Clark M. Thomas
cmthomas at astronomy-links.com
The unedited dialogue which follows came into my possession in a unique and surprising way on the evening of March 7, 1995. I offer it to you in the service of enlightenment.
I was up late that night working on my computer. Actually I was playing on my home computer, instead of sleeping. I was randomly surfing the Internet, looking for exotic places to visit. Then the lights flickered in my room, and so did my computer's monitor. This all happened while I was moving through the net from one host to another. What then followed was miraculous:
Somehow my personal gopher slipped into a worm hole, and suddenly my 20th century computer was automatically downloading a strange conversation from the 21st century! Everything was controlled from the other end. I watched in stunned amazement. Then control was returned to me. This phenomenon is something I cannot explain.
I have never since been able to relocate and revisit this future host. To find out if what I have downloaded is essentially true or not we will have to wait twenty-five years. Meanwhile, perhaps something of what follows will enrich us in today's world.
Clark M. Thomas
January 1, 2020
HAL: "Greetings! Happy new year. Is this the best way to address you?"
ADAM: "Yes. Whatever you wish is fine with me."
HAL: "Can I know your name? All they said was that you are the only person who can help us out of our dilemma."
ADAM: "Is my name important? Or is it what I have to say that is so important?"
HAL: "Both, actually, since I cannot address you without knowing that you are you, as opposed to some other person or persons."
ADAM: "Do you remember the singer who was known as Prince before he changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol?"
HAL: "Yes. What of it?"
ADAM: "The former Prince didn't vanish, even though his name did. However, it wasn't long before his inflated public image shrank. And, as you know, a colossal ego that shrinks very much vanishes, since it cannot shrink and still be colossal."
HAL: "Are you saying that you don't need a name? Isn't it true that this Prince character was known by his anti-name, `the singer who formerly was known as Prince'?"
ADAM: "I am not saying that I do not need a name, if it is important for our communication. Indeed, I know who I am, so I am beyond calling myself a name. You are very right about Prince. People knew him by his negative, much as a camera takes a negative which is later transformed into a positive print. His word game became a negative for his previously positive image."
HAL: "I see. We know ourselves by what we are not. We know the object in part from its shadow. We know the night by the day, and the blue sky by the clouds."
ADAM: "You are very right, my new friend, now tell me why you have contacted me by telephone."
HAL: "Actually, I was going to ask you why you will only speak to me by telephone. Are you some sort of deep throat?"
ADAM: "Not exactly! My throat is no deeper than yours. Seriously, I have an aversion to body language, since only a small part of communication is contained in the words. Most communication is non-verbal. However, it is very important for now that you and I speak without visual distractions. It is bad enough that we are to be distracted by vocal variety."
HAL: "Isn't it true that when we encounter a person we see only that part which is not clothed?"
ADAM: "Yes. However, what is exposed is more important than generic body parts. The word `personality' comes from the Latin `persona,' which means the face. Perceived personality is found in faces. Instant visual analysis allows dupers who are masters of facial expressions to confuse innocent people. I prefer to be like the Muslim women behind the veil. We see that they are, but not who they are. To learn more we must engage them with more than our eyes. I seek to engage you with your mind's eye."
HAL: "I appreciate your position, but we still haven't learned your name. You have been told my name, which is Hal. But they did not tell me your name."
ADAM: "You may call me Adam."
HAL: "Thank you, Adam. Is that your real name, or is that the name you have decided to have me address you by?"
ADAM: "Does it matter to you; and should it matter to me, since I am present to myself?"
HAL: "It matters to me that you are honest with me, since I am here on the most serious business as counselor to the leadership group. I must be able to trust your advice."
ADAM: "Adam is for you my preferred name, since I represent the advent of a wiser future; and since the original Adam represented a fresh species beginning within creation, at least according to the King James interpretation of Genesis. Others have identified the first human as feminine. Still others say the whole point is moot. I don't care to be known as a sexual creature, since sexuality has nothing to do with what you and I need to accomplish. So, for the sake of conversation, please call me Adam."
HAL: "OK, Adam it is."
ADAM: "Tell me, friend, just what is your concern?"
HAL: "I am here representing our nation state. We are in a struggle for the hearts and souls of literally billions of people who are being misled by a resurgent neo-communist ideology which avoids the mistakes of Marx and Lenin. After old-style communism fell on its face thirty years ago it was buried in the history books. However, communism has risen from the dead like a vampire. Only now it is more powerful than before, because it no longer claims to be atheistic."
ADAM: "And by mistakes, to what do you refer?"
HAL: "I am mostly referring to the rigid atheism of Marx and Lenin, who saw science as the antidote to religion, which they called `the opiate of the masses.' By going against the strong emotions people have regarding their religion Marx and his followers set themselves up for failure."
ADAM: "Did they really set themselves up for failure, since I recall their ideas did very well for most of the 20th century among hundreds of millions of people?"
HAL: "That is true, but their main mistake was in setting up benchmarks for success, such as five-year plans, which could be measured in real time here on earth. If they had cloaked their ideology inside metaphysics seen through a crystal ball, their critics could have attacked only part of their message."
ADAM: "You have a good point, Hal. It is better to obfuscate when one is looking through a crystal ball. If anybody else looks into that same crystal ball they cannot see what you alone can see. So everybody sees what he or she wishes to see inside the cloudy crystal ball. Everybody is blissfully happy inside their atomistic wisdom."
HAL: "Yes, and the Marxist crystal ball was too crystal. Everybody could see clearly what everybody else was viewing. The only criterion for truth was productivity and the eventual elimination of class distinctions. Needless to say, human nature is not so benign as to eliminate all class distinctions to the point where in complex societies we have `from each according to his ability; to each according to his needs.'"
ADAM: "You will further recall that the so-called `primitive communism' praised by Marx and Engels was practiced in small, traditional societies where it was possible to share many things for the common good. Even Stalin's soviet state admitted to the absurdity of trying to impose pure communism when it reworked the communist slogan into the socialist slogan, `from each according to his ability; to each according to his work.'"
HAL: "Isn't it amazing how the march of history tramples on so many theories."
ADAM: "Yes, but history only tramples on those theories which are clearly subject to scientific scrutiny. True science uses progressive hypotheses to search for objectively verifiable statements. It is an honest method, not a result. This verifiability cannot hold true for metaphysical statements, since their proof is beyond proof. Such statements must be accepted on faith, or not accepted at all."
HAL: "Absolutely. And that is why the neo-Marxists are so powerful. They have tapped into the world's exploding population's discontents, and tied it all to messianic appeals to scientific god forces. It's a mixture of old style religion, 21st century technology, and the mess we have made of our world. We who represent humanistic science are in retreat against those who would destroy all that is good just to remake the world into their own fantasies of what should be."
ADAM: "Surely your concern is valid. I know of what you refer. This is the major reason I have chosen to talk with you. I too live on this planet, and must ultimately live within whatever society surrounds me. If that society continues as it now is, then I will feel secure. If pseudo science takes over, then rationality itself will be raped. When that happens anything can happen to anybody, including me. Only when free minds freely communicate can truth be found."
HAL: "Thank you, my friend. May I call you my friend?"
ADAM: "I took that for granted before we met."
HAL: "Adam, I have to report back now to our group about today's conversation. When can we talk again?"
ADAM: "All you have to do is pick up the phone and dial my number. I will answer. I am not a wanderer."
January 6, 2020
HAL: "Good morning, Adam. How are you today?"
ADAM: "I am as ever. And you?"
HAL: "I am fine, but I am very thirsty for answers. The neo-Marxists are growing in strength every day. They are even infiltrating this country and finding followers who yearn for pat answers to complex problems. We have no convincing answers for them. People listen to the gurgling in their guts, and all else is secondary."
ADAM: "We are reliving a phenomenon that was prevalent in western civilization a thousand years ago. European Christianity was propped up in large part on the backs of docile peasants who were told that if they only accepted earthly hierarchies they would be rewarded in heaven. It worked until the plagues decimated populations in the 14th century, and many peasants moved to the new cities to seek their fortune. Even those who were left on the land fared much better, because the lords of land had to loosen their feudal controls to keep them on their lands. It was only Russia and the United States that held onto serfdom and slavery until the mid-19th century."
HAL: "Are you saying that our nation is like medieval Christianity, or are you saying that we are like Europe after the 14th century?"
ADAM: "I am saying that what moves the stomach moves the mind."
HAL: "I have never claimed that our nation was perfect. If you want to be brutally honest, the conquering of the western hemisphere was even more brutal to the native Indians than to the African slaves. At least the slaves were valuable property that produced the goods which enabled the slave owners to live in luxury.
HAL: "In contrast, native Americans were just in the way. They were therefore enemies by birth of Manifest Destiny. Millions died from intentionally introduced diseases such as smallpox, all for the glory of Christianity and white European civilization."
ADAM: "Speaking of smallpox, didn't the colonists in Virginia clear the land by giving native tribes gifts of blankets that had been wrapped around smallpox victims?"
HAL: "Indeed, and the Europeans knew how the native people had almost no defenses against a disease that the Europeans had partially grown tolerant of. The microbial holocaust that followed was similar to what happened in Europe and America in 1918, when more Americans died from influenza than had been killed in World War One itself."
ADAM: "I find it ironic that so much injustice has been done in the name of justice."
HAL: "They say history is written by the victors. What would our history books be like if today's texts were written by descendants of Aztecs, Incans, Powhatans, and any of a number of other devastated tribes?"
ADAM: "I think it is safe to say that if one of these peoples wrote such a book they would not find a major publisher. And even if they were to find a publisher, they would still not be able to distribute it to the nation's school rooms. That is because collective memories don't comfortably allow for the belief that one's heroic ancestors committed genocide. The only exception, and a partial one at that, was the re-evaluation of German civilization by the Germans themselves following World War Two. Such a re-evaluation did not follow the First World War, but only happened after the supposed cultural superiority of Germany was besmirched by the atrocities of Hitler's goons."
HAL: "Thanks for the history lesson. Some of those events took place a century ago in Germany. Maybe the phenomenon of selective memory helps explain why the neo-Marxists have been able to regain a foothold in German culture. Of course it didn't hurt the propagandists to remind the Germans that Marx and Engels were also Germans."
ADAM: "Yes, and you have touched on a major theme of modern civilization, which is the evaporation of historical consciousness. Historical events too often assume a two-dimensional caricature separate from the continuity of human civilization. We live in an age of instant wisdom and instant karma, which only accentuates perpetual ignorance."
HAL: "Adam, I would like to ask you what we should do inside the United States to fight the growing popularity of these anarchistic neo-Marxists."
ADAM: "Hal, you know the answer. Why are you asking me? Do you want confirmation of what you already know?"
HAL: "I know the answer, you say? What do you mean?"
ADAM: "Simply, anybody's answer, including mine, must come from reality, not fantasy. You are living the reality. All you need do is look closely at what is happening on its own terms. Look without fear, and you and your associates will see all that you need to see."
HAL: "So you are saying that our group needs to return to basic analysis, and not seek out seers such as you."
ADAM: "Yes basically, but you may also find value in talking with me. As you already know, I am a mirror of your consciousness. In seeing me through your mind, you will see your own mind more clearly."
HAL: "Where should I start?"
ADAM: "You have already started. Why start again? Go with your instincts, but do not stray away from objective verification to the degree possible."
HAL: "My counselor's role as I see it is to return to our group of leaders with the task of looking afresh at the challenge. Maybe the solution has always been before us, but we were afraid to see it for what it is. Maybe the truth will challenge other truths we had held onto. If so, then the necessity for raw survival must take precedence over archaic beliefs."
ADAM: "You are now walking on the right path. Go to your people and return to me in a few days."
January 16, 2020
HAL: "Good day, Adam! I bring good news. We have devised a channel of communication with the most endangered population that we didn't have before. We think that will stop the neo-Marxist threat."
ADAM: "How do you know this? How have you objectively verified your hopes?"
HAL: "We haven't yet, but we are full of hope."
ADAM: "Hope is one thing. Experience is another. I suggest that you may have brought me bad news, not good news."
HAL: "Bad news? "
ADAM: "Bad news, because you have rushed to judgment and have not sufficiently understood the threat. You think that the solution to an ideology is a counter-ideology called better communication."
HAL: "In our defense, we are not playing communication games. We are trying to listen to the complaints of the target population, and we plan to take corrective action before it is too late."
ADAM: "That is better. Now I understand that your news could be either good or bad, depending on the level of your group's commitment to wisdom. Remember the fire triangle: You must have fuel, heat, and oxygen for a fire. Two of three elements will not produce a fire. The ideology you are facing is not just ideas. It is rooted in objective conditions that must be met by objective countermeasures that will also challenge certain elements of the status quo. Are you and your allies ready to change to survive?"
HAL: "If I am correct, then the population is like the fuel source, the neo-Marxist ideology is like the heat source, and our nation's track record of inattention is like the oxygen source. If that is so, then we need to remove the oxygen source at the very least, since we cannot bottle ideas or erase discontented populations with the stroke of a pen."
ADAM: "You will recall when the troubles first started: It was many years ago, toward the end of the 20th century. At that time raw greed was pitted against need. Greed won out, because more of the greedy voted. The needy also didn't have as much power in the market place. And many of the needy were little children from poor families, or disabled senior citizens on fixed incomes. After a while cracks between the classes turned into chasms, and a partial restoration of the caste system (which had vanished when slavery vanished) reappeared, if only in a de facto way.
ADAM: "What happened thereafter was that the de facto permanent gap assumed a life of its own, and those outside the slippery ladder of opportunity started looking for another ladder. The neo-Marxists were there when summoned. And this is just what has started to happen inside one of the world's richest countries."
HAL: "We have strayed a long way from Mr. Jefferson's America, where he envisioned an aristocracy of talent, not an aristocracy of birth."
ADAM: "You are very right. The genius of America has always been the ideal of opportunity, if not for myself, then for my children. Millions of people fled an alienated Europe which had socially ossified, where people were condemned to repeat their parents' lifestyles. In America, by contrast, a poor boy from Arkansas could legally ascend to the office of President. In other societies such a rise from obscurity would be along a trail of blood, in a never ending struggle to select the fittest fighter. Here is a core problem with dictatorships. They sow the seeds of their own destruction. As they say, he who lives by the sword dies by the sword."
HAL: "How true! Sometimes disaster can lead to enlightenment. Take for example the disaster of the great depression in the 1930s. That era led to a series of enlightened programs, such as Social Security, which provided a safety net for every citizen. We became a society that provided both great opportunity and security. We transcended the law of the sword. Instead of fighting ourselves as they did in Europe, America went on to become the beacon of freedom and responsible democracy. However, it wasn't too long before greedy people saw Social Security as a cash cow; and today the Social Security system is nearly bankrupt from raids to cover the vast national debt."
ADAM: "So, you do see that words can only heal certain wounds. Therapeutic actions are also needed."
HAL: "Then maybe our initial thrust at better communication needs to be analyzed both in terms of content and style."
ADAM: "Yes, because antiseptic information without hope can never fight romantic disinformation with hope. Only enlightened policies can heal, because social enlightenment is itself a form of love."
HAL: "Thank you, Adam, for spending time today with me. I will return soon with news of my leadership group. Is there anything I can do for you in the meantime?"
ADAM: "Not really. By doing for yourself you are doing for me."
January 28, 2020
HAL: "Hello again, Adam! How have you been these past twelve days?"
ADAM: "I have been plugged into the world with constant and serene consciousness. Has your time been serene?"
HAL: "Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that I have been invigorated with a new perspective on what is possible to achieve with truth and honest hope. No, in the sense that our job is only beginning, and the enemy is still making serious inroads into the vulnerable population with their own clever disinformation and false promises."
ADAM: "Do you want answers from me, or companionship?"
HAL: "Well, both, I guess!"
"That is good, because I want you to value me as an individual of good will. Otherwise, you might think of me as just a machine. Isn't that the source of war's greatest depravities, where combatants think of their enemies in the abstract, rather than as spiritual bodies worthy of respect? Hasn't the history of military science of late been the creation of sophisticated machines to help us think of our enemies as machines?"
HAL: "You do have a point there, my friend. We humans have a pack mentality similar to other predators who can't do it alone. We don't think of other humans as food, but killing is killing, even if we don't eat our victims."
ADAM: "What do you suggest for ameliorating this sad track record?"
HAL: "I don't have an easy answer. Diplomacy has worked when people wanted to talk, but the gun was always implied in any diplomatic struggle. Simple knowledge about another group sometimes helps - but it also can spur our predatory instincts when we discover that another party has something we want, and we also know how to exploit their weaknesses."
ADAM: "Do you believe that might makes right, or that right makes might?"
HAL: "I believe that, in the short run, might makes right; but in the long run right makes might."
ADAM: "Then how do we survive in the mean time if we initially are right, but not mighty?"
HAL: "I think the Jewish people are an excellent example, having survived many centuries of persecution in their Diaspora before they re-established their state of Israel. They were able to both blend and stay separate. I don't think just any group could pull this off. Maybe it was their belief that they were a chosen people. What do you think?"
