Deepfakes, Chatbots, and Power

For those of you who have been living in a cave without computers or smartphones for the past year, “deepfakes” are videos that have been altered through software to show something that isn’t real or doesn’t really exist. And “chatbots” are a new technology that is taking the internet by storm, that allows software to write convincing text that seems like it is authored by a real person but isn’t. Deepfakes have been around for a while, and have been used politically to, for example, show Nancy Pelosi seeming to be drunkenly slurring her words. Chatbots are new—at least the … Read More

Without Water We Are All Dead

Without water we’re all dead. That’s a perennial truism that we should all pay more attention to. There is only so much liquid fresh water on planet earth. The climate keeps warming and the human population keeps growing. At some point—probably first in the arid desert areas of the world—these trends will coalesce into a monster crisis. In some places it already has; I have read that the civil war in Syria, which has now been going on for 12 years and in which 500,000 people have died—is fueled in part by the fact that due to drought farmers in … Read More

Indigenous Peoples Mounds in Ohio

If you surf the internet intelligently, one of the things you discover is that there is a vast amount of useful knowledge out there about all manner of things that even a well-educated person wouldn’t necessarily know. Recently I came across an article in the BBC travel section about the incredible mound structures in Ohio built by the Hopewell Culture of indigenous Americans dating back 2000 years. These structures are vast, built with extreme measurement precision, and like Stonehenge in England were built, archeologists speculate, for ritual, astronomical, and community gathering purposes. According to the article, “The Hopewell Culture, a … Read More

Whales, Seaweed and climate change

Every time I turn around, it seems, there is a new idea being floated about how to positively, definitely deal with climate change. The latest idea, reported on CNN from an Ecology journal, is whales. Whales, according to the report, store large amounts of carbon, and, of course, whales are big. The article says, “The world’s largest whales are more than just astonishing creatures. Much like the ocean, soil and forests, whales can help save humanity from the accelerating climate crisis by sequestering and storing planet-heating carbon emissions.”
This is nice. Everyone likes whales, even though we have spent the … Read More

Has Violence Really Decreased Since Ancient Times?

I have been reading Stephen Pinker’s Better Angels of Our Nature, a 2011 book in which he proposes that, modern warfare and violence notwithstanding, violence by individuals and nation states has markedly decreased since ancient times. Pinker garners a vast armada of historical records and statistics to prove his case, and he is convincing, as far as it goes. It’s heavy going at times to read Pinker’s vivid descriptions of the horrible tortures, mass killings, slavery, and punishments that were common in the Roman Empire and earlier, through the Middle Ages, and even into the 20th century.
Massacre and torture … Read More

Ancient Wheat and Climate Change

There are many aspects to the coming crisis of climate change, but one that gets less attention than it should is food. Without food and water there is no humanity. We are already seeing the drying up of rivers and lakes, the melting of glaciers, and the scarcity of fresh water in many places all over the world. But in a world that is increasingly hot and dry, how will we grow and produce enough food to feed the growing population of humanity on planet earth?
That is why a recent article on the BBC news site caught my attention. … Read More

125 Billionaires Control Our Fate

Abigail Disney, grand-daughter of Walt, has written an op-ed entitled “125 Billionaires Control Our Climate Future.” She is not a billionaire herself, but according to Google she has a net workth of $120 million, so she knows what it is like to be very wealthy. She begins by recounting a memory from her childhood when her father, Roy E. Disney, would take her to the “park”—Disneyland—and invariably would pick up a piece of trash from the street. She asked him why he did it—he was after all the CEO of the company—and he replied, “No one is too good to … Read More

Buddhist Politics

As a lifelong Buddhist, I have often imagined the possibility of a robust, effective practice of Buddhist politics. I think there are some politicians who are Buddhist or who are sympathetic to a Buddhist world view, but if so, for the most part they are quiet about it. Even though Buddhism has been establishing itself in the Western world for more than seventy-five years, it would still be considered exotic by much of the ordinary voting public. To that point, I once went to a conference of encephalitis survivors, where a kindly, elderly woman from Ohio approached me after a … Read More

Longterm Future: Why Can’t Humans Plan?

I have been reading Justin Gregg’s If Nietzsche Were a Narwhal: What Animal Intelligence Reveals About Human Stupidity. Gregg is an expert on animal intelligence, especially dolphins, and he has a two-part thesis. First, animals are intelligent, particularly if you define intelligence as the ability to survive and prosper as a species. Second, human beings are intelligent too—in fact we excel at invention, deductive reasoning, and altering our environment—but, partly because of this inventiveness, we make drastic changes in our world without a focus on long-term consequences. This, Gregg explains, is called “prognostic myopia,” and it is a serious flaw; … Read More

Why Do I Feel Less Anxious?

It’s taken me a while to notice it. Perhaps I didn’t really acknowledge it until after the recent mid-term elections. But I’m definitely feeling less anxious than, say, 3 or 4 months ago. I’m sleeping better too. It’s a subtle thing; it’s not as though I was riddled with anxiety before. It was more like a gray mist that clouded my vision, or my mood. And now it’s mostly gone. I feel more like myself now, like the typically optimistic person that I usually am.
Part of it is the fading of Covid as a moment by moment concern. I … Read More