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Weekly Commentary - MAY 20, 2019

The emotional attachment to an illusion removes reality from being a priority

I remember that time when, still in my first grades of elementary school, I liked to watch a wrestling program once a week on a small black-and-white television set. But one day I stopped watching that show when, to the horror of my childhood mind, one of the fighters was injured and blood covered his face (even though I saw it only in black and white).

My emotional reaction to the blood running down the face of the masked fighter was so immediate that I remember turning off the television (the only one in the whole house) and running to my room, alarmed and disgusted by the show. In my recollection, my family got upset with me.

Then, many years later, when one of those masked fighters of my childhood retired, they interviewed him for one of the local newspapers and in that interview he revealed that the fight that had left him bloodied years earlier was, like all the other fights of his career, only a performance in which there was never real blood. Everything had been an illusion.

I felt disgusted, but this time disgusted with myself, because I had to acknowledge that my feelings and my understanding of reality had been intelligently manipulated by actors. My only defense was to remember that, at the time of the incident, I was a small child unable to fully distinguish between reality and illusion.

That incident, which for years remained forgotten in some dusty corner of my memory, unexpectedly returned to my mind when I read a few days ago a report indicating that, in the United States, between 10 million and 40 million people, according to different statistics, would not go to work to be able to see or after having seen the end of a well-known series of fiction.

Millions and millions of workers -not 6-year-old- will not go to work because they want to know who gets sit on certain imaginary throne. Suddenly, that’s more important that their obligations and responsibilities of daily life. And thee priority thus assigned to fantasy is based on emotional attachment to fictional characters.

I remember reading how, after the final episode of the series Friends in May 2004, for several weeks mental health and psychological counseling services in Florida and other states were overwhelmed by calls or visits from people who reacted to the end of Friends with the same symptomatology they would have reacted if a real person close to them would have died.

Similar situations were experienced after the cancellation or the end of other series and even after the "death" of fictional characters, which many viewers erroneously believed that corresponded to the actual death of the actor or actress representing that character.

In short, the well-know parasocial relationships (psychologically active relationships between a real person and a fictional character) are, paradoxically, very real. In fact, they are so real that they overcome reality and, therefore, they become reality. The masked ones continue to deceive us with their performances.

How do you solve a puzzle that changes every time you add a piece?

I think there is something worse and more complicated than trying to solve a puzzle without a complete image serving as a guide and it’s trying to solve a puzzle that changes every time you add a piece, so even if with all the pieces at hand there will never be a complete image to guide you.

Let's do that mental exercise. Let's think we have all the pieces of a puzzle and we have connected several of these pieces together, although there many more pieces to be connected. And let’s suppose that each time we connect another piece, the image formed by the pieces already connected changes, precisely because a new element has been added.

Let's also assume that we have a fairly clear idea of the final model and that model helps us choose the next piece we want to add to the puzzle. But once that piece is in place, everything changes, so that no image can be taken as the final image.

To further complicate the issue, other people are also constantly adding (or removing) pieces of the puzzle, sometimes accurately (in accordance with the model image) and sometimes insanely (although that doesn’t mean a new image will not emerge).

In short, the pieces are added one by one, in no particular order, and without necessarily connecting the new piece as one would have anticipated with the pieces already connected. And each new piece changes the whole image.

Is it possible under these conditions to solve the puzzle? Certainly, it is, although there are no guarantees that it will be possible to reach an "end", when all the pieces will remain static and with the “final” image looking more like a painting than something in movement.

But what is this experiment for? It serves to understand what is currently happening with the scientific and technological advances related to the search for human immortality and, more specifically, with the arrival of a techno-scientific transhumanism.

As in the puzzle of our thought experiment, many of the "pieces" to (potentially) achieve immortality are already emerging, such as connections between brains and computers, technological connections between brains, quantum super computers, and even new kinds of materials and states of matter hitherto unthinkable.

But every time a new piece is added to the puzzle of human techno-immortality, the whole puzzle changes, to the point that in many cases the interconnection between all the pieces is no longer seen. And it is not that the interconnection has been lost, but that the image that connects the pieces has changed.

For the inattentive person, the many announcements of scientific and technological advances seem to lack a unifying goal, a "guiding image". But that image exists and day after day becomes more and more clear, to the delight of Ray Kurzweil, who expects immortality by 2029. 

Obviously, following the example proposed above, there are no guarantees that the puzzle will be resolved definitively. But what if the puzzle is solved and we become immortal?

Our second genesis is imminent. Yet, we are not ready for it.