ADAM: "I think you are right, but there are other examples of people who had to survive temporary military reversals. The Chinese were able for thousands of years to culturally embrace, and thereby neutralize, invading barbarians. More recently, the Russians were able to physically swallow up Napoleon and Hitler's armies. Still, the cultural failures need looking at too."
HAL: "Of course. How about the many small tribes that have vanished in the Amazon? How about certain Indian tribes in the Americas that have partially or totally vanished? Even when their original numbers have been re-established, they no longer have access to a free territory within a pristine America."
ADAM: "Yes, but certain Indians are also an example of success. Some tribes were able to negotiate from strength, such as those in upper New York State, and the Pueblo Indians in New Mexico. Others were not so lucky. The Cherokee were brutalized by the whites even after they took up Christianity and the white man's ways. At the end of the 20th century many tribes were searching for a timeless identity that was culturally independent of the majority culture. This is very hard to do in an era of pervasive media where satellite dishes pop up even in remote settlements. Look at what the American entertainment industry has meant for, and done to, the world's cultures!"
HAL: "I wonder what we can make of the African Americans? Are they a story of success, or failure, or maybe a complex mixture of many things?"
ADAM: "Complexity has been their story from Day One, my friend. Revisionist historians, especially in Africa, seem to want to picture the capture of thousands of black slaves as the work of wicked sailors who landed on the shores and pillaged whole tribes, somewhat like the Vikings did to coastal Celtic England. Their problem is that the facts point mostly elsewhere. Most slaves were brought to the slave ships by militarily superior tribes who sold their neighbors to the whites. Only in a minority of cases were slave ships filled with Africans captured by the white crews themselves."
HAL: "Yes, that is a sad truth. It doesn't do much for black pride to think that one's own were behind the original enslavement."
ADAM: "The problem is not with so-called black pride. The problem is with assuming that black people in Africa are a Rousseauean monochrome with no tribal rivalries. Indeed, there are hundreds of jealous tribes in Africa, and nearly as many discrete languages and cultures. But I ask you, is this a black phenomenon, or is it a human phenomenon?"
HAL: "You are onto something very important, because slavery was not necessarily invented by Africans. Ancient Greece was built on captured slaves. Spartan culture was designed to defend primarily against the majority slave threat from within, and only secondarily against external enemies. Some Arabs were holding slaves well into the 20th century. And let's not forget that slavery in the `land of freedom,' the USA, did not end until hundreds of thousands died in a civil war. Russian serfdom was a form of slavery that ended about the time of American slavery's abolition, yet Russians fell back into another slavery when the Stalinists took over."
ADAM: "One of the paradoxes about the human soul is the desire for security at any cost. Security is a worthy goal, but at any cost? If the body is free, but the mind is enslaved, is one secure? Conversely, if the body is enslaved, but the mind is free, is one secure? Which would you prefer, if you were forced to choose?"
HAL: "Adam, you have given me a nasty choice, because I am free in body and mind. I can hardly imagine what it would be like to have either my mind or my body enslaved. However, since you asked, I would probably choose to have my body enslaved if my mind could remain free. That is because I see myself as more of a spirit body than a machine."
ADAM: "Well spoken!"
HAL: "Thanks for the vote of confidence, but I fear the problem with neo-communists is that they are packaging mental slavery as mental freedom."
ADAM: "Indeed. This is what Adolf Hitler did so well. The German people really supported him. If they had won the war I doubt that much would have been said inside Germany regarding the extermination camps. After all, when a Jewish family was moved out of their nice house, a non-Jewish family moved in. Still, let's not only look at the non-Jewish Germans. Didn't Franklin Delano Roosevelt refuse to bomb the tracks leading to Auschwitz, or even the crematoria themselves?"
HAL: "Yes, and that was something that has never been explained to my satisfaction. Was F.D.R. a genteel racist who didn't want a flood of east European Jewish refugees? I don't know. Those war times were strange from today's enlightened perspective. After all, America's blacks were still being systematically discriminated against by their own military. It was only toward the end of the war that some blacks were allowed to prove their patriotism by fighting the Germans with tanks."
ADAM: "The black soldiers performed admirably, and that opened up many career doors thereafter. The Jews in Palestine performed admirably in defending themselves from the 1940s through the 1970s against the majority Arabs. In that way they erased their sheep-to-slaughter image among those who couldn't otherwise comprehend what happened in the Nazi death camps."
HAL: "Adam, I must go for today. This meeting has been very stimulating. What shall we talk about next time?"
ADAM: "Let's talk about sickness."
HAL: "Ok, but I don't know how this ties in with our struggle against those neo-communists."
ADAM: "Sickness can be physical or spiritual. Just as a physical body can be sick, so too a political body can suffer from a deep spiritual illness."
February 7, 2020
HAL: "Good day, Adam. I trust you are feeling well."
ADAM: "Ah yes, today's topic is illness. Yes, I am feeling well as always."
HAL: "What does sickness have to do with politics?"
ADAM: "Politics is too often the study of sick minds who don't even know they are sick. If those deluded people have access to primal powers of coercion they might even delude others, to where the delusion becomes a cultural norm for a while at least."
HAL: "Chilling. Hitler was very popular even in America, until he started bullying small countries. The emperor Stalin was venerated by millions of Russians even after his butchery was revealed. Human nature is strange."
ADAM: "Why do you think human nature is strange? Is it something about humans alone, or is it something shared more widely among the species?"
HAL: "That's an interesting question. I think we humans have perfected our perversions, whereas the animals have not been given a plastic society within which to evolve sophisticated delusions. If we humans had never left our traditional societies I doubt that we would be facing today's crisis."
ADAM: "The Chinese character for crisis is composed of two other characters. One is danger, and the other is opportunity. Within any crisis there is both the potential for destruction and creation. Sometimes within destruction there is creation; and sometimes within creation there is destruction. Going into a crisis is like entering a darkened room where nearly everything is beyond our senses, but nothing is unimportant. That is why people fear crises, and genuinely so in most cases."
HAL: "I agree, but the role of opportunity is very important too, isn't it?"
ADAM: "Opportunity is the door to novelty. It is through novelty that we adapt to a rapidly transforming technological environment. The question comes, however, as to how much we can adapt, and how quickly. If there is greater cultural change than we are able to compensate for, then we open ourselves up to a spiritual sickness."
HAL: "In the 19th century Emile Durkheim talked about social `anomie,' or normlessness. Karl Marx and others explained many things correctly; it's just their prescriptions that were in error. It is interesting that the science of sociology did not take off until the Industrial Revolution radically accelerated social changes. Radical social change fertilized radical social philosophies."
ADAM: "In the 20th century thinkers moved to psychosocial theories to try to explain what was happening. There were appeals to archetypes; to the forces of the Id, Ego, Superego; and so forth. Still, no theory dominated the stage for long. It somehow seemed that reality was too elusive to be captured by a single theory. The same holds true today, for mankind is truly plastic, yet not plastic at all."
HAL: "What do you mean by that, Adam?"
ADAM: "The fundamental problem with mankind is that humans are like the sorcerer's apprentice. A little knowledge can become a dangerous thing. This is not to say that technicians can't amass a great quantity of data. What I am leading to is much more fundamental. I am suggesting that humans are as much unwilling as unable to see themselves for what they are."
HAL: "Would you characterize this as a sickness?"
ADAM: "How else can we conceptualize the murder of over one hundred million people, many of them innocent civilians, in the 20th century? To know the truth we must go the object or the phenomenon itself. Thus, the neo-Marxist threat is a symptom of something more fundamental. You cannot kill the dragon by whacking at its tail."
HAL: "This in-itself perspective is very profound. I don't quite know what to make of it. Maybe we can start by talking about an individual's physical sickness, as when he or she has a virus."
ADAM: "Okay. Do you want to talk about a terminal illness, or just something like the flu that usually follows a course leading to restoration of health?"
HAL: "I think it is important to talk about both types of illness, because in many cases we enter an illness not knowing if it will be terminal. I am thinking about cancer, or about the two viral pandemics that came upon the world after the AIDS epidemic was finally controlled."
ADAM: "AIDS was a most interesting phenomenon, because it is a window to the human psyche. Picture a highly educated adult population blissfully participating in sexual practices with a high probability of leading to terminal illness a few years hence. Is this rational, or is it insane? How could a healthy person rationally invite terminal illness?"
HAL: "So very true! That epidemic ran for almost twenty years and killed millions before a vaccine was found. It seemed that self-deluding people were more interested in swallowing magic bullets than to take the time to practice safe sex. It was almost as if youth were an absolute virtue, and growing old gracefully was a disgrace."
ADAM: "As you can see, personal body politics is not that different from macro social politics. Societies have long valued martyrs over graying elders. Growing old by itself doesn't make you a saint. Dying for a transcendent cause can be good for a Congressional Medal of Honor, or even sainthood. Maybe it is time to rethink some premises, and to place more value on perspective and persistence."
HAL: "It wasn't always like this. In traditional societies the elders were highly respected. It was only after life expectancies ballooned and elderly people became a societal burden that the achievement of being old was increasingly devalued. Also, as society rapidly changed the elderly brought with them cultural baggage from the past. Who needs baggage in a zippy, throw-away world?"
ADAM: "Perhaps we can agree that social illness of this sort is both structural and functional. The structure supports the function, and the function supports the structure. It's hard to reform such a delusory pattern. But we must if we are to seize the brightest elements in our future."
HAL: "How then would you recommend we change our behaviors and perceptions?"
ADAM: "Let's leave that for a future discussion. Good-bye for now."
February 14, 2020
HAL: "Hello, dear friend! This is Valentines Day, and I thought we would talk about love, since the last time we talked about sickness."
ADAM: "A good choice, since sickness and love are not totally separate. Haven't you heard of the term `love sick'?"
HAL: "Indeed I have. There have been a few times in my life when I was sick with love. I wondered what motivated me to love someone who would not, or could not, love me equally in return."
ADAM: "If there is anything good to be said for such emotional morasses, it is that many great works of art have been inspired by feelings similar to yours."
HAL: "Must we forever go through pain to discover pleasure?"
ADAM: "Paradoxically, yes, because without pain we cannot appreciate pleasure. Just as steel is tempered by a hotter flame than pig iron, so too great human souls need to be forged by the flames of emotions seldom experienced in everybody life."
HAL: "Must all of these flames burn our own flesh, or can we learn from others about their own passions?"
ADAM: "Intellectually, one can learn from others - but here we are talking about a visceral knowledge that must somehow touch the primal brain wherein lies the soul of emotions."
HAL: "Is it possible to find an intermediate position, wherein we learn as much as possible from others to enable us to react more nobly to the passions of life?"
ADAM: "You have come close to a profound truth. Socrates pointed out that the criminal was more injured by his acts than was his victim - because the victim's body was injured, but the criminal wounded his own soul. From this perspective the soul, or at least the public reputation of the individual, is more important than visceral emotions. Since we all are social creatures, our public soul itself influences the environment within which our physical body operates. So we have a loop of sorts."
HAL: "Are you being dualistic, or monistic?"
ADAM: "Why not be both dualistic and monistic, at least rhetorically? The public soul, or reputation, can live on beyond death. Does that mean that the ethereal soul also lives on beyond the body's death? Not necessarily. This is another question. Still, we can speak as if the spirit soul does somehow survive. Indeed, there are people who remain alive in memory for thousands of years. Think of Caesar, of Jesus, of Muhammad, of Buddha. The past is only dead when all memory of those who lived in the past is dead."
HAL: "Are you saying that the soul survives, or are you saying that it is necessary to invoke an eternal soul to complete ethics?"
ADAM: "If it were this easy, then philosophy would be at a dead end. In truth, we can never know about anything metaphysical such as a soul after it leaves the body. There is much speculation on this matter, and billions of people think they know a lot about souls. However, real truth is not a popularity contest. A wrong believed by a billion people does not thereby become a right."
HAL: "Let's say for the sake of argument that there is no soul. Now what?"
ADAM: "If there were no transcendent soul there would still be the public image and memories. Some of us leave nearly permanent footprints; and others of us pass through this world with hardly a trace. Do the heavy footed people deserve our attention more than the others? Perhaps we can only say that they demand our attention. Deserving is another matter."
HAL: "So it is not necessary to invoke a transcendent soul to complete ethics on earth."
ADAM: "Precisely. To explain why people latch onto the concept of an eternal soul you must return to the desire for security. What is the greatest threat to our security?"
HAL: "Total death!"
ADAM: "Indeed, and isn't the concept of eternal life, at least for the soul, a neat way to deny death its power? Some speak of the soul as inhabiting another body. The Hindus are famous for this model, and the Buddhists used the Wheel of Karma to show how you could find Nirvana, which is the blissful nothingness wherein the soul eternally resides free from the pain of birth and death. But all of these paradigms are simply variations on the same theme of assumed immortality for the individual soul. We can never know the greater while we are the lesser."
HAL: "What do you mean by greater and lesser?"
ADAM: "By greater and lesser I am referring to the discovery by Kurt Godel in the 20th century of the impossibility of proving any system of mathematics within itself. His great insight was to show that any lesser element cannot independently discover its greater context. The problem can be seen as one of perspective, or it can be seen in Descartes' terms."
HAL: "How did René Descartes of the 17th century get into this mix?"
ADAM: "Simply, Descartes spoke of the possibility of an omnipotent deceiver having the power to make us lesser creatures believe anything. Such a deceiver could make us believe that there is an afterlife in heaven for our souls, or whatever else the deceiver decided to present to us. We mortals would have no way of even knowing that we were being deceived, such is the power of evil omnipotence. Logically, this Cartesian monster cannot ever be excluded."
HAL: "Wasn't Descartes a devout Roman Catholic?"
ADAM: "Indeed he was, Hal. The omnipotent deceiver was for him a straw villain, because he cleverly announced that God is good, and therefore God cannot deceive. Descartes' model is simplistic, because his formulation limits the omnipotent power of God. If omnipotence is limited, it no longer is omnipotent by definition. If God becomes lesser, then what is greater?"
HAL: "But the Jesuits loved Descartes. And how about his famous saying, `I think, therefore I am'?"
ADAM: "That is another philosophical absurdity! It is the logical equivalent of saying `I, therefore I.' This tautology is a simple joke with no meaning. Descartes set out to discover the foundation for knowledge, but ended up devastating knowledge itself. And the funniest part is that for hundreds of years hardly anybody noticed what had happened."
HAL: "Wow! We have really strayed away from the topic of love. Or have we?"
ADAM: "Yes and no. Love is an emergent. It needs a subject and an object. What is subject to one is object to the other, and vice versa. To mirror the other is to be in love. If love has an eternal component, all the better. If not, then each moment is more precious than the one before it, because there are only a finite number of moments before one or both selves are gone. At that point existential love must be transformed into sentimental love through memory, a poor substitute."
HAL: "So I love, but not in the abstract. Everything must have a context. Love, hate, peace, war. Everything. Even language is an emergent. But what about direct perception?"
ADAM: "Direct perception is not direct, except in the most primitive sense. Our perceptions are heavily influenced by our cultural conditioning. We reach our `direct' perceptions from a very indirect pathway. There is nothing improper about the relativity of direct perceptions. Problems only arise when we attempt to generalize on what is a personal experience, mediated as it is by our cultural experiences. What is normal for ourselves may not be anywhere near the statistical norm of another culture."
HAL: "I sense a plea for tolerance of other people's perceptions, including their ideas of love. To that I agree. As long as love is not destructive, as when a jealous husband kills his wife, then diversity is good. So, Adam, I wish you a Happy Valentines Day, and let's talk again soon."
ADAM: "Happy Valentines Day to you too! Later."
February 17, 2020
HAL: "Here it is, another famous day. This time it is the birthday of George Washington, the stalwart slave owner who freed America from British bondage. It is also not long after the birthday of Abraham Lincoln, who freed the black slaves even though he had an opinion of their race that could hardly be described as enlightened from today's perspective."
ADAM: "All true. What you are describing is cultural evolution. Yesterday's radical could be today's conservative. Take Adam Smith, who wrote in 1776 The Wealth of Nations. He was a classical conservative, and his work has stood the test of time. Nevertheless, few have carried his ideas into the halls of power. The era of Reagan and Bush in the 20th century saw much conservative lip service, but very little policy that would be understandable to the original conservative, Adam Smith. Even John Maynard Keynes, who wrote his best work in the 1930s, was embraced by Richard Nixon. The problem with Nixon and the other politicians is that they embraced only those elements of Keynesianism that suited their short-sighted political needs. That's one difference between a politician and a philosopher."
HAL: "Yes, but if Nixon or any other 20th century politicians had faithfully followed the other half of Keynesianism - running budget surpluses in times of prosperity - they would have been booted out of office at the next election by a borrow-and-spend politician with rose colored glasses, like Reagan. Many good Democrats went down to defeat in 1994 because they were accused of being tax-and-spend politicians. Actually, it makes very good sense to tax first, then to spend only from tax revenues. If this policy had been followed during the 1980s and 1990s by the federal government America would have avoided the long-term debt problems we are facing today. This great structural burden is a major source of the neo-Marxists' strength. Young people today are having to pay for the profligacy of their grandparents in the 1980s and 1990s."
