Pursue Paradox to Shift Perspective, with Jonathon Keats
Keats explains how he combined string theory with San Francisco real estate to explore the relationships between paradoxical concepts.
Jonathon Keats is a San Francisco-based experimental philosopher who has, over the years, sold real estate in the extra dimensions of space-time proposed by string theory (he sold a hundred and seventy-two extra-dimensional lots in the Bay Area in a single day); made an attempt to genetically engineer God (God turns out to be related to the cyanobacterium); and copyrighted his own mind (in order to get a seventy-year post-life extension.
Keats's bold experiments raise serious questions and put into practice his conviction that the world needs more "curious amateurs," willing to explore publicly whatever intrigues them, in defiance of a culture that increasingly forecloses on wonder and siloes knowledge into narrowly defined areas of expertise.
Jonathon Keats: Around six or seven years ago San Francisco, the city where I live, was going through a real estate boom. Being an experimental philosopher I didn't have a lot of money to invest and at the same time I didn't want to completely stand on the sidelines and let this happen without in someway participating, in someway partaking of this extraordinary transformation of my city. Happily I had been reading some string theory, which proved to be remarkably useful for purposes of participating in the real estate market with the small resources that I had. Namely the amount of money I had in my wallet, which was probably not more than $20 or $30. String theory is fascinating for the fact that it reconciles quantum mechanics and general relativity, the two greatest explanations that we have of the fundamental forces of nature in the universe for the first time arguably, but with certain caveats. That is to say that string theory works on the basis that they're being more than three dimensions of space. There need to be, well it's a different number depending on who you talk to but at least you would want 11 perhaps more. These dimensions are of course nothing that we have ever experienced. And the explanation is that there curled up very small. That is they're planck length or ten to the negative 35th meters. And we don't even notice them. In fact our largest equipment, the Large Hadron Collider, would not penetrate at the scale that we're talking about because you would need one the size of our solar system to be able to probe at that small-scale.
So string theory is somewhat speculative. Well, real estate is also somewhat speculative so I decided it was what I would do is I would take string theory and these extra dimensions of space as a basis of a real estate gambit that would begin by my approaching people and offering to purchase the rights to develop in those extra dimensions of space using the legal framework of air rights. Air rights are typically used for purchasing the sky above a plot of land. And this has been a process that has been used in the United States and elsewhere for a very long time. So there was a good president for it and I could write contracts on that basis. Delving into the latest realm of physics at it's most speculative by finding people who had real estate and therefore had no reason why they couldn't sell those extra dimensions and not a lot of reason to hold onto them. So I purchased extra dimensional real estate, that is to say the rights to develop the extra dimensions of approximately seven properties in the San Francisco bay area. And then opened a real estate office in which I subdivided and offered subdivisions at deeply discounted prices.
I took the Zillow price for each property and I slashed it by a million so that you were able to purchase properties for several cents, a few dollars. It was something that anyone could buy into.
There's something paradoxical about science in the age of string theory. That is to say that science is based on observation. You make an observation about the ground under your feet or the sky above your head and you build a theory on that basis. And that theory is a tool by which you are able to make keener observations and so forth and we get from ancient to present systems of science and they get more and more sophisticated as they go. However string theory posits that there are extra dimensions of space that may not only be beyond anything that has ever experimentally been probed but might experimentally not be probable. In other words that science, through this iterative process of observation and theory, may reach a point where paradoxically the theory does not allow for a subsequent observation. That might be a -- that might be a cause for midlife crisis were I a scientist.
But as an experimental philosopher it seems to me to be an extraordinary opportunity because real estate also is a very strange concept. The idea of owning land, which has always been there and will be there long after were gone, the idea that something as abstract as real estate can pertain to something as concrete as physical as the earth itself seems to me to be one of these unseen paradoxes, one of these undiscussed qualities of a system that we all take for granted. So by taking string theory and applying into real estate, real estate becomes problematized by that process. And people transact my buying land in those extra dimensions in a way that makes them part of that whole problematic system. And that potentially becomes a way in which we can think about real estate with a greater degree of specificity or at least from a different perspective than we did before. At the same time I think that real estate, because it's something that is familiar to all of us and something that we can transact in almost as a matter of course, provides a means by which we can probe physics today and the meaning of physics when physics extends beyond what is testable when science becomes in a sense inherently unscientific by its own scientific process. We're going to have to grapple with that perhaps because string theory still seems to be the best system going.
