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The Sacred Geography of 21st Century Renaissance Civilization
“As viewed by astronauts from the moon, the earth lacks those lines of sociopolitical division that are so prominent on maps. And as recognized here below, the web of interlacing socioeconomic interdependencies that now enfold the planet is of one life. All that is required is a general change of vision to accord with those contemporary facts.”
– Joseph Campbell, The Inner Reaches of Outer Space
I’m reading Kevin Kelly’s What Technology Wants and he’s arguing that inevitability is a prime component of the evolutionary process, along with contingency and adaptation. In one chapter, he lists several pages of instances of massive simultaneous parallel invention: Elisha Gray’s patent application for the telephone three hours before Alexander Graham Bell; the twenty three inventors of the light bulb (with Edison dead last); the six independent discoveries of the principles behind the atom bomb. Innovation seems to precipitate out of society at crucial densities, the same way silver nitrate precipitates in solution – or, as American academia is increasingly and finally convinced, life precipitates wherever the basic preconditions allow for primitive metabolisms.
In other words, re-run history and get nearly identical results – different names and details, same general idea – but in this alternate world the stop lights are still red, because of the psychophysiological constraints of fruit-adapted color vision in primates, which we inherited. No matter which way the river runs down the mountain, the water still carves oxbows, finds an ocean, evaporates and rains again. Competitive incentives for social cooperation evolved multicellularity over forty times on Earth (that we know of), make cities one of the most successful ideas in natural history – and basically guarantee human beings of some kind or another on every living world, eventually.
If we entertain this reversal of 20th Century biological doctrine, it isn’t merely intellectual property law that gets turned on its head. If technological adaptation – where “technology” includes all ideas, no matter how abstract – is a partially-determined, quasicrystal chemical reaction, there may be ways to study the flow of ideas in society, to follow the eddies and currents as they self-assemble into the Next Big Thing before our number-crunching eyes.
(Image courtesy of Aaron Koblin.)
Imagine zooming out to geosynchronous orbit and watching a map of light points rippling like the chromataphores of a cuttlefish as the location of everyone feeling love/thinking about the future/playing jazz pops up, illuminating the cloud-hidden coastlines. Art and Science, both children of Magic, made love and gave birth to Creative Data Visualization, which makes the world while pretending to discover it, immersing us in a new programmable landscape of sensor accumulations. In so doing, we have mutated from the individual persons to whom we were born and linked our filaments, sharing eyes, ears – and soon noses, skin – in a thin gauze of copper over everything. Each of us is at the nexus of innumerable fields, and the human species a grid of photon-emitting nodes, receiving and transmitting vastly more information than passes into the you-don’t-need-to-know-space of conscious awareness. The Moon passes through its phases, the tides rise, and gravity pulls on the rock beneath us – squeezing tectonic plates and creating a cyclical piezoelectric current that modulates human hormone release. Sunspots seem to come and go in time with wars and feel-good music.
And I’m reading Kelly’s book on a week I’ve been weirdly nocturnal, and my friends across the country are losing sleep too, and while I’m night-owling it again in conversation with my friend in a crowded club he says to me, “We are electrical beings, constantly in communication with our environments. I bet with the right equipment we could see emotions passing through neighborhoods and cities like waves, everyone alone in their homes thinking it’s only happening to them.” Meanwhile, web bot experiment HalfPastHuman scours the internet for changing associations between three hundred thousand distinct search entities and from them builds a map of the next year – because we all talk about the future like birds before earthquakes, only we don’t think we do. Step far enough away from the chatter to see the patterns and genius is essentially ripeness, or what we call those first to ripen. (Tell me if you are so much more attached to one orange, than another…)
Gazing down from space we notice the ancient pyramids lining up along tropical meridians, aligned to the ancient constellations. Did they know where they were building, or did they simply follow their hunches, coordinated not by a lost global civilization but by a deeper connection to the intuitive information of the planetary lattice of sacred “power spots?” How do we today, with our allegedly rational civil planning, claim we are not merely doing as the land tells us – that we are not the land itself, as orderly as fluorite, or iron filings lining up to the silent guidance of a magnet?
(Photo courtesy of Murray Mitchell.)
Earlier revolutions celebrated a new level of global solidarity discovered through telegraph, radio, television, the internet. If we can see a person, we can feel their suffering, and suddenly I the American am you the Chinese. National governments, once the proudest achievement of the biosphere, are now a planetary auto-immune disorder fighting the butterfly of a unified humankind as it liquidates the caterpillar to make room for wings. (Yes, “liquidates.” Economic crisis is a symptom of transformation. You can’t do that much mindless eating without having to reckon with your debt.)
It isn’t just privacy that is at stake, here – it is the discrete self of rational ethics, an individual with the audacity to say, as Ayn Rand did, “Nobody helped me,” and ignore the trillions of bacterial cells covering and constituting every cell of her body, breathing the air and eating the sugar. To say it takes a village to raise a child is a severe understatement, and increasingly the average person seems aware that the average person is a village, and a global village.
