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WEEKLY COMMENTARY

The more you expand your past, the more you also expand your future

In the final chapter of his 1932 book about 18th century philosophers, American historian Carl Becker argues (and I agree with him) that the more you expand your consciousness of your own past (both personal and historical), the more you also expand your own future.

Specifically, according to Becker, “The more of the past we drag into the present, the more a hypothetical future crowds into it also”. Goethe said something similar when he suggested that if you don’t know 3000 years of history, you will be wandering in the darkness of the present.

Becker again: “If our memories of past events are short and barren, our anticipations of future events will be short and barren”. He also explains that the richness and extension of the future depends on the past having those two same characteristics.

Let’s accept what Becker proposes, that is, that the duration and depth of our past determines or at least anticipates with a high degree of probability the duration and depth of our future. What that thought means for us, citizens of the 21st century living trapped inside an ephemeral present, so ephemeral that it becomes immediately obsolete?

Perhaps it means that our future is also ephemeral and automatically obsolete. After years of researching the topic, I believe that’s exactly the case.

If everything we are aware of is the “now” and if that “now” is decontextualized and ahistorical (that is, we don’t know why what is happening today is happening today), then we are not aware either of the emerging future, which is no longer a continuation from the past.

In other words, as Becker argues, the past is not something that already happened, but the consciousness in the present of a past event. From that perspective, all past and all history are present. For that reason, the future is not something that it hasn’t happened yet, but it is something already present in the present, even if we are unaware of its presence.

But if we are not even aware of ourselves, if we live in a perpetual state of self-alienation and oblivion, if we fight against our own metamorphosis thinking, as the caterpillar does, it is a disease, then we will never be able to connect with the source of our being. For that reason, we won’t be able to connect with our best future version to bring that version of ourselves to the present.

That situation doesn’t mean we are living or miserable lives, or that we are bad people (or good people, for that matter.) It means we have adopted a self-limiting pattern of events.

As Becker said, “Memory of the past and anticipation of future events work together, without disputing over priority or leadership”. From that perspective, the awareness of the present is a pattern of thought where there is an interconnection between memories and anticipations.

In other words, if we don’t remember our gran parents (our ancestors), we won’t be able to think about our grandchildren (our descendants.)

“We are still slaves”, the woman said during the community meeting

I was recently invited to a gathering of community leaders representing different organizations and groups wanting to have a project in common. During the second hour of the meeting and with no warning, one of the participants stood up and said, “We are still slaves!”, surprising all the participants and even herself.

The woman, a well-known local African-American leader, said that when she was a child, her grandparents cultivated fruits and vegetables in their backyard. Their home was then in the outskirts of the city. Then, when she was a teen, the city grew, and backyard gardening was not allowed, so a community garden was created.

A few weeks ago, that community garden was closed for good. The owner of the place and the local municipality were not able to agree about water for the plants.

Reflecting about the lost garden, the woman said that her people (and not only her people, I add) act assuming they are free when, in fact, they can’t even produce their own food or decide what they want to eat. And when you lose your traditional food, she explained, you also lose the traditions that were part of every meal you shared with yours.

Once the memory of your community is gone, your own memory is gone. It’s not that you don’t know what you are eating. It’s that you don’t even know who you are. You feel free. You have opportunities, but, for all purposes, you are a slave.

The veteran leader spoke then about the slavery of African and African Americans in the United States, but then she immediately moved back to the present, saying that “our slavery” (her words) is worst than the previous one, because in the past slaves knew they were slaves, but we live assuming we are free.

That thought reminded me of an article I read last February about South Korean philosopher Byung-Chul Han (who lives in Germany.) Han said that “No we exploit ourselves and we call that self-development.”

Specifically, Han said that the society presented by Orwell in 1984 was “a society aware of being dominated”, while in our society, according to Han, “we don’t have any awareness of being dominated.”

Han said that we live at a time of “self-explotation” and of “horror of the other”. For that reason, we live “in the desert, the hell of the same”. So, we are slaves and we don’t know it.

Why? Because we can’t even try to be different because being different means being the same as everybody else who wants to be different. Even worst, “being different” now means “marketable differences”. You are different only if you can “sell” your differences.

How do we move beyond that situation where reality is being abolished? Han proposes a simple solution: cultivate your own garden so you can reconnect with the reality of “colors, aromas, and feelings”, that is, with the other and the different.

Intuitively, the African American leader already knew it. And that’s true, undeniable wisdom.

Are you aware of the excuses you use to hide from the new future?

