Sphere of Interest
Stanford Brain Lecture Notes
The RX Project:
CV Biblio (1985)
Index of Essays
Robotics, and AI
Health & Biotech
Earth Wisdom: Biosphere and Universe
Be Saved by Bob!!!
(And Other Balms )
Are Fats Killers
The Mystery of CONSCIOUSNESS
Who, What, When?
Near Death Experiences: In the Desert With Pim Van Lommel
Is the UNIVERSE
Fine-Tuned for Life?
EUV 2013 - Future of Moore's Law
BAM: Brain Activity Map of Spikes
What is Watson?
AI Overlord or Tool?
SETI: Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence
KEPLER Seeks Earth-like Worlds
STEVE PINKER in the Amazon: photos
Billion Year Plan:
CONSCIOUSNESS as Global Resonance
Coronary Artery CT
Scan: A Life Saver
Book Review: TRANSCEND
Create a Mind
Does Drug X
Works in Monkeys!
Values, Ethics, Beliefs:
Biosphere & Global Consciousness
Fine-Tuned Universe, God, and the Anthropic Principle
Every year I backpack in the Sierras, inevitably focusing on the big questions.
all that exists come to be? Are there other Universes? Is mankind alone?
Many physical constants that allow life to develop in the Universe appear to be finely-tuned.
Did God sit at a control panel twisting the dozens of knobs that determine
the interactions of the particles and forces that comprise reality?
I discuss the views of physicists, cosmologists, and theologians.
SETI: The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence
Is ET out there waiting to be discovered? My answer is most likely yes,
but the vast majority
of extraterrestrial life is apt to be microbial.
My viewpoint follows the SETI Institute and its founder Frank Drake.
(See this lovely video from Carl Sagan's tv series Cosmos. Carl was a SETI trustee.)
Prof. Drake's car license plate reads "N = L." The number of ET civilizations in the Milky Way
is determined by their likelihood of survival. Our survival on Earth is not guaranteed,
but requires dedicated stewardship and devotion to long-term sustainability.
To paraphrase H. G. Wells, the future of civilization is a race between education and catastrophe.
This is a real photo taken by NASA's Cassini spacecraft in 2006.
Here the Sun is behind Saturn. With the Sun fully eclipsed, Earth appears as a pale blue dot.
That blue color originates from the interaction of oxygen and water on Earth.
ET would be able to tell from our spectrum that water and oxygen are here.
Several proposed telescopes may be able to image Earth-like atmospheres on exo- planets.
Gemini Planet Imager will start collecting exoplanet spectra in 2014.
The Thirty Meter Telescope being built on Mauna Kea will greatly expand the search.
Imaging meager pixel exoplanets depends on Adaptive Optics (AO) -
see Boston Micromachines video.
Their MEMS-based AO deformable mirrors are
also used to see individual rods and cones in the retina.
Kepler Seeks Earth-like Worlds
The Kepler Space Telescope regularly generates headline news..
Based on its discoveries, it is now certain that planets orbiting other stars are common.
Now orbiting the sun millions of miles from Earth, Kepler stares fixedly at 150,000 stars
looking for planetary transits. Other telescopes (above) will look for biogenic atmospheres.
(Addendum 14 Jan 2011: Kepler confirmed the discovery
of a rocky planet
560 light years away. Here, Dr. Natalie Batalha describes Kepler-10b.
(Addendum May 2013: Kepler has confirmed discovery of 132 planets
and 2,740 candidates. Unfortunately, two (of four) reaction wheels have now failed,
so the instrument may no longer be able to acquire new high precision photometry data.
Addendum: July 2013: ESO's HARPS telescope in Chile has just discovered
three planets orbiting in the habitable zone of a single nearby star in The Scorpion. )
The Hubble Deep Field in 3D
Mandatory viewing: this is the ultimate big picture.
Our planetary civilization is a microscopic, transitory blip at this scale.
And yet, the future of civilization may hinge on our collective efforts.
Here is another of astronomer Tony Darnell's magnificent videos on the JWST
( James Webb Space Telescope), Hubble's replacement, which will launch in 2018.
Population, Consumption, Sustainability
Planet Earth has too many human beings. And even worse, developed countries -
the United States
in particular -
consume far too much.
We build too many houses, too many cars, and too much stuff.
The USA has 4.5% of the World's population (USA 310 million; World 7 billion),
but we consume 25% of the World's resources. That over-consumption is poisoning the planet
and devasting other species. Annie Leonard's online video,
The Story of Stuff, is quite good,.
as is the documentary The Corporation. BTW, I'm pro capitalism; I love its innovations.
But, printing trillions of dollars to support buying this stuff is just making the problem worse.