So this all starts right here by recognizing that you live on a spherical creature spiraling around the Sun’s own helical trajectory through the dynamic interstellar medium, through cosmic dust and lightning storms, and whichever way you point we can go no deeper into “space” than we already are. And as the feeling of humanity as a layer stretching out in every direction on the surface of this sphere increases, as you can almost sense those people in their houses, watching tv or making love or crying about work, the children wondering what adulthood is like, the adults wondering about God…this is you, this is your body, and everyone’s successes are your successes. Every new idea is as yours as your heartbeat – out of your control but part of what defines your being in this time and place.
And so like the old saying goes, “Let a hundred flowers bloom.” Let every orange blossom open, and this tree stand in its full splendor.
Originally published at The Renaissance Project.
Paleontologist turned performing philosopher, Michael Garfield’s multimedia maps of the evolutionary landscape and our place in it are an attempt to demonstrate that everything is equally art, science, and spiritual practice. Follow him on twitter: @michaelgarfield
What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
With just a few strategical tweaks, the Nazis could have won one of World War II's most decisive battles.
- The Battle of Britain is widely recognized as one of the most significant battles that occurred during World War II. It marked the first major victory of the Allied forces and shifted the tide of the war.
- Historians, however, have long debated the deciding factor in the British victory and German defeat.
- A new mathematical model took into account numerous alternative tactics that the German's could have made and found that just two tweaks stood between them and victory over Britain.
Two strategic blunders<p>Now, historians and mathematicians from York St. John University have collaborated to produce <a href="http://www-users.york.ac.uk/~nm15/bootstrapBoB%20AAMS.docx" target="_blank">a statistical model (docx download)</a> capable of calculating what the likely outcomes of the Battle of Britain would have been had the circumstances been different. </p><p>Would the German war effort have fared better had they not bombed Britain at all? What if Hitler had begun his bombing campaign earlier, even by just a few weeks? What if they had focused their targets on RAF airfields for the entire course of the battle? Using a statistical technique called weighted bootstrapping, the researchers studied these and other alternatives.</p><p>"The weighted bootstrap technique allowed us to model alternative campaigns in which the Luftwaffe prolongs or contracts the different phases of the battle and varies its targets," said co-author Dr. Jaime Wood in a <a href="https://www.york.ac.uk/news-and-events/news/2020/research/mathematicians-battle-britain-what-if-scenarios/" target="_blank">statement</a>. Based on the different strategic decisions that the German forces could have made, the researchers' model enabled them to predict the likelihood that the events of a given day of fighting would or would not occur.</p><p>"The Luftwaffe would only have been able to make the necessary bases in France available to launch an air attack on Britain in June at the earliest, so our alternative campaign brings forward the air campaign by three weeks," continued Wood. "We tested the impact of this and the other counterfactuals by varying the probabilities with which we choose individual days."</p><p>Ultimately, two strategic tweaks shifted the odds significantly towards the Germans' favor. Had the German forces started their campaign earlier in the year and had they consistently targeted RAF airfields, an Allied victory would have been extremely unlikely.</p><p>Say the odds of a British victory in the real-world Battle of Britain stood at 50-50 (there's no real way of knowing what the actual odds are, so we'll just have to select an arbitrary figure). If this were the case, changing the start date of the campaign and focusing only on airfields would have reduced British chances at victory to just 10 percent. Even if a British victory stood at 98 percent, these changes would have cut them down to just 34 percent.</p>
A tool for understanding history<p>This technique, said co-author Niall Mackay, "demonstrates just how finely-balanced the outcomes of some of the biggest moments of history were. Even when we use the actual days' events of the battle, make a small change of timing or emphasis to the arrangement of those days and things might have turned out very differently."</p><p>The researchers also claimed that their technique could be applied to other uncertain historical events. "Weighted bootstrapping can provide a natural and intuitive tool for historians to investigate unrealized possibilities, informing historical controversies and debates," said Mackay.</p><p>Using this technique, researchers can evaluate other what-ifs and gain insight into how differently influential events could have turned out if only the slightest things had changed. For now, at least, we can all be thankful that Hitler underestimated Britain's grit.</p>
We’ve mapped a million previously undiscovered galaxies beyond the Milky Way. Take the virtual tour here.
See the most detailed survey of the southern sky ever carried out using radio waves.
Astronomers have mapped about a million previously undiscovered galaxies beyond the Milky Way, in the most detailed survey of the southern sky ever carried out using radio waves.
A new study shows our planet is much closer to the supermassive black hole at the galaxy's center than previously estimated.
Credit: NAOJ<p><em>Arrows on this map show position and velocity data for the 224 objects utilized to model the Milky Way Galaxy. The solid black lines point to the positions of the spiral arms of the Galaxy. Colors reflect groups of objects that are part of the same arm, while the background is a simulation image.</em></p>
Apple sold its first iPod in 2001, and six years later it introduced the iPhone, which ushered in a new era of personal technology.