Ideas for and from LA-CCRS Discussions

Mark Pottenger


Unless a characteristic we think about exists only in one totally unique instance, it will have a range of possible values that will exhibit some statistical distribution. A normal distribution, sometimes called a bell(-shaped) curve, is a common distribution for many characteristics of things in the world. Measured values of characteristics like intelligence, height, etc., are normally distributed. Other characteristics, frequently those determined by a small number of genes like eye or hair or skin color, show other distributions. I don’t know if anyone has studied self-awareness or psychic abilities enough to say how those are distributed. Every individual manifests a distribution placement on a huge number of attribute/characteristic scales (as many scales as there are characteristics we can measure), producing a unique total picture.

One of our many cognitive biases is a tendency to assume (System 1) that our culture, upbringing, beliefs, etc. are “normal” or universal if we don’t pay conscious attention (System 2). We are much more able to recognize differences when we keep those characteristic distributions in mind.

Decades ago, Maslow wrote about a hierarchy of needs, describing how people who are struggling with survival needs rarely have time or energy to devote to self-actualization. Any time you are inclined to ask why someone (including yourself) doesn’t develop a potential you think you see, ask yourself first where they are in the distribution spectra for food, shelter, health, and other basic needs, and ask yourself where they are in the attribute/characteristic scales of any innate or developed capabilities or skills necessary to actually develop that potential.

First reality is about survival in the physical world. Second reality is devoted to INDIVIDUAL human potential. Third reality adds infinity.

First reality looks outward and deals with facts / data / information / knowledge about the physical world. CCRS has used the phrases “awareness of awareness” and “location of comprehension” to label aspects of second reality, which can look within. “Awareness of awareness” describes a second-reality experience in which one is able to mentally watch parts of one’s own thought processes. “Location of comprehension” describes a second-reality experience in which one is able to recognize that thoughts “about” the world are not in the world, they are in our minds. When we develop the skill, we can control reactions “to” the world because we are aware that the reaction is in our mind, not something imposed on us by the world. How easy it is for any given person to develop second-reality skills depends on where they are in the distributions of self-awareness and self-control characteristics.

For many years, CCRS stationary had a logo with the words “Your World Is Your Reflection of Your Understanding”. This is a brief form of the second-reality fact that we don’t “see” the world—we experience a modeled world that our brain/mind builds up through a lot of processing. The first-reality assumption of naive realism (that some little self in our head is viewing a true picture of the world on a mental screen) just doesn’t hold up under examination. The “Where is Sam?” graphic we have had around for decades addresses this issue. Straining somewhat, you could say that reality is like sausage—there is a lot of cutting & grinding & mixing & processing before you get the final product. The logo is also a reminder of the third-reality (non-causal) equation of inner and outer worlds.

First reality views disease as entirely caused by the external world. The oversimplified version of second reality presented in some self-help systems views disease as totally controllable by a properly developed mind. This can lead to “metaphysical guilt” when anyone told this is unable to mentally control a disease. Fully developed second reality recognizes limits to the mental powers of any individual. Third reality recognizes infinite potential, no longer limited to the mind of an individual. In the actual reality underlying the three experiential realities, we must deal with a mind-body: there are both physical and mental “causes” for almost everything in our lives. (Like many nature/nurture questions, the answer is usually “both”.) Physical causes include genetics, epigenetics, environmental exposures from ancestors to prenatal to the present (pollution, radiation, toxins, carcinogens, etc.), socioeconomic & personal history (malnutrition or excessive food, bad exercise habits, etc.), etc. Mental causes include mental/emotional stress, placebo/nocebo effects, harmful beliefs (like the anti-vax movement that avoids life-saving vaccinations or refusal to see doctors or refusal to accept blood transfusions), etc. The full picture must include all factors—a single-factor explanation will never be complete.

With occasional exceptions, humans exhibit short-sightedness most of the time. Thinking through all conceivable implications of a decision or of the use of a technology requires mental effort that most of us will not make most of the time. Attitudes toward pollution are an example—people thought for many years that the atmosphere and the oceans were so big that they could absorb anything people might dump in them with no problems. The modern world shows how wrong that belief was. We have the Antarctic ozone hole that is gradually shrinking since strict regulation of CFCs started. We have the still-growing giant plastic garbage patch in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. We have dead zones at the mouths of several rivers. We have runaway climate change (global warming) from all the carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere by our burning of fossil fuels. The environmental impact list is huge. Attitudes toward birth control are another example—cultures and churches continue to promote values established centuries or millennia ago when the world population was a small fraction of what it is now. At a personal level, most of us don’t establish good eating habits or exercise habits or monetary habits early in life when they would do us the most good, and many people NEVER establish those good habits.

