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Weekly Commentary - May 10, 2021

Measuring time increases the entropy in the universe

Life has become so absurd that it seems necessary to seek some kind of explanation, even if partially satisfactory, to try to understand this significant and undeniable growth of chaos, and not of a chaos that anticipates a new creation, but of a chaos that anticipates destruction. According to a new experiment, the reason could be the measurement of time.

The study, recently released by Dr. Natalia Ares and her colleagues at the University of Oxford, indicates that the more precision is used to measure time, the more entropy (that is, disorder) is generated.

In other words: measuring time with precision generates chaos on a universal level, Ares said, adding that with each measurement of time we are closer to the “demise of the universe”. In fact, according to Ares, it might be better to stop measuring time, even if that measurement is done with (theoretical) quantum clocks. (For details, see the story posted on May 7 on

Since the vast majority of modern technology needs an accurate measurement of time to function properly, one cannot help but wonder if the constant measurement of time by countless devices (telephones, computers, watches, and many others) will be one of the factors increasing the chaos of our society. The daily news reports confirm our chaotic state. 

After all, these artifacts, be it a smartphone in my hand or a quantum clock in some laboratory, measure only chronological time, that is, mechanical time or duration. But, as was already known since ancient times, chronological time (chronos) is only one of the times, opposed and irreducible to internal time, the “right moment” (kairos).

We have moved so far away from kairos, a time that is lived, but is not measured, that we do not even know what it is, and we can no longer understand it. And we focus so much on chronos that, it seems, we even create a kind of universal chaos by our obsession with increasingly precise measurements of time. Every second we literally create our own chaos.

Maybe that's why nothing we do seems to make sense. Perhaps that is why we speak of “wasting time”, of “making up for lost time” and even of “free time”, looking at that intersection of time and freedom for a little respite from the non-free time (to use a neutral description) when we sell ourselves, like it or not, almost every day.

But that chaotic, mechanical, and destructive time is and never was the only time, but it has become the only time we have become accustomed to in this hyper-technological age. Perhaps the measurement of time creates chaos to remind us that we are interacting with only one dimension of the many dimensions of time.

Perhaps the chaos does not arise only from measuring chronological time, but also from having abandoned the kairos time, that time in which chronological time ceases to be to give rise to the irruption of super-temporality. But, since we have forgotten it, we only create chaos.

According to Seneca, life seems to be short because we just waste it

Two millennia ago, at the time of the Roman Empire, people complained about the shortness of their lives. And they were right, since at that time the life expectancy for most people was only 35 years and someone in their 40s was considered “very old”. But, according to the Stoic philosopher Seneca, life is not short, but ill-lived.

In his essay On the Shortness of Life, written in the middle of the 1st century, Seneca argues that each person has all the years necessary to achieve during those years the achievements that they must achieve in their lives. But many people, perhaps most (and perhaps almost all), simply waste their lives.

As Seneca well says, the "people of the crowd", that is, the "unthinking crowd", complain about the shortness of life not because life is short (it is and that is a key and undeniable existential factor), but because they don’t live in such a way as to achieve their greatest achievements. They excuse themselves behind the shortness of human life for not taking responsibility for their lives.

Until just over a century ago, life expectancy in the United States was about 60 years. It’s now about 80 and today's children are anticipated to live to be 100 years old. Furthermore, the next generation could have a life expectancy of 120 years before beginning to age, that is, 120 years of healthy and active life before entering old age.

But, regardless of whether we live 30, 60 or 120 years, or even forever, each of those years is useless if we simply accumulate them, but without living them. As Seneca said, we live "without investing" in our own life.

Even more clearly, and with immense consequences for our lives in the 21st century, Seneca argues that we live our lives in such a way that "life passes before we become aware that life is passing."

For this reason, he explicitly says that "life is not short, but we make it short", or, as Seneca says, we “waste” life.

Let's be honest: we are more concern with networks, messages, posts, and even what happens to the characters of our favorite fiction (be they soap operas or sports) than with our own lives. We are distracted from the reality of our own and then when something happens and shakes us, when we become aware of life, it’s gone. 

There is not a moment when we have our lives in our hands, Seneca says, adding that we are "bad owners" of our own life. So bad, he maintains, that those who are good guardians of their own lives (the wise ones), noticing we are not, will not share anything of value with us.

Meanwhile, he says, we just live our lives “following the decisions of others”, either “paralyzed by sloth” or “exhausted by greed”, always making new plans, but going nowhere. We merely exist, but don’t live. 

Seneca spoke 2,000 years ago, but his message is true today and for each of us.