I recently had the privilege of making a presentation about the emerging future to a community group. The presentation was an opportunity to listen again to a long list of excuses we (I include myself in the “we”) use to hide from the new future and to remain hidden inside a past which exists only inside a nostalgic imagination.

“I understand nothing about Artificial Intelligence (AI)”, told one of the participants. I asked him what he has read or heard about AI. He told me, “I read nothing, and I understand nothing. What’s the point of reading?”

In other words, he understood nothing about AI because he had no enough information about the topic and, at the same time, he didn’t have information because he understood nothing. An interesting vicious circle of excuses which with each repetition becomes more solid and less visible.

Another participant told me, “I can’t save money because I don’t have enough money”. Obviously, he doesn’t have enough money because he is not saving money, but that second half of the equation was never mentioned by him.

In addition, others expressed excuses I have heard many times, excuses using to rationalize why our mind, heart, and hands should remain closed. “That’s not what my grandma told me”, said one person. “My pastor/priest said it’s not so”, added another one. “My son told me that’s not the case”, added a third person.

I asked them, “So, what do you think?” They repeated the same excuses they just expressed a minute ago. And here they were, here we were, trapped inside the cave of our own thoughts such as those unlucky persons trapped inside Plato’s cave (in the Republic).

Somebody once said that the biggest addiction in our time is not the addiction to drugs or to horrible vices, but the addition to our own thoughts. It’s true. We are addicted to our own ideas and thoughts and the addiction is so strong we don’t even know how addicted we are.

We move in circles inside our own echo chamber to listen again and again only to our thoughts. Paradoxically, the unthought thoughts, the acritically accepted thoughts, are the thoughts we accept because they match our needs and desires. And we call them “reality” and “truth”.

Yet, the new future challenge us to challenge our own thoughts (and beliefs, actions, behaviors, hopes, and assumptions.) Without that challenge, the future would not be neither new nor future, but a mere extended repetition of the past and an infinite repetition of the present.

“You think the future”, said Enrique Santín. So, if we don’t think the future, we are not part of the future. And that’s exactly what is happening to us. We are so obsessed about learning about the past that we are unable to learn from the future.

How do we exit the cavern? Many mysteries in the universe and in life are solved as soon as we boldly accept we all are multidimensional beings living one-dimensional lives.

Don’t teach me how to spell “banana”, but let’s spell “future” together

I recently went to a well-known supermarket chain to but a certain fruit. Since that was the only thing I bought, I decided not to go to the human cashier (there was a long line) and I went to the automatic payment station. I put the fruit on the scale to weight it and, at that very moment, I was interrupted by a store employee.

With no previous interaction, the man (white, old) told me he could help me to spell “banana”. I thought it was a joke and I laughed. I thought the conversation was over, but then he told me again that if I couldn’t spell “banana” he will do it for me.

I wanted to ask him if he was planning to write “banana” in English or in Spanish and if he knew if “banana” had an “h” somewhere in the word. I didn’t ask anything, of course. I asked him (in English), What’s seems to be the problem? Is there any problem with me?

As soon as he heard me speaking English, this employee of a well-known supermarket chain did something unexpected: he ran away from me as fast as he could. He went behind a counter and stayed there.

I was upset with the incident, but not just because somebody who is unaware of reality assumes that if a person doesn’t look like him the other person is illiterate and he “must help” the other person. Unfortunately, many people live according to their prejudices (we, of course, do the same thing.)

As somebody once cleverly said, we don’t see things as they are, but as we are.

I was upset about the incident because a certain level of existential urgency. While some people treat us as illiterate, uneducated persons, the world is moving in a different direction where the knowledge the “learned” people assume to have will not be enough for them to enter the new future.

I say that based on the many reports published just a few days ago during and after the C2 Forum in Montreal, where the main topics were Artificial Intelligence and blockchain. Basically, experts from all over the world said that very soon industries and organizations will be radically transformed.

In fact, during the forum experts presented examples of Artificial Intelligence helping humanitarian and charitable projects, as well as initiatives of global change. In addition, now we have a new technology, bioprinters, able to print human organs.

Also, MIT developed a new material that can be program to assemble itself (think about metal turning into a car by itself.) In 2020, Artificial Intelligence will dominate all aspects of worldwide economy and finances, with unknown consequences for humans. And all that change is speeding up.

As experts said during the forum in Montreal, the future is a present reality.

I know how to spell “banana”. But, sir, do you know how to spell “future”? (By the way, it is spell “powerful innovation for global transformation”.) Can we spell “future” together?

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.

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