The "second genesis" of humanity is not only unavoidable, but imminent, and it includes the scientific confirmation of the existence of extraterrestrial life, thus modifying all aspects of our life on this planet, said a renowned Australian scientist.

According to Dr. Cathal D. O'Connell, researcher and director of the BioFab3D Center at St. Vincent Hospital of the University of Melbourne, Australia, a series of "remarkable discoveries" over the last two decades (including the identification of thousands of exoplanets) has cemented the possibility of the existence of extraterrestrial life.

Current calculations, says O'Connell, indicate that there are at least 40 billion planets like the earth in the universe observable by science, a number large enough to indicate that life is "inevitable".

Once the existence of that life is confirmed, that confirmation will mean a "second genesis" for humanity, because it will force us to rethink all aspects of human life, from biology and psychology to theology and philosophy.

This "second genesis" could be deepened and expanded in ways still impossible to fully predict if life found on another planet is totally different from what we know here, for example, a life not based on DNA.

But, what does it mean that confirmation of the finding of extraterrestrial life is "imminent"? What factor or element is the basis for O'Connell to say what he said? In his own words: "The ancient question “Are we alone?” has graduated from being a philosophical musing to a testable hypothesis."

How and when will that hypothesis be verified? As soon as 2021, said the Australian scientist, when the space telescope "James Webb" begins to analyze those exoplanets similar to the Earth already discovered. And soon after that, even more advanced telescopes will be able to take pictures of those planets.

For that reason, O'Connell suggests that "we should prepare" for the response the space telescopes could give us in a few years. We should be prepared for the "No. We are not alone in the universe."

But, I add, we are not prepared, and we will probably never be. After all, day after day we see countless examples of the intolerance of humans towards other humans, with whom we share DNA and the planet. And we see and suffer the destruction of the planet and its many non-human inhabitants.

Why do we destroy each other? Because “they” don’t think like us, or don’t speak like us, or don’t believe what we believe. Or simply because “they” are “they” and that’s reason enough to give free rein to our tribal thoughts.

Why do we destroy the planet? Because we see it as a "resource", as something we can and, for that reason, must "exploit". And then the "other" also becomes a resource for us to exploit.

If that is our attitude towards those with whom we share the planet and towards the very planet we live on, what will we do when extraterrestrial life is discovered? Or what will they do to us when they discover us?

Reality is dead. And we have killed it.

May Nietzsche forgive us (that is, me) for disrespectfully paraphrasing him, but it’s time to proclaim that "Reality is dead. And we've killed it. " In other words, the illusion that we have created has become so real that we have forgotten that it is an illusion, and, for that reason, we have forgotten reality. And forgetting is a way of killing.

Allow me to share an example. Recently, when reading the cover of an important newspaper of a South American country going through one of its many political and economic crises, I found the following: the main story of that newspaper was not about the crisis, nor about potential measures to solve it, but about what the final episode of Game of Thrones would be or should be.

In other words, the fate of fictional characters living in imaginary realms occupied more space, with more explanations, and with more photographs than the fate of real people living in a real country and facing a real crisis. But, when competing against Game of Thrones, reality, however dark, moves to a second place, or vanishes completely.

Obviously, the topic is not new. About 2300 years ago, Plato already warned in his famous Allegory of the Cave that, under the right conditions, we, human beings, will confuse illusion with reality and we will live all our lives believing that “This is the reality” and that we have learned something about reality, when it is only a fantasy.

But in the case of the Allegory of the Cave, for the illusion to work, the people inside the cavern must be prisoners held by chains in their positions, so that they were always looking in the same direction.

And a fire was needed behind the prisoners and it was also necessary for someone, using that fire, to cast shadows on the opposite wall of the cave, so that the prisoners could see those shadows (believing that those shadows were all of reality). 

More than two millennia later, the cave is no longer necessary, and we don’t need people creating shadows. At present, we ourselves, without the need of any physical chains, constantly project images (shadows) in front of our eyes, using all kinds of screens and artifacts. At the same time, we are the ones who create those images (simulations) that then we take as more real than reality itself.

We ourselves are our own prisoners, and, even worst, prisoners of our own illusions, without knowing that we are dealing with illusions or that we are our own captors. For that reason, we no longer know who we are, and that extreme alienation leads us to a weaponized narcissism that further separates us from others and even from the universe.

As writer Emma Rubio said in a recent article: "The sad thing about all this is that, faced with this simulation, we no longer know what to do with the real world, we no longer see the need for that residue called ‘existence’ ".

