Will the Singularity happen? I’m currently reading an international spy techno-thriller pot-boiler whose premise centers around the creation of Artificial General Intelligence (AGI), just asTerminator: Dark Fate is raking in big bucks in theaters. Scary futures are big entertainment business. It’s a perfect time for a provocative question like the one Fandango asks today:
The world is definitely going to hell in a handcart. Civilization has reached the breaking point. I’m talking about multiple stories in the NY Times this past week that suggest the relationships between colleges, their students, and students’ families have become completely dysfunctional. Today, the discussion about the 50% increase in traffic on Facebook pages for student parents was the last straw. Here’s my suggestion. Chill Out. Remain aloof. Just say, “I don’t know exactly what goes on at college these days.” Leave it at that.
Colleges Are Not Summer Camps
Apparently, more than 200,000 people joined university parent groups last year, which means such social media participants number in the millions by now. Typical posts discuss whether there are fire alarms going off, where parents can buy mattress toppers, what’s going on during sorority/fraternity rush week, and how to arrange to have cupcakes delivered. Yes, you read that right. A parent wanted to know how to have cupcakes delivered to her nearly-adult son for his birthday. As she might have done, maybe, every year when he was in elementary school. Do you suppose she had cupcakes delivered when he was in high school? Was her son mortified? Did he try to throw them in the trash before anyone outside the office saw them? Or disavow them? Or sell them to friends for extra cash? I have so many questions about this behavior…
Fun Memoir Fact. When my high school son was getting a ride to somewhere, like high school or a skate park, (which was often because he didn’t have a car), he wanted to be dropped off at least 50 yards away. And liked to get out of the car when it was still moving.
If you believe in magic, come along with me We’ll dance until morning till there’s just you and me And maybe, if the music is right I’ll meet you tomorrow, sort of late at night And we’ll go dancing, baby, then you’ll see How the magic’s in the music and the music’s in me
The Lovin’ Spoonful
The illustrious blogger Fandango has posed the question today: Do you believe in magic? Quite a can of worms, isn’t it? This is partly a question of definition and categorization, taxonomy as much as philosophy. What’s just as interesting is the blurred lines between religion, magic, expertise, intuition, evidence, and conclusions without evidence, and how they lead people to take actions that are self-contradictory.
The question was instigated by a recent incident in a Tennessee Catholic school where the pastor removed the Harry Potter series from the elementary/middle school library because: “These books present magic as both good and evil, which is not true, but in fact a clever deception. The curses and spells used in the books are actual curses and spells; which when read by a human being risk conjuring evil spirits into the presence of the person reading the text.”
Well, as Hermione might say, Revelio!
Is it a Natural Law If I Don’t Know it Exists Yet?
But first, definitions are required if we’re going to talk about magic and belief. Belief refers to a personal conviction which can either be backed up by facts or not. Belief can be based on unseen evidence. I believe that antibodies and quarks exist because scientific studies have identified them and described how they work. I don’t have to see them. Belief can also occur without evidence. I believe that people have experienced things not yet explained by science, such as dreaming about things that occur in reality but outside the dreamer’s knowledge.
Magic, according to Merriam-Webster, is the art of producing a result …through human control of supernatural agencies or of the force of nature. Hmmm. So what is supernatural? Beyond what is natural; unexplainable by natural law. (I’m excluding stage magicians here, who perform amazing tricks through explainable but complicated processes such as hidden doorways or misdirection.) What this definition points out is that magic, in essence, is something that occurs which is unexplainable. Let’s also add: CURRENTLY unexplainable.
We’ve seen plenty of bold and brazen corporate thievery in recent years. “Pharma Bro” Martin Shkreli upped the price of life-saving medicine 5000% because he could; he’s now serving years in the pen for securities fraud. There was the Enron bunch, led by Jeff Skilling, who created blackouts in San Francisco and the west coast in the early 2000s by manipulating the temporarily de-regulated California electric market. The traders were caught on tape laughing about stealing money from the “poor grandmothers.” Such a grand level of avarice is hard to stomach, but one that tops them all must be Barry Myers. Because Myers has been trying to steal the weather.
There’s a backstory, of course. A grain of legitimacy, a swirl of political intrigue, a schadenfreude twist of fate, and a who-knows-what-happens-next part to this tale. The most important question to me is exactly which circle of hell Myers will end up in, the one where his shade is bitten by snakes or the one where he is thrown into the lake of boiling pitch?
My yoga teacher told us a few weeks back that we should refrain from drinking cold water, either with meals or at any other time. This led to a pointed rebuke from another long-time student who had an extensive nutritional background, and the merry debate went on until the instructor ended with, “Well, this was what they told me in a physiology class that I’m taking.”
I remembered this exchange reading last week in the NY Times about a study which showed people often cling to ideas which conflict with scientific consensus and common sense. Further, that those who often feel strongest are often the least knowledgeable. Although this seems counterintuitive , almost surreal, we have seen this in action. In fact, this conundrum seems to be one of the most pressing problems of our time, one which, despite the ready availability of good information, persistently leads to the opposite. Case in point: reactions to the Mueller report. Case in point: the recent outbreak of measles, which ought to have been eradicated in the U.S. Case in point: see my post about eating cheese.
Why do easily validatable yet unsubstantiated ideas get so easily disseminated and supported? Perhaps it is a function of our response to the Information Superhighway which gives us 1) too much information 2) sometimes delivered by the unscrupulous which leaves us to be 3) overly reliant on people we (think we) can trust. Because 4) you can drink cold water.