So how do we deal with that? What does science become when science reaches that point? I think that when we get outside of the laboratory, or many of us who never would enter into the lab, start taking part in that conversation that we prepare ourselves for what is a deep philosophical change that perhaps may take place in our society as science advances beyond the stage that it is currently reached.
A paradox may seem like a dead end. And you probably reach dead ends or what appeared to be dead ends on a pretty regular basis in your life. I know that I do. I think that this is why life is as frustrating as it can be. But dead ends need not be so dead after all. If you take a dead end and you apply it to another dead end you have nothing to lose, there both dead ends after all, that you might actually find a path through one by way of the other. The paradox that is to say the crisis that occurs often when you are pursuing something that leads to internal contradictions, contradictions that you just can't figure out how to reconcile, is something that you can sometimes work your way around in non-obvious ways. You can come up with those just by thinking about them sometimes but it isn't always so easy to sit back and to work your way through the problem. Often if you work outside of the problem space by way of taking up another problem space you find that you found a path through that you might never have found had you addressed or had you struck up with a blunt instrument of reason where that reason was not moderated by alternate ways of thinking, by other ideas that may come from distant realms.
"String theory is fascinating," says experimental philosopher Jonathon Keats, "for the fact that it reconciles quantum mechanics and general relativity, the two greatest explanations that we have of the fundamental forces of nature in the universe for the first time arguably, but with certain caveats." He explains how string theory, by nature, is somewhat speculative. Also speculative is the real estate market, in particular the booming market where Keats lives in San Francisco. In this video, Keats explains a thought experiment in which he combined the two concepts to explore the ways in which paradoxical elements interact. Part of what he found was that, even though paradoxes feel like dead ends, there are ways to navigate out of them and perhaps even carve a new path of thought through them.
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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>
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.
- In 1969, the physicist Roger Penrose first proposed a way in which it might be possible to extract energy from a black hole.
- A new study builds upon similar ideas to describe how chaotic magnetic activity in the ergosphere of a black hole may produce vast amounts of energy, which could potentially be harvested.
- The findings suggest that, in the very distant future, it may be possible for a civilization to survive by harnessing the energy of a black hole rather than a star.
The ergosphere<p>The ergosphere is a region just outside a black hole's event horizon, the boundary of a black hole beyond which nothing, not even light, can escape. But light and matter just outside the event horizon, in the ergosphere, would also be affected by the immense gravity of the black hole. Objects in this zone would spin in the same direction as the black hole at incredibly fast speeds, similar to objects floating around the center of a whirlpool.</p><p>The Penrose process states, in simple terms, that an object could enter the ergosphere and break into two pieces. One piece would head toward the event horizon, swallowed by the black hole. But if the other piece managed to escape the ergosphere, it could emerge with more energy than it entered with.</p><p>The movie "Interstellar" provides an example of the Penrose process. Facing a fuel shortage on a deep-space mission, the crew makes a last-ditch effort to return home by entering the ergosphere of a blackhole, ditching part of their spacecraft, and "slingshotting" away from the black hole with vast amounts of energy.</p><p>In a recent study published in the American Physical Society's <a href="https://journals.aps.org/prd/abstract/10.1103/PhysRevD.103.023014" target="_blank" style="">Physical Review D</a><em>, </em>physicists Luca Comisso and Felipe A. Asenjo used similar ideas to describe another way energy could be extracted from a black hole. The idea centers on the magnetic fields of black holes.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Black holes are commonly surrounded by a hot 'soup' of plasma particles that carry a magnetic field," Comisso, a research scientist at Columbia University and lead study author, told <a href="https://news.columbia.edu/energy-particles-magnetic-fields-black-holes" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Columbia News</a>.</p>
Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration<p>While there might not be immediate applications for the theory, it could help scientists better understand and observe black holes. On an abstract level, the findings may expand the limits of what scientists imagine is possible in deep space.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Thousands or millions of years from now, humanity might be able to survive around a black hole without harnessing energy from stars," Comisso said. "It is essentially a technological problem. If we look at the physics, there is nothing that prevents it."</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>
A popular and longstanding wave of thought in psychology and psychotherapy is that diagnosis is not relevant for practitioners in those fields.