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WEEKLY COMMENTARY

Should we deny the possibility of intelligent extraterrestrial octopi living on earth?

Just a few days ago (May 13, 2018), an international group of more than 30 scientists from different universities published a paper together analyzing the cause of the “Cambrian explosion” an “explosion” of life that happened on earth around 500 million years ago. They conclude the “explosion” probably had a “cosmic” cause (that is, extraterrestrial.)

The research, led by Dr. Edward Steele and his many colleagues, was published at the Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology magazine. According to Steele, a virus from outer space could be linked to the “evolutionary diversification” of life on earth. Even more amazing, it is possible that intelligent octopi (cephalopods) also have a cosmic origin.

In other words, octopi are intelligent because they got their intelligence from other space. Otherwise, it would be very difficult to explain their evolution of the “complex intelligence” of those animals.

Perhaps (my words), octopi are the long-lost intelligent extraterrestrial beings we were looking for, and they are here on earth.

Obviously, as soon as the hypothesis was announced, scientists, experts, and reports quickly dismissed it. Many said the otherworldly origin of octopi is simply unacceptable. Others said the hypothesis is pure nonsense. After all, who in his/her right mind would ever dare to say that octopi are intelligent beings from outer space?

I have no idea where octopi came from. That one of the millions of things I don’t know. I do know, however, that “experts” and “scientists” once said earth was flat. And when it was time to accept earth was round, those same “experts” and “scientists” insisted earth the center of the universe.

Eventually, centuries later, earth lost its privilege place in the universe. But then it was said (even until 70 years ago or so) that the Milky Was encompassed the whole universe.

It took decades of many experiments and observations to reluctantly accept the Milky Way was but one among countless galaxies in the universe. At first, of course, it was believed that the Milky Way was the bigger of the galaxies. That’s not the case. And perhaps our universe is but one among a countless plurality of universes.

Just a couple of centuries ago, “experts” and “scientists” rejected the idea of meteorites coming from space. They said heavy “stone” can’t fly high enough to then fall from the sky. And even if that could happen, stones don’t burn. So, they were sure people who saw meteorites falling down were simply mistaken.

Also, the idea of the continental drift was finally accepted just last century. The hypothesis was presented a long time before that. Yet, when it was proposed, it was ridiculed in the same way that the ideas of meteorites from space and of octopi from space were ridiculed.

So, we need to be careful about saying “That’s wrong and it can’t be true”. In saying so, we are reveling more about our loyalty to a certain dogma and people than about our openness of heart and mind to a new mysterious reality.

 

Which word or idea makes you stumble?

Francisco Miraval

I recently had the good fortune of meeting an educator, now retired, who shared with me anecdotes about his long career. I asked him what “education” meant for him and he immediately said that education is the process of detecting the words that create obstacles for a student and then helping the student to overcome those obstacles.

Talking about elementary school students, this educator provided many examples of students who, facing a word they never saw before, simply stop reading and, in many cases, they don’t even ask for help.

However, he said, those cases are easy to resolve because the student acknowledges that he/she found a word he/she doesn’t understand. With help and the proper methodology, the student will learn the meaning of the “new” word and, more importantly, will incorporate the word to his/her vocabulary.

There is, however, a more complex situation. Sometimes, a student finds a word, be it at school or at home, and, because he/she knows one meaning of that word, the student assumes he/she understand what that word means in that particular context. Consequently, the student arrives to a wrong conclusion of the meaning of the word, sometimes with absurd and hilarious results.

Those cases are more challenging because the student believes he/she understood what he/she read or heard, when in fact that’s not the case. In the case of students in elementary school, they also have the challenge of accepting new meanings for words they already know. For example, how many meanings the word “one” has. One can only guess.

The educator I met, clearly a wise person (and, by the way, with degrees in several fields, from medicine to AI), told me there is a case even more difficult to solve, perhaps the hardest one to solve, even harder than a student not knowing a word or knowing only one meaning of the word. And that’s the case of adults and, more precisely, professional adults finding a “new” word.

Why? Because, contrary to what children do (they stop reading), adults don’t stop and, even worse, they create their own meaning for the word or idea they don’t understand. Among professionals, the problem is even worse because they can’t admit, to themselves or to others, that they don’t know.

According to the educator, instead of acknowledging they stumble upon a case of their own ignorance, professionals keep going, traveling farther and farther in the path of ignorance, being certain they know when, in fact, they don’t.

The educator told me about a lawyer who, not knowing the meaning of “alas”, thought it was similar to “at last” and, therefore, used “alas” to indicate the conclusion of his arguments.

