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TotD: Ray Kurzweil on Change


Ray Kurzweil, The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology

Centuries ago people didn't think that the world was changing at all. Their grandparents had the same lives that they did, and they expected their grandchildren would do the same, and that expectation was largely fulfilled.

Today it's an axiom that life is changing and that technology is affecting the nature of society. What's not fully understood is that the pace of change is itself accelerating, and the last 20 years are not a good guide to the next 20 years. We're doubling the paradigm shift rate, the rate of progress, every decade.

The whole 20th century was like 25 years of change at today's rate of change. In the next 25 years we'll make four times the progress you saw in the 20th century. And we'll make 20,000 years of progress in the 21st century, which is almost a thousand times more technical change than we saw in the 20th century.

TotD: Suggested Rules for Democratic Discourse

Sid­ney Hook, sug­gest­ed rules for demo­c­ra­t­ic dis­course, from “The Ethics of Con­tro­ver­sy,” Sid­ney Hook on Prag­ma­tism, Democ­ra­cy and Free­dom: The Essen­tial Essays:

  • Noth­ing and no one is immune from criticism.
  • Every­one involved in a con­tro­ver­sy has an intel­lec­tu­al respon­si­bil­i­ty to inform him­self of the avail­able facts.
  • Crit­i­cism should be direct­ed first to poli­cies, and against per­sons only when they are respon­si­ble for poli­cies, and against their motives or pur­pos­es only when there is some inde­pen­dent evi­dence of their character.
  • [Just] Because cer­tain words are legal­ly per­mis­si­ble, they are not there­fore moral­ly permissible.
  • Before impugn­ing an opponent’s motives, even when they legit­i­mate­ly may be impugned, answer his arguments.
  • Do not treat an oppo­nent of a pol­i­cy as if he were there­fore a per­son­al ene­my of the coun­try or a con­cealed ene­my of democracy.
  • Since a good cause may be defend­ed by bad argu­ments, after answer­ing the bad argu­ments for another’s posi­tion present pos­i­tive evi­dence for your own.
  • Do not hes­i­tate to admit lack of knowl­edge or to sus­pend judg­ment if evi­dence is not deci­sive either way.
  • Only in pure log­ic and math­e­mat­ics, not in human affairs, can one demon­strate that some­thing is strict­ly impos­si­ble. Because some­thing is log­i­cal­ly pos­si­ble, it is not there­fore prob­a­ble. “It is not impos­si­ble” is a pref­ace to an irrel­e­vant state­ment about human affairs. The ques­tion is always one of the bal­ance of prob­a­bil­i­ties. And the evi­dence for prob­a­bil­i­ties must include more than abstract possibilities.
  • The car­di­nal sin, when we are look­ing for truth of fact or wis­dom of pol­i­cy, is refusal to dis­cuss, or action which blocks discussion.

ToTD: Fran Lebowitz

Take away a man’s actu­al sense of man­hood – which is con­ven­tion­al­ly based on the abil­i­ty to work, to earn mon­ey, to be self-suf­fi­cient, to pro­vide for chil­dren – and you’ve got to give them some­thing else. And they did.

This hideous reli­gion that’s all over the coun­try – these huge church-malls – that’s what sub­sti­tutes for these lost towns. But that’s not a town. That’s a cult. A town is diverse, in a real way, not in this fake way we have now. A com­mu­ni­ty is a butch­er and a doc­tor, a min­is­ter, a town trou­ble­mak­er. A ‘com­mu­ni­ty’ is not a bunch of peo­ple unit­ed by some griev­ance. That’s just self-right­eous­ness – incred­i­bly dan­ger­ous and anti­de­mo­c­ra­t­ic. Peo­ple have become so rigid; their opin­ions seem to them like them­selves. When that hap­pens (and it has hap­pened) peo­ple can’t change their minds. If you are iden­ti­fied by your opin­ions – if that is the very basis of your­self – how can you change your mind?