You can't teach a person who refuse to learn

You can’t help those who do not want to be helped and you can’t teach those who do not want to learn. Unfortunately for me, I learned those lessons late in life. In fact, I am just now learning them, so I mistakenly still believe that we should help the needy and educate those who need it. But, although it's hard for me to admit it, it's not like that anymore.

Only a few decades ago, when people attended an English as a Second Language class, they did it with the intention of learning that language, or that's what I thought. Nowadays, the "English class" has been transformed into a sort of hunting ground, in which each "student" doesn’t study English, but his or her "prey".

Far from paying attention to English (or finances, or nutrition, or whatever), they pay attention only to what they can sell to whom, or whom they can invite to an event, or how many "Likes" they can generate in that class.

Even worse -and it has recently happened to me a couple of times and I'm even ashamed to confess it-, there are those who come to the class knowing English, but pretend they don’t know it, only to blatantly steal the material and then take the students to "their" classes.

And those same people who don’t want to learn come to us with a long list of their problems and demand that we solve them. They don’t ask for help solving their problems. They want us to provide the complete solution, without them contributing anything for themselves or offering anything in return.

And there are also those who, pretending to teach, don’t do it. But nothing can be said to them because week after week they stand in front of hundreds and sometimes thousands of people, repeating the same thing over and over again, and receiving in return thunderous applauses from their admirers who neither understood nor paid attention to whatever they were told.

Recently, for example, I heard a "leader" (to give him a designation) "teaching" to a group of parents that they shouldn’t pay attention to new technologies and that "If technology becomes a problem, we should return to our countries." As if changing geography and going back to a nostalgically non-existent past were a solution.

And then there is the case of a person who, before hundreds of his followers (and I, by chance sitting among them), said that "things are so bad in today's world that the mortality rate among humans is almost 100 percent". I would have liked to ask him what he meant by "almost 100 percent mortality", but there was no opportunity to do it. 

In other words, is there any percentage, however tiny, of human who are not mortal? If this person has the answer, or if he is immortal, he could should it. But. in reality, it was pure charlatanism in search of a narcissistic applause.

Let each draw his or her own conclusions.

The end of the world as we know it is near (not a joke or a prophecy)

Western Civilization, now technologized and globalized, already has an expiration date: it will disappear in the coming decades and it will be replaced by a meta artificial intelligence (Meta-IA) in control of the planet, while each human being will live enclosed within his/her own techno-bubble, according to recognized experts. And what they say makes sense.

As we said above, this topic is neither a joke (it is based on reports by renowned experts) nor a prophecy (it is based on a future that is already emerging in the present, not on a projection from the present to the future).

According to the futurist Thomas Frey, from the Davinci Institute (near Denver), around the year 2040, there will no longer be a "common knowledge" (what could be called, as it was called before, "common sense", but that expression is now dilapidated).

In a report published last March, Frey said that "each person will live within their own hyper-individualized experience." Because of the lack of common knowledge, "virtually no one else can relate to their upbringing." Frey calls it the “divergence of human experiences.” Each of us will live a life separated from all others.

At the same time, the recognized expert in new technologies Shelly Palmer presented in his column last weekend a similar situation: the "Great Decoupling", which basically (that is, in a very simple version) means that human beings they will "disconnect" not only from each other, but also from the planet, and, because of that, a Meta-AI will take charge of controlling the artificial intelligences that in turn control humans.

According to Palmer, it will be a future of "useless humans, conscious, but not intelligent", controlled by a planetary artificial intelligence that may or may not become self-conscious.

Be that as it may, what once served as the basis of Western civilization, that philosophical or metaphysical unity which 2500 years ago Heraclitus called (in Greek) logos (something like "significant foundational connection", which may or may not to be perceived), is what is being lost, if we properly understand the "divergence" of which Frey speaks and the "decoupling" of which Palmer speaks.

And they can add several other experts with similar warnings about dystopian futures, including Yuval Noah Harari, in Homo Deus (intelligence separated from consciousness) and Otto Scharmer, in Leading from the Emerging Future (triple social, ecological and spiritual disconnection.)

The (Greek) logos that at some point became philosophically and existentially so important that early Christians recontextualized it and placed it at the center of its message ("In the beginning was the Logos") is dissipating as quickly as the disappearance of human intelligence and human consciousness.

Without that fundamental foundation, all the structures subsequently built on that basis will crumble, exactly as we are seeing it and living it today. If going back to the past is not an option, staying in the present is impossible, entering the new future is frightening, what should we do? Maybe we should reread Nietzsche, who, after all, was not that wrong.

