The Perfection of Ideals

The first Initiative

SCIENTIFIC SKEPTICISM

If one wants to know what a scientist thinks about anthropology, mythology, religion, Christian apologetics, literary criticism, and so on, one must only be willing to listen carefully, understand the context and be honest about one's interpretation of their often diplomatic responses.

Scientific skepticism is at the heart of science. Scientists are skeptical people. Most scientists don't want to offend true believers. And if a scientist is brought into a conversation about God they might first ask: “What kind of God is it that we’re talking about?” Does the God we’re talking about live in a gilded apartment somewhere? Is God simply some form of Energy-Goop or "Information". Did this particular kind of God rustle up the simulation in his garage out there, somewhere in some particular kind of infinite/finite universe? And, how do you know what you know about this particular God? Epistemology? Empiricism? Theoretical Physics, Quantum Mechanics? Through personal revelation? Is knowledge about God simply, a gift? Does any of this matter when we’re talking about someone’s emotional and cultural bulwark? How Aristotelian is Christianity? Should we leave these questions to the scholars? Do we really want to know?

What might the prophet might say to his disciple:

Prophet: "I was walking in the field behind my barn, I felt like I was floating, I felt like I was being guided by God himself when suddenly, near a tree stump, God revealed some shining golden tablets with writing on it, that was, at first, unintelligible to me - then I knew."

Disciple: "Oh, OK, I see, what an amazing story. I trust you, I know you saw that. How wonderful! Pray tell me what you now know."

If a true believer honestly confesses the manor of his faith, and his specific doctrines it shouldn’t be too hard for his interlocutor to understand his worldview and values.

Believer: "I am a specific kind of Baptist and I believe what my Baptist preachers tell me about God because _____________.”

Interlocutor: “I see. Thank you for sharing that. Now I know.”

-0r-

Believer: "I am a Hindu and I believe that_________."

The variety of mythological traditions is truly astounding. Stories are at the core of what it is to be human. It obviously takes a sincere commitment and years of diligent study to become an expert on comparative religion or even to become an expert in one. Each story at the core of any religion emerges from and is imbedded in a time, place and culture. Religions evolve and change as cultures evolve and change. This is obvious to anyone interested in the subject.

If someone is really committed to their belief he can tell you exactly what he believes in great detail. ISIS leaders are not shy about telling you exactly what they believe. The Catholic Church doesn't equivocate in their communications concerning their beliefs. I find that only mystics will be mysterious about what they believe because, you know, what they believe is just so mysterious. Zen Koans can be nebulous but then Zen isn't a religion? Or is it? I don't know. There are leaders of certain Zen communities that seem to interpret the practice as a religious practice.

Does Michio Kaku believe in God the way most religious people believe in God? Why not ask him this particular question:

"Hey, Michio Kaku, where do you go after you die?"

His answer to the question should be definitive and intelligible. But coming from Dr. Kaku, the answer would also be nuanced and complex. I suspect he doesn't quite know. How would he know? There may be no evidence within his domain of expertise that any particular kind of deity exists. A scientist would be prone to asking: “What phenomena might we observe and measure if a particular kind of Creator existed before our observable universe came into existence?” Also, the vast majority of scientists are quite comfortable with all kinds of uncertainty. Unlike moral absolutists who tend not to be comfortable with uncertainty. Scientific nuance can be lost on people who depend on their religious faith to navigate the uncertainties of the world. And there are many times in the history of science when something thought to be impossible one week was suddenly possible the next. Releasing the energy of the atom is one profound example. Until a scientific theory is tested to an incredible degree scientists keep doing science, amending and updating their hypotheses as better information and models are understood and refined. Theories evolve and scientists are comfortable with that.