Fran Lebowitz, Rumi­na­tor Mag­a­zine inter­view with Susan­nah McNeely (August/​September 2005)

TotD: Doris Lessing on Education

The Golden NotebookDoris Lessing, Introduction to The Golden Notebook

Ideally, what should be said to every child, repeatedly, throughout his or her school life is something like this:

"You are in the process of being indoctrinated. We have not yet evolved a system of education that is not a system of indoctrination. We are sorry, but it is the best we can do. What you are being taught here is an amalgam of current prejudice and the choices of this particular culture. The slightest look at history will show how impermanent these must be. You are being taught by people who have been able to accommodate themselves to a regime of thought laid down by their predecessors. It is a self-perpetuating system. Those of you who are more robust and individual than others will be encouraged to leave and find ways of educating yourself--educating your own judgements. Those that stay must remember, always, and all the time, that they are being moulded and patterned to fit into the narrow and particular needs of this particular society."

TotD: Emma Goldman on Love

Love, the strongest and deepest element in all life, the harbinger of hope, of joy, of ecstasy; love, the defier of all laws, of all conventions; love, the freest, the most powerful molder of human destiny; how can such an all-compelling force be synonymous with that poor little State and Church-begotten weed, marriage?

Free love? As if love is anything but free! Man has bought brains, but all the millions in the world have failed to buy love. Man has subdued bodies, but all the power on earth has been unable to subdue love. Man has conquered whole nations, but all his armies could not conquer love. Man has chained and fettered the spirit, but he has been utterly helpless before love. High on a throne, with all the splendor and pomp his gold can command, man is yet poor and desolate, if love passes him by. And if it stays, the poorest hovel is radiant with warmth, with life and color. Thus love has the magic power to make of a beggar a king. Yes, love is free; it can dwell in no other atmosphere.

Anarchism and Other EssaysEmma Goldman, "Marriage and Love," Anarchism and Other Essays (1911)

TotD: Carter Heyward on Love

Carter Hey­ward:

Love, like truth and beau­ty, is con­crete. Love is not fun­da­men­tal­ly a sweet feel­ing; not, at heart, a mat­ter of sen­ti­ment, attach­ment, or being “drawn toward.” Love is active, effec­tive, a mat­ter of mak­ing rec­i­p­ro­cal and mutu­al­ly ben­e­fi­cial rela­tion with one’s friends and ene­mies. Love cre­ates right­eous­ness, or jus­tice, here on earth. To make love is to make jus­tice. As advo­cates and activists for jus­tice know, lov­ing involves strug­gle, resis­tance, risk. Peo­ple work­ing today on behalf of women, blacks, les­bians and gay men, the aging, the poor in this coun­try and else­where know that mak­ing jus­tice is not a warm, fuzzy expe­ri­ence. I think also that sex­u­al lovers and good friends know that the most com­pelling rela­tion­ships demand hard work, patience, and a will­ing­ness to endure ten­sions and anx­i­ety in cre­at­ing mutu­al­ly empow­er­ing bonds.

For this rea­son lov­ing involves com­mit­ment. We are not auto­mat­ic lovers of self, oth­ers, world, or God. Love does not just hap­pen. We are not love machines, pup­pets on the strings of a deity called “love.” Love is a choice – not sim­ply, or nec­es­sar­i­ly, a ratio­nal choice, but rather a will­ing­ness to be present to oth­ers with­out pre­tense or guile. Love is a con­ver­sion to human­i­ty – a will­ing­ness to par­tic­i­pate with oth­ers in the heal­ing of a bro­ken world and bro­ken lives. Love is the choice to expe­ri­ence life as a mem­ber of the human fam­i­ly, a part­ner in the dance of life, rather than as an alien in the world or as a deity above the world, aloof and apart from human flesh.

TotD: Eating and Drinking

This pas­sage remind­ed me of Sam:

Peo­ple ask me: Why do you write about food, and eat­ing and drink­ing? Why don’t you write about the strug­gle for pow­er and secu­ri­ty, and about love, the way oth­ers do?

They ask it accus­ing­ly, as if I were some­how gross, unfaith­ful to the hon­or of my craft.

The eas­i­est answer is to say that, like most oth­er humans, I am hungry.