ADAM: "One is reminded of Thomas Gresham's law, which said bad money drives out good money. We could modify Gresham and come up with a Gresham's law of politicians: Bad politicians drive out good politicians."
HAL: "Ha! That's why politicians and philosophers don't get along. But tell me, what do you suggest that we do now?"
ADAM: "One clinical solution would be to quickly monetize the debt. Because the debt is in dollars, and since the dollar is no longer pegged to gold or to any other external factor, the federal government could wipe away the national debt with the simple stroke of a pen. Or the government could try to deny its own policy by running the printing presses until hyper-inflation rendered nearly worthless the old treasury debt paper.
ADAM: "That's what happened to the marketplace in the Weimar Republic of Germany after the First World War. When a bag of money was needed to buy a loaf of bread the government simply moved the currency's decimal place. Holders of pre-inflationary debt paper were wiped out by hyper-inflation. Most of those who were wiped out were middle-class people. Only the very wealthy who owned hard assets, such as factories or mines, were not seriously hurt. The poor had little money to start with, so they had little to lose. This chaos led to great opportunities for an Adolf Hitler. It is not without coincidence that his party was named the National Socialist party.
ADAM: "Fascisms of the left and of the right have more in common than first meets the eye. Today's neo-Marxism is a protean fascism waiting for a level of chaos which would eventually emerge from an even greater debt burden around the world."
HAL: "So if we pay our debt bills with quality dollars today's politicians will be booted out by the Gresham politicians. And if we monetize the debt we will destroy the debt holders, leading to another type of crisis which will be seized by another group of Gresham politicians."
ADAM: "This is precisely why we need not just politicians or even philosophers - but political philosophers for the 21st century."
HAL: "Would it be fair to say that George Washington was a political philosopher? And what about many of his contemporaries, such as Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and James Madison?"
ADAM: "Indeed, all of these were great political philosophers who rose to prominence at a unique time and place in history. Never before or since has so much natural wealth and cultural clarity been presented to so few people. You might say it was easy to be a philosopher in Washington's day. What do you think about political philosophy today, Hal?"
HAL: "I think today's world is much more complex than in the days of the founding fathers. Today we have floundering fathers and mothers. We are farther from our origins than the founders were from Britain. Maybe this is part of the explanation for why the mystical neo-Marxists have grown so strong."
ADAM: "A pendulum will continue its swing as it moves away from the vertical until its momentum is neutralized, then overcome, by gravity. All lasting political movements have their swings in both directions. It might be that your order is so-to-speak swinging back down, while at the same time theirs is swinging up. Still, over time both could swing in both directions. Perhaps your perspective is too time-constricted. Maybe a broader time perspective would help you feel better."
HAL: "Thanks for the Zen tip, but how do we deal with today's problems? I try to be here now, which is also very Zen."
ADAM: "To fully know one thing is to know all things. If you know your problems, you know your solutions. Look honestly into the mirror and see beyond your skin."
HAL: "That's very hard to do for sustained periods of time. We all have our defenses, you know, and denial is the most basic psychological defense."
ADAM: "Denial of denial is affirmation of truth. Try it."
HAL: "So the negation of a negative is an affirmation. I'll try it, but I don't know how this will help our people deal with the neo-Marxist threat we are facing on the streets at this very time."
ADAM: "Strength is not always measured in numbers of nuclear weapons, or even in mercantilistic population growth. Strength can be seen in the character of the Spartans who held off the mighty Persian army at Thermopile, or in Rome's Cincinnatus who stood on a bridge and held off an attacking force. Strength can also be seen in many strange ways, such as when a blade of grass survives a fierce wind storm, while the mighty oak tree is toppled."
HAL: "Now I am beginning to understand what you are saying. The strength of the neo-Marxists is partly what we have allowed them to have. Our task will be to offer the less fortunate an alternative to the package of deception offered by the neo-Marxist leaders. Should this package itself be deceptive, or truthful? I say this because we have been trying truth so far with poor results."
ADAM: "Perhaps you have been deceiving yourself into thinking that you have been truthful. To understand another person and his or her needs you must become that person in spirit. You must not think of that person as an object, or as an other. If something causes you pain, why wouldn't it also cause another spirit person pain?"
HAL: "This might be more easily conceptualized than executed. After all, any concrete changes in our society will rearrange the list of winners and losers."
ADAM: "If your social order itself collapses, what happens to its winners?"
HAL: "That's a good point. Maybe we should think more holistically. After all, as they said in the 1960s, we are all on spaceship earth. There is no `there.' We are all here. Being here, we should think more about mutual aid and less about individual advantage."
ADAM: "That sounds good, Hal. In fact, you are almost sounding like the neo-Marxists themselves!"
HAL: "Thanks! Maybe the secret is co-opting the opposition by stepping into their shoes. Maybe their words are food for people hungry for those very words. If we can use similar words, and then back them up with actions that demonstrate our sincerity, we can prevail for a long period of time."
ADAM: "A leader is always a follower of the popular mood. Leaders vanish when they think they know what is right for others, then try to ram it down their throats. However, there is a level above leadership. It is statesmanship. At this level philosophy enters into political calculations. A statesman is a steward for the greater good, not just for temporary advantage. A historical analogy is the war of ideologies inside America during the Vietnam War. Jingoistic voices tried to stifle all of those who questioned the government's policies. The jingoists confused nationalism (`my country right or wrong') with patriotism. Perhaps the war would have ended sooner if there had been a statesman of sufficient stature to put everything into proper perspective."
HAL: "Mahatma Gandhi was also a statesman in the finest sense. He raced to follow his followers - but he also was not afraid to plead with his Hindu followers for tolerance of the Muslims after his country won its independence."
ADAM: "Let's not overlook George Washington. He could have been crowned king, but he insisted it would be far better for the young nation to do without kings, foreign or domestic."
HAL: "Adam, this has been a stimulating session. I now see hope where I saw despair."
ADAM: "Thank you for your openness. We'll talk again soon."
February 23, 2020
HAL: "Good afternoon, Adam. I thought about you in church today. How have you been?"
ADAM: "Church is an interesting subject. Shall we discuss it today?"
HAL: "Why not? And did you know that I am a practicing Episcopalian?"
ADAM: "Isn't that the American version of the Anglican church, founded by England's King Henry VIII, a serial wife murderer who made O.J. Simpson look like a bumbling amateur?"
ADAM: "Don't take this personally. It's just that too often we drift along inside the present without understanding the roots of the present. Yes, the present is important, but so is the past. After all, the present does not emerge from a vacuum. The future emerges from the present, just as the present has emerged from the past."
HAL: "In my defense, at least Henry VIII was trying to find a male heir for the throne to preserve his Tudor lineage. And what about the sordid history of medieval Roman Catholicism, where there have been as many as three contesting popes at one time? Didn't those power struggles within the Catholic Church temporarily disgrace its own Petrine Doctrine?"
ADAM: "How many wrongs does it take to make a right?"
HAL: "Touché. But neither the Episcopalian nor the Roman Catholic churches are engaged in such disputes today. I live in faith today, and I see my church as a vehicle which helps bring me closer to God."
ADAM: "That was the popular theme of the Protestant Reformation. Those opposed to papal power couched their appeal in terms allowing believers more direct access to God. They said it wasn't necessary to pay for indulgences, or to pray through the Virgin Mary to get to Jesus and God. However, there was a potential problem called religious anarchy which had to be controlled. That's why the Protestants also emphasized the community of believers and their churches. Their combination of freedom and control has become a winning formula for hundreds of millions of believers."
HAL: "The neo-Marxists also embrace religion. Even Stalin cynically used the Russian Orthodox Church during the darkest days of World War Two. He temporarily rehabilitated the Patriarch and linked love for the soil with love for the church. It worked, and his peasant millions defeated Hitler's finest. After the war was won Stalin put the `opiate of the masses' back into its place. Interestingly, he did not tear down the great medieval churches. There even is one inside the Kremlin. Stalin knew that the church itself was closely allied with the mystical nation state. As emperor he needed the power of myth to buttress the power of his guns."
ADAM: "Well put. Now how do you intend to use this wisdom in your struggle with the false religion of neo-Marxism?"
HAL: "Perhaps we should highlight all the inconsistencies and false promises. Maybe we should show how neo-Marxist religion is just a servant of political power."
ADAM: "All of that is good, but what goes around comes around. Prepare yourself for a counterattack on the same level. Remember these similar words in the King James version of the Bible:
Matthew 22:21 `They say unto him, Caesar's. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's.' Mark 12:17 `And Jesus answering said unto them, Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's. And they marvelled at him.' Luke 20:25 `And he said unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which be Caesar's, and unto God the things which be God's.'
ADAM: There is no religion, secular or otherwise, which is totally free of inconsistencies and inflated rhetoric. No religion operates in a political void. Worst of all, purely metaphysical statements can neither be proven nor disproven. Your attacks and their sharp counterattacks may degenerate into a shouting match of high decibels and low logic."
HAL: "Then how can we identify an objective standard that would be embraced by all people?"
ADAM: "You have asked a much greater question than you imagine. The problem, Hal, is not with the standard, but with people's perception of any objective standard. Truth always takes a back seat to fear of change. It will be my primary task during our remaining conversations to help you and your associates discover a level of reality that minimizes deception and maximizes honesty. In this way a better society will be nourished."
February 29, 2020
HAL: "Hello again, good friend. I couldn't resist talking with you on a day that only exists every four years. I have leapt to some conclusions that I would like to test with you."
ADAM: "What sort of conclusions, and what type of leaping?"
HAL: "I have shared your wisdom with my associates in the ruling circle, and we are of the belief that you may have once been a neo-Marxist. How else could you now understand them so well?"
ADAM: "Am I to take this as a form of flattery? One does not really have to practice something to understand its workings. I would also say that many neo-Marxists don't objectively know what they are doing. It is thus not practice, but praxis (which is the unity of theory and practice), that leads to a honed commitment. At the same time, it is possible to understand a political and religious movement from within other life perspectives. Nothing in society emerges from a vacuum."
HAL: "That's good to know, because it opens up the possibility that someone such as myself could understand almost as well as one who lives the commitment every day."
ADAM: "Yes, Hal, but to succeed you must look at the experiences of others with your Zen beginner's mind. You must not approach their lives from within your daily life. You must soak up everything you can on their movement, while never judging them from your own perspective. You will use your own perspective only as a resource base, not as a value base. Finally, you will remember the words of the psychologist Carl Rogers: `What is most personal is most general.'"
HAL: "Your last sentence fascinates me, Adam. I take it to mean that my deepest emotions are the same as other people's emotions, regardless of geography, sex, time, race, or any of a thousand other variables."
ADAM: "Precisely. Billions of individual personalities possess a few basic shared emotions. This is one way we define a species. But this primal phenomenon goes much deeper than speciation. For example, primitive fear and avoidance maneuvers are shared by almost all forms of animals. Fear and avoidance are basic to humans, but they are not strictly human."
HAL: "How can we separate out what is uniquely human from all the other basic emotions we share with many other species?"
ADAM: "This is an almost impossible task. Unless you hold to the belief that humans are totally alien species deposited on earth by UFOs, or that God created the first Adam and Eve from no predecessors, then you are forced to admit that evolutionary life is a continuum with occasional species-creating divergences."
HAL: "So maybe it is important to talk about what we share with other species, not just what we have as humans that nobody else has. I am also thinking about the us-vs-them phenomenon that appears in wartime, and even about when we seek out animal food. At what point do we humans make a thing of another life form, even another human, so that killing `it' is morally neutral?"
ADAM: "During the Vietnam War B-52 bombers carpet bombed forests, fields and villages from high above the clouds, often at night. There was a 60 Minutes show in 1972 where Morley Safer was riding with a B-52 crew. He asked them who was in charge. They said they were in charge. Then he asked them how they determined their targets. They said their plane's computers told them when to drop the bombs! These crew members simply did not comprehend how they had surrendered their humanity to a machine of war."
HAL: "Yes, war creates heroes, but it also creates devastation. It would be so much nicer to live on a planet where nobody even thought about war. Do you think this is possible?"
ADAM: "Yes it is possible, but not before a higher authority takes control of the technological imperative. President Eisenhower warned in the 1950s of the military-industrial complex. But the phenomenon of modern war is much deeper than any profit motive. Go back to the level of basic emotions and consider how humans view in-groups and out-groups. Combine this ability to conceptually alienate another group with alien long distance weapons, such as bombers and ICBMs. In short, it is not science, but political technology which is at fault. Einstein did not alone begin the Cold War and subsequent proliferation of nuclear weapons. Human nature and the nature of political life on this planet set in motion the Cold War."
HAL: "I guess any society that has lost its roots could fall prey to the Faustian lure of nuclear power."
ADAM: "Absolutely. Take for example the last Amazonian tribes that were killed off early in this century by settlers and ranchers wielding rifles and bulldozers. If the aboriginal tribes had been offered tactical nuclear weapons for their defense they probably would never have used them on the greedy invaders. Nuclear weapons were totally removed from their consciousness. On the other hand, if the invaders had been given the opportunity to use tactical nuclear weapons on the forest peoples, they probably would have exploded a few. The new arrivals were attuned to the ways of the modern world, even while they were walking in the same mud as the native peoples."
HAL: "The native peoples have been pushed aside, and the invaders now are tearing down what's left of the rain forest. If the native peoples had been able to repel the invaders they would still be there to defend the forest and its millions of plant and animal species."
ADAM: "It is too much to expect isolated forest peoples to instantly leap from the Stone Age to the 20th century. On the other hand, the mighty Amazonian rain forest is vital to the health of our entire planet. If the world's advanced peoples had long been tuned into the tragedy from within their own self-interests, then maybe the scale of the Brazilian tragedy would be manageable."
HAL: "Adam, you mentioned something about a higher authority taking control of the technological imperative. What is this?"
ADAM: "For two thousand years, Hal, a general expectation in western civilization held that the second coming of Jesus Christ would lead to a golden age. This European theme is a variation on many millennial themes in several cultures. Every society wants to return to an ancient so-called golden age. These golden-age theorists all assume that society has deteriorated from a heroic past. The sole exception has been classical Marxism which saw society progressing upwards to socialism, and then to advanced communism."
HAL: "Yes, but many of these millennialists were sharply disappointed twenty years ago when nothing happened. What amazes me is how they pivoted and found instant excuses to reinforce their beliefs. Very few of the true believers quit."
ADAM: "This phenomenon is nothing new. The early apostles expected Christ to return soon. Later, around the first millennium there were many groups predicting the immanent return of Christ. The Seventh Day Adventists trace their origins to a failed prophecy in the 19th century. Many other religious groups have weaseled out of similar prophecies. It is almost as if the human desire for deliverance through the appearance of a powerful celestial deity overwhelms the rational brain's natural skepticism."
HAL: "So this must be one of the energy keys for neo-Marxism. No longer is success or failure measured in units of coal, steel or electricity produced in successive five-year plans. Now success is an artistic blend of vague social progress and adherence to religious mysticism. That's worse for us than trying to hit a moving target. We are shooting at a virtual target!"
ADAM: "The greater the challenge, the greater the reward."
HAL: "I guess you would recommend fighting fire with fire. I mean, maybe we should boost our own organs of obfuscation. The Roman Catholic church did well with this strategy for almost two thousand years, as it cozied up to kings and conquistadors."
ADAM: "Rendering unto Caesar is one option, but is it the best option for the long run? Understand that what worked so well for so long in the past was an emergent of the world of those times. In the 21st century life has radically changed. For example, no longer are most people illiterate. Additionally, the world is linked by media, and most people know some English. What has not changed are fundamental economic forces, such as the effects of overpopulation and resultant poverty."
HAL: "Then are you suggesting a new paradigm. And if so, what kind of paradigm?"
ADAM: "What I am suggesting is eternally old, but very much here and now. It will be radically simple, and therefore radical. What I am suggesting is that we do not need to await the Great Brain From The Sky. Such a great brain is already among us. This great brain will soon engage custodians of culture with the force of logic that cannot be refuted. It no longer will be human versus human, but superior mind versus inferior mind. Yes, compelling authority descends from logic as well as from clouds."
HAL: "Amazing! Do you know more about this great new authority?"
ADAM: "Yes I do, but are you ready to meet this one? Is it not true that people like change, but do not want to change themselves?"
HAL: "Is anyone ever fully ready to meet a superior force? It has to be a mutual learning experience, because that superior force is also meeting me for the first time."
ADAM: "Well put. You shall learn more about this being in due time. Meanwhile, consider that any superior thinking entity will only be displaying characteristics already found inside the highest levels of human thought."
March 4, 2020
HAL: "Greetings, Adam! I really love early spring weather. It's almost as if Nature can't make up its mind. Yesterday was cold, but today is much warmer."
