In this golden era of public speaking, “chatauqua” style presentations range from enlightening (e.g. the best TED talks) to absurd flim-flam (e.g. the worst TED talks)… all the way to the hilariously on-target Onion Talks. I’ve certainly been kept busy in this new century, giving blather that — I suppose — spans that entire range. Now, two of my best recent talks are available, online!
1. Otherness: Will we supply our own new diversity? Suppose we don’t meet aliens. Might we satisfy our thirst for “otherness” anyway, by widening the range of who “we” are? The greatest discovery of recent, scientific civilization has been tolerance. Inclusion of all types, races, genders of people as full citizens, contributing fresh perspectives and wisdom. That task of expansion is not complete! But already we’re discussing the next phases. Incorporating intelligences that are artificial, or human variants, or uplifted animals. What are the dangers and opportunities?
Explore these Big Ideas along with David Brin’s assumption-shattering talk at the Smithsonian, in May 2014.
Alas, the editors of this slide-heavy talk chose to focus mostly on me and my boring face, which may prevent you from making out the illustrations. But you can follow along on Slideshare! Just open the window alongside and click along with me. (Some overlays and animations don’t play.)
2. “Indignation, Addiction and Hope: Does it help to be “Mad as Hell?” My talk at TEDxUCSD finally offers a public version of this disturbing notion I’ve been discussing for years — that an unseen addiction is destroying our civilization.
For a generation, we’ve been taught that the best way to deal with any problem – personal or national or worldwide – is to get mad as hell!
Recent science exposes this as a scam that has produced the most disastrously addictive force in civilization…. a veritable plague of sanctimony that is pushed by cynical media, selling fear while poisoning our native ability to negotiate with one-another.
Oh, certainly problems sometimes merit indignation! But are we abandoning our greatest gift – the ability to actually solve problems?
Again, the TED-itors chose to emphasize my boring face. So here are the slides. (Most multi-layer and animated slides don’t flow; you’ll just have to imagine!) And see links to some other cool videos, below.
== The ideas get even deeper! ==
Robert Kuhn’s television series Closer To Truth “gives you access to the world’s greatest thinkers exploring humanity’s deepest questions. Discover the fundamental issues of existence. Enjoy new ways of thinking. Appreciate diverse views. Witness intense debates. Express your own opinions. Seek your own answers. Get smarter.” Wow… that’s a pretty hefty promise! So why not check out this fabulous series, now fully available online!
I contributed a few bits to the program, on topics ranging from cosmology and SETI to religion to ESP. My segments – sorted by show episode and category – can be found here.
But scan the impressive lists of other folks Kuhn interviewed, some of them WAY smarter than me! Such as David Deutsch, Freeman Dyson and Francisco Ayala. Mind-blowing stuff.
== What does it take to be “ethical?” ==
Elsewhere, the topic came up… to what extent is it fair to judge men and women of the past by OUR modern moral standards? And to what extent does that set us up for rebuke by much better descendants?
Certainly some who engage in the modern drug high of sanctimony chide their neighbors partly to lower their own “karma” … but also as a kind of aggression. (See my video on this: cited above!)
And yet the world does need to be saved! And we owe much to heroes who stood up — in days past — to question the “common wisdom” of their own times, when it came to racism, sexism, classism or environmental neglect.
There is a litmus that I apply to historical figures and I am willing to see it applied to myself. Yes, they were products of their times — as am I. Hence, what I ask is “did you try to be at least two standard deviations BETTER than your times?”
Did you try — and succeed — to shift the momentum or arc of your times in better directions? By that metric, Thomas Jefferson gets some added slack and Abraham Lincoln is let completely out of purgatory. Sure it’s self-serving. This standard lets me continue to eat meat, for example, so long it is judicious and sparing and I keep a nagging conscience affecting how I behave as a much-reduced carnivore. And so long as I am part of the movement to keep applying pressure for better empathy and treatment of animals… plus the technological push for tissue culture meaticulture that may take away the ethical conflict with our evolved natures… I don’t feel too guilt-wracked.
Or is that rationalization? Sure, my pisco vegetarian wife has better karma than I do. She’ll live longer, too! I expect I’ll reevaluate next year… and the next.
Likewise, I fight for a better world hard enough to know that I am trying and I cannot be judged as not having cared… yet I still fly in airplanes, drive a car. I’m not in this to lord my virtuous nature over others, nor to win your approval. I am in it to be (as Jonas Salk demanded) a “good ancestor.”
== Other Cool Media ==
The brainiac philosophers at “A Partially Examined Life” have posted both the two hour podcast of our interview and their followup notes. “What’s the point of thinking? David Brin sees the future as a pressing threat, and Existence speculates that the reason we don’t see evidence of life on other planets is that no species survives its technological adolescence. The solution? We need to be smarter than our parents and work to give our kids the tools to be smarter than we are. In the book, the ultimate hope comes from a concerted effort to develop and diversify the coalition of Earth’s intelligent life, to make “humanity” encompass more than just the biological humans that we currently are.”
I tried hard to offer my best stuff since these are the alphas who actually did something with their philosophy majors! Maybe I tried too hard to impress em. Did talk a mile a minute, trying to cover a lot?
And now… here are the cliffs of Torrey Pines north of San Diego . These men release their hawks, and then soar with them. way cool.
Of Buddies, Offpspring and Artificial Mythology: A stunningly beautiful video/art riff by renowned artist Bob Vanderbob contains this background remark — “These (are) times of accelerating change, ill-defined angst, collective paralysis , anger and all sorts of regressive behavior. Times that are scary but also full of potential. It is important that we stay calm. One way to do that is to put our lives into perspective. Look at the big picture. That is what mythology does.” — while he presents images that are gorgeously evocative and thought-provoking.
Your Digital AfterLives: Here’s an interesting rumination, by Eric Steinhart, on the notion that we may be living in a simulation. Some subtleties.
== Miscellany ==
Overstepping Artifacts, by Musicians with Guns, is a way-cool video that illustrates another great riff on fractal space. I’d love to use this as a basis for the ever-changing metal corals under the seas of Kithrup, in a Startide Rising flick.
Are indoor shopping malls vanishing? No new one has been built in the US since 2006 and maybe half of them might disappear soon. For a generation, they were our town square. By all appearances (especially in the age of video arcades) in may be that GenX was the best of all times to be young and hang out.