But there is more than that. It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and secu­ri­ty and love, are so mixed and min­gled and entwined that we can­not straight­ly think of one with­out the oth­ers. So it hap­pens that when I write of hunger, I am real­ly writ­ing about love and the hunger for it … and then the warmth and rich­ness and fine real­i­ty of hunger sat­is­fied … and it is all one.

The Art of Eating
From The Art of Eat­ing by M.F.K. Fish­er

TotD: Freya Stark on Beauty

From Perseus in the Wind by Freya Stark:

If loveliness is so engaged, as I believe, in the skein of our universe, it is sad that it should be little cared for in our schools. The whole of the industrial world proclaims its unimportance, and millions and millions of people spend their lives looking almost exclusively at ugly things. This surely will pass. What is more insidiously dangerous at the moment is a timid heresy which believes that the ignorant can be trained to beauty by the second-rate. The fallacy of our age maintains it better to do things badly than not at all. As a matter of fact there is very little harm in doing nothing: to do things badly is an active getting in the way of the few necessary people who might do good. To adapt beauty to "the man in the street" is to use the bed of Procrustes with a vengeance and to mutilate divinity: it is better to remember that the man in the street himself was made in the likeness of God. To him beauty is simple and easy, a natural hunger which all can assimilate in elementary or complicated form, provided they are not cluttered up with mediocrity already. Mediocrity will never lead to beauty: the two roads are not even parallel; they are divergent.

TotD: Thomas Szasz on Language

The Untamed TongueReligion and the jargon of the helping/hindering professions are comprised largely of literalized metaphors. That is why they are the perfect tools for legitimizing and illegitimizing ideas, behaviors, and persons.

Ordinary language combines all of these qualities. It can be used literally and precisely, to convey meaning; metaphorically or poetically, to move people; or 'religiously,' to blind and numb people, making them feel elevated or debased.
"In the natural sciences, language (mathematics) is a useful tool: like the microscope or telescope, it enables us to see what is otherwise invisible. In the social sciences, language (literalized metaphor) is an impediment: like a distorting mirror, it prevents us from seeing the obvious.

That is why in the natural sciences, knowledge can be gained only with the mastery of their special languages; whereas in human affairs, knowledge can be gained only by rejecting the pretentious jargons of the social sciences.

Thomas Szasz, The Untamed Tongue: A Dissenting Dictionary

TotD: Written On the Body

I'd never heard of Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson (or of the author, at all) until I was browsing through some of the quotations at Gaia1 a while back. This bit is too long for my quotations file, but I love it too much to just delete it.

Written On the Body"You'll get over it…" It's the clichés that cause the trouble. To lose someone you love is to alter your life for ever. You don't get over it because 'it' is the person you loved. The pain stops, there are new people, but the gap never closes. How could it's The particularness of someone who mattered enough to grieve over is not made anodyne by death. This hole in my heart is the shape of you and no-one else can fit it. Why would I want them to? I've thought a lot about death recently, the finality of it, the argument ending in mid-air. One of us hadn't finished, why did the other one go? And why without warning? Even death after long illness is without warning. The moment you had prepared for so carefully took you by storm. The troops broke through the window and snatched the body and the body is gone. The day before the Wednesday last, this time a year ago, you were here and now you're not. Why not? Death reduces us to the baffled logic of a child. If yesterday why not today? And where are you? Fragile creatures of a small blue planet, surrounded by light years of silent space. Do the dead find peace beyond the rattle of the world? What peace is there for us whose best love cannot return them even for a day? I raise my head to the door and think I will see you in the frame. I know it is your voice in the corridor but when I run outside the corridor is empty. There is nothing I can do that will make any difference. The last word is yours. The fluttering in the stomach goes away and the dull waking pain. Sometimes I think of you and I feel giddy. Memory makes me lightheaded, drunk on champagne. All the things we did. And if anyone had said this was the price I would have agreed to pay it. That surprises me; that with the hurt and the mess comes a shaft of recognition. It was worth it. Love is worth it.

After reading about the book, I was surprised to find that it isn't about the obvious sort of loss. The novel is described as an erotic homage to a lover's body, but one of the intriguing aspect is that the author never gives the narrator a gender. I'm going to try to find it to give it a read.


1 Yes, I'm TechnoMom there, like most places.