Robert L. Blum, MD, PhD




AI: Future of Humanity

Sphere of Interest

WebBrain: AI
neurosci psych

Stanford Brain Lecture Notes

The RX Project:
Robotic Discovery

CV Biblio (1985)


Index of Essays

Psychology &
Neuroscience brain-icon

Computer Science,
Robotics, and AI

Health & Biotech

Earth Wisdom: Universe

Be Saved by Bob!!!
(And Other Balms )

Optimal Nutrition:
Are Fats Killers
or Saviors?


Consciousness Video:
Who, What, When?

Stan Dehaene's
Consciousness & Brain

Near Death Experiences: In the Desert With Pim Van Lommel

Fine-Tuned for Life?

Neuron Videos Say
Forget Realistic AI

EUV 2014 - Future of Moore's Law

BAM: Brain Activity Map of Spikes

Beating Jeopardy!
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:
AI Formulation

AI Awakens

CONSCIOUSNESS as Global Resonance

SEAN's Accident

Coronary Artery
CT Scan: Yes!

Book Review: TRANSCEND

Book Review:
Create a Mind

Does Drug X


Total Recall:
Everything, Always

Ralph Triumphs:
Elbot Cheers

Scientists &
Evangelicals Unite

Thomas Berry,
Geologian: Obituary

Calorie Restriction
Works in Monkeys!

TheBrain &
WebBrain: Review


In the Amazon with Steven Pinker: the Photos


Steve and Bob


            Let’s get one thing clear: I hate traveling.


            Look up the etymology of the word TRAVEL:  it means “to toil or labor.”

(as in TRAVAIL) It's been acknowledged for centuries: travel sucks.
(Moving meat around is such a 2nd millennium thing; photon transport is so much more efficient.)


Edwin Newman, the renowned newscaster, had it right in his 1974 bestseller
Strictly Speaking when he devised the TRAVEL SIMULATOR.
It’s an area in an airport where budget travelers can experience the “joys” of travel
on a shoestring. They can sit interminably, simulating being bumped from overbooked flights.
For an extra fee they can sit on chairs that rock nauseatingly to simulate sea cruises
or be insulted by haughty waiters with French accents. Of course,
having luggage simply thrown away is always included as is
the de riguer serving of diarrhea-inducing food and drink.


So, I was set to enjoy spring in California when an email arrived:

“In two months Steve Pinker will be cruising the Amazon with a group sponsored
by the Center for Inquiry (CFI)


I've been a big-time Steve Pinker fan ever since I saw him on one of his many book tours
about 15 years ago.  At the time he was promoting The Language Instinct
(a must read if you speak or otherwise use language.)
He explains how it works.


(The Language Instinct is so good, and the edition that I have is so light (13 ozs.)
that I have taken it on many back-packing trips. (My figure of merit for literature is
infotainment per kilogram


            I also  ran into Steve when I was in London in 2002.  He was presenting his new book
The Blank Slate in an animated discussion with British novelist Ian McEwan who took
the opposite side. Steve: “human nature is largely built-in.  Ian “No. It’s largely learnt.”
Nature vs Nurture.


His books are worthy bestsellers. If you haven’t heard of him go to
Steve Pinker’s website  and look at the videos and read some snippets. 
(I haven’t quite forgiven him for deserting the rigorous academic standards of MIT
for the fluffy, flippant effetes of Harvard – but, he had his reasons.)


            On to CFI – the Center for Inquiry.

They are staunch defenders of scientific evidence as a basis for public policy.
They also  promote human values and planetary ethics (without religion).
The other piece of CFI, embodied by their journal Skeptical Inquirer, is exposing frauds,
quacks, and ignoramuses including psychics, faith-healers, astrologers and their ilk.
 Fearless truth-seekers!  The founder, guiding light, and chief truth-seeker is
the wonderful Professor Paul Kurtz.


Paul Kurtz

            The fish shown below are Piranhas – each about one foot long.
They have razor sharp teeth and are aggressive meat eaters.


            Like lawyers they randomly attack with the slightest provocation.
Dr. Kurtz mentions that CFI pays thousand of dollars a year for litigation insurance. 
To their credit CFI’s provocations are not slight. When Skeptical Inquirer prints an expose
of an alleged charlatan, as they did, with Uri Geller, the “spoon-bending psychic,”
they hit with a sledge hammer and expect an attack by the charlatan’s lawyers.
Bravo CFI. Bravo Dr. Kurtz.

(Even lawyers, just like the piranhas and leeches, are still part of the Great Web of Life.)
(Note to my pals in environmental law - you are Nature's stewards, of course.)


            Our trip to the Amazon was directed by Toni Van Pelt, shown below.  

            Toni in a veil


Toni is CFI’s Washington D. C.-based lobbyist.  Toni narrowly missed being
Director of the National Organization for Women in their national election.
Above she appears in the traditional veil worn by members of NOW.
It also keeps away mosquitoes.) And here, like Tarzan’s Jane, she swings
on an Amazon vine.       

Toni on a vine


            Steve Pinker’s camera equipment appears in the series below.

Steve + camera

            Steve (in common with Newton and Einstein) belongs to the
Luxuriant Flowing Hair Club for Scientists . But here, it is the camera equipment that is
the object of our attention. He tells me that his frequently outmoded equipment gets sold
on E-Bay. We will see the result of that photographic devotion soon below  (stay tuned).


Bob and Steve jungle


Steve and ant

The pictures that he took of the Amazonian flora and fauna appear here

and are worthy ofNational Geographic. (Mine taken with my old first-gen digital camera
are mainly not worthy of display.)


 (The worried looks above are induced by the one inch long bullet-ant that Steve is viewing.
  Some combination of the bite and the formic acid feels like you were hit by a bullet.)


            But I did get this nice sunset showing Melissa, my traveling (not with me)
psychotherapist and part-time co-dance instructor. ( I brought an iPOD full
of sambas, chachas,  tangos, and salsas to teach the troops some Latin dances.)




            And the picture below showing my friend, Dr. Alan Meyer,
  a retired Kaiser gastroenterologist, also from California.


Bob and Alan


This could be an ad for Kaiser or an ad for Ex Officio SPF 50 jungle shirts
(that was purely coincidental). And below - one of my rare, good fauna fotos
- a Pink Amazon River Dolphin.

River Dolphin



            And finally, these pictures. 

Saint Paul

            The caption on the Social Hall reads “The Divine Saintly Spirit”
– a clear reference to SAINT PAUL, the DIVINE – patron saint of atheists.


And this one of our entire band of traveling skeptics and secular humanists.

CFI Group Photo

            I presented my photo set recently to a group of friends one of whom asked,
“why did CFI, Paul Kurtz, and Steven Pinker go to the Amazon? (rather than, say,
to Hoboken, New Jersey?)”   There are several prosaic answers.
Here’s the one I prefer.  A central focus of CFI is on PLANETARY ETHICS.
What better place than the Amazon to appreciate the majesty and beauty of
the natural world – a world that increasingly must be protected
by the wise stewardship of a collection of elders who transcend
(and reject as out-moded) national, ethnic, and religious ideologies.

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