Let’s use the proper tools to solve problems and challenges

I recently had to remove several branches from a shrub in my backyard because the shrub, perhaps somewhat neglected last year, had grown disproportionately for its section of the yard. The task seemed extremely simple to me, but it became complicated because, at first, I didn’t use the right tools.

Initially I took a small handsaw, suitable for cutting branches, and slowly began to saw the two larger branches. It took me more time and energy than I anticipated. Then I went to my garage, took some special pruning pliers and, with that tool, the rest of the work was done in a short time.

The problem was not the branches, but that I was not using the correct tool. Just because a tool was at hand (the handsaw), it doesn’t mean it was the right tool. 

The situation reminded me of times in my childhood when, for whatever reason, to remove a screw we used a table knife instead of a screwdriver. And then we would flip that same knife and use the handle like a hammer.

As an adult, although I still appreciate the “utility knife” trick, I learned to use the right tools for each job, with a few exceptions, as indicated by the true story shared above.

The situation also led me to think that many times, when faced with problems or circumstances in life, we don’t overcome those situations mainly because we are using the wrong tools. We get so used to a kind of "lifelong multipurpose knife" that then we apply the same tool over and over again to different circumstances.

For some people, that metaphorical multipurpose knife is the beliefs they adhere to, or a certain interpretation of a certain holy book. No matter what happens and, more importantly, regardless of whether a verbatim quote from their holy book applies or not, they quote it as if quoting were the solution. And when nothing is solved, they don’t change tools, but just look for another quote.

For others, the multipurpose knife is what they learned within their family, even though it was learned many decades ago and in a totally different geographic and cultural context.
I remember, for example, a man who, after a presentation I made about future trends, came to me and said: “Francisco, I liked everything you shared. But it's not what my grandmother taught me”. And having said that, the good man turned around and left.

In many other cases, we try to solve life's challenges not from what we know, but from what we ignore, but without acknowledging that we ignore it and without seeking to learn it. We thus repeat a cycle that Ralph Waldo Emerson, in his must-read essay Self-Reliance described as "dragging the corpse of the past" through life.

Learning to be an adult consists of developing the wisdom to put aside the tools that no longer serve us, even if they are “multipurpose”, and adopt those “tools” able to lead us beyond the challenges.

If we only see what our believes allow us to see, we see nothing

I was recently asked to give a (virtual) presentation on current trends and, as a consequence, the possible future that we would not be heading for. So, I started with a warning that I always use: “I do not predict or know the future”. And then I said: "If tomorrow an asteroid hit Earth or the Martians invade us, what I am saying today is worthless."

I always refer to the possible impact of an asteroid or a possible alien invasion to mention two highly unlikely events, although not with zero probability, which, if they occurred, would force us to put aside the beliefs, actions, behaviors, and habits that we now have. In other words, we always live with an undeniable level of uncertainty.

On this occasion, after my usual comment about asteroids and Martians, one of the participants interrupted me, saying: "Francisco, you are very wrong." When someone tells me I am "very wrong" I am tempted to say, "You are very right: I have been married for 33 years and my wife remembers every one of my mistakes."

Before I could say anything, our friend added: “Asteroids don't exist, and Martians don't exist either. No asteroid is going to destroy us, nor are the Martians going to invade us”.

Although we can (and should) debate at length the existence of intelligent extraterrestrial life (and we should debate even more whether intelligent life exists on this planet), I wondered how anyone can doubt the existence of asteroids, something irrefutably known for centuries and probably millennia.

The only thought I had at the time was of those priests who refused to look through Galileo's telescope, arguing that there was no need to do so to determine that Galileo was wrong.

Our good friend (again, before I could say anything) continued: "The Bible doesn’t name asteroids or Martians by name and, therefore, they don’t exist." My intuition to think of the priests and Galileo was not so wrong. Furthermore, this participant added, “Science ended in the 6th century BC. The Bible says so."

I must say and emphasize that, as it should be obvious, I am not against the Judeo-Christian scriptures commonly known as the Bible. Quite the contrary. Those scriptures have been and continue to be the fertile soil of my spirituality and the constant motivation of my studies.

But to believe that the Bible is a catalog of everything that exists or will exist in the Universe and that something that doesn’t appear explicitly mentioned in the Bible doesn’t exist is much more than I can accept as a coherent or adult and mature thought.

Furthermore, the participant who expressed his rejection of asteroids and Martians because the Bible doesn’t mention them did so (what a contradiction!) during a video conference, using computers and other elements not explicitly mentioned in the Bible.

Therefore, if we only see what we see because our beliefs blind us, then we don’t see anything at all, even if we hide behind sacred texts. 