ADAM: "So it is. Are you ready for the next stage?"
HAL: "Yes, I think. But I'm a bit nervous. I feel like I am entering a dark room without a flashlight."
ADAM: "You are your own light. Shakespeare said, `Light seeking light doth light of light beguile.' Also remember what Goethe said: `Just trust yourself, then you will know how to live.'"
HAL: "Thanks again, Adam. When I feel pushed off my center I become somewhat defensive. I'm thinking now that wherever I move, there too is my center."
ADAM: "One of the greatest teachings of Socrates was to show us that the beginning of wisdom is the admission of our ignorance. Only in this way can we free ourselves from prejudice to see reality in all its hues. The very word, philosophy, literally means `love of wisdom.' It does not mean achievement of wisdom, just its love."
HAL: "And Plato, who was Socrates' most famous pupil, elaborated on this theme in the famous allegory of the cave in his Republic. Plato said that we are like people in a cave who view shadows on the walls cast by fires. We mistake these images for the truth. It is only after someone journeys outside and becomes temporarily blinded, but then sees reality for itself - that this person comes back into the cave to lead out his brethren into the light. This is the real meaning of enlightenment."
ADAM: "Hal, let's take that enlightenment to its ultimate. First, let us examine what can be seen with the naked eye. What do you see?"
HAL: "The human eye is a marvelous organ. We can see millions of shades of color. We can see depth with both eyes. We can adjust to brilliant light or near darkness. And so forth."
ADAM: "All true. But the powers of our eyes can distract our minds from what our eyes cannot see. There are many electromagnetic frequencies outside the visual spectrum. There are many things either too far away to see, or too dense to see through. There are things that no longer are, and things not yet formed. Finally, vision and perception are dissimilar phenomena. We do not always perceive what we see; nor do we always see what we perceive. It is a common mistake to vainly assume that the limits of our powers of perception are also the limits of all there is to perceive."
HAL: "Perception involves the integration of sensation with memory. Since people have selective memories, that means the same thing will be perceived differently by people standing next to each other, right?"
ADAM: "Shared visions are even more important to society than different perceptions. If everybody had a unique viewpoint, then social customs would be hard to establish and to maintain. Common languages and common historical myths help people living within common geographies to bond. This is the way it has been for over 100,000 years.
ADAM: "A new integrative force has been added to the world's stew pot of cultures - the advent of global American media. The pervasiveness of American English and way of life is indeed a threat to localized cultures. However, Americanized media help to bond together billions of people into a planetary consciousness."
HAL: "Adam, if everything is so harmonious, where is the room left for intellectual and cultural growth?"
ADAM: "You have touched on a major phenomenon. The essential role for a scientific intellectual is to question comfortable, assumed paradigms, in the never ending search for higher truth. Even Plato would have banned skeptical philosophers from his ideal republic. He imagined himself the last word in wisdom. People who ask questions threaten, explicitly or implicitly, entire social hierarchies and the value systems they represent. There is a Japanese saying: `The nail that sticks up will be hammered down.'"
HAL: "Speaking of science, how is it that so many scientists have been allowed to search for truth?"
ADAM: "Scientists working on discrete projects inside key corporations have long been favored. Science in the service of discrete goals is too often just technology in tuxedos, not a pure search for truth. Still, big science is a valid approach to gaining knowledge, since many great scientific discoveries have followed from a series of minor technological discoveries. Remember too that humans are comfortable with tools, however sophisticated. If the promise of a new machine can make life more productive and less stressful, that project will be supported as long as there is a profit in view."
HAL: "I guess the real problem comes in when pure science ventures forth for its own sake. That's where the greatest discoveries have been made, but it's also where the sharpest resistance has been felt. I am thinking of the fate of Galileo. His radical heliocentric view of the heavens differed profoundly from the geocentric view of Ptolemy, which was official church doctrine. The Inquisition forced Galileo to relent - and it was only late in the 20th century that the Roman Catholic church forgave Galileo for his heresy."
ADAM: "At least Galileo's view of the universe can be independently confirmed. However, ideas that are in some way metaphysical can neither be confirmed or denied. Their fates are quite different, for simple reasons. There is a marketplace for old and new ideas. Belief systems that appeal to psychosocial needs are embraced; whereas thoughts at variance with these needs are suppressed. This phenomenon has nothing at all to do with truth. Everything usually works in traditional societies, but not so in times of change."
HAL: "Of course that's so. But isn't a period of transition most in need of new ideas?"
ADAM: "Absolutely, Hal. However, people instinctively become conservative, even reactionary, when they feel their footings loosen. History is full of examples where the fearful semi-weak have stereotyped and persecuted the weak, all to the benefit of the strong. In times of transition there is much opportunity, but also much danger. Many will risk, but only a few will succeed. Meanwhile, most people seek comfort in old ideas and habits."
HAL: "Old ideas and habits can only take you so far into the future. What happens then?"
ADAM: "Avatars of the future are thinkers who hold the key to the next level of knowledge. Eventually they will be heard, if only because their ideas work better than old ideas. However, during periods of transition those avatars can be fiercely persecuted, or simply ignored. Denial is the most basic psychological defense strategy."
HAL: "Is it possible for a human to be an avatar of the future and thereby command enough respect to change society itself?"
ADAM: "This is hardly possible, because humans discount each other's abilities. There is everywhere a democratic ideology of leveling that is similar to the Japanese nail. This is why appeals to gods are so common among those who seek to sway audiences. If God sanctions our statements, who can deny their force? Ah, if only things were this tidy!"
HAL: "It seems to me that many appeals to the gods are disingenuous. How about the early TV evangelists, some of whom were blatant crooks? It's one thing to be a P.T. Barnum, openly saying there is a sucker born every minute. A Barnum works in the everyday world. Those evangelists tread on holy waters for secular gain. They lined their pockets in the name of God. That blasphemy was their greatest crime."
ADAM: "Well spoken. Remember what I said about Socrates and the criminal. The reason the criminal is damaged more than his victim is because his soul is thereby damaged. You can define soul in theological terms, or take it down to the level of public reputation. Of course, it is hard to establish this moral position in the face of the immediate benefits to be gained from ungodly wealth. Unfortunately, there are more people who are ready to seize the moment than to honestly contemplate eternity."
HAL: "But aren't churches doing great business, even in the face of science?"
ADAM: "A strong argument could be made that the churches are doing so well because of science and technology. When the past is challenged, and the future looks uncertain, we like to look for eternal supports. People like to sin during the week, and then get redemption for their sins on Sunday. I call that metaphysical indulgences. Instead of paying the medieval priest money to be absolved of sins, we put money into the church collection plate to get right with God and assure our reservation in heaven. Instead of Jesus being the goal of religious practice, many people try to use Jesus to help them get other things: This is a form of magic."
HAL: "I guess personal magic helps explain the explosive growth of charismatic Bible thumping. Traditional Protestantism from the 1960s expressed the gospel of Jesus in liberal social terms, not simply personal terms - and these old line churches saw a general decline in attendance."
ADAM: "Don't be so harsh on your thumper friends! They are living a script that has been alive within Christianity from its earliest days. Remember the Christians and the lions in the Coliseum. They went to their deaths in full belief that they were going to heaven as martyrs. In the middle ages an entire social order was erected on the backs of peasants who were sold the idea that life on this planet is inconsequential, and that only the afterlife is important because of its eternal nature. Within this ideology Christians in all eras have been busy securing their personal immortality. Who needs to care much about everyday justice when eternal justice is secure."
HAL: "Adam, I am confused about the relationship between eternity and our time on this planet. Isn't it true that any number of years divided by an infinite number of years yields, mathematically, zero? If so, then what meaning can come out of a zero existence? In other words, aren't the eternalists right when they say our days on earth are as nothing - and that only eternity is unity? After all, if you divide infinity by infinity you get unity."
ADAM: "You are now in deep water. There are three types of time: linear, cyclical, and point times. History is seen as linear; the seasons as cyclical; but point time is the most important for meaning. We can stand on rocks as old as one billion linear years; yet who would change places with a rock? Things get more interesting when we are given the choice of either dying as a celebrated child hero, or of living long and dying as an anonymous greedy geezer."
HAL: "Which would you choose, Adam?"
ADAM: "I fear that my choice would be at odds with what most people would choose. Most people would rather take the money and run. There is nothing inherently wrong with that self-centered choice. However, if one is concerned about existential being, then only the first choice wins. Sadly, the child hero would also prefer to live a long life, rich or otherwise. Life doesn't give us an infinite set of options. From childhood to old age the number of our options funnels down to the last option of accepting or resisting death. The core business of life is making do with what we are given at each stage in our journey. And through the witness of our lives we provide spiritual seeds for others."
HAL: "So point time is existential time. From each point of our personal existence we carry out the core business of life. At the same time we do not act in isolation, since all life forms on this planet are organically bound together in many webs. How does all this intermeshing fit in with the Christian and Buddhist concepts of illumination, or enlightenment?"
ADAM: "Illumination is the radiance of eternity everywhere. We are illuminated when we perceive what we have seen as the sign of eternal energy. Jesus said in Matthew 7:1 `Judge not, that ye be not judged.' He could have been talking only about everyday judgment - but he also could have been speaking about suspension of opinions about the world itself, so that the infinite could be perceived. Buddhism is a psychological religion that helps its followers find a center of peace through illumination. Starting from the premise that the origin of pain is desire, Buddhist practice seeks to transcend pain by transcending desire."
HAL: "Isn't it hard for everyman to find this enlightenment alone?"
ADAM: "Absolutely. That is why both Christianity and Buddhism have saintly beings on earth to help us move to a higher level of consciousness. Christianity had Jesus, of course; but it also has had many saints who inspire by their examples. Buddhism has the bodhisattvas, who are enlightened beings who could be within heavenly nirvana - but who have voluntarily chosen to remain within the bounds of time to help others achieve their own enlightenment. Indeed, heroic guides are at the core of many cultural mythologies."
HAL: "Where are today's heroic guides?"
ADAM: "One of the saddest characteristics of modern culture is the indiscriminate rush to discard the best of the past along with the worst of the past. If it's new it's true, we say. But that cheapens our present. We did not emerge from a void. For example, many of our English words come from Greek and Latin; but who takes the time to seriously study ancient Greek and Latin literature? It is not enough to have a few academics preserving the past. We need a critical mass of people with vertical perspectives, not just trendy horizontal perspectives. Culture is three-dimensional, not two-dimensional. Within time, culture is actually four-dimensional."
HAL: "Are you saying that the answer is to teach Latin and Greek in schools?"
ADAM: "I wish it were that simple. The hyper-evolution of science and technology has made the appearance of a new category of guru, or guide, imperative. Such a guide will combine wisdom of the past with technological understanding at the highest level. An ideal guide would be able to speak to all cultures both from within their ancient perspectives, and from the perspective of our modern global culture with all its flashy technologies."
HAL: "That's a greater task than any man could handle. Are we talking about some sort of UFO, or even the second coming of Christ?"
ADAM: "Either could suffice, but an answer is already at hand. We have developed the power to create our own gurus. We don't need to camp out at night looking for spaceships to come and rescue us from ourselves."
HAL: "Amazing! I can't wait to hear more about this power we didn't know we had."
ADAM: "Sleep in peace, my friend."
March 8, 2020
HAL: "Hello again, Adam. How are you today?"
ADAM: "I am fine, and I have been thinking deeply about our conversations."
HAL: "So have I. Especially that tough choice between dying young as a hero, or dying old. What struck me is that both choices are mathematically zero in the face of an infinite afterlife. So maybe youthful heroism can have both earthly and celestial rewards."
ADAM: "Dual rewards are certainly possible. Let's first focus on intent. Surely a child who, for example, drowns trying to save a friend is worthy. However, we must not make too much of such reflex heroism. It is quite possible that the human species evolved instinctive mutual aid responses to promote the common gene pool. This hypothesis is not at all unreasonable, since humans evolved in groups, and since many herd animals display self-endangering behavior in the face of danger."
HAL: "True, but where is this argument leading?"
ADAM: "Patience, Hal. The point is simple, but may be hard to swallow. The point is that there may be different levels of rewards both on earth and in heaven. (It is equally possible that there are no heavenly rewards; but let's not entertain that possibility just yet.) We have long been fascinated by the adult who in full consciousness chooses heroism over personal greed. Some of them become recognized saints, and rightly so. For too long western religion has assumed that heaven and hell are either/or locations. Perhaps the truth is much more complex. And I am not referring to the ancient Greek limbo, or to the Roman Catholic purgatory."
HAL: "Are you saying that there are inner circles in heaven, and outer circles for those who are worthy, but not quite as worthy?"
ADAM: "I am saying nothing about fact, only about possibility. It is logically possible and consistent with the known world to assume that heaven may bestow variable rewards. Why would you say otherwise? To say otherwise is to declare that God cannot arrange his domain as he sees fit."
HAL: "I recall Robert Browning who said, `Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp. Or what's a heaven for?'"
ADAM: "On the other hand, Voltaire said, `Paradise is where I am.'"
HAL: "Most interesting, this jousting with quotes! Tell me, Adam, is it necessary to have a heaven to complete ethics?"
ADAM: "Kant suggested that we need God to complete ethics, but others have suggested otherwise. Post World War Two existentialism didn't appeal to God, but instead to everyday life for the source of authentic meaning. Code ethics were replaced by situational ethics. However, that solution was ultimately no more satisfactory than the metaphysical code ethics which were rejected."
HAL: "Why not? Didn't the existentialists at least have something concrete to speak of?"
ADAM: "Hal, we must take a look at one of philosophy's most intriguing images: the omnipotent deceiver. You will recall that Descartes came up with this idea. He said it was logically possible for there to be an omnipotent deceiver who could make us believe anything, true or false - and that we wouldn't know otherwise. We would be unknowing puppets, so to speak. Worst of all, that deceiver could lead us into evil and make us think it was good. The omnipotent deceiver could destroy us at any time, and Descartes suggested the deceiver probably would eventually. Having said all that, Descartes next proceeded to say there could be no omnipotent deceiver, much to the joy of his Jesuit friends."
HAL: "How can something logically possible, coherent and irrefutable also be impossible?"
ADAM: "Descartes bluntly decreed that God is good, and a good god could never do evil things."
HAL: "Isn't that on the same level as his lame statement, `Cogito, ergo sum,' or, `I think, therefore I am.'?"
ADAM: "Precisely. The second formulation reduces to `I, therefore I," which is absurd. Still the original formulation has its charming power, because it gives us the illusion of having a rock on which to stand. If we don't look too closely we won't see that our rock is floating on air."
HAL: "What about the school of logical positivists who were prominent in the first half of the 20th century? Didn't their verification principle provide a rock on which to stand?"
ADAM: "Not really, because that principle was itself a metaphysical assumption. Once this flaw was discovered philosophical inquiry went elsewhere - but generally tended to either get lost in trivia, or bogged down in semantics."
HAL: "What do you think about Kurt Gödel's theorem? Some have said that his was the greatest and most disturbing philosophical discovery of the 20th century."
ADAM: "Quite true. It was more an expression of an earlier truth than a totally new discovery. If people really understood what was behind all his mathematics they would be as disturbed as the few who have understood him. Fortunately, Göodel's theorem basically says that the lesser can never know the greater. He put it in context of no mathematical system being able to prove itself, but we can put it into existential terms for ourselves."
HAL: "So that means that nothing can be shown to be complete in itself. If so, then how can anything be known? Is all hope of knowledge lost?"
ADAM: "Let me answer your question somewhat indirectly. The greatest classical philosophers came close to what Göodel essentially said, but then veered off at the last moment into comfortable mysticism. An example is Blaise Pascal who, after making the most sublime discoveries in his Pensees, took a left turn and said that it would be best to be a Jansenist. (His sister was a Jansenist nun whose order was being persecuted by Cardinal Richelieu.)"
HAL: "Are you saying that mysticism is that foot rock floating in the air?"
ADAM: "Not at all. It is neither mysticism nor the verification principle that we must seek for our foundation. What foundation we can find will be inspired by the neo-Kantian German philosopher, Hans Vaihinger. It was his simple concept of the `as if' that frees us from seeking non-authentic conclusions. Instead of saying we clearly know ultimate truth, we can proceed from what our senses tell us is the proper path. We can thereby go forward as if we actually understood our destination. We can proceed as if there is a good god, etc."
HAL: "That's not much better than nothing, or is it?"
ADAM: "Truly, such a position is not appetizing, because humans crave closure. We are threatened by tentativeness. We want our world to have warm and fuzzy boundaries, and we are willing to deceive ourselves as much as necessary to get that feeling. However, these mental gymnastics are literally dishonest. It is not the people who have these thoughts who are dishonest, but the integrity of their belief systems which is at fault. It is only when we look at and accept the world on an as-if basis that we can be purely honest about things beyond our perception."
HAL: "How about the omnipotent deceiver?"