Perhaps they were never taught how to stop and reflect if they find a “small mystery”, such as a new word or idea. Or perhaps they were taught, but they never learned to “look inside” and recognize they don’t know.

Each word or idea that causes you to stumble is an excellent opportunity for self-discovery.

A limited perception creates a limited reality and its consequences

Paraphrasing Ortega y Gasset, we could say “I am I and my consequences,” that is, those consequences, frequently unknown and unrecognized, of living in a limited reality created by our own limiting thoughts. Even worse, we assume that’s the whole reality and then we want everything and everybody to adjust to “our” reality.

A recent incident at Colorado State university in Fort Collins is a good example of that situation. (The incident lead to positive changes at CSU.)

During a campus tour for prospective students, the mother of one of those students called campus police to report two young people who, she said, were not part of the group, yet joined the group and were acting in a strange way. According to the woman, one of the students was Mexican. Police came, stopped the two persons and questioned them.

It was soon discovered that everything the woman said was false. The two persons were indeed part of the tour. They were late after traveling seven hours by car to arrive at CSU. They didn’t know what to expect because it was their first time on campus. And they were not Mexican, but Native Americans from New Mexico.

I have not doubts about what happened that day: the woman (whose identity remains unknown) saw two young man dressed in a way not “normal” for her, acting a way not “normal” for her, and not answering the questions in a “normal” way for her and she did what every “normal” person will do: she called the police.

She never saw the two brothers were from a family with limited resources and they just wanted to go to college. She never thought not everybody is ready or willing to answer those questions you have to answer at the beginning of the tour, that is, those “icebreakers” when you have to talk about your favorite food or animals. (By the way, I don’t like those questions either.)

So, there was no crime about to be committed. It just two young man being at the right place to do what they wanted to do. But they were not like the “others”, so the “others” decided to call the police. That’s the way many universities treat us. I will not say anything else about that.

In his book The Song of the Bird, Anthony De Mello tells the story about two young devils who, walking on earth, found a piece of truth on the ground. On the devils thought it was proper to bury the piece of truth, but the other one, older and wiser, thought otherwise. One day, he said, a human will find the piece of truth and he/she will assume that’s the complete truth.

To believe that “my” truth is “the” truth is not only a clear indication of narcissism and living inside an echo-chamber, buy also of immaturity. In a globalized and interconnected world, assuming there is only one way of living and thinking, ours, is an inexcusable expression of aggressive ignorance.

Machines can read our minds, but we can’t read their minds

In 1928, Carl Jung, quoting Heraclitus, wrote that we, humans, are running into the opposite direction we should or could go. My small mind prevents me to understand the ideas of those two great thinkers, but that doesn’t mean I can feel the truth in what they are saying. I can’t express it, but I feel it.

We can imagine that after thousands upon thousands of years of progress, evolution, civilization, or whatever name you would like to call it, we should have arrived by now at a time when we should be able to solve most of our many problems. We should have achieved the dreams and goals our ancestors hopelessly worked hard to achieve.

There are no doubts we have the knowledge, the science, and the technology to end hunger and poverty around the world, if we wanted to do it. And perhaps we have all the resources to provide liberating education to almost anybody on this planet, as well as health services for many, if not all, of humanity.

Yet, it seems that “progress” and the globalization of a techno-scientific way of thinking and living led us to forgetting the past and neglecting the future, that is, we don’t know where we are coming from or where we are going. We even forgot about seriously asking those questions and then we forgot that we forgot.

After all, who, in their right mind, have the time to read and study 2500 years of Western thinking? Let’s be honest: we seldom take even a few minutes per day to meditate, even knowing meditating daily for just a few minutes creates significant benefits for both our mind and our body.

We just want to perpetuate a past and we want to impose our present to others. Therefore, we are not open to the future.

In fact, we are so closed to the future that we assume that if what we (as an individual, community, or nation) is not achieve, the only other alternative is the end of the world. We see ourselves as controlling the Apocalypse (in the Hollywood sense of the word.) Then, we like to propagate fear to others and we like to live in fear ourselves.

Obviously, not everybody is like that. There is a considerable number of people who, like Heraclitus and Jung, are aware of what many others are still unaware. They are fully aware we are running precisely into the opposite direction of where we say we are going. We are running in the wrong direction.

And while we don’t know what we are thinking, intelligent machines, such as AlterEgo (created by MIT students) can read our unconscious thoughts by detecting minute neuromuscular movements in our faces.

