing wall there seems to be no way around.
- Artificial intelligence that's smarter than us could potentially solve problems beyond our grasp.
- AI that are self-learning can absorb whatever information they need from the internet, a Pandora's Box if ever there was one.
- The nature of computing itself prevents us from limiting the actions of a super-intelligent AI if it gets out of control.
Why worry?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTUwNzc3OS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2OTYyMDE5MX0.EN9QQ0BTIiHBvD3XJ0D1n2OhmCOfzyf40MocBiV6Y68/img.jpg?width=980" id="b2c31" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="a098b63a4e14d0f7b7eaa792af0f76ff" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1440" data-height="682" />
Credit: @nt/Adobe Stock<p>"A super-intelligent machine that controls the world sounds like science fiction," says paper co-author <a href="https://www.mpib-berlin.mpg.de/staff/manuel-cebrian" target="_blank">Manuel Cebrian</a> in a <a href="https://www.mpg.de/16231640/0108-bild-computer-scientists-we-wouldn-t-be-able-to-control-superintelligent-machines-149835-x?c=2249" target="_blank">press release</a>. "But there are already machines that perform certain important tasks independently without programmers fully understanding how they learned it. The question therefore arises whether this could at some point become uncontrollable and dangerous for humanity."</p><p>The lure of AI is clear. Its ability to "see" the patterns in data make it a promising agent for solving problems too complex for us to wrap our minds around. Could it cure cancer? Solve the climate crisis? The possibilities are nearly endless.</p><p>Connected to the internet, AI can grab whatever information it needs to achieve its task, and therein lies a big part of the danger. With access to every bit of human data—and responsible for its own education—who knows what lessons it would learn regardless of any ethical constraints built into its programming? Who knows what goals it would embrace and what it might do to achieve them?</p><p>Even assuming benevolence, there's danger. Suppose that an AI is confronted by an either/or choice akin to the <a href="https://bigthink.com/culture-religion/trolley-problem-solution" target="_blank">Trolley Dilemma</a>, maybe even on a grand scale: Might an AI decide to annihilate millions of people if it decided the remaining billions would stand a better chance of survival?</p>
A pair of flawed options<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTUwNzc5MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NzM3NDQ2Mn0.0GYCRvvo--LWLlRkpxm1fYxEWjK8DWyMSuU-bLdhtlE/img.jpg?width=980" id="044f3" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="51461cc1dc19049c7803d4908ccf11dc" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1440" data-height="1080" />
Credit: Maxim_Kazmin/Adobe Stock<p>The most obvious way to keep a super intelligent AI from getting ahead of us is to limit its access to information by preventing it from connecting to the internet. The problem with limiting access to information, though, is that it would make any problem we assign the AI more difficult for it to solve. We would be weakening its problem-solving promise possibly to a point of uselessness.</p><p>The second approach that might be taken is to limit what a super-intelligent AI is capable of doing by programming into it certain boundaries. This might be akin to writer Isaac Asimov's <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_Laws_of_Robotics" target="_blank">Laws of Robotics</a>, the first of which goes: "A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm."</p><p>Unfortunately, says the study, a series of logical tests reveal that it's impossible to create such limits. Any such a containment algorithm, it turns out, would be self-defeating.</p>
Containment is impossible<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTUwNzc5OC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMzA0NDM1Mn0.ukZgrtJYO_SyrMH21-Y_UTanTh4fJjHtTCdXTsQBOA8/img.jpg?width=980" id="e2ad4" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9e146d1a69b254c88e5c62e36a87450d" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1440" data-height="753" />
Credit: UncleFredDesign/Adobe Stock<p>"If you break the problem down to basic rules from theoretical computer science, it turns out that an algorithm that would command an AI not to destroy the world could inadvertently halt its own operations. If this happened, you would not know whether the containment algorithm is still analyzing the threat, or whether it has stopped to contain the harmful AI. In effect, this makes the containment algorithm unusable."</p><p>The team investigated stacking containment algorithms, with each monitoring the behavior of the previous one, but eventually the same problem arises: The final check halts itself, rendering it unreliable.</p>
Too smart?<p>The Planck researchers also concluded that a similar bit of logic makes it impossible for us to know when a self-learning computer's intelligence has come to exceed our own. Essentially, we're not smart enough to be able to develop tests for intelligence superior to ours.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Machines take me by surprise with great frequency. This is largely because I do not do sufficient calculation to decide what to expect them to do." — Alan Turing</p><p>This means that it's entirely conceivable that an AI capable of self-learning may well quietly ascend to super-intelligence without our even knowing it — a scary reason all by itself to slow down our hurly-burley race to artificial intelligence.</p><p>In the end, we're left with a dangerous bargain to make or not make: Do we risk our safety in exchange for the possibility that AI will solve problems we can't?</p>
We look back at a year ravaged by a global pandemic, economic downturn, political turmoil and the ever-worsening climate crisis.
Billions are at risk of missing out on the digital leap forward, as growing disparities challenge the social fabric.
Image: Global Risks Report 2021<h3>Widespread effects</h3><p>"The immediate human and economic costs of COVID-19 are severe," the report says. "They threaten to scale back years of progress on reducing global poverty and inequality and further damage social cohesion and global cooperation."</p><p>For those reasons, the pandemic demonstrates why infectious diseases hits the top of the impact list. Not only has COVID-19 led to widespread loss of life, it is holding back economic development in some of the poorest parts of the world, while amplifying wealth inequalities across the globe.</p><p>At the same time, there are concerns the fight against the pandemic is taking resources away from other critical health challenges - including a <a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/09/charts-covid19-malnutrition-educaion-mental-health-children-world/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">disruption to measles vaccination programmes</a>.</p>
A new study explains how a chaotic region just outside a black hole's event horizon might provide a virtually endless supply of energy.