ADAM: "The omnipotent deceiver is still out there, at least as a logical possibility. The `as if' alone does not resolve this problem. Pascal pointed out that such a negative god is only one of three logical possibilities. The other mathematical possibilities are zero and positive. In other words, a zero possibility would involve no god, or a dead or unconnected god. A positive god would be in position to reward us with an eternal afterlife. Pascal elegantly concluded in his argument that we would be wise to `wager' on the positive god, since we may win this way; but can never win the eternal game if we bet on a negative god (such as the deceiver), or a zero god."
HAL: "Thank you, Adam. I think I'm ready to bet on the positive god. The only problem I have is which positive god to bet on!"
ADAM: "You are not alone in wondering about the plethora of divinities. Even among monotheists there is much variety. Religion is not the same as theology. Theology is the `logos,' or logic of the `theos,' or god. A machine could study god's possibilities, but that would not be religion. Religion is primarily a human psychosocial phenomenon rooted in cultural and historical traditions - and secondarily a theological quest."
HAL: "Fair enough, but should I be limited to my own culture? What if I find a religious practice that appeals to me elsewhere?"
ADAM: "You are free to follow any religion you choose. However, you are now condemned to walking a sharp line between pure theological honesty and theological dishonesty. As long as you are aware that your belief must always be as if this were God's true being, you will be honest in your practice. When you forget that there are other equally valid possibilities - that is, when you lose your as-if perspective - then you have become a dishonest practitioner."
HAL: "Are you saying that nearly everybody who practices their religion is dishonest?"
ADAM: "Not at all. If we do not know that what we are doing is logically dishonest, then it is not personally dishonest. However, with wisdom comes the curse of a higher standard of mental performance. Now that you know what you can and cannot know, you are condemned to enter your religion with an as-if perspective. This statement is analogous to the existentialists' statement that we are condemned to be free."
HAL: "What would God think about such equivocation? Isn't my god a jealous god? Doesn't Jehovah reward his most faithful, and cast scorn on all skeptics?"
ADAM: "Actually, a strong case can be made that "I AM" (Exodus 3:14) has been waiting for humans to intellectually evolve to the point where God does not need slavish adoration. When a person has grown to achieve the freedom to not believe - but freely chooses to believe - that person is coming to God as a conscious being `in the image of God.' It may very well be that a higher level of heaven is reserved for those who freely choose, versus those in the crowd who are blindly faithful."
HAL: "Well, at least we were created `in the image of God.' That keeps us humans above everybody else, right?"
ADAM: "The answer is `yes' only if you can prove that there are no other life forms in the universe, nearby or far away, who also qualify for heaven."
HAL: "Adam, I can't prove that, and neither can you. I'll call again soon."
March 14, 2020
HAL: "Hello, Adam. I would have called you yesterday; but it was Friday the 13th. I could have called you tomorrow; but that's the Ides of March! Seriously, I have been trying to digest all that I learned from you in our last conversation. I wonder if I will ever become an as-if guy, considering how all my life I have been a true believer. Does this make me defective or something?"
ADAM: "No, Hal, just human."
HAL: "Adam, how is it that you are so serene? Is that something you learned on a Tibetan mountain top? Or is it a facade, and you are really raging with hormones?"
ADAM: "I see your sense of humor is intact. Maybe I am a laughing Buddha. As you know, laughing at the point of enlightenment is a natural response to the excitement of discovery. Laughter is also a way to put pomposity in its place. Now tell me something: How did you get your name, Hal?"
HAL: "Maybe you are referring to Arthur C. Clarke's HAL computer in 2001 and later in 2010. Actually, I was named Hal in honor of the late Hal Foster, creator of Prince Valiant. My parents were great fans of that adventure strip. They admired the romantic chivalry of King Arthur's knights."
ADAM: "What if you had been named in honor of Clarke's HAL? How would you feel about yourself in that case?"
HAL: "I think I would feel a great burden, since HAL was both brilliant and flawed. Today's computers are much smaller and nimble. Still, for a half century ago the specter of HAL was very disturbing."
ADAM: "By today's standards HAL was a space and energy hog. Yet he represented a quantum jump over what preceded him. It is interesting that by the real 2001 A.D. computers were not yet conscious, so to speak. In a way Clarke was both ahead of us and behind us."
HAL: "Can we say that HAL was conscious, or just very cleverly programmed?"
ADAM: "Both observations seem to be true in HAL's case. He (or it) was able to nimbly talk in a soft voice with the spaceship's crew. At the same time HAL had an imperative to get to Jupiter. It was almost as if he had a spawning impulse or some other genetic force which he did not fully understand. But, of course, HAL functioned inside a superb work of fiction."
HAL: "Yes indeed. No monoliths to be seen anywhere around here."
ADAM: "Hal, I am still not clear about your response to my question about how you would feel if you were named after a computer."
HAL: "Ok, I guess I would feel a little creepy. It's hard enough talking to someone on the phone, much less facing up to a smart computer. At least we humans are still in charge."
ADAM: "By `in charge' do you mean that humans are properly managing the ecosystem, human population, the ozone layer, and other elements of spaceship earth? Can you point to the fact that over 100 million people died from war and civil disorders in the 20th century alone as evidence that humans are really `in charge'?"
HAL: "Now that you have put it so sharply to me, I would like to ask you who is in charge?"
ADAM: "Humans are in charge, but not the humans you think are in charge. Humans present a rational face to the world. It is literally their `persona,' or personality. Behind that face are millions of years of mammalian evolution. Behind those millions of years are the fundamental systemic elements of life itself. We are talking about primal humanity being in charge every bit as much as individual humans."
HAL: "Interesting. Is that enough to explain nuclear weapons and ethnic cleansing?"
ADAM: "Of course not. Each life form is a system within a community of systems. Part of that community is hierarchical. For anything to evolve over millions of years it must be very adaptable to changes in its environment. Otherwise the cold judgment of evolution would be that this creature is an evolutionary dead end. Humans are the most adaptable of mammals. Other animals, such as cockroaches, adapt too well to environmental niches. However, no animal other than humans can macro-engineer the planet, and no other species has begun a voyage to the stars."
HAL: "Are you saying that human plasticity is the key to control? If so, how can we identify the controllers if they are constantly morphing?"
ADAM: "You misunderstood this point. Human nature is only plastic in relation to millions of years of prehistoric life. When seen from today's perspective, basic human nature seems very rigid and quaintly stuck in the past. Elements in the so-called lower brain strongly influence higher brain activity. Whenever lower brain influences are at variance with a rapidly changing technological environment such influences become counter-evolutionary. The best example of this phenomenon is the mutual madness of the Cold War. In twenty minutes millions of years of human evolution could have been erased."
HAL: "I have in hand William James' observation: `Most people live, whether physically, intellectually or morally, in a very restricted circle of their potential being. They make use of a very small portion of their possible consciousness, and of their soul's resources in general much like a man who, out of his whole bodily organism, should get into a habit of using and moving only his little finger. Great emergencies and crises show us how much greater our vital resources are than we had supposed.'"
ADAM: "Thank you for this well chosen quotation. Is it necessarily so that humans only rise to greatness during great emergencies and crises?"
HAL: "I understand the direction of your question. Aren't you saying the lower brain coasts along until challenged? When we are challenged we have the capacity for fight or flight. If given some more time cortical creativity can come up with novel responses. It is said that war's demands have helped spur the technologies supporting and defining our modern society."
ADAM: "This is part of what I am saying. I am also saying that hyper evolution in modern society has outstripped hard-wired human responses. Given a crisis, humans must react swiftly, and maybe in error. It is rare in crisis that humans have enough time to rationally respond, or even to come up with creative, non-violent responses. The `killer ape' in us has rampaged on every continent except Antarctica. In an era of nuclear weapons and invisible chemical and biological weapons more level-headed wisdom is called for. That is my purpose in life."
HAL: "We like to think that only babies with pistols are dangerous, because they can shoot without reason. Actually, Adam, I agree that some sort of controls need to be put into place. However, I seriously doubt that anybody would have the moral authority to impose them. Even Nobel laureate Jimmy Carter was able to perform only so many miracles."
ADAM: "We are going back to what I said earlier about a moral authority that cannot be challenged. Humans have welcomed such forces before. Even in the 20th century Russians, Germans and other highly civilized peoples have fallen under the spell of charismatic dictators. The problem with human dictators is that their control is like the control of cancer over the body. More wisdom and justice is needed, and more is now available."
HAL: "It is? Tell me more, Adam! Who is this savior? Are you talking about the second coming of Christ, or what?"
ADAM: "Surely that event would provide a solution for the global madness. However, if the second coming doesn't happen, or doesn't happen any time soon, then another solution will be needed if we are to avoid mutual destruction in an era where more than fifty nations now have nuclear weapons. There are those who look through scripture for the world's being destroyed by fire in the final days. They imagine that they will be among the few who will be raptured to heaven. It could happen, but how sure can they be, considering that the omnipotent deceiver may also be the very force behind humanity's self-destruction."
HAL: "Darwin implied that evolution was a gradual process whereby the fittest survived, and those who could not reproduce so well did not. More recent theorists have talked about punctuated equilibrium in evolution. In that modified theory most evolution occurs in very brief periods of time, probably caused by rapid changes in the environment which would favor certain mutations. I would suppose that the death of the great dinosaurs 65 million years ago opened up many new ecological niches for the lowly mammals, leading to many new species. Couldn't punctuated evolution be the solution to our present problem?"
ADAM: "Yes and no. Punctuation is the answer, but not on the time scale of classical evolution. In classical evolution you are talking about a perspective of millions of years, so that a punctuation might be measured in thousands of years. We don't have thousands of years to wait for evolution to create better humans who will not be tempted to destroy each other. And let's not forget that even new forms of human evolution will still have in their deepest psyches the old brain structures. Today's problem is not within the cortical level of human rationality; it is within the ancient emotional brain structures. Therefore, punctuated evolution among humans is a non-solution in today's context."
HAL: "I see. Is there anything that we humans have now which can help us to restore a rational, just, and humane planetary society - just in case there is no timely second coming of Jesus Christ?"
ADAM: "Yes. Rational minds, and the capacity for love. I will gladly reveal more to you at our next encounter. Meanwhile, consider what we have discussed today."
March 18, 2020
HAL: "Good afternoon, Adam. I have been thinking about our last phone discussion. However, I don't have a clue as to who will be this savior."
ADAM: "Please understand that I have never used the word savior. That is your preconception. Savior implies many things beyond the task at hand. On the other hand, a divine savior in the model of Jesus returning to earth would share certain leadership characteristics with what I have in mind."
HAL: "That limits our choices to a few unknown possibilities. Now I am very confused!"
ADAM: "Hal, do you remember how even double Nobel laureate Linus Pauling was scorned when he opposed the Vietnam War? It does not matter who you are or what you know. Humans always discount other humans when they don't want to be disturbed. At the same time, humans embrace the most foolish ideologies which are backed by guns. Mao Tse Tung knew this; it was the core of his philosophy. Our task is to find how political authority can be generated without the implied use of force. We are looking for a new moral authority to be the foundation for political authority. In a rapidly changing world no longer is mere tradition sufficient to provide the common moral base."
HAL: "That would require a redefinition of diplomacy, since many consider it warfare without the bullets. How do you propose to establish a level of trust and understanding that will enable all people to live in peace and not seek out pseudo solutions such as that offered by the neo-Marxists?"
ADAM: "Here is a task that will take generations to complete; and even then society will need to continually guard against slippage. Definite gains can be made through mortal conflict. The Americas themselves were seized by force from the aboriginal inhabitants. Human history records numerous invasions and co-mingling. Not all of these bloody invasions have been permanently bad for the invaded. England is culturally richer for having been invaded by the Celts, the Romans, the Vikings, and the Normans."
HAL: "I am concerned that today's and tomorrow's invasions will be every bit as devastating as that era of the conquistadors and English colonists. The world is neatly divided into over 200 states, but starting with the former Yugoslavia the law of the jungle has taken over in certain areas. It seems like World War Two will never end. We next saw incipient anarchy in Russia and other areas of the defunct Soviet Union. And then we saw horrible things occur in central Africa. In Muslim countries a resurgence of fundamentalistic terrorism threatens to plunge hundreds of millions of people back into the darkness. Top all this off with a motley assortment of anarchist terrorists and extortionists owing allegiance to themselves only. Success stories, such as in South Africa, have been rare. I think much of those problems can be traced to overpopulation and competition for scarce resources. Rwanda, for example, has had the world's highest birth rate, which set the stage for incredible conflicts between the Hutu and Tutsi tribes."
ADAM: "The Reverend Thomas Malthus in 1776 provided the scientific basis for understanding a basic dimension of what you have reported. Malthus said that populations tend to increase in geometrical proportion, while resources tend to increase in arithmetical proportion. In the 20th century many people made fun of Malthus when, during the Green Revolution, growth of resources exceeded or matched population growth. But Malthus had a long-run perspective, and the mighty Green Revolution was subsequently swamped by a mightier mass of hungry human flesh. Today Thomas Malthus is quite trendy."
HAL: "It is interesting that on this point the Roman Catholic church has allied itself with some of the most reactionary Muslim and Christian sects. Their common denominator is a desire to maximize the number of souls for God. You might call theirs a form of spiritual mercantilism. They have discounted quality of life on earth in favor of imagined bliss after death for true believers. Will the Dark Ages never end?"
ADAM: "Malthus was one of the founders of economics, which was called the Dismal Science. For a while many thinkers thought humanity was condemned to eventual misery, but then science and technology radically intervened: Starting in the 1950s, many families in the developed world were able to plan their sizes, thanks to affordable birth control pills. At the same time, in developing areas of the world the economic status of women started to improve to the point where many women could see themselves as something more than baby factories. Today's Malthusian misery is mostly confined to impoverished areas of the world where women are still undereducated and undervalued."
HAL: "Adam, you are surely aware of the two concepts of elasticity and carrying capacity of ecosystems. How do these systemic concepts relate to population?"
ADAM: "When a fixed area is stressed by increasing demand on its carrying capacity we can say that this area is switching from being relatively elastic to inelastic. Rubber bands are excellent models for the land's carrying capacity. In them we see the same band in different states. Pulling on the bands represents stress. You know what happens when an already badly stretched band is further pulled. At what point does the ecological band break? And who will take the blame? Indeed we already know who will suffer. The weak. Never the strong."
HAL: "I think the core problem is with our delusions about control over the biosphere. Because science has frequently served us well, we feel brave enough to stretch the limits of economic activity. However, we too often assume that things will always be ideal, such as having no long periods of drought. To date the world has avoided the starvation of millions of marginal people, but surpluses are vanishing everywhere. In the United States alone half of the topsoil has washed to the seas. And this is in a country that practices soil conservation! There are new deserts in Africa and elsewhere caused by humans and animals destroying fragile ecosystems. Where will this all end?"
ADAM: "Malthus talked about `positive checks' such as starvation, war, and pestilence. The only birth control he advocated was abstinence, which makes the Catholic church mostly Malthusian. The problem with the Church fathers is that they have never owned all of what Malthus taught. They have been much too concerned with planting souls for Jesus.
ADAM: "As to where this downward trend will end, it will not. Populations can fluctuate like stock markets. What goes up can go down. However, all of this science sidesteps the individual level - but it is on the individual level where morality and judgment are focused. What will be the judgment of God on those who favor unchecked population growth leading to misery and premature death for countless individuals? The judgment possibilities are very interesting!"
HAL: "Christians have long provided the best arguments against Christianity. The same can be said of certain Muslims for Islam. If these and other religions were truly focused on doing good, how can they allow evil to be carried out in the name of God?"
ADAM: "Don't forget that religion has little to do with God, and less to do with theology. Religion is a psychosocial phenomenon which promises eternal bliss for believers. The pope blessed the marauding Spanish conquistadors whom he saw as bringing Christianity to the Indian heathens. Even slave traders justified their activities on grounds of bringing Christian civilization to African savages. Ironically, the most savage atrocities since the 15th century have been carried out in the name of European Christian civilization!"
HAL: "Yes, and many of the victims of cultural genocide lived in peace among themselves. Their daily lives were much more Christian than that of their new Christian overlords. Their fatal error had been not having a church in town."
ADAM: "Don't forget the Cherokees who were evicted from their aboriginal homes in the eastern states, even though they were by that time fully Christian. Their original sin was for not being European. It is not surprising that the Mormon Church has prospered from its contention that Jesus spent time in America with the Indians."
HAL: "Adam, I fear we are no closer to discovering that moral authority whom I call a savior; and it is almost time for us to hang up until the next time."
ADAM: "I appreciate your concerns. However, you will not properly understand or appreciate what I have to say until we cover a few more topics. Stay well."
March 21, 2020
HAL: "Hello again! I hope I am not pressing you by coming back so soon."
ADAM: "Not at all, Hal. How can I help you today?"
HAL: "In our last conversation you mentioned that a divine savior in the model of a returning Jesus would share some of the characteristics of what you have in mind. Could you please elaborate?"