AlterEgo knows what we are thinking, and we don’t know what we are thinking or what AlterEgo is thinking (assuming it is thinking).

Perhaps one day of the AlterEgo descendants will find out why we, humans, in spite of our great potential, are only good at self-destruction.

“You shouldn’t generalize and everybody in the world knows that”

Years ago, my uncle told me, “I told you a million times not to exaggerate.” It was, of course, a joke based in the obvious self-contradiction of the thought expressed in that statement. But it is not a joke the increasing number of people using similar expressions and fully unaware of the self-contradicting aspect of what they are saying.

For example, somebody recently told me “You should not generalize”, and then she immediately added, “And everybody in the world knows that.” Of course, “Everybody knows that” is a generalization, that is, precisely what this person said we should avoid. However, it was clear this person was unaware of that contradiction. O perhaps it was unimportant to her.

The same person told me that, based on what she experienced at her workplace, she knew that the problem we were talking about was not happening in any other workplace. Let me see if I understand: she told me not to generalize and then she takes her experience in one place and generalizes it to all other similar places to draw her own conclusions.

Regardless of the validity of those conclusions, the absence of awareness of the contradiction embedded in the argument made me think that “not thinking” is now the model for all dialogues (or, perhaps even better, alternated monologues.)

Then, another person sent me a message telling something I already know, and I fully agree with: a picture is worth a thousand words. And to make his point, this person wrote almost one thousand words in his message, adding no image (of course.)

Let me see: a picture is worth a thousand words (very true.) And, for me to understanding it, this person sends me one thousand words and no image. I was tempted to ask for an explanation, but I was afraid I could receive another long message.

Again, the contradiction was so evident I wanted to know why it was not immediately perceived as such and why contradictions seems to be irrelevant to thinking and to communication.

And don’t get me started about the person who sent me a message telling me that “God loves the whole world” and his very next message was asking “God” to “annihilate with fire” those who disagree with the expression of faith this person embraces. The “whole world” was just “a world without them.”

To be very clear, I am not talking here about ambiguities (there are too many of them) or about people changing their minds and one day saying one thing and the next day saying something else (that’s very frequent and too common). I am talking about those who contradict themselves in one and the same thought and they not even know it.

So, what’s the problem? Why should we care about somebody expressing self-contradicting thoughts and not being aware of them? First, because “not thinking” is not a joke, because decisions and actions are based on those contradictions. And second, because “not thinking” is way of not knowing ourselves.

The undeniable problem of our anxious, distracted, and empty minds

There should be no doubts that we live at a time when our prehistorical brain can hardly handle the multiple and unexpected challenges we now face and that we were not designed to face. We were designed to light a fire inside a cave, not to save a techno-globalized, overpopulated planet from self-destruction.

Our minds still use 19th century ideas, taught and promoted by 20th century people, trying to understand 21sr century problems. Every day, we are farther away from reality (whatever that may be) and we struggle to control our anxious, distracted, and empty minds.

I know such a statement is almost offensive. My apologies. Please, understand I mean no disrespect to anybody. Yet, that seems to be the only conclusion based on the books and topics included in the most recent catalogue of publications about minds and brains recently mailed by MIT.

One of the books listed in that catalogue says that, in the context of the current situation, we should spend our lives in a permanent state of “kindergarten”, that is, we should dedicate our lives to our passions, plays, and friends. (I think that many people are already living with “kindergarten minds” all their lives, regarding of their chronological age). 

Another book rightly says that our ignorance has reached such a level that we ignore our own ignorance (nothing new to Socrates, of course). At best, we confuse ignorance with lack of knowledge, but more frequently we confuse ignorance with knowledge. (A recent study published by a Harvard professor talks about living at a time of “aggressive ignorance”.)

Yet another book in the MIT catalogue explains that our minds lack meaning to the point that we don’t even understand our own ideas and concepts. And another book suggests that our minds lack content. Empty minds, we could say.

This is something that ancient philosophers and thinkers already knew, when they complained about immature adults acting like children, living unexamined lives, repeating thoughts but never thinking them, and accepting mere babbling as wisdom, while rejecting wisdom as babbling.

Today, technology is a good tool to empty our minds, not unlike the neural neutralizer presented by Star Trek in Dagger of the Mind (November 1966).

And there is still more. The MIT catalogue include other books telling us our minds are no longer thinking, but just calculating. That’s why, according to those books, we are always anxious and distracted.