Worldwatch Institute's founder, Lester Brown, is excellent. See his video at Google HQ .
Daniel (Emotional IQ) Goleman also has a new book on the topic: Ecological Intelligence.
And, Overpopulation.org is a great online resource, as is the Wikipedia article on sustainability.
This NY Times video shows the situation of billions of impoverished women and children.
This McClatchy News video shows the devasting effects of overpopulation on Africa.
Look at this list of growth rates for the World's 233 countries.
Lack of birth control dooms a country's future.
But, this video on longevity/ wealth in 200 countries (from Hans Rosling) is highly optimistic.
And finally, for a beautiful ray of hope and inspiration, view Paul Hawken at Bioneers.
GapMinder: World Graphs
My readers should all visit GapMinder.org. But first, to get an overview,
watch its founder, superstar Professor Hans Rosling lecture on the Rise of Asia.
This is infotainment at its best. World statistics and epidemiology brought to life.
(One caveat: I take issue with Prof. Rosling's view that reducing infant mortality
is the key to reducing explosive population growth in undeveloped countries.
Rather, reduced infant mortality is simply a marker of success.
The real cause of success is access to birth control.
Thomas Berry, Geologian, Dies at 94
I heard priest and historian Thomas Berry speak many years ago.
His book, the Universe Story, combines scientific cosmogenesis
with a story that emphasizes the obvious creative potential of the Universe.
His later books, particularly The Great Work, focus on the wanton environmental destruction
that has resulted from mankind's lack of global consciousness and
insane view of its perogatives.
Thomas Berry was a great voice for the environmental movement.
It is up to us to continue his Great Work.
John Muir in the New World
Above is a wonderful hour-long PBS documentary on John Muir,
one of my life-long heroes and sources of inspiration.
Every summer I tread the same ground that he did in the Sierras,.
and feel the same sense of the universality of Nature.
John Muir, through his depth of conviction and clear scientific mind, was able
to persuade Congress to create the National Park System, beginning with Yosemite.
Nature and Culture International: Saving the Rain Forests
Nature and Culture International (NCI) is my favorite eco-NGO.
Founded 15 years ago
by entrepreneur and ecologist, Ivan Gayler,
NCI has protected millions of acres
of precious rain forests in
Ecuador and Peru. Those regions have some of
concentrations of unique and endangered species anywhere on the planet.
The "culture" piece in NCI's work is crucial. It refers to its emphasis on
natives and local ecologists to carry out the preservation effort.
As a result,
NCI's budget is super efficient: almost no money
spent in the USA for staff -
all the money is used directly for land purchases
and preservation by locals.
These wonderful videos describe Ivan's vision
and NCI's work:
Save the Rainforest ; NCI Saving Rain Forests.
Global Warming Facts
The above is an excellent collection of facts about global warming from National Geographic.
A vast majority of climatologists are convinced by abundant evidence that global warming
induced by mankind. That evidence has been reported by the
IPCC, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Popular video accounts of it by
and others are available at TED. As with other complex long-term phenomena
(like smoking and cancer),
establishing causation is a matter for experts in the field.
Recent "reports" have been released by
James Inhofe's (R-Oklahoma) Senate Committee
that allege that "many experts dispute that global warming is induced by mankind."
A recent study by CFI has shown that these alleged polls of experts are, in fact,
large collections of non-experts with no publications
Addendum May 2013: Global CO2 levels have just hit 400 ppm! Global warming
is proceeding like a steamroller. A new major study predicts that it will result in
a drastic reduction (50%) in species habitats by 2080.
Brilliant cartoonist Justin Bilicki hits the nail on the head, as usual
Scientists and Evangelicals Unite to Protect Creation
This was an extraordinary meeting. Top environmentalists and top evangelical leaders
met at Harvard to jointly promote the rescue of Planet Earth. Read their inspiring statement.
People of faith need the science data. Science needs the organization/ dedication of the church.
Deciding who is right about creation is far less important than taking action to preserve it.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi Accepts Congressional Gold Award
San Suu Kyi is one of the most inspirational leaders on Earth today.
Having won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012, here she accepts a gold medal from Congress
for her efforts to move Burma (Myanmar) from military rule to democracy, despite two decades of arrest.
Israel and Palestine: Netanyahu Addresses Congress
This recent (May 24, 2011) speech to the US Congress by Israeli Prime Minister
Bejamin Netanyahu was one of the best presentations I've ever seen
by any world leader. It received dozens of standing ovations
from the entire Congress. It hits all of the difficult issues
raised by the Israeli/Palestinian negotiations.
And, speaking of Jews and Muslims, consider this hard-hitting commentary
"Let's Blame the Jews" from satirist Pat Condell, ((born Irish Catholic -
bless you, my son).