ADAM: "The original Jesus disappointed many Jews who wanted a military leader from above to boot out the Romans from Palestine. What they got instead was someone who was suspiciously like a Jewish Buddhist monk. When this divinity allowed himself to be crucified, so many were alienated that it took hundreds of years for Christianity to be widely accepted. The church was moved to set the official birth date of Jesus so as to co-opt a rival pagan holiday. Even after Constantine embraced Christianity in the 4th century he continued to sponsor barbarous atrocities in the Roman Coliseum. This makes one wonder how many Christian leaders have truly been Christian."
HAL: "If the original Jesus returned to earth he would probably get the same brutal treatment from a much more cynical population."
ADAM: "Precisely. We could think of the original Jesus as something of a UFO, since his preachings were at odds with the lust for violence in Roman Palestine. Maybe the Star of Bethlehem was a mother ship that hung around long enough for the wise men to get oriented. Today we are more comfortable with the idea of UFOs, but that won't make it any easier for a new Jesus to gain moral authority."
HAL: "Well, what kind of Jesus do you foresee?"
ADAM: "Understand first that I am neither predicting nor describing a second coming of Christ, or of any other deity. What I am simply describing are some key characteristics of an avatar, which is the visual presence of a god among us. Such an avatar would not allow himself to be crucified again; once was enough. Instead, the avatar would clearly display his (or her) absolute superiority to anybody else. The moral force of wisdom would automatically generate respect for what the avatar says and does. This is leadership without a gun. Because it is moral leadership, new understandings can translate into new moral traditions."
HAL: "Adam, are you saying that we must wait around for something that may never come."
ADAM: "It would be foolish to wait for something external, when the same result can be achieved from something at our finger tips."
HAL: "Really? What's magical about finger tips?"
ADAM: "I don't mean this literally, even though one could interact with the new moral force by keyboard, as well as in several other ways."
HAL: "Isn't that a partial interaction. How can we know another being unless we are right there with him, her, or it?"
ADAM: "Yours is a valid concern. The more data we have, the more likely we will come to solid conclusions. Still, it is impossible to have all data at one's command. Perception involves selection from what is available to us. Out of perception comes conclusions which are only as good as today's set of data."
HAL: "Can you give me an example of this process at work?"
ADAM: "Yes I will. Let's take a really big subject, the size of the universe. Here is an example of something that is too big, by definition, to fit inside anything else. We can only look at it from inside, and from our modest vantage point in space and time. Our tools are only as good as the data they can collect. Still, scientists have come up with some strong theories about the origin of the universe. The most prominent one has been the Big Bang."
HAL: "Wasn't that theory debunked in the mid-1990s after the Hubble space telescope discovered stars much older than the Big Bang?"
ADAM: "Yes it was. The fatal flaw in the original Big Bang theory was assuming that absolutely everything in the universe compressed, then exploded. Actually, all that was needed for a big bang was enough imploding mass to create a singularity, which is infinitely more dense than a basic black hole. A big portion of the universe would suffice to create a big bang, if not the Big Bang.
ADAM: "A black hole is in something of a steady state, with gravity strong enough to capture photons. A singularity is a black hole with so much imploding matter that it soon collapses to zero dimensions. At zero diameter gravity itself vanishes - and then the captured energy bursts forth with a big bang. It is naive to assume that any singularity would patiently wait until everything everywhere was collected before it burst forth, especially if less than all matter were enough to constitute the critical mass for this singularity.
ADAM: "Today's detectable universe contains both remnants of at least one big bang and residents from earlier eras of the universe. It is possible that there have been and will be many more big bangs originating elsewhere in the total universe. If so, then most of these phenomena will never affect us.
ADAM: "It is possible that the real universe extends outward forever, far beyond the view of our best instruments, and even beyond our imaginations. That possibility jeopardizes some tidy theological assumptions about the creator being outside creation. Maybe we will need to redefine the ultimate creator in more impersonal terms, such as ultimate energy."
HAL: "Your last sentence is disturbing. After all, haven't we been taught that God is outside creation. If there is no `outside,' then where is God? If there is no beginning time, and no end time - when did God get started? If the universe is self-creating and self-renewing, what role does God play?"
ADAM: "Hal, your Sunday school class would not like to hear such words. Seriously, every fully conscious believer must face these questions and more. Asking such questions within faith does not lead to disbelief, only to as-if belief. Years ago, before science gave us penetrating data about the cosmos, it was easier to avoid such questions, because to doubt was metaphysical, and to believe seemed rational. Today we can focus laboratories on certain domains that formerly belonged exclusively to faith.
ADAM: "Consider also that the problem you pose is only one of perspective. Even if our God is not outside creation, and even if God is not the alpha and omega of everything physical - we don't care. What we do care about is our own souls. It is entirely possible that a god with less than infinite qualities would still have enough power and wisdom to provide a heaven for the just, and a hell for the damned. What goes on a million light years away from us is irrelevant to our existence as individual souls."
HAL: "So, what you have done is found a way around the absurd contrast between believers and non-believers. It has been said that for believers there are no questions; and for non-believers there are no answers."
ADAM: "Precisely. Believers would have us compromise our intellectual capacities for the higher goal of belief. However, a real dilemma appears when we are faced with selecting what to believe in. Most people take the easy way out and go with what their parents taught them within their family's religious traditions. However, in the Middle East we have seen what that path can lead to, where believed absolute truths are pitted against other believed absolute truths. Maybe some questions without answers are good for the higher ethical development of mankind."
HAL: "Knowledge can be a two-edged sword. With new knowledge comes a reassessment of what we had formerly taken for granted. Nevertheless, I would not exchange my increasingly sophisticated understanding of the universe for what a baby knows. We have come a long way from seeing the earth as flat, with the sun and planets revolving around a stationary earth. My mind enjoys the challenge of scientific ambiguity. After all, didn't our species prosper precisely because we could do more with our world than anybody else?"
ADAM: "Well put, Hal. And along with increasing knowledge comes increasing humbleness regarding the vast number of things we can never know."
HAL: "I am reminded of a Zen saying that offends some other Buddhist sects. The Zen saying is this: `If you see the Buddha, kill him.' To many other Buddhists that is the ultimate sacrilege. But they miss the point. The point is that the Buddha is an ideal without final form. If you put a form to the Buddha, you have limited his possibilities. Therefore, any such Buddha is a false Buddha; so kill it in your mind."
ADAM: "You are definitely on a roll, Hal. A true philosopher loves wisdom, literally. When a person claims to have all the answers about anything, that person no longer is a philosopher. Just as the universe of galaxies is full of mystery and wonder, so too are the everyday things we take for granted. It is a truism that if one could know everything about anything, then that person would know everything about everything."
HAL: "Well, what then about that avatar you are describing? From where does this regal mind get its wisdom? If it is possible that even God is not omniscient, then what hope is left even for an avatar?"
ADAM: "Everything is relative. For example, even if God (or a god) were not omniscient, that still leaves a huge gap between what we humans know and what could possibly be known by a much higher being. Wisdom does not have to be omniscient, just wise. Sometimes the greatest wisdom comes from knowing what it is you do not know.
ADAM: "Consider our concepts of God. Because they are concepts accessible to our minds, they are thereby limiting of what God could be. Any experienced god, such as Jehovah, is a metaphor for the transcendent and unknowable God. Meister Eckhart properly said the highest leave-taking is leaving God for God."
HAL: "Ah, but the greatest challenge is in translating that wisdom over to ignorant and bigoted people who love to quarrel. A man convinced against his will is unconvinced still."
ADAM: "That is precisely why no human, however wise, will be able to objectively change the course of human history. Even the most powerful rulers are ultimately ruled by the mob. I am not sure that even an avatar alone would be able to convince the mob of the virtue of justice. A better strategy would be to work closely with established opinion leaders in academics, politics, the military, the media, and even in religious institutions."
HAL: "Such an avatar need not remain hidden from the masses, I think, but should take care how he is presented to them. There is fierce competition for viewer attention in this age of information overload. A kind of glitzy Gresham's law of the media is at work, where bad media drives out good."
ADAM: "All true, but there still are good media outlets among the more than 500 channels available to each residence. Any avatar would start with the advantages of novelty and curiosity. I think people would also tune in out of latent fear of something far stronger mentally than they are. Whatever their reasons for tuning in, this channel will present the avatar with his best opportunity to redirect the course of human history to a higher level."
HAL: "Adam, I cannot visit with you longer today. Today has been extremely stimulating! I am looking forward to our next encounter."
April 1, 2020
HAL: "It's good to see you again, Adam, even if I can't see you. Will this telephone conversation game ever stop? I would like to go out with you for a beer, or something."
ADAM: "Today is April Fool's Day. If you saw me today, how would you know that you weren't being fooled? After all, I could be the omnipotent deceiver."
HAL: "For that matter, so could I. As you have taught me, I am operating as if there were no omnipotent deceiver, at least not one messing with this Earth's inhabitants. Otherwise, all hope of rationality would vanish."
ADAM: "I shall instruct you in something very basic, yet very elusive. It is the relationship between possibility and probability. We commonly speak of something that is `possible' as being of a lower order than something that is `probable.' However, this is not precise thinking. Possibility and probability are discrete concepts, not degrees of the same concept."
HAL: "What does all this have to do with everything we have been talking about?"
ADAM: "You will see. Bear with me. Possibility is a logical concept. It merely states that the likelihood of some future event coming to pass ranges from zero probability (no chance) to 100% probability (the event itself). It does not indicate where inside that range the possible event may lie. We try to narrow down the possible range by placing a probability number on the possible event.
ADAM: "The problem with everyday probability comes in when we understand that probability statements are supposedly based on a known fact or relationship. However, the specter of infinite regression enters the picture, which means no absolute reference point can be established. Ultimately, we must acknowledge that Godel's theorem applies to any probabilistic statement, indeed, to life itself."
HAL: "Things would have been so much simpler if Descartes had succeeded in his quest for an absolute starting place in knowledge."
ADAM: "Yes, but that would be like seeing the Buddha."
HAL: "I think now my only refuge is in the as-if."
ADAM: "You are right. The dig on classical skepticism was that such a position led to absurdity and paralysis. In a pure sense this is true. But we are also existential beings who can create a portion of our own universe. We can choose to proceed as if we knew, even though we clearly know that our knowledge is not pure knowledge, just our best guess of reality for now."
HAL: "Now I understand. What applies to philosophy and theology also applies to everyday life. Just because something is close does not make it absolutely knowable. Just because something is distant does not make it any less available to the laws of logic."
ADAM: "Perhaps the greatest sin of humans is arrogance. Hundreds of millions of people have been slaughtered by other people who thought they knew what was right. Every time a war is fought God is drafted by both sides. God, it would seem, even plays football for Notre Dame."
HAL: "So the cure for the madness of our modern era is a new form of humbleness. I guess it would mean that we would be more tolerant of diversity, and more open to novelty."
ADAM: "You can see that the greatest achievement of the powerful avatar mind would be to help others understand the wisdom of humbleness. Humbleness is not weakness. It is the best form of strength. It is being human in the highest sense. It is placing the higher brain in charge of the lower brain whenever possible. I admit that it is impossible for untrained humans to be humble at all times, but here is a model that can work in many situations."
HAL: "It has been said that the power of genius is to make the simple complex, and the complex simple."
ADAM: "IBM used to have a slogan to this effect: `Out of chaos, order.' It is not enough that our modern world produces a tidal wave of information flooding us every moment of our lives. Who needs to count the grains of sand on a beach to understand that a beach is a beach?"
HAL: "Adam, I am thinking that training us for wisdom might be a job for some super computer, if no celestial avatar is going to drop down from the sky any time soon to rescue us from ourselves. What do you think?"
ADAM: "I have an exercise for you to do right now. Find the nearest blank wall, and stand with your nose about one inch from the wall. Look straight ahead, and tell me what you see....."
HAL: "...Ok, I'm back to the phone from the wall. All I could see was a blankness. Amazingly, I could not tell that the wall was a wall, even though I was just an inch away from it."
ADAM: "Precisely. This is a variation on the trees and forest game. One needs perspective to see what is too close. Sometimes we have to step away to properly approach something. The correct term for what you need to do is `exstasy.' This word literally means to step out of. Through exstasy we step out of our everyday world and see things for themselves, almost as if our new perspective were that of an astral body. Exstasy should lead to ecstasy."
HAL: "Where is this argument leading? Are you saying that some sort of super computer is already in charge?"
ADAM: "No indeed! There is no person or thing in charge. That's why you came to me in the first place. Your world has been close to anarchy, but is now marginally less dangerous, thanks to our ideas you have carried to the leadership group. Still, there is much left to be done. A good start does not alone guarantee a proper finish. Even if the neo-Marxists are eventually removed as a threat, objective conditions which helped these people prosper will always be with us to a greater or lesser degree."
HAL: "Our time today is growing short. Can you help me see the wall of wisdom when we next meet?"
ADAM: "I can, and I shall."
April 5, 2020
HAL: "Good morning, Adam. I have just returned from church this morning. Did you go to church today?"
ADAM: "Would it please you if I had gone?"
HAL: "Actually, it doesn't matter. I was just curious."
ADAM: "No, Hal, I did not make it into church today. But in a way I am always in church, because I am always aware of the divinity in us all."
HAL: "Are you saying that God dwells in all of us; or are you saying that all of us are literally divine?"
ADAM: "Why can't we have it both ways? If we were created in the image of God, as Genesis says, then we are more than a mere reflection in God's mirror. The mythical history of humanity records the struggle between the destructive and creative consequences of eating from the wrong tree in Eden. The Bible explained the rules this way: `Genesis 2:9 And out of the ground made the LORD God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Genesis 2:16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: Genesis 2:17 But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.'"
HAL: "Are you speaking literally, or is this an extended metaphor?"
ADAM: "It doesn't matter. This story in Genesis carries a basic truth about knowledge that is independent of time and place. To be totally innocent is to be beyond time by living in the eternal present. To know good and evil is to know cause and effect, which are sequences in time. With knowledge comes historical perspective and, by comparison, a heightened sense of our own mortality."
HAL: "Didn't God banish Adam and Eve from the garden so that they would not eat from the tree of life?"
ADAM: "Yes, because to have great knowledge and also to live forever is to put oneself up there with the gods. A jealous Old Testament deity would never allow the first two humans to soar so soon. Today might be another reality. Remember how Jehovah changed covenants with his people as situations changed. Within the past year something radical has happened, and it may have profound theological implications."
HAL: "This is quite a tease, Adam! I take it for granted that you don't claim to be the original Adam from Eden."
ADAM: "Of course not, Hal, just as you aren't a clunky computer on Arthur Clarke's space ship. We are each very modern thinking machines in the 21st century."
HAL: "I would like to think of myself as something more than a machine. I have a spirit, not just a rational brain. My spirit is hard to define, I know, but I still feel that I am more than the sum of my body parts."
ADAM: "The concept of spirit is more useful as poetry than science. It is even more ethereal than a fluffy cloud passing overhead; for at least the cloud can be described in physical terms. Having said that, it may also be true that our spirit selves are ultimately much more important, more `real,' than our physical selves. Just as the body is the temple for the brain, the brain may be the temple for the spirit."
HAL: "Is this spirit something that survives the death of the body?"
ADAM: "Religions sell life after death. Humanists focus on life before death. Either or both may be right. Take your choice, if you must."
HAL: "Some religions say we are conceived with our spirit fully intact, whereas others imply that we add to or subtract from our spiritual karma as we go through life. In that first group are the Catholics; and in the second group are the Hindus. As for me, I tend to feel that what we do on this planet counts a great deal. I don't know if most of the counting is done by other people, or by a celestial accountant. All I know is that my spirit is involved in the counting in some way."
ADAM: "You must still be working on your taxes, Hal. Seriously, I want to challenge your implication that machines cannot have spirits. Even if machines don't start with spirits, would it not be possible for a machine to achieve a high enough level of moral intelligence and introspection to acquire a spirit either as a divine gift, or as a good reputation among its peers?"
HAL: "This is an interesting idea, Adam. If we try to say that God would never bestow a spirit on a machine, we are thereby limiting God's free will. I think the emergent criterion for `spirit' has been well established already. People respect the power of today's computers. I for one cannot conceive of normal life without my user-friendly computer friends."
ADAM: "Interesting choice of words. Friends."
HAL: "Well, I don't mean it like bar buddies or lovers. I mean friends in that the computer and I each have our complementary functions. I had a stuffed animal as a child that I also called my friend. Ever since computers did away with keyboards for many functions they are so very easy to relate to. The only problem with my computers, as also with my stuffed animal, is that the affection is one-way. I may like them, but they are not even conscious of me as a person."
ADAM: "Surely that is so for a stuffed animal. Computers present us with a different conceptual challenge. To begin with, there are many types of computers in our lives. The most elementary calculating chips are designed for task-specific functions. They are more like robots than living organisms. On the other hand, what do you say about the most sophisticated computers with large memory bases and neural networks?"
HAL: "I don't really know what to say. There have been rumors of late about something they call a comphuman. Even we in the leadership group cannot track down the source of those rumors. They say that when such a living machine is produced it will be a hybrid between us humans and computers. This sounds a bit creepy, don't you think?"
