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Solzhenitsyn and the One True Progress
Judging from their mid-term essays, I would say that among the many and diverse books and essays we've read so far in my course in technology, the one that has impressed the students the most is the Russian anti-communist dissident and writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's "We Have Ceaser to See the Purpose," an address given to the International Academy of Philosophy in Liechtenstein in 1993. I have not been able to find the text conveniently linkable online. It can be found in The Solzhenitsyn Reader, edited by Mahoney and Ericson (ISI Books).
Let me give you some especially provocative quotes:
1. "It is up to us to stop seeing [technological] Progress (which cannot be stopped by anyone or anything) as a stream of unlimited blessings, and rather view it as a gift from on high, sent down for an extremely intricate trial of free will." Quick takeaway: Technological progress is a gift, one made possible by capabilities for freedom members of our species alone have been given. It's not a gift for a life full of unlimited freedom and enjoyment. It's a tough and complicated moral challenge. Can we use our "free will" to subordinate our unprecedented techno-freedom to properly human purposes and concerns? We won't be able to feel good without being good. More than ever, we'll have to be good—to practice virtuous "self-limitation"—to live well, to be happy. Those who believe that techno-progress can be stopped, that we can simply choose to avoid this new trial, are wrong.
2. "And nothing so bespeaks the current helplessness of our spirit, our intellectual disarray, as the loss of a clear and calm attitude toward death...." Although we don't talk much about death, we're more death-haunted than ever. Solzhenitsyn hears "the howl of existentialism" rising; "life has become a harrowing prospect indeed." Nothing makes us more dazed and confused—more in the thrall of diversion and self-denial—than being unable to live well with death.
3. "Man...began to deem himself the center of his surroundings, adapting not himself to the world but the world to himself. And, then, of course, the thought of death becomes unbearable: It is the extinction of an entire universe at a stroke." The end of ME is the end of being itself. No Darwinian, of course, could think that, and no Christian either. That all of being centers around me is the purely techno-view; making my surroundings more all about me is the only change I can believe in. If "the thought of death is unberaable," then we really can't think much at all about who we are and what we're supposed to do.
4. "The gift of heightened life expectancy has, as one of its consequences, made the elder generation into a burden for its children, while dooming the former to a lingering loneliness, to abandonment in old age by loved ones, and to an irreparable rift from the joy of passing on their experience to the young." Living longer is a good for which we should be grateful. But it has its costs, especially for the old. Being a lonely, relatively joyless, abandoned burden is better than be being dead. It really is, though, a huge trial for free will. And the rest of us (well, the rest of you) must find the virtue to do what you can to repair relational virtue enough not to abandon—to, in fact, love—those who really do tend to be most deprived of purpose in the techno-world filled with preferential options for the young. If you think about it, more than ever you need the experience of the old to be passed on to you.
5. "There can be only one true Progress: the sum total of the spiritual progresses of individuals; the degree of self-perfection in the course of their lives." The only real Progress is personal, and the only really Progressive society is full of individuals who have devoted themselves to the pursuit of self-perfection through self-limitation in the service of a spiritual purpose higher than comfort and material enjoyment. The truly Progressive focus should always be the predicament of the free but limited being born to love and die.
There's a lot more, of course.
This storm rained electrons, shifted energy from the sun's rays to the magnetosphere, and went unnoticed for a long time.
- An international team of scientists has confirmed the existence of a "space hurricane" seven years ago.
- The storm formed in the magnetosphere above the North magnetic pole.
- The storm posed to risk to life on Earth, though it might have interfered with some electronics.
What do you call that kind of storm when it forms over the Arctic ocean?<iframe width="730" height="430" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/8GqnzBJkWcw" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe><p> Many objects in space, like Earth, the Sun, most of the planets, and even some large moons, have magnetic fields. The area around these objects which is affected by these fields is known as the magnetosphere.</p><p>For us Earthlings, the magnetosphere is what protects us from the most intense cosmic radiation and keeps the solar wind from affecting our atmosphere. When charged particles interact with it, we see the aurora. Its fluctuations lead to changes in what is known as "space weather," which can impact electronics. </p><p>This "space hurricane," as the scientists are calling it, was formed by the interactions between Earth's magnetosphere and the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interplanetary_magnetic_field" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">interplanetary magnetic field,</a> the part of the sun's magnetosphere that goes out into the solar system. It took on the familiar shape of a cyclone as it followed magnetic fields. For example, the study's authors note that the numerous arms traced out the "footprints of the reconnected magnetic field lines." It rotated counter-clockwise with a speed of nearly 7,000 feet per second. The eye, of course, was still and <a href="https://www.sciencealert.com/for-the-first-time-a-plasma-hurricane-has-been-detected-in-space" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">calm</a>.</p><p>The storm, which was invisible to the naked eye, rained electrons and shifted energy from space into the ionosphere. It seems as though such a thing can only form under calm situations when large amounts of energy are moving between the solar wind and the upper <a href="https://www.reading.ac.uk/news-and-events/releases/PR854520.aspx" target="_blank">atmosphere</a>. These conditions were modeled by the scientists using 3-D <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-021-21459-y#Sec10" target="_blank">imaging</a>.<br><br>Co-author Larry Lyons of UCLA explained the process of putting the data together to form the models to <a href="https://www.nbcnews.com/science/space/space-hurricane-rained-electrons-observed-first-time-rcna328" target="_blank">NBC</a>:<br><br>"We had various instruments measuring various things at different times, so it wasn't like we took a big picture and could see it. The really fun thing about this type of work is that we had to piece together bits of information and put together the whole picture."<br><br>He further mentioned that these findings were completely unexpected and that nobody that even theorized a thing like this could exist. <br></p><p>While this storm wasn't a threat to any life on Earth, a storm like this could have noticeable effects on space weather. This study suggests that this could have several effects, including "increased satellite drag, disturbances in High Frequency (HF) radio communications, and increased errors in over-the-horizon radar location, satellite navigation, and communication systems."</p><p>The authors <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-021-21459-y#Sec8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">speculate</a> that these "space hurricanes" could also exist in the magnetospheres of other planets.</p><p>Lead author Professor Qing-He Zhang of Shandong University discussed how these findings will influence our understanding of the magnetosphere and its changes with <a href="https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2021-03/uor-sho030221.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">EurekaAlert</a>:</p><p>"This study suggests that there are still existing local intense geomagnetic disturbance and energy depositions which is comparable to that during super storms. This will update our understanding of the solar wind-magnetosphere-ionosphere coupling process under extremely quiet geomagnetic conditions."</p>
Research reveals a new evolutionary feature that separates humans from other primates.
- Researchers find a new feature of human evolution.
- Humans have evolved to use less water per day than other primates.
- The nose is one of the factors that allows humans to be water efficient.
A model of water turnover for humans and chimpanzees who have similar fat free mass and body water pools.
Credit: Current Biology
Being skeptical isn't just about being contrarian. It's about asking the right questions of ourselves and others to gain understanding.
- It's not always easy to tell the difference between objective truth and what we believe to be true. Separating facts from opinions, according to skeptic Michael Shermer, theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss, and others, requires research, self-reflection, and time.
- Recognizing your own biases and those of others, avoiding echo chambers, actively seeking out opposing voices, and asking smart, testable questions are a few of the ways that skepticism can be a useful tool for learning and growth.
- As Derren Brown points out, being "skeptical of skepticism" can also lead to interesting revelations and teach us new things about ourselves and our psychology.