In addition, we no longer care about truth (whatever that may be.) In our post-truth era, feelings and personal opinions, even lacking any solid foundation or evidence, replaced truth. And the past is no longer remembered but imagined. The omnipresent social networks, while taking away our privacy, seem to promote both post-truth and an imaginary past.

In conclusion, we live with childish, ignorant, meaningless, calculating, anxious, and distracted minds, indifferent to reality. And we call it “civilization” and “society” and “progress.” Even worst, that’s what we want to perpetuate, export and impose on the world and on future generations.

What does it mean to live in a post-planet era?

I have a limited understanding of what it means to live in a post-truth era, that is, at a time when we only pay attention to our own ideas and never analyze them. And I also have some understanding of what it means to live in a post-democracy world (many examples around us.) But, what does it mean to live in post-planet era? Is Start Trek becoming a reality?

Perhaps. Or perhaps it is closer than we think. Or perhaps that “future” is already here and we don’t know it. So, what does it mean?

During a recent online presentation, Dr. Otto Scharmer, of MIT and founder of the Precensing Institute, shared three megatrends now impacting “our current collective condition”. Those are the three trends mentioned above.

Scharmer said that post-truth means to live “trapped” inside our own “digital echo chamber”. And post-democracy means “societies breaking apart” and “blaming others”.
I have some understanding of those two trends. But, what about a “post-planet” era? I initially thought that it was about space travel. And I think it is, as we will see below. Yet, according to Scharmer, a post-planet time is not to go to space, but to live unconnected from this planet.

In other words, I feel the race to get space, both by nations and by private companies, from space stations to trips to Mars, is not based on our technology to go to space, but on our desire to leave the planet. But, why should we leave the planet? Is this planet in such a bad situation that we can’t save it?

Sometime ago, a person from a Latin American country told me, “My country is in such bad shape that it will be cheaper to buy a new one than to fix it.” I wonder if this new post-planet era, the one Scharmer describes as a “lost connection”, means that we are becoming aware that it will be “cheaper” to leave our planet than to save it.

Perhaps that’s why Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are interested in space travel and in colonizing the Solar System. Perhaps that’s why countries and companies want to go to the moon and to Mars. And perhaps that’s why Orion Span has no problems in finding space tourists for the Aurora Space Station, to be launched by 2021.

According to information published by Orion Span last week, 12 days in space will cost $9,5 million. And they are already taking reservations, with a deposit of $80.000. They expect for the Aurora Station to eventually become a condominium in space, with people living in Aurora and buying, selling, and renting apartments at the space station.

So, is the post-planet era only for multimillionaires who can afford to pay their tickets out of this planet?

It is frightening to think we are about to witness a “technological rapture” taking a few selected ones to the “heavens”, while the rest of us will be left behind, facing the tribulations of this “abandoned” planet.

Sometimes, the universe hears our thoughts

A few days ago, a good friend of mine invited me to have lunch with him because he wanted to share information about the important progress he was making in a community-oriented project he began decades ago. I immediately accepted the invitation, but I didn’t like the restaurant he selected, because it is a noisy place and I knew the conversation would be difficult.

I was thinking about meeting at a different place or even getting there early enough to see if there is was a table available in one of the corners or the restaurant, but then my friend sent me a message telling me he was already at the restaurant and he had a table for us. No chance to change places or table. So, I was ready for a conversation with constant background noise.

I arrived at the restaurant and, to my great surprise, it was closed. A sign at the door said it was not open to the public. And nobody was inside. I thought I went to the wrong place, but I was indeed at the right place.

I went inside the exterior door of the restaurant to avoid the street noise to call my friend. I was wondering where he was. Then, a waitress came and asked me if I was looking for somebody. I told her I was supposed to meet my friend there. She told me, “Your friend is waiting for you over there.”

He was sitting at a table in the center of the restaurant. An empty restaurant, with only the two of us there and, of course, the staff. A nice, soft music was playing in the background, something I never heard in my previous visits to that place.

My desire of having a nice, quiet conversation, with no background noise, was now a reality. But I was confused. How was my friend able to have only for the two of us and at noon a restaurant located at a busy intersection?

“I didn’t do it,” he said. I still wanted to know why the restaurant was open only for the us.

“The universe heard my thoughts,” he said.

He told me one of his appointments was cancelled, so he went to the restaurant two hours before our meeting. He sat at the only available table and, while waiting for our meeting, made a few phone calls. Then, a waitress came and told him there was a minor problem in the kitchen. If he could place his order at that moment, he could stay. Otherwise, he would have to leave.