What are the main questions people have about the future? Cars and food

In a recent survey (February 2021), the Kaspersky company asked about 7,000 people around the world what were the main questions those people had about the future. In other words, the survey sought to determine what the general public around the planet really wants to know about the future. And the answer was clear: cars and food.

When analyzing what the survey participants said, Kaspersky found that the most common question about the future was "What will the cars of the future look like?" In some cases, that question was asked in a specific context, such as "How long until the flying cars arrive?" or "Will we be able to use a 3D printer to print a car?"

The second place was taken by the question about food and meals. That question was commonly phrased as "Will there be healthy food in the future?" There was also interest in the quality of future pet food and the possibility that food may eventually be produced by means of a replicator, as in Star Trek. 

The third place in topics of interest about the future was occupied by health, something that is almost obvious due to the pandemic, although one wonders if, for that very reason, it should not have been the main topic of interest, above cars and meals.

Be that as it may, other topics, such as artificial intelligence, space travel, extraterrestrial civilizations, or parallel universes, were not among the most worrying topics. Not even climate change or the continuity of the human species were among the most frequently asked questions about the future.

It is clear, then, that for most people the future equates to have a good car and a good meal. Therefore, any other issue, such as possible human immortality (be it biological, digital or hybrid), is not a priority. Neither is the possible extinction of humanity.

The future thus becomes hedonistic ("I just want to satisfy my pleasures"), narcissistic ("My only concern is myself") and short-term ("Whatever I want, I want it right now"). In other words, the future is seen as an extension of childhood in which we are only interested in what we are going to eat and how big our new toy is going to be.

But that, obviously (or it should be obvious), is not future because the attitude just described does not include an expansion of consciousness towards others, towards nature or the universe, and much less towards transcendence (in whichever way you understand it). In other words, the perpetuation of immaturity is incompatible with the true future.

It is perfectly understood that we must be concerned with meeting our basic needs, such as food and transportation. We need our daily bread today and tomorrow and cars are already more of a tool for work than a luxury item to travel. That is very well understood.

What is unacceptable, if we want to build a future for ourselves and our descendants, is allowing cars and food to limit our future thinking. 

Closing your eyes to the future will not stop the future from arriving

Someone recently contacted me asking for my help to "see the future with more clarity." This is a businessman who, due to the changes caused by the pandemic, considered it prudent to spend some time thinking about how his business could be part of the new future. But, despite his request, he didn’t really want to see the future with clarity. 

When we speak of "seeing the future" we are not talking, obviously, of any kind of divination or prophecy. We are talking about carefully analyzing the present on the basis of the information already available to see where and in what direction the new future emerges.

There is nothing to guess, but a lot to study. But first you must understand two things: the future is always already here, although not necessarily in its full form; and the future is not a time after the present, but an expansion of consciousness.

Regarding the first point, let’s share this example: the first airplanes have little to do with modern airplanes, except that in both cases they are flying machines. And, to give another even clearer example, the first phones have little resemblance with today’s smartphones.

But the first airplanes, as well as the first telephones, already indicated a certain direction of the development of those technologies and, in fact, many thinkers at the beginning of the last century were able to imagine and anticipate those developments. At the same time, although the examples given are technological, the emerging future is not limited only to new technologies.

And that brings us to the second point: the future is not a time that comes later, but an expansion of consciousness in which consciousness unfolds to embrace the potential for new opportunities for self-discovery and action previously unexplored.

In other words, the future is an open mind. One who has a closed mind, as happened with the man mentioned in the first paragraph, cannot and does not want to see the future and, therefore, only seeks an infinite repetition of the past or a perpetual continuity of the present. But for that person, there is no future because their consciousness has not expanded to see it.

Something said, and for good reason, that the opposite of "love" is not "hate", but "indifference", because in indifference there is not even any relationship between one person and another. In the same way, the opposite of "future" is not "past", but "dictatorship" (in whatever form), because in dictatorship there is no place for the future. Dictatorship is often self-imposed.

Therefore, when I invited the aforementioned businessman to think about a future that is no longer a continuity of the present (which now includes space hotels, trips to Mars, general artificial intelligence, constant pandemics) his answer was none of that is relevant to his business, when, in fact, it is.

Closing our eyes to the future does not invalidate or modify its arrival, but it certainly excludes us from the new future. Therefore, let’s open our eyes. 

Experts get so used to their own thinking that they make mistakes

In 1991, French diver Henri Cosquer, while exploring an area near Marseille, found the underwater entrance to a cave where, to his amazement, there were prehistoric paintings on the walls. In fact, hundreds of paintings, including penguins. When Cosquer announced his discovery, many "experts" indicated that neither these paintings nor the images of penguins existed.