Some of us, however, access the truth, in the frayed pages of the holy book on our bedside table. The Bhagavad Gita; Tripitakas; Veda; Upanishads; Five Classics; Tao-Te-Ching; Talmud; Old Testament; New Testament; Koran… Most of us, if not compelled to do so, will feel we must also impose on our spiritual leaders for help in discerning deeper meanings in our text. There may be dozens of interpretations of one ambiguous passage after another. Shall each individual simply enjoy their interpretation, however, tentitive and transitory it may be? Some of us may do what Thomas Jefferson did and throw most the pages of the good book in the dustbin and keep only the parts we think matter most. Or some of us like L. Ron Hubbard or Sun Myung Moon, might appoint himself profit and create a religion all his own based on what God has revealed to him. It must be awesome to know that the creator of the universe has chosen you to be the one and only spokesperson for His cosmic truth to the humble people of Earth.

But I must ask, would any responsible person take on such a position?

Regardless of what we believe or what toolkits we may use to discover what nature is and how it works, most of us will still be doubtful in our knowledge. If what we know motivates us at all, then to some degree we are responsible for how we treat our knowledge and for what we do. I can imagine that most people would believe that even if God guides you, you’re still the one getting things done. I don’t know any completely passive believers.

The hallowed path and progress of a prophet, it seems, requires more energy than most could allocate to such pursuits. I, for one, lack the epistemic hubris to pull it off. But I can make you this promise: If God shows up and tells me what the absolute truth is, I'll keep it to myself. I can imagine that a wise God would want me to keep my delusions private and that such communication between the Deity and a mortal would be too intimate to share anyway. And I have learned, over many years, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I am too damn dumb to know the truth anyway. I have, however, never thought that facing the truth was a futile act. In this sense, I am not at all as apathetic as a master stoic.

WHERE IS THIS COMING FROM?

Is is, in part, my sensitivity and childlike curiosity along with the vulnerability and pain I’ve known throughout my childhood and young adulthood that’s made me vulnerable to the charms of the people whose endeavor I’ve taken on for so many years. I am their humble servant and yet, completely free. I acquiesced, or, more accurately, they won my acquiescence through the constant portrayal of a story that is so profoundly compelling, onerous and absurd that its unfolding grandeur quickly became the central meaning of my existence.

The coming sections will be filled more with action than with ideas. Most of the ideas central to the narrative should be quite familiar to people with an interest in the world. Ideas are tendentious, frenetic, scattered shotgun across the graph of human culture. An action is purer, full of effort and decisions made in an instant. Graceful action requires training and practice, focusing the mind and spirit, clarifying one’s thought. An action takes place in a fleeting, temporal context. One’s actions can only be judged in contemplative moments of utter relaxation and forgiveness, with a dilated plurality of perspective.

Hopefully, these stumbling passages will hold your interest. Perhaps, it’s easier to create infectious enthusiasm than inspiration. Inspiration is nothing but a flash of impetus that soon fades to inert darkness if not acted upon. I don’t know why I have known so many inspired people. It’s odd how truly inspired people can create so much loyalty and so much enmity. It’s also sad and ironic that death is often inspiration’s gift to the world.

For now, I can say, that the future of humanity has never before been influenced by a group more committed to its future than my current employers.

What I plan to share is not coded or purposefully mysterious but rather a straightforward expression of where we are and how we got here from a very specific, unusual and ever evolving vantage point. Where we wind up is anyone’s guess but I suspect the story will continue for quite a while regardless of what happens in the short term.

Steven Cleghorn

Have you ever opened your window on a fine day while relaxing in a comfortable place, feeling the quality of the air, feeling the breeze wash over you, surrendering to the sounds playing mutedly outside — felt that indestructible, eternal vitality, and after going outdoors to aimlessly discover what the day might bring, while feeling that the moisture in the air is just right, and seeing the sky crisp and clean, and knowing something wonderful might happen, suddenly had the precious realization that true value expresses itself through the process of living, through the state of being without the anxiety of becoming.

At times like these material transactions seem so petty and uninspiring, material incentives so divorced from happiness. And for a moment you know that real utility, real freedom, and truth lie not in our wants and needs, not in anticipation or triumph, but in intangible, emotional feelings of joy that is shared and expressed naturally without effort. Would you not be incentivized by a day off at a beautiful beach, or at a sidewalk cafe with a view of the piazza overflowing with stories, sharing a glass of wine and tapas with friends who understand your humor and your quirky perspective on life?