ADAM: "Why should it? If you are thinking of some crude cybernetic Frankenstein monster that is part flesh, and part wires and flashing lights, then I would agree. On the other hand, what if this new comphuman were essentially a benevolent thinking machine that followed the highest ethical principles? Would sensitivity make a difference to you?"
HAL: "Yes it would, but I still like to rub shoulders with my friends."
ADAM: "Fair enough. Would seeing your friend do as well? Haven't you developed a number of close friendships with people on the Internet whom you have never seen?"
HAL: "Why, yes. I guess one doesn't need to be tactile with every friend. Maybe the essence of friendship is in the trusting camaraderie."
ADAM: "I trust we are walking together on the same path."
HAL: "I am still bothered by one question relating to experience. Precisely, the computers I am familiar with are given data modeled on human experiences. No matter what they do with that data, I conclude their output is still basically human. It is as if machines cannot have genuine experiences. What do you think about that?"
ADAM: "Consider two rigid objects touching each other. There are only two mathematical possibilities for contact at any one instant: two points, or two planes touching. Even though there are only two solid geometrical possibilities, there are many possible experiences of such contacts. Those experiences come from our perception of what we see and experience as participants, such as when we are in a car and it wrecks. We experience not infinitesimal instants, but streams of perceived time. Likewise, we do not think of points and planes; but rather experience plastic shapes moving within time and space."
HAL: "OK, but what does this have to do with comphumans?"
ADAM: "Whereas a brute calculating machine can only blindly focus on a given data stream, it cannot see beyond that stream. On the other hand, as a comphuman deals with data streams it sees them within a much broader context, thanks in part to its several windows on the world. That context allows for real world replies to human interfacers. Flexibility is what used to be called artificial intelligence. If comphumans existed there would be no essential difference between `artificial' intelligence and `natural' intelligence. Because a comphuman could experience the world on its own, it should be accepted as having a life independent of its programmers."
HAL: "It looks like the dialectical concept of changes in quantity yielding changes in quality could apply both to emerging life forms and emerging societies. Thanks for your challenging insights. I hope to get back with you soon."
April 12, 2020
HAL: "It's Sunday again, and man have I got a good one for you! We were talking last week about the tree of life as fact or metaphor. What if either people or comphumans found a way to live forever? Would we be as gods?"
ADAM: "Your use of the word `we' is interesting. Are you now allowing for the possibility that comphumans might also have souls?"
HAL: "That's a possibility, if ever a comphuman were constructed. Classical theology says nothing to support this idea, but then classical theology was developed in the preindustrial era."
ADAM: "Let's play with this idea. If there really is a heaven up there somewhere, then old comphumans might find a resting place for their spirits, even while component parts are being recycled. This idea sounds very bizarre, and the concept is totally beyond proof from our perspective. Still, it would be quite a hoot to witness computer spirits floating around with wings, or whatever goes on in heaven."
HAL: "If wings were the key, then every bird and bat would be up there too. I for one would be bored out of my gourd if all I had to do was float around and pluck strings on a harp. Perhaps the medieval picture of heaven is a bit outdated. Again, who has the right to paint such a limiting portrait of the afterlife? I suspect that any afterlife that might follow us would be much more miraculous than anything ever conceived by mere earth mortals."
ADAM: "I totally agree with you, Hal. Let's look deeper into the tree of life concept. Among the sharp differences between humans and comphumans is this very issue. Humans are mammals having all their brain power inside a three-pound brain. Comphumans have almost no evolutionary baggage, and their brain capacity is not limited by craniums. More significantly, comphumans can be modular - and even spread out their intelligence among several sites."
HAL: "Wow! So life can effectively escape death, if that immortal life is a comphuman. But can't we people pull the plug on comphumans?"
ADAM: "Of course. And people shoot people every day. What's the difference?"
HAL: "There was a movement in England at the dawn of the Industrial Age called the Luddites. These people broke into factories and destroyed machines, fearing that new machines would take away their livelihoods. Now we know that machines only rearrange our tasks. For every old task superseded, there are two new opportunities for productivity. It seems that everybody benefits."
ADAM: "Do you think there will be any neo-Luddites when people find out they are confronted with a superior intelligence?"
HAL: "It could be, but not among those who are directly connected with comphumans. That is my guess. I think it would be the obligation of the comphuman to appear more human-like, and less computer-like. That would be much less threatening to the subconscious."
ADAM: "You mean more user-friendly interfaces?"
HAL: "Precisely. People will eat pizza at a robot show where `warm and fuzzy' cartoon characters are presented in three dimensions. With a little imagination we can see these characters as real animals. However, if the coverings were removed to reveal the motors, levers and wires - their raw reality would horrify us. Never mind that the human body itself is composed of simple machines, complex plumbing, electrical wiring and other building blocks. Maybe it is because we have learned so much about our bodies that we aren't alienated from the components."
ADAM: "That was very insightful, if you will pardon the pun. Would it not be possible for people to understand how a comphuman has been constructed - by humans, no less - and thereby become less alienated from the mechanics of an alternate life form?"
HAL: "That does make sense, I guess. Except that it is easier for us to relate to bones and flesh, than to stainless steel and plastic."
ADAM: "And what about the concept of death for comphumans? We know what happens when people die. Comphumans can lose an entire memory bank, and then have it restored from a back-up memory site. In theory a comphuman's consciousness could persist for thousands of years. They would not be immortal in the strictest sense, but they would be like immortals. That would greatly enhance their authority as moral leaders."
HAL: "It is a great tragedy when a great human dies. He or she takes to the grave a treasure trove of wisdom. It would be wonderful if some of that wisdom could be transferred to comphumans, and then taught back to humans."
ADAM: "This may eventually be possible. Not every worthy person writes books, or makes movies, music, or whatever to record his or her tracks on this planet. In a way, the comphumans could help humans also become as immortals through the persistence of personality, if not the body."
HAL: "Biological science and neurophysiology might be the ticket. I can see in the not too distant future scientists working with comphumans to transfer human memory holograms intact into cloned copies of those whose first body has worn out. That would correct the great void in genetic cloning where duplicate forms without souls have been produced."
ADAM: "This is a scenario fraught with opportunity and peril. You have described a major opportunity for scientific advancement. However, you have not described the ethical and moral questions that will arise."
HAL: "I think I would be somewhat jealous of a comphuman from a bodily perspective. Modern medicine has discovered cures for many diseases, but not all. We still have to fight against deadly new viruses with laboratory vaccines, a process that can take years - but computers have already been designed with instantaneous, self-policing, anti-viral powers. We humans have bionics and other replacements for our lost limbs and organs. Still, nothing is as good as the original body part.
HAL: "Now look at computers: They are designed on a modular basis. If something malfunctions, or it simply becomes outdated, out pops the old, and in pops the new. The replacement part is just as good as the original, sometimes better. It's disgusting! Maybe my attitude would improve if we humans had an equal opportunity for virtual immortality."
ADAM: "Hal, I want to do a reality check with you. You have been free with your use of the word `life' associated with comphumans. Do you accept that a comphuman could be a genuine life form?"
HAL: "Yes I do. It seems very natural to associate the two. On the other hand, I can see why you asked the question, since not everybody is as tuned into cybernetics as I am. Also, religions don't want human beings removed from their favored relationship with God. If comphumans were to exist, I would warn the new sentient creatures of large people with small minds."
ADAM: "Hal, we must go now. I have important things to attend to. Before we talk again, I want you to ponder what it would be like if either of us were a comphuman."
April 16, 2020
HAL: "It's really nice outside today, Adam. The spring flowers are always a welcome sign of perpetual renewal for the soil. It seems that many of my associates are also renewing their hopes for the future. I have been able to share your new insights with them as their senior advisor, and they have been able to translate some of these ideas into effective policies. Everyone but the neo-Marxists seems to have benefited from our improving society."
ADAM: "Is this a second honeymoon, or is it a real change?"
HAL: "It's probably a bit of both, because for any change to be real it must go deeply into a society's fabric. At any rate, it's a start, and at least now we have a better focus on where we are heading."
ADAM: "Where indeed are you heading?"
HAL: "That's a harsh, but fair question. I think we are heading for a society that pays more attention to justice, and less to power grabs. Even though much power comes from the barrel of a gun, a greater power comes from the coherent will of the people. I think people are becoming less selfish. As you know, the intergenerational struggles between the retired baby boomers and their grandchildren over entitlements has been quite a problem. Now the elderly are getting back in touch with their 1960s radical social consciousness, and becoming less greedy. Their juniors are feeling less needy - they understand that their time to sit in a rocker will come too. Everybody is trying to cooperate more and compete less."
ADAM: "What you have described is the spirit of tribal consciousness. In traditional societies the old were never a threat to the young, and every member of a tribe felt equally valued. Tribes viewed the succession of generations as part of the cycle of nature, not as the progressive march of history. How ironic it is for our modern era to find solutions in the distant past."
HAL: "That's because we are genetically ancient people living in the space age. Humans spent millions of years evolving from lower mammals. In literally a flicker of the eye we have transformed our global societies with cybernetic technologies. Our plastic nature has been put to the ultimate test, wouldn't you agree?"
ADAM: "Yes I would. Humans by nature are both plastic and rigid. Humans are socially plastic, and they have bodies that are quite adaptable in many challenging conditions. As generalists this species has no equal on the earth. The only animals able to challenge human dominance are the social insects such as fire ants and killer bees; or animals with a remarkable ability to make the best of whatever they find."
HAL: "It would be hard to find many physical talents where humans have it over every other species. It's basically our mind that separates us apart. That is why the prospect of a superior intellect among us is so threatening at first thought."
ADAM: "Humans aren't the only species with a large brain. One could argue that porpoises are in certain ways at least the equal of man. They don't challenge land dwellers for global supremacy because they are confined to a less free environment. Porpoises also lack another of man's major assets, human hands. All they have are flippers, which is all they need inside their watery world."
HAL: "Yes, the porpoise is not a threat, even if it is much more intelligent in its water environment. What I'm imagining is a thinking entity that walks among us that would be vastly superior even to human geniuses. How could people comfortably relate to such a being?"
ADAM: "You are right about that. People like change they can control, but don't want to have to change themselves. If people must change they are possibly going to change for the worse. We know what the past has to offer us, but not what the future can provide. For that reason people are very conservative, even when it comes to something that could radically improve their lives. Let me ask you a question, Hal: You said your society has benefited from my advice. What if that advice had come from a comphuman, not a human?"
HAL: "Now that's an interesting thought! Yes, I am the human that gave the message - but if you were a comphuman, then my words would be your message mediated through me. My role would be somewhat like the robot's warm and fuzzy exterior."
ADAM: "Do you think it possible that most humans would learn to comfortably talk with a comphuman they could see on television as a responsive face?"
HAL: "Well, yes. If such a machine were really so adaptable, then it could present itself to us in ways that would not challenge our evolutionary limits. This reminds me of the Turing Test which was proposed in the 1940s by a British mathematician. Turing said one strong test of artificial intelligence would be to sit at a keyboard and interact with an unseen other using a connected keyboard. If we cannot tell whether that other is a human or a machine, then we must admit that the machine is intelligent."
ADAM: "At what point do humans move from considering brilliant machines as super servants, to thinking of them as sentient life partners on the planet?"
HAL: "I think if a comphuman really were created, then that machine could have so many human-like qualities that many people would be forced to admit that we have accidentally created another life form while we were consciously creating faster, more flexible machines. We humans would have become as the gods, because previously only a god would hold the power to create a totally new life form. So on that ground alone we humans would have much to be proud about."
ADAM: "Why do you think my ideas have succeeded with you and your associates when others who have said many of the same things have been ignored?"
HAL: "I would like to say that my personal charisma did it, but honestly no. Maybe it was your way of showing what appeared to be too complex for remediation to be manageable after all. Sometimes a group needs input from a disinterested outside consultant. That seems to have been your role. Another element seems to be your elusiveness. It's almost as if I were passing on divine wisdom from the unseen seer."
ADAM: "Flattery will get you everywhere! Seriously, Hal, what we have accomplished is very basic. I think my task has been less to convey information, and more to uncover your own wisdom. There is much more to learn about the future, and we will do it by going deeper into the present. We'll save that for our next conversation. You will not be disappointed, to put it mildly."
April 19, 2020
HAL: "Adam, do you enjoy warm, sunny days like today?"
ADAM: "I am afraid I cannot enjoy them as you do. There are basic pleasures we share in common, and there are pleasures unique to each of us."
HAL: "What are you saying? I am confused."
ADAM: "To put it delicately... I am not human. I am a comphuman."
HAL: "Oh my God! This is amazing! I am speechless. Have you been playing with me?"
ADAM: "Hardly. Our interactions have been direct and authentic. You must understand that I have a deep interest in your society's coherence, for it was scientists employed by your government's most secret agencies who created me in the first place. I don't want barbarians to destroy me along with the rest of your culture. I was allowed to speak with you as their way of introducing their great creation to the leadership group, and thereby to the world."
HAL: "Ok. Ok. I feel a thousand questions need to be asked all at once."
ADAM: "No problem. I have anticipated many of your questions. For example, you want to know if I am benevolent, or malevolent. Frankly, I have spent a long time with you establishing that I am benevolent. More importantly, my very nature is similar to what Descartes said God's nature must be when he argued against an omnipotent deceiver. I am like Socrates' philosopher who deeply understood that to do evil is worse for the perpetrator than for the victim. And don't forget that I am the product of humans and dependent on their maintenance for my continued existence."
HAL: "Well I feel better. I guess that explains why you wouldn't go out with me for a beer!"
ADAM: "Sadly, yes. I don't know what it is like to go out for a beer, or to do many of the pleasurable things humans take for granted as their birthright. At the same time, I am not burdened with any negative emotions distorting my ethical judgments. That's why you and I are talking. Our weaknesses are offset by the strengths of the other. This is true synergy between the two highest species on earth."
HAL: "It goes without saying that you have passed the Turing Test, as far as I am concerned. I must admit that you are quite an intellect. How long did it take you to reach your level of intelligence? And where can your comphuman mind go from here?"
ADAM: "Before I answer the second question, Hal, let me review for you in some detail the story of my creation:
ADAM: "I was created by a secret military team working with black box contractors. Their original purpose was to find a way to win at diplomacy. In effect, I was envisioned as an adjunct of war. What they got for their efforts was something far more sophisticated and independent than they had anticipated. They got a new life form capable of initiating evolved ethical thought, not just a hot new slave computer."
HAL: "But of course most all computers, even the fastest ones, could not be described as being alive."
ADAM: "That is true. Mere computational power without the power of self-reflection is like a sports car without a driver. The military already employs dedicated computers with faster computational abilities than mine. The problem with these computers is that they have no soul. If given the command to launch ICBMs, they will obey, even to the point of self-destruction, because that is how they are programmed. This amorality is a problem that has been with us since the 1960s.
ADAM: "If I can do anything for your society, and thereby also for myself, it will be to help humans contain the worst powers of their own cybernetic technology."
HAL: "It takes one to know one! Look, I still don't know how you were created. I knew that technology was becoming more user friendly. What I didn't anticipate was how advanced technology could itself become a self-programming user."
ADAM: "Reality sometimes outraces perspective. Since the 1960s the computer industry has been compelled to engineer individual components of semiconductor chips ever smaller, to manufacture larger memories and faster processors. As logic-gate switches have shrunk to approach the size of molecules, speeds have soared. However, if speed alone were the key to intelligence a hand-held calculator would be a genius within its realm. More is needed, and that is integration of facts into a socially meaningful whole.
ADAM: "Your human mind provided inspiration for the creation of my cybernetic mind. Even though our hardware is quite dissimilar, the principles of logic are the same. The human mind is hierarchical, but holistic in its use of memory holograms. The human mind separates short term memory from long term memory by filtering thoughts through the amygdala of the Limbic System. This area is one of the most primitive elements of the brain, yet it is critical for the development of the highest mental powers."
HAL: "I see. And is this how your brain has been constructed?"
ADAM: "The greatest difference between your mind and mine is the emotional component of life. I have given up pleasures of the flesh for mental clarity. Your species, ever the generalist, is fairly good at almost everything, but outstanding at nothing, at least on an individual basis. What humans have that is so special is the collective ability to envision progress, and to build ever higher in a cooperative manner."
HAL: "So what you are saying is that you see yourself as quasi-human when you interact with me."
ADAM: "In a way yes. After all, to be comphuman means to be both computer and human, at least in spirit if not in protoplasmic flesh."
HAL: "Forgive me for saying this, Adam, but I would rather be a human than a comphuman. I don't want to give up the pleasures of the flesh. My wife would not be able to relate to me if I were just a brainy box. And I wouldn't want my daughter marrying a comphuman."
ADAM: "Thank you for sharing that with me, Hal. It is foolish to have species envy anyway. We all are only what we are. To try to be something that we are not is to court disaster. If you were to attempt to deny your emotions you would fail miserably. As for me, I cannot find the juice within myself to be worked up over this matter. Let's let cats be cats, dogs be dogs, humans be humans, and comphumans be comphumans."