The truth is that those "experts" were wrong. The cave exists (the only cave with underwater access and painting on the walls) and there are there paintings of penguins and dozens of other animals, some already extinct or no longer living in that area.

Now, in just a few weeks, a “duplicate” of the Cosquer Cave will open to the public in Marseille, so that those interested can enjoy, without having to dive, the beauty of its paintings.

But what led the "experts" to deny Cosquer's discovery? Simply, that they "knew" that there were no underwater caves with prehistoric paintings on the walls and that they "knew" that there had never been penguins in South France. And they "knew" it without ever doing what Cosquer did: go diving and enter the cave.

It is easy for anyone to assume he/she is an "expert" if all they do is denying any new discovery or theory that modifies what that "expert" already believes. And in fact, 30 years after the cave's discovery, certain "experts" in Paris still deny its authenticity.

There are many similar cases. For example, in 1883, Moses Wilhelm Shapira announced that he had purchased 15 ancient manuscripts in Jerusalem and that one of them was an ancient version of the book of Deuteronomy. However, "experts" from the British Museum declared the manuscripts to be fake, even though they only saw them for a few minutes, without examining them.

The attack on Shapira was so intense that six months after announcing the purchase of the manuscripts, he committed suicide. In 1885, someone took the Shapira manuscripts, and they were probably destroyed. 

But now, with new technologies and information not available in the 19th century, Dr. Idan Dershowitz (University of Potsdam in Germany), expressed that linguistic and literary evidence shows that the manuscripts were not only authentic, but that they were indeed as old as Shapira had said.

Obviously, the great difference between Cosquer and Shapira is that Cosquer was vindicated while alive for the error of the "experts", while Shapira paid with his life for the error of the "experts". And, unfortunately for us, we live in a society of "experts."

We could say that this is a society of "instant experts" who, after reading a couple of books or, worse, even watching a video or attending a webinar, assume they are experts. Or, as the philosopher Renata Seleci (University of London) puts it, we live in the age of "passionate ignorance", where knowledge no longer has any function in society.

In that context, we cannot challenge our assumptions or argue for another point of view. Thus, we are trapped inside our own ignorant “expertise”.  

What lessons has this pandemic taught us during the past 12 months?

One year after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, a global health crisis that in many ways paralyzed the planet, what lessons has this pandemic taught us? The answer is clear: many lessons. But how many of those lessons have we learned? The answer is also clear: none.

I have heard many times that there are two kinds of children with bad behavior: the badly educated and the “badly learned”. The badly educated children are those who, for whatever reason, did not receive a good socio-affective education from their parents or the adults in charge and could not or knew not how to adapt to society.

The “badly learned” children are those who were educated in the best possible way by their parents or the adults in charge and, even so, for whatever reason, they do not manage to adjust to an acceptable social life and, in fact, generally cause problems and pain for those close to them and even for strangers.

On a planetary level, we humans act like “badly learned” children: no matter how many good lessons we are taught, we never learn them. By now, we should have learned to be mature, responsible beings. 

The COVID-19 pandemic (one of the many pandemics that has plagued humanity for millennia) exposed the fragility and irrationality of our actions and our thoughts, always and only obsessed with the ephemeral, the superficial, and the inconsequential, regardless of the irreparable damage caused to the planet and others. 

So, any lesson we might have learned from the pandemic is long gone. In fact, I think we put more mental energy into not learning those lessons than fighting the pandemic.

The virus still continues, and the threat is still real. We have not yet stopped the pandemic, yet a whole way of thinking based on anti-science and anti-rationality has clearly gained new momentum. (By saying "anti-science" I am not suggesting for a moment that science should be deified or considered the final word. And true rationality surpasses mere syllogistic thinking).

The virus removed the veil of self-deception that we had imposed on ourselves believing that everything was fine and that everything was going to be fine. Or, if you prefer, the self-deception that mistakes new technologies for progress and useless and debt-creating purchases for happiness.

The days of not listening to human noise to listen to the messages of nature did not last long. It was considered unnatural to stay home and ask parents to help educate their children. Human lives took second place because, obviously, the important thing is to save the economy, that is, the same economy that caused the pandemic. 

All the lessons that we could have learned and could have led to a rebirth and transformation of humanity were quickly crushed by countless conspiracy theories and by a religious fundamentalism so uncompromising it hurts to think it is real.

Our foolish presence hurts the planet. Earth is in pain. But we still haven't learned it. We are bad learned adults. 