What’s The Best Driver?

What we try to do individually or collectively to change the design of our society is ineffectual in the sense that it’s not our efforts that contribute to change, but rather, the sum total of our natural ability to follow the herd. We are slaves to fashion. This we must all come to terms with. The vain and random meanderings of a given life is determined by so many things that we are barely conscious of as to render our vain efforts at expressing true identity as futile as trying to fly without a wing and a power source.

And yet, we all are compelled to try to control our destinies, inasmuch as we have the good fortune to have or to have acquired the various resources needed. It is vanity, and vanity alone, that gives us the illusion that we are the arbiter of our destiny.

I can’t tell you what I had to go through to find these things out for myself. I stumbled frantically onward in the face of my fate and found people, quite by accident I’m sure, who gave me a breadth and depth of perspective I can even now scarcely imagine much less articulate.

Some of what I will say is so mundane and well worn that it’s quite embarrassing and even painful to have to share it, even as it may be needed to help some witnesses with context and a bit of shallow background information.

For my part of it, I will try to be as clear as I can be without rushing the story.

What we have to share is not prophetic or even remotely prescriptive. Knowing what we do puts us in the uncomfortable position of being fatalists. Whatever may come out of the general maelstrom, or whatever may be even slightly influenced by our actions, will only become clear to us as we begin to live even more precisely in the moment, and of course, through the filters of hindsight.

What we’re hoping, more than anything, is to avoid the need or even the temptation to revise. We want to participate, in our illusive ways, as clearly and authentically as we can and see what happens.

What is certain is that today we cannot imagine what the next generation will have to deal with. Change is accelerating and getting ahead of rapidly changing realities is our greatest challenge. When a real Formula 1 driver, before they became systems monitors, when they didn’t wear seatbelts, was approaching a curve they looked at the exit of the curve, not the entrance. Not to do this, more often than not, resulted in the death of the driver.

Are you a driver? Or, are you a passenger trusting in the perspective of someone or something else?

We had one thing in common - we were all optimists. We could imagine an amazing future and we were all motivated to create it. Things were so exciting. We were living in big time. Each day was long and full of new insights and discoveries. Nothing was burdensome.

Now imagine if you had not aged in 100 years; you just stayed 35 for 100 years. How do you think you’d feel? I’ll let that question linger for a while.

Sham Shui Po pedestrian underpass

sc-shots
A comfortable place to rest while dying. It seems the public thinks the process of dying is a communicable disease.
sc-shots

Perhaps this man is a triad member who’s finally reached the end-game. Libertarians in the United States might find it surprising that one is free in Hong Kong to handle one’s own palliative care.

I was fortunate to have traveled as a young child. I had the opportunity to witness marvelous splendor and devastating tragedy. The status of witness can often be a blessing.

This gentleman was charming, open and appreciative. He was not shy at all. I gave him money and he simply thanked me. I saw him again in the same part of Hong Kong, this time above ground. That time he seemed like a performing artist. Was that a perverse perception?

A Havana street side vegetable stand.

Power is not what it used to be, anyone aware of human history and transformations brought on by the rapid development of consumer technologies can see that barriers are falling and new organizations are impacting the world in unpredictable ways.

In a heart-wrenching letter published in the New York Times, U.S.-born journalist Michael Luo described his family's recent encounter with the kind of bigoted outburst-culminating with the admonition that Luo's family should "go back to China"-that, sadly, is quite common for Asian-Americans across the country.
"The Demagogues who seek power by exploiting the ire and frustration of the population and making appealing but "terribly simplified" and, ultimately, deceitful promises" - are all around us now. We mistake them for leaders. They are not. They are disgusting and dangerous egoists.
Not a Zombie. The only philosophical question that matters is whether or not to jump. We can always quibble about what "jump" means. It's a long way down. "On the grounds of all my experience, which has lasted for several years now, I can say with full confidence that in their form, angels are completely human.