The recent first “picture” of a black hole got a lot of coverage. I saw the image on the Astronomy Picture of the Day web site and other places. This is another demonstration of why I think the APOD site is a great analogy for how we construct our reality, and how easy it is to mislead through careless use of language. All the mentions I have seen call the image a picture of a black hole. This is misleading if one reads picture to mean photograph. As some coverage makes clear, the image is a graphical presentation of a model constructed through massive computer processing of a large amount of radio interferometry data. Radio telescopes around the world looked at the same place at the same time, then the resulting data was processed to for months with supercomputers tease out information about what might be at that location, then an image was created with what the scientists in the project believe is the most plausible model. What the image actually presents is what they think the area just OUTSIDE the black hole’s event horizon looks like. The dark area in the middle of the image is described as a shadow, and nothing in the image is supposed to be the black hole itself (which, BY DEFINITION, can’t be seen).

I grew up reading science fiction that included many variations of atomic/nuclear energy/power. The nuclear energy technology now in our world falls incredibly short of what many authors imagined. Fictional nuclear technology included direct conversion to electricity, sometimes total conversion of mass to energy, and few or no problems with accidents or nuclear waste. Current actual nuclear energy technology is woefully inefficient, using nuclear fuel to boil water to run steam engines (generators / turbines), and produces tons of dangerous waste after only a few years of operation. There are also huge waste problems at sites used to produce nuclear fuel, and there have been several bad accidents/incidents in the nuclear energy industry (Three Mile Island in 1979, Chernobyl in 1986, and Fukushima in 2011 are among the more famous). The waste problem keeps getting worse—the U.S. still has no place to put tons of waste that needs to be kept away from people, air, water, earthquakes, etc. for tens of thousands of years. Nuclear fission generates power by splitting large/heavy atoms. An atomic bomb releases energy from uncontrolled nuclear fission. Nuclear fusion generates power by merging small/light atoms. Most of the energy release by an H-bomb is from nuclear fusion, though the trigger is a fission-based atomic bomb. Fusion powers stars. All current nuclear energy generation on Earth is based on fission. Despite over 50 years of research, we don’t yet have fusion technology that generates usable power. Elements suitable to power fission reactions are radioactive, and the radiation they emit damages many organic systems. All radioactive elements have a half-life, the time it takes for half of a sample to decay into other elements (many of which are also radioactive, toxic, or both). Uranium, for example, has isotopes with half-lives from a few decades to billions of years. A large amount of radioactive material will need multiples of the half-life to decay enough for the residue to no longer be dangerously radioactive.

AI (artificial intelligence), machine learning, big data, data mining, and a lot of related concepts explore some ramifications of modern computer technology. An AI is a mind (usually meaning human or higher level) existing on a computer (or set of computers) or some other constructed environment. The idea of AI has been around for decades, but achievement of a general artificial intelligence has receded time after time. However, there are many successful limited AI implementations that do single functions very well. Machine learning is a field that branched off from AI research years ago. Machine learning covers a variety of ways in which machines can be trained or otherwise learn instead of being explicitly programmed. Big data deals with very large amounts of rapidly growing or changing data. Data mining is a way of finding patterns in data without explicit instructions. All of these technologies are having large impacts on our society and are expected to have even more impacts as they continue to develop. If full AI is ever achieved, it will raise huge philosophical and ethical questions. Our smartest current computer CPU is still hugely simpler than an organic brain, but computer power keeps increasing. Fiction has explored AI concepts in many ways for a long time, exploring both hopes and fears.

The idea of computer chips that can be added to & integrated with the human brain & body is another one I’ve read in multiple variations in science fiction. It is at the leading edge of current technology, with a lot of ongoing active research. Any organic entity with implanted electronics is a cyborg—a cybernetic organism. One type of chip supplies sensory signals to replace natural signals that have been lost or damaged or were missing from birth. Another type of chip helps bypass damaged motor nerves to restore control of arms or legs. The farthest from realization is computer augmentation of the brain to aid memory or thinking. Once that is achieved, we could add reliable memory to our brains (our organic memory is very unreliable in comparison to computer memory systems), or we could add specialized computer functions that the brain would use transparently (as if they were skills we learned). A huge caveat with this whole field is that one must trust the chip makers & programmers. Bugs in implants could be disastrous, even deadly. Deliberate malware or back doors would make cyborgs vulnerable to attack through their implants. Fiction has explored many of these ideas.

Copyright © 2019 Mark Pottenger

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