How tolerant should we be of intolerant people?

Many years ago, I read a science fiction story -I can't even remember its title- about a group of police officers chasing the last murderer on the planet in a technological future. After cornering him, a police officer shoots him and kills him. And the policeman then exclaims: "I killed the last murderer!"
At that very moment, the police officer becomes aware that, by having done what he did and having said what he said, he had become precisely what the world wanted to eliminate. He himself was now the last murderer, replacing the criminal whose life he had taken. So, what should he do?

I very vaguely remember the rest of the story, but be that as it may, the policeman had only a few options: to tell himself that he was doing his duty and therefore his actions were not murder; to accept that he had committed a murder and that, therefore, the police were going to kill him, and the cycle would repeat itself; or take his life thus ending the cycle.

The story came to mind (in a fragmentary way and without its end) when thinking to what extent we can be tolerant with the intolerant without becoming intolerant ourselves and without falling into the easy way of saying that because we practice intolerance then it is not intolerance.

At this time in history with so many divisions in any of the social spheres one finds oneself; at a time when arrogant ignorance reigns to the point that, knowing itself as ignorance, it does not seek knowledge; at a time when the dialogue is reduced to a monologue of whims, how tolerant can we be?

We already know the deadly results of intolerance. Millions and millions of people have paid with their lives in the battles and wars fought by bigots against bigots, each one hiding behind "his" truth and "his" rights. And each group, even holding totally contradictory positions, share the same position of intolerance.

But beyond those historical mega events, to what extent can we continue to be tolerant in our daily lives against intolerant people? How long will it be until we shout, "I have been intolerant of the intolerant!", only to find that we have become precisely what we wanted to avoid.

Or, perhaps, we have become worse than that because we have become aware of our situation and, generally, a contradiction arises within us between keeping an open mind and a willing heart and not listening to the nonsense uttered by the intolerant. To top it all, we don't even know how to feign intolerance without losing control.

So, what to do? Committing a (metaphorical) "ethical suicide" and setting aside our values when faced with bigotry? Being intolerant, but saying we are not because what we don’t tolerate is the intolerant? Nothing of that? Perhaps something else?

I don’t have answers, but I would like to have them. Maybe someone who has them will soon share them to educate us all. 

The existential distance between the first human and the last human keeps growing

Recently my son shared a short story with me, found in one of the many Internet sites dedicated to the topic of stories (or parables) which in just ten words tell a complete story and leave a lesson:

"Help me!" cried the last human. "No!" replied the first."

That's the whole story of the connection, or rather the lack of connection, between the first human and the last one, a connection reduced to a brief, monosyllabic dialogue to ask and refuse help. But who is this "last human" asking for help? And who is the first human denying it?

In Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche presents his version of the "last human" (that is, us). The last human lost the ability to create and only devotes himself/herself to consuming whatever it takes to satisfy his/her basest pleasures, aptly and perpetually hidden behind a cloak of decency and legality.

The last human can have it all without being happy because he/she lost the ability to transform himself/herself. It cannot be anything other than what it already is and, therefore, lives a miserable life, not in the sense of lack of material goods, but of lacking meaning and direction in life.

As Byung-Chul Han says, the last human (that is, us) exploits himself and calls that “happiness”. The last human internalizes the oppressor and asks for help to be free from his own insignificance. But in reality, he does not want to and cannot change.

And who is the first human? Among the ancient accounts of the Hebrews and, differently, but concordant, among the Greeks, the first human was not a human being like the one we see on a daily basis, but a cosmic being, aware of his/her spirituality and in perpetual connection with the infinite light of the universe (or, if you prefer, the deity.)

It could be said, if this oversimplification is forgiven, that the first human was a multidimensional human, as opposed to the "one-dimensional man", perfectly described by Herbert Marcuse in his well-known book on that subject.

Because of his/her expanded consciousness, the first human doesn’t cling to or limit himself/herself to pleasures, desires, or technologies. For his part, the last human does nothing but lock himself/herself within his/her desires and his/her technological devices.

The first human, ancient stories teach, lives with the universe and is inseparable from the universe. The last human only lives with an image of himself/herself, separated from himself/herself, from others. and from the universe.

Therefore, the last human asks for help, but does not really want to receive it because, in doing so, it would cost him/her everything. And the first human doesn't help because he/she knows that sometimes the best way to help is not to.

Is it possible to overcome this situation where the last human doesn’t come out of his “cave” and the first human can’t help? In this context, and said with great care, perhaps the idea of a transhuman (neither alpha nor omega) is beginning to make sense.

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