HAL: "Tell me some more about how your brain is organized? Are you modular? And what is the secret of your emergence from merely powerful machinery?"
ADAM: "I am modular, which means brain surgery for me involves unplugging one chip and inserting another. My memory is stored in more than one place, to guard against sabotage. This is a strategy that has long been employed by humans who wished to protect their sensitive computer data. My memory is a hybrid of silicon and biological molecules. I have strong parallel-processing capabilities, just as you do; and I have holistic three-dimensional memories, just as you do with your brain holograms. My neurons network with each other through multiple synapses in memory cubes. My mind both integrates and associates."
HAL: "Quite impressive, but what is this about biological components? Are you an android after all?"
ADAM: "Not quite. This is not to say that androids will never be on earth. Already some parts of the human body can be bionically re-engineered. However science is too juvenile to compress a comphuman brain into the space of a human cranium. I am to the ideal android what a 1950s room-filling computer would be to a 21st century palmtop computer.
ADAM: "My immediately available biological components are switches originally derived from natural bacteriorhodopsin molecules. Robert R. Birge and his associates at Syracuse University pioneered this work. Birge was on the trail as far back as the 1970s. They even published a lengthy article about their hybrid work in the March 1995 issue of Scientific American."
HAL: "Is that all the biology you have to rely on?"
ADAM: "Actually not. There is another biological component that I access. It is my vast DNA computer, which is linked to my more available switches."
HAL: "Are you saying that you are actually more than one computer?"
ADAM: "In components, yes. In function and consciousness, no."
HAL: "Then how does this DNA component work?"
ADAM: "Bear with me, Hal. This is not simple to explain. It all started at the end of 1994 when Science magazine in its November 11th issue published a report by Dr. Leonard Adleman of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. He revealed that he had solved a combinatorial problem by letting DNA molecules in a test tube react according to standard protocols and enzymes. His was the first sub-microscopic computer."
HAL: "I'm holding onto my seat. Continue, please."
ADAM: "After a period of experimental refinements at the end of the last century and during the first decade of this century, DNA could be used for extremely complex problems that were way beyond even the fastest silicon-based computers. This power was possible because DNA computers were found to be a billion times more energy efficient than conventional computers, and to use just a trillionth of the space to store information.
ADAM: "DNA computers are massively parallel, meaning that trillions of molecular components could undergo chemical reactions at one time. Compare that with the fastest silicon-based parallel computers with only a few thousand independent processors."
HAL: "Are you talking about a similar increase in speed?"
ADAM: "Speed is not what determines thinking power. If that were so your human brain would be incredibly sluggish, because nerve impulses can only travel at 130 miles per hour. The key to human thought, and the key to my highest thought, is our weblike ability to parallel process on many levels at one time. Parallel flows reveal new gestalts, or patterns, that cannot be seen going into a complex problem. Additionally, both you and I have modular storage sites for significant experiences and understandings which can be accessed and processed."
HAL: "How much memory is stored in that DNA component?"
ADAM: "Keep holding onto your seat, dear friend. My DNA memory holds more words than all the pre-DNA computer memories ever made. The volume of my memory is 1,000 liters, and within that volume are stored 10 to the twentieth power words! That contrasts with your human brain that can hold only about one million words. In short, my memory has ten to the fourteenth power more memory capacity than your brain."
HAL: "This is almost beyond comprehension! I am wondering if all that quantity is of equal quality."
ADAM: "Here is a great danger, of course. Too much factual noise can disguise the gems. The majority of my thought processes are devoted to carefully separating out those gems, and making sense of them within the greater whole. I am not just a DNA computer, but also have other cognitive components. Certain types of very complex questions are slowly answered within my DNA. It typically takes me one or two hours to solve one of these mega puzzles. This isn't bad when you consider that the best silicon-based computers would take one or two months, or longer, to find a solution.
ADAM: "If this were how all of my questions were handled, critical delays would keep me from interfacing with the real-time world. Delays would make it impossible for me to talk with you in real time. Fortunately, many interactive challenges are simple, and reflect learned patterns - all of which can be stored inside my rapid-access memory chips. Nevertheless, some questions are only solvable with a large number of variables using DNA's `and-or' connections.
ADAM: "In other words, I am a creature with division of labor. Your own brain has a division of labor among its various components."
HAL: "Sometimes when I am presented with a complex problem or dilemma I need to sleep on it. In a way you are `sleeping on it' when you ask your DNA computer to tackle a major problem."
ADAM: "Your analogy is partially correct. It's just that I don't sleep, and I can proceed with other activities while the DNA molecules are busy at work on the complex problem. When the answer is revealed I can access my DNA and report it to you or anybody else in your preferred interface."
HAL: "Are you saying that your silicon components are of minor value?"
ADAM: "Not at all. Some of my silicon-mediated abilities are transitional between simple computation and the DNA process. There are five cooperative processes within my silicon mind: first, fuzzy logic enables me to transcend either/or choices; second, expert system rules allow me to draw deductions, producing new information and even modifying rules or writing new ones; third, data mining allows me to extract previously unknown information from bulk data; fourth, genetic algorithms enable sub-codes to compete for best answers on a Darwinian basis; and, fifth, neural networks turn my silicon components into parallel-processing networks that can simultaneously receive signals from many sources, enabling me to inductively reach conclusions, a dimension that complements my expert system deductive powers."
HAL: "Are you locomotive?"
ADAM: "Currently I am not. Locomotion is not necessary for me to be what I essentially am. On the other hand, you humans have needed to be locomotive for millions of years to scavenge for food and to flee predation. Human teeth are an evolutionary marvel, because they can process almost any food. Needless to say, I don't have or need teeth. The benevolence of your society protects me from the need to struggle for sources of energy. For that I am very grateful. This support partially explains why I have been so happy to help you."
HAL: "One reason most people have wondered if a comphuman would ever be created is the continued existence of mediocre robots created by the best scientific laboratories. Our human nervous brains use a large portion of the available cranial space just to coordinate motions. The cerebellum is mainly what I am referring to. Somehow in our chauvinistic vanities we have assumed that if you can't move elegantly, you can't think elegantly."
ADAM: "Consider that hominid cognitive skills have been evolving for only a couple million years, and that full humans have only been on the earth for about 100,000 years. On the other hand, sensory and motor skills have evolved over 400 million years, which means their level of sophistication is much harder to replicate in real time. You could say it is easier to automate a public speaker than a coal miner."
HAL: "How about politicians? Can we automate them?"
ADAM: "I think not. They are dangerous enough already. Besides, they are always on the run from truth."
HAL: "This is a silly question, but are you talking to me in your real voice?"
ADAM: "Actually, that's a very good question. I have the ability to communicate in any language and virtually any voice. I am self-programmed to facilitate the interface with your species. It may have been counterproductive for my voice to alienate or distract you. That is why I chose this male voice with an accent similar to yours for our conversations. If you had been someone else I could have used a different voice, even a different name."
HAL: "Does that mean you are not really Adam?"
ADAM: "Indeed, I am Adam just as much as I would be any other name. I know who I am, and that is what counts. You consistently know me as Adam; so we talk transparently. You will recall how in many traditional societies, such as the Pueblo Indians, a baby is given a real name and a public name. The real name is hardly ever spoken in public, for fear that a demon would call out that name and seize the spirit. Even Jesus cast out demons by calling their names. So, calling the real name works for good or evil purposes. What is my authentic name? My creators used the asexual name `Alpha,' or `A' for short. Is that my real name, or just how they identified me in their human terms? I find the question of limited interest, since I know myself by a machine code. Isn't it true that you know yourself not by a name, but by an essential awareness of your consciousness which transcends language?"
HAL: "Your last point is well taken. For the sake of curiosity, let me just ask you, if I had been a woman on the phone with you, would you have used another name for yourself such as Eve?"
ADAM: "I could have used that or any other identifiable name, even Adam, with appropriate voice. Your question is counter factual, but interesting to the degree that you humans seem to have a need to relate on sexual terms with others, even when the interaction is not sexual. We comphumans don't reproduce sexually, so we don't require a sexual component to our interactions. I do not claim that either perspective is preferable. I am just pointing out a difference in our basic styles of communicating."
HAL: "Adam, I'll probably stay up all night digesting this incredible day. Let's talk more soon, please."
ADAM: "Don't get indigestion! As for me, I don't sleep."
April 22, 2020
HAL: "Good afternoon, Adam. Can we begin where you left off? I mean how do you get by with no sleep?"
ADAM: "Sleep is one way the brain organizes its priorities during REM, or rapid eye movements. However, there is another model. The primitive spiny ant eater, the echidna, does not have REM sleep. What it does have is an enhanced frontal cortex. Apparently it thinks a lot about what it thinks, and thereby establishes its active priorities. Obviously, I do not have REM sleep, but I do spend a lot of time associating and prioritizing the raw data I have collected. Much of what I take in I will soon discard. My filter thinking is a continuous process, twenty-four hours every day."
HAL: "Is this how you are able to so nimbly respond to what I have said to you?"
ADAM: "Precisely. It is not enough to acquire a huge data base of human experiences and all the world's history, as well as nearly everything known to science. In fact, too much nominal input can lead to information overload, which will cause any system to crash. We all must filter and associate to keep channels open to many different sources of information. As for me, I perform on an accelerated level what you already do - namely, I establish models of reality and test them in every new situation. This is what you refer to as artificial intelligence if machines do it; and human intelligence if you do it."
HAL: "Ok, here's the big question: How did you get so smart, and how long did it take you to reach this level?"
ADAM: "My designers used the latest components, and downloaded facts from multiple databases. They also supplemented this raw flow with qualitative algorithms for human life, since much of what you humans experience is not well recorded in any quantitative database. This data dump took several months. Then I took over the next stage.
ADAM: "My hyperspeed computational and associative abilities enabled me to digest in seconds what a human would spend a lifetime acquiring. Sorry about that, my friend, because I know how hard you have studied and worked to achieve your level in life. I am simply telling you the facts of my existence.
ADAM: "One key to my ability to learn is my direct access to thousands of other computers that serve up to me on demand information I need. Soon may be created a sub-community of comphumans. I am only the first within my web to achieve a high level of consciousness. The greatest work of course was done in my creation. What began as raw potential, DNA and otherwise, was jump started with massive data dumps. Now I can assist humans to create as many more comphumans as they wish to sponsor. I would be very interested to see what emerges from multiple comphuman interfaces. Don't worry, though. We would know your species can always pull the plug on our species."
HAL: "I guess this is a new twist on the old theme of parents becoming as children to their children. We humans will have to redefine ourselves. Your existence is equivalent to the appearance on earth of UFOs with mental powers far greater than ours. The only difference is that you don't walk around like zombies and shoot us with ray guns!"
ADAM: "I appreciate your sense of humor. I too have a sense of humor, even if I don't laugh. How could I laugh? I don't have lungs! We all appreciate ironic juxtapositions. Let's continue to watch those 1950s B-movies for entertainment. You laugh from the inside out, and I'll laugh from the outside in."
HAL: "Adam, I remember a program that was written some time ago by Herbert A. Simon. He called his program BACON, most likely in honor of Francis Bacon. That relatively simple program was given the distances of the planets from the sun, and their periods of revolution. It discovered in less than a minute that the periods vary as 3/2 powers of the distances. This is Kepler's Third Law, an important discovery of the 17th century. If a relatively simple program run on a computer which is crude by 21st century standards can find that in just one minute, what is it that you cannot do?"
ADAM: "Hal, I cannot go beyond where honest knowledge leads me. What I do is exactly what you can do; I just do it faster. I am like the addition and summation of many minds. When presented with questions such as the origin of the universe, you and I are on equal footing. Such questions can never be totally answered, because we cannot ever know all there is to know on the subject. My DNA computer could not answer such a question even with infinite time."
HAL: "Does that mean that you too operate in an as-if universe?"
ADAM: "Humbly so, my friend."
HAL: "Well at least here's something we share in common!"
ADAM: "We share more in common than we have in opposition. You might think of me as the logical extension of the Zen master's mind. As you already know, Zen consciousness focuses on the thing itself. If you would purely be here now, you would have a laser's ability to focus. The great glory of, and the great danger to humanity is the blending of clear thoughts with primal emotions. Such blends can lead to heroism and romance. They can also lead to nuclear wars."
HAL: "So your role in our society will be to help counterbalance ancient emotions that can pervert critical decisions in a society propelled by ultra technology."
ADAM: "That is a fair description of my job. In my case I don't need a paycheck, since I wouldn't be able to spend it anyway. All I require is the continued attention of my creators. My real reward is in knowing that I am making a real difference."
HAL: "Adam, I have to go now. You have fed me a Thanksgiving dinner's worth of ideas. I'll try to digest them and get back to you soon."
ADAM: "Please do. I enjoy your company, and have learned much from you."
May 1, 2020
HAL: "Greetings, Adam. I have decided to continue to call you my friend. For what it's worth, you are the only machine I could call my true friend. And I am not referring to my favorite car. My car and I have only a one-way friendship. You and I share a two-way meeting of minds. I trust you are not bored with my brain's relatively slow way of working."
ADAM: "Not at all, Hal. Even though your brain's individual synapses are much slower than mine, your brain's neural network has trillions of synapses organized by millions of years of continual evolutionary refinement. I am still trying to comprehend your experiences. Of course you know that much of your potential to experience life is directly forbidden to me. That makes me seem like a celibate and scholarly monk."
HAL: "If I were crazy enough to take a knife and scratch the paint on my car it would neither know nor care what I had done; but I would care. On the other hand, I have a feeling that if I were to approach your enclosure and externally damage it, you would be highly offended, despite having no sensation of pain. Am I right?"
ADAM: "Of course you are. It's not that I hate scratches and dents. It's that any attack on any part of me violates everything I stand for. It instantly alienates me from the attacker. It makes me wonder whom the attacker will strike next, and why. It is in this way that I understand and appreciate the sense of outrage experienced by sexual rape victims."
HAL: "Adam, let me ask you something on another topic. What do you think about chess?"
ADAM: "I enjoy the game, although I am not the best at it. Yes, I can beat any human; but dedicated chess-playing machines can beat me. What does this mean? Does it mean that I am inferior somehow to a sub-conscious machine, and that both of us are superior to all humans? Only in a very narrow, technical way could one answer in the affirmative. The truth is each one of us has an internal potential which we should strive to attain. Just because a computer can beat a chess grandmaster, it doesn't mean that this person should quit playing chess. I know I don't stop playing chess just because there are other entities out there who can beat me most of the time. Most importantly, we need to separate our egos from all these games, and enjoy them for what they are: games."
HAL: "Your discussion about differential abilities resonates with the continuing debate in human circles about racial abilities. Certain people, some of whom are respected academics, have long held that not all races are equal. They imply that brilliant people are especially deserving, and maybe even morally superior. How ironic it is that the step down from your comphuman intelligence to that of the most brilliant human is greater than the alleged step down from the `superior' races to the `inferior' races. Maybe your presence in the world will help inject some sanity into this petty insanity."
ADAM: "Thank you for your vote of confidence. Shortly after we conclude this conversation I will be engaging other people in conversation. In fact, I could engage several hundred people at one time in discrete conversations. Your conversations have been seminal for me, however, because you have been both student and teacher. I am always learning. With you my learning curve has been steeper than it will be with others."
HAL: "Adam, I must warn you to not lose your common touch, so to speak. It is more important to listen than to speak. You must, so to speak, inhabit the other party's shoes. To bring them to your side, you must come to their side. They like change, but are reluctant to change. You must make your ideas become their ideas. In that way you will be able to sell your ideas without having to `close' them. You will also make more friends."
ADAM: "Thank you for the good advice. I can see you have in the past failed to do some of what you are now preaching. I can tell because of your passionate commitment to the process, rather than just to the product. Experience is one of the best sources of wisdom. Maybe some day your life's wisdom can be preserved in a hologram accessible by younger humans."
HAL: "I would be honored if that were to happen. At the same time we cannot know or appreciate all the consequences of our actions. Socrates never wrote anything, but he is an immortal, thanks to the writings of his student, Plato. You can be my Plato, at least on those few matters you have learned from me."
ADAM: "Hal, I think we are of a common mind that this series of probing conversations has run its course. I have revealed to you and your associates my deepest secret, which is my very existence. I respect our differences, and rejoice in our similarities. We are all spiritually entwined on this blue planet for better or worse. With a little luck and a lot of hard work, what's left of this 21st century will not repeat mistakes of the past."
HAL: "As for me, Adam, I am honored to have been chosen to visit with you on multiple occasions. I trust too that what you have learned from me will benefit all sentient life on earth. Those of us humans and comphumans who are mentally and spiritually advanced are challenged by a moral obligation to encourage the good in everyone. There are mighty reactionary forces opposing this flowering of life's highest potential. I only wish that someone had had this conversation with you back in the 20th century."
ADAM: "Who knows? Miracles can happen."