We know each other for many years, so he ordered lunch both for me and for him. He decided to stay and make more calls. Later, a few minutes after I arrived, lunch was served. Meanwhile, everybody else left. And because he decided to stay, they even brought delicious dessert for us, at no extra cost.

The universe listens to our thoughts, but we don’t always listen to the universe.

In this life, we are all just beginners

I recently enrolled in an online course because I liked the key question of the course: If you are so intelligent, why aren’t you happy? I decided to jump right away into the first video, but there was a problem: no audio. The professor was clearly speaking, but I couldn’t hear a word. I was frustrating.

I checked, of course, all the connections of the computer speakers and, as I expected, everything was in order. Obviously, I also checked the speakers to be sure they were on. The green light in front of one of the speakers indicated they were on. Satisfied, I returned to the video ready to listen and… silence.

It was a mystery. I decided to watch the video on my tablet and not in the computer. I opened it on the tablet and there were no problems with the audio at all. Everything was normal. But I prefer the computer because it is easy for me when I need to answer quizzes or complete questionnaires.

So, I decided it was time to check the computer. A troubleshooting program almost immediately detected a problem: I was using a generic audio driver instead of a specific driver. I installed, of course, the new driver.

Now the computer asked me to “optimize” the sound of the speakers moving the speakers around. And it also allowed me to decide what kind of sound I wanted to use for my earphones if I was not using the speakers. With the updated and the optimization done, I went back to the course, and… silence.

If the computer was not the problem, my other option was to check the browser I was using. I thought that perhaps the settings of the browser were preventing the audio of the videos to be played. I reviewed the settings, but I found nothing out of place.

The next step was to check if any extension in the browser was blocking the video. I thought that perhaps the extension I use to block certain ads was, for whatever reason, also blocking the video I wanted to watch. I deactivated the extension for the web site of the class, but there was still no audio in the video.

By this time, my initial enthusiasm about learning something new about the connection (or lack of thereof) between intelligence and happiness was rapidly diminishing. But I decided not to give up because, after all, it is good to search for both intelligence and happiness. Then, an idea came to my mind and I did something that, in retrospective, I should have done at the beginning. I checked the audio setting in the video: it was “mute”.

I felt like a beginner in life. Here I was, trying to understand the mysteries of intelligence and happiness, and failing to see and solve simple things. I realized then that the reason why intelligent people are not happy is that perhaps they, like me, are not as intelligent as they think they are.

What should we do when our own leaders become our worst enemies?

I recently met by chance with a local community leader recognized for his many years of working supposedly “for the benefit” of the local community. I said “supposedly” because, according to this person, we (our community) deserves to live in poverty and ignorance. Hence, the question of the title: What should we do when our own leaders are our worst enemies?

I wish I could say the meeting I just mentioned with the community leader is just a creation of my imagination. But the meeting was real. Also, I wish I could say this is the only time a community leader said anything like that. Unfortunately, I have heard similar statements many times.

This self-described “agent of change” told me we should focus on “surviving”, because, for “people like us” it makes no sense to try to go to college. In fact, he said “we were not born” to study. And he added that, instead of thinking about building a new future, we should spend our energies preserving the tradition and education we received.  

I asked him with sincere curiosity how we could preserve a tradition when the world is not what it used to be, the future has changed, and the “tradition” he cherishes so much is just the life he had decades ago at a different country, in a context almost unconnected with our present reality.

He then told me I should attend the services at his church to listen to his sermons (that is, I add, his version of the Christian message) and then I will find the answer to my questions.

I must say I am not against, not even for a moment, the possibility of divine revelation (in whatever spiritual o religious context it could happen). But I am against anybody who assumes his own dogma is that revelation and that he is the doorkeeper of such revelation.

Even worst, those are many of the same persons who are invited as “experts” to radio and television programs, where they “lecture” us (in the worst sense of the word) about how to live our lives. Then, they are invited to every committee, board, or focus group out there, they get the grants, and every year they receive awards for their “contributions”.

But when they are just talking about the table at a small restaurant, they reveal who their true intensions: to oppress their own community by letting us to believe that there is no alternative and no future for us, and by deciding they are the limit of what we should achieve.

I remained calmed while listening to such a litany of nonsensical statements. And then, even worst, he expressed his negative opinions about women and about the LGBT community, while proclaiming he was a person with “an open heart.”

What, then, should we do? Against such a person, perhaps we can ask the divinity to intervene. But it is time to create sacred, safe self-discovery spaces for all those affected by those so-called “community leaders.” 

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