Condell bemoans the idiotic hatred of Israel by some Europeans,
fanned unintentionally by the Church, but explicitly advocated by many Muslim governments.
Pat, I admire guys with guts! You join my favorite group of thought-leaders -
the courageous atheists (next paragraph).
If Condell's tone is too angry for you,
consider this humorous version - Klavan's One-State Solution.
(The world of Islam around 1000 AD produced some great science, before sinking into
the same quagmire of religion-based ignorance that sunk Europe. Nowadays, America benefits
by outstanding scientists fleeing those Muslim countries and emigrating to the USA.)
And, here's a ray of hope in this New York Times article on Facebook as a virtual bridge.
NSA Whistleblower Edward Snowden
I don't condone Edward Snowden's going public with details of NSA's PRISM,
but I agree with several of his assertions in this must-see interview.
Nonetheless, the 911 World Trade Center attacks, as well as the attacks in Oklahoma City
and Boston, make it clear just how easy it is to cause death and destruction on a massive scale.
Obviously, protecting the public both from terror plots and from excessive surveillance
requires an on-going careful balance.
The Battle for Syria
This is an incredible documentary (PBS Video: Frontline) on the civil war in Syria.
The reporting and video footage is unbelievably courageous.
Religion and the Hazards of Blind Faith
Starting in 2004, a series of books appeared on the bad aspects of religion:
mindless belief in miracles, faith, and dogma and
the crimes committed in their name.
The courageous authors of those books now have online videos. Here are some favorites.
, author of The End of Faith
and Letter to a Christian Nation
, author of The God Delusion
author of Breaking the Spell
and Christopher Hitchens
, author of God is Not Great
Yes, religion does have many good aspects,
well exemplied by
my many religious friends who do wonderful, charitable work
But they would
continue their charitable acts even if God mysteriously disappeared
I personally favor
the "best of both worlds" found in secular humanism
and positive psychology
without the miracles and the dogma.
(Ok, it would be even better
if we had some great gospel singers
Optimism, hope, love, kindness, charity, and compassion are wonderful:
the propagation of fairy stories and falsehood is not. Self-transcendence and a
reverence for Nature are far too important to be left only to religion.
(There is one grand supernal miracle - the unfolding of the Universe
Enya - Watermark
Enya is a high priestess of true spirit.
The animator here captures the spirit of Earth's biosphere,
a living wonder, that all of us must work to preserve.
Symphony of Science: The Greatest Show on Earth
Above is one in an inspired series of videos by musician John Boswell.
See the others at his website: Symphony of Science.
Scale of the Universe
A beautiful (and family friendly) animation stepping successively down to the smallest objects
and up to the largest objects in the Universe. Click each object for pop-up info.
A Brave and Startling Truth
Poet Laureate Maya Angelou's lovely poem, written in celebration
of the 50th anniversary of the United Nations.
The angelic voice of Enya combined with a sublime tour of the heavens.
Behold Nature's handiwork and her lovely daughter, Gaia.
Angels are a metaphor for the eternal, nurturing spirit that pervades untrammeled Earth.
And, here in this beautiful photo montage of Hawaii set to Enya's Caribbean Blue.
Sound, Brain Waves, and Dimensions
Another sumptuous collection of fantastic images of Earth, the Universe, and the Surreal.
We are part of something far bigger than we can imagine.
Science strives to explain Reality: Art, at its best, restores its Unity.
I have always been a fan of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.
This paper from Sofia Univ. (formerly ITP) is a nice synopsis of Maslow's major concepts:
growth, honesty, self-actualization, wisdom, transcendence.
Yo Yo Ma - Massenet (Meditation from Thais)
Renowned cellist Yo Yo Ma plays the Meditation from Thais by Massenet.
Also recommended: Secret Garden - Appassionata.
Our sense of beauty has been cultivated by eons of interaction with Nature
(more recently subverted by Hollywood and by Madison Avenue.)
The Global Brain
This video by Peter Russell has long been a favorite.
In 35 minutes he presents the history of life, mankind, and our present situation.
Humanity has such destructive potential that we will perish
unless we can ascend Maslow's hierarchy and embrace Nature and sustainability.
The Inner Life of a Cell
This incredible 3 min.animation was done for Harvard by BioVisions.
Their director, David Bolinksy, tells the story in a longer version presented at TED.
And, this version labels the molecules and subcellular organelles. Behold 4 billions years of Evolution!
Similarly, biology animator Drew Berry shows us the incredible nanotech involved
during cell division when DNA replicates and is pulled apart by microtubules. Magic!
Inspirational Videos Conveying Genuine Life Lessons
This is a beautiful collection of 33 YouTube videos including ones by
Steve Jobs, Randy Pausch, Al Pacino, Michael Jordan, and Barack Obama.