If I say, “I know it”, then I don’t know it

A situation I face too often (for my taste) when presenting a new topic or a new idea to a group of students (whether young or adult) is the reaction "I already know that", followed by the mention of some kind of "source", mostly a movie, where a topic remotely related to the new idea previously presented is mentioned.

In other words, the students or participants mistakenly assume they already know something simply because at some point they heard, read, or saw something similar somewhere else, although that similarity is minimal and although they never seriously studied the subject.

Such mental closure, such refusal to open up to a new idea, a new concept, a new connection with the universe, is generally justified by saying "They already explained it in the movie ...", or "In a television program they talked about it ", or, even worse," I saw a post on this topic on social networks".

On the basis of that previous "knowledge", which in reality is not knowledge at all, the "student" ceases to be such, he deceives himself by making himself believe that he already knows something he doesn't know, and because of that, the student minimizes what he/she is hearing as something already known and, in fact, so well-known that you shouldn't pay any attention to it.

That confusion between having a very vague idea of ​​a subject and believing you are an expert on that subject is so great that it robs the "student" of the humility necessary to learn, since the one who say "I know" does not know or learn. Without humility, the "student" places himself as the judge of all knowledge, considering himself with the ability to make that value judgment.

In the vast majority of cases, little can be done to invite the person who "already knows everything" to open up to new possibilities of knowledge. In some exceptional cases, however, new ideas produce such cognitive dissonance that they force the person to at least review their ideas and opinions and, sometimes, even confess "I don't know".

At that moment, when we get off the epistemological and epistemological throne where we have placed ourselves, a new world opens up before us, a world where we may no longer be the "center" because ideas such as "center" and "control" no longer apply. But, to be honest, that level of intellectual and personal maturity is infrequent.

Most commonly, people mention a "celebrity" or even a certain medium or platform ("I saw it on television", "I read it on the Internet") as an indication that all the necessary knowledge on the subject has already been acquired and, therefore, there is no longer any need to think or talk about that issue. The bidirectional conversation and the learning process stop right there.

As a result, we lock ourselves into whatever little we know without ever seeing "the truly new in the truly old" (citing Lloyd Dickie) and without reaching the level of generative and creative empathy.

You say I know a lot? No. Actually, I don’t know anything

“You know a lot,” one participant told me after a recent presentation about the challenges of social and cultural integration. Obviously, that person is wrong in his appreciation of my knowledge and, after expressing sincere gratitude for his words, I told him so.

“Thank you very much,” I said, “but no, I don’t know much.” At best, I learned a few things before others did it and now, I can now share them.

I should have added "But knowing, no, I don’t know anything." This is not an ostentatious and irreverent repetition of what Socrates once said. In my case, my knowledge is so small that the oracle of Delphi would never even pay attention to me.

If we are going to talk about people not only knowledgeable about endless topics, but at the same time imbued with profound wisdom, then we should talk about my mentor, who for a decade guided me during my studies in philosophy. His patience with me was even greater than his knowledge.

In addition to writing countless books and articles and belonging to numerous academies, my mentor had completed five doctorates in different specialties, always related to humanities. Compared to him, with his exquisite mastery of several ancient and modern languages, with his authority in speaking, with his impeccable reasoning, I know nothing.

And I could never compare myself to my professor of philosophy, with whom I had the privilege of having studied for several years in college. He, in turn, had studied in Germany with some of the most renowned European philosophers of the last century. And then he went back to teach to young, inexperienced, unprepared college students.

But it is not just about people from my past, but also about the present, for example, my daughter who is currently completing a doctorate at a prestigious university. Although I double her in age and have many more years of formal education than she has, I still don’t even remotely reach the knowledge that she already acquired.

Someone may say, and rightly so, that it is irrelevant to know how much my mentor and my teacher knew, or how much my daughter has learned, or, in fact, how little I know. And someone else, probably with the best intentions, will tell me that I should not compare myself with others, because I am who I am and that I should be grateful for what I have learned.

All that is true. But it is also true that there were many lessons that I should have learned, and I didn’t, and others that I should have learned before, but it took me too long to do it. In addition, many lessons I learned and forgot. And an infinite number of lessons I will never learn.

In conclusion, everything I do, say, share or teach is based more on my ignorance than on what others assume I know. In fact, my actions and words openly reveal my ignorance. The wise thing is to recognize it.

The Titanic sank by “strictly” following the rules. So, what rules are sinking your life?

