topic: hubris

do we need a Butlerian Jihad?

humanity's inheritors

Assaulted by any number of articles on the rapid advance of ‘deep learning’, I have been awoken to the reality that the pattern recognition abilities of computers have galloped ahead, so that my cosy¬†complacency that computers were useless at recognising faces, understanding what was in a photograph etc – something that we are so brilliant at – has been overturned. Not only can computers understand what they’re seeing in a photograph, but they will soon […]

false dawns

To anyone worried about climate change the announcement by Lockheed Martin that it is developing a fusion reactor that will be ready for market within ten years could be seen as a cause for hope. Though I’ve yearned for this development for years, now I’m not so sure. Our technologies are causing ecological degradation and climate change. But what is technology except an amplifier of the effects that our minds have on the world? It […]

Daoism’s Uncarved Block and the state of our world

The Dao De Jing, the ‘bible’ of Daoism, in various places refers to the Uncarved Block that loses something essential when it is carved. The Uncarved Block could be a baby free to become any version of themselves before their upbringing, their experiences and the culture they are raised in ‘carve’ them into the person that they grow up to be. (This interpretation resonates with a previous exploration of how a thought remains fluid until […]

the intelligence trap

Many believe that human intelligence has escaped the gravity well of ‘animal stupidity’, and that now we roam an unlimited space of thought where everything must eventually come within our understanding. Beneath this belief lies another: that humans are set apart from other animals – an idea that may be an expression of species neuroticism, and that finds its clearest expression in many religions. This special pleading has been eroded by the discoveries of science, […]

beauty is in the eye of the beholder

I have an ongoing preoccupation with vision – not only ours, but that of other creatures. For us vision is such a dominant and personal way through which we experience the world, that it can be surprising to learn how limited it is in comparison to that of other creatures. We have more limited perception of colour – for example – than not just birds, but also lizards, amphibians and even many fish. The retinas […]

a new covenant with nature

God gives the spark of life to Adam

It is no surprise that human rights as a formal system, as legislation, should have arisen from the two cataclysms of ‘civil war’ that the Europeans brought upon themselves, and into which they drew so much of the rest of the world. As a way of trying to avoid descent into the horrors of the Rape of Nanking, of the Eastern Front, and of the Holocaust, it is essential, that at the heart of our […]

competition versus brotherhood

A mania for competition so possesses our societies that it is hard to imagine any other way of being, and yet I think it is critical that we free ourselves from its grip. In the West, the Christian churches, from long habit, had an explanation for everything. Alas, with the rise of science, these churches chose to cling to Old Testament ‘certainties’, with the result that, when the cosmology of ‘Creation’ was overturned, the New […]

the human virtuality

The greatest danger facing the human race seems to me to be how our collective ‘idea’ of what the world is is progressively moving away from what the world actually is. Without wanting to open up the whole can of worms that is the ‘mind-body problem‘, I think it is not too contentious to state: that the impression we have within each of us of the ‘world’ is only an approximation of that world. After […]

vitruvian lobster

Thank you Darwin for liberating us from the absurd notion that Man is God’s ultimate and most beautiful creation. When this notion was generally believed – at least in the West with its obsession with Ancient Greece’s perfect white marble nudes (that we now know were painted as gaudily as the carvings that smother Hindu temples) – did no one actually bother to look at other living things? Did no one see butterflies, birds, mammals, […]

the retreat from reality

sanna, ardnamurchan, summer solstice 2011

For most of human history our facsimiles of reality were very clearly man-made representations: no colour we could produce or use could compare in subtlety or vibrancy to those in nature; no fabric could approach the glossy texture of a rose petal; nothing, not even the finest acted mimicry, could hope to capture an animal in motion. Reality in all its splendour remained unassailably enthroned beyond our attempts to emulate it. This hierarchy has, more […]