The Hero's Journey: Joseph Campbell
Here, Joseph Campbell's work on the Hero's Journey is concisely illustrated
with clips from The Matrix.
Crows are Intelligent!
I love this TED video by Josh Klein, who built a vending machine for crows.
They are incredibly intelligent tool users. When I backpack, I observe the
Clark's Nutcrackers, another of the Corvidae. They can remember thousands of seed caches.
Never call someone a bird-brain, unless you mean it as a compliment.
Avatar by James Cameron
(I know my readers have seen the wonderful 2009 movie Avatar.
I wrote this review when it first appeared. You may still enjoy the links.)
With breath-taking 3D graphics and a better-than-expected script,
Avatar (like Star Wars) is a film I will see more than once. While the script borrows heavily
the past (At Play in the Fields of the Lord, Dune, Fern Gully,
Dancing With Wolves),
it's a great reworking of important themes.
The main dramatic conflict
is a high tech army of mercenaries in the employ of a multinational corporation
exploiting the natural resources of a native people who live in a pristine jungle.
Sound familiar? Think Big Oil
drilling for petroleum in the Amazon
or Brazilian agribusiness burning forests to graze cattle.
Readers of this website know my sentiments. Even my Republican friends shrink from this
kind of unconscionable 19th century exploitation. (World Ending in 2012? Vote for Sarah!)
(BTW, real "imperial walker-style"
robots for felling trees are in advanced development,
and may soon be cutting down old-growth forests near you.)
A less readily defensible position taken by Avatar is the notion of the peacefulness and bliss
of native pre-technological peoples
- the assumption of the Noble Savage -
that people uncorrupted by technology
are less prone to violence than are modern folk.
(Of course, in fiction to heighten drama, anything goes - but some may confuse art with life.)
Some may think that technologic society is becoming more violent. That would be wrong.
Watch Harvard Prof. Steve Pinker's TED video on the Myth of Violence to be set straight.
In Leviathan in 1651 Thomas Hobbs concluded "(in primitive societies)
the life of man is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short."
(But, also note that
mass media indisputably leads to real-life aggression.)
Technology is a mixed blessing,
but it's a blessing that few people voluntarily decline.
And what of the avatars -"meat puppets" animated remotely by the spirits of others?
Avatars have been a staple of sci fi since Wm. Gibson's Neuromancer and
Neil Stephenson's Snow Crash and now massively in Second Life and World of Warcraft.
An explosion of
online verisimilitude is just around the corner and somewhat later
in robotic avatars (ie, telepresence as in Intuitive Surgical's da Vinci robots).
This is also the nearest-in path to immortality as in Gordon Bell's Total Recall.
In the near future our online avatars
will represent us politically. Facebook 2025 may be
your online rep working for you 24 by 7 by 365 - coming soon to an internet near you.)
Most uplifting in Avatar is the transcendent spirit and natural wisdom of the Na'vi (the natives)
as they live in harmony with the Pandoran forest world. Gut-level communion
with Nature is gone in modern man. However, that spirit burned brightly in the writings
of John Muir, of Carl Sagan, and of Thomas Berry.
The measure of our technology
is whether it heightens or suppresses that spirit. My great hope for the internet
is that it may help teach mankind to tread
lightly upon the Earth and its non-human inhabitants.
(See Paul Hawken's speech at Bioneers for a beautiful ray of hope; and also see
Charlie Rose's interview of James Cameron. Avatar dollars will help rescue the planet.
Update: 3 Nov 2010: James Cameron's 1 million dollar donation helped squash
California Prop. 23, a greedy, short-sighted attempt by Big Oil to kill clean energy.)
Speaking of energy, the future is being led by brilliant Silicon Valley entrepreneurs,
like Bloom Energy's K.R. Sridhar and
fueled by Sand Hill Road venture capitalists.
The above is a beautiful example of fuel cell technology.
Salman Khan: The Future of Education
Salman Khan started tutoring math to his relatives and now is teaching math and
science to the world via his YouTubes at Khan Academy. Here's a list of his tutorials.
This is the future of education and the internet. Bill Gates, Charlie Rose,
and Google are in agreement.
Project Loon: Balloon-Powered Internet for Everyone
Of the seven billion people on Earth, only about two billion have internet access.
It's way too expensive to lay fiber optic cable in the jungles and deserts of Africa, for example.
To provide internet access to these billions of people living in rural areas of poor countries,
Google has started Project Loon. It works like a space satellite network only with helium balloons
in the stratosphere. Project Loon has the potential to provide education, remote medical care,
and a wealth of advice and assistance from NGOs and fellow citizens.
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