According to a book recently published by investigative journalist Senan Molony, one of the reasons that led to the sinking of the Titanic on April 15, 1912, was that the crew in charge of the ship “strictly followed the naval protocol.” In other words, if, instead of being so strict, they had been creative, 1500 lives would have been saved.

More specifically, according to Molony in his book Titanic: Why She Collided, Why She Sank and Why She Should Have Never Sailed, the decision to turn the boat to the right to avoid colliding with the famous iceberg caused the tragedy. That decision was made because, according to rules established in the 1850’s, that was the maneuver that the ships had to perform.

That this rule had been established to avoid frontal collisions between ships sailing in opposite directions, not to avoid collisions with icebergs. However, although the rule in question didn’t apply to the situation they faced, the crew of the Titanic decided to follow it, because that was what “the book” established, with tragic results.

Obviously, that was not the only cause of the sinking of the Titanic, as Molony says and explains. Another factor that contributed to the unexpected outcome includes the fact that Officer Joseph Boxhall, in charge of spotting the dangerous icebergs, was in his cabin instead of actively spotting icebergs.

And since its departure from Belfast five days before the sinking, a fire had broken out in the Titanic's cargo hold. The fire was never controlled and eventually it weakened the ship's hull, precisely where it was later irreparably damaged by the iceberg.

Of the many lessons that the Titanic still teaches us today, one of those lessons, in the form of an inevitable question, is this: What book (creed, doctrine, ideology, teaching), written decades or centuries ago, are you following in your life to make “correct" decisions” that slowly and inexorably lead you to the collapse and sinking of your life?

As in the case of the Titanic, time and again I have seen people trying to solve the new challenges of the present with the ideas of the past, as if it were possible to pour new wine in old wineskins, as someone once said.

When those people "sink" (financially, emotionally, and even existentially), it’s usually too late to discover that they believed more in their own beliefs than in what reality was showing to them. 

Another question: who should be at the command post of your life, sighting the dangers to be avoided, but that, instead of doing so, he/she is comfortably resting in his/her cabin? Maybe that “who” is your partner, your teacher, your parents, or someone important in your life. But in most cases, that “who” is yourself.

Finally, what internal fire is consuming you that, as with the Titanic, weakens you so much that a clash with life that shouldn’t have affected you now sinks you? Maybe it's time to take our lives more seriously than our believes. 


What color is your straitjacket?

In 1970, the well-known book What color is your parachute? was published for the first time. In it, Richard Nelson Bolles provided advice on how to look for and find a job. Half a century later, with all due respect to Bolles, the question has changed and now the book should be called What color is your straitjacket?

Even more, unlike what happens with the parachute, which you must prepare in advance to the moment you are planning to use it (otherwise, it would be too late), there is no previous preparation for the straitjacket: we are forced to use it and we gladly do it. In fact, we live in such a crazy time that we even choose the color of our straitjacket before using it, as if that were something normal and desirable.

Obviously, in the same way that Bolles didn’t talk about a “real” parachute, but used that image as a metaphor, I don’t speak of a “real” straitjacket, although that does not mean that we do not wear one, even voluntarily.

The straitjacket I'm talking about is the one we impose on ourselves by restricting reality, ideas and opportunities to what we already know or, even worse, to what they taught us and that we have adopted as an indisputable creed and as immovable doctrine.

“I can’t let you share those ideas with my group because those ideas could confuse the group participants and they will then ask questions about what they believe or should believe,” someone recently told me.

Translation: "I can’t allow you or anyone else to show the members of the group the straitjacket I imposed on them, because then they will take it off and they will leave me. And I myself will have to think about my own straitjacket, which I've been wearing for so long that I cann’t and will not take it off. "

In the time in which we live, as it has been tragically proven again and again (but also throughout history), closed minds and closed hearts are so strong that Procrustes himself would be envious to see how well we manage to reduce everything to our own narcissistic dimensions.

As Bernardette Roberts said in her book The Path to No-Self (1985), “Nothing is to be gained and a great deal is lost when we fit our experience to an acceptable framework and think no more about it”.

When we do that, when we proudly and unconsciously choose the color of the straitjacket that we will wear, we “don’t expand our knowledge,” we are “trapped in the illusion” and we don’t “progress internally”. Roberts emphasizes.

As Roberts says, if we do not leave “the door open”, that is, if we don’t move beyond a “rigid adherence” to our own ideas, not only we will not listen to the opinions of others, but we close ourselves to the “infinite possibilities” proper of being multidimensional humans. 

So, what color is your straitjacket and why are you still wearing it?

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