Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Earthly Beings or Soulless Slaves

This photo and a version of this essay was published in the Concord Monitor 12/2014
Human beings, like this forgotten tennis ball
in a tree along the Merrimack, must find
their place in the natural world
CC Jean Stimmell:11/28/14
Artificial intelligence describes computer systems that perform tasks that used to require human intelligence and perception but are now accomplished by software and robots. This has lead to more unemployed Americans and significantly slowed our recovery from the Great Recession.

Alarmingly, experts predict that this trend will not only escalate but become deeply disturbing in other ways: “in the wake of recent technological advances in computer vision, speech recognition and robotics, scientists say they are increasingly concerned that artificial intelligence technologies may permanently displace human workers, roboticize warfare and make of Orwellian surveillance techniques easier to develop, among other disastrous effects.[i]

Even in today’s world, we find ourselves unable to protect our fellow workers because of political gridlock, which appears seamlessly related to the unprecedented power multinational corporations hold over not only our government but governments around the world.

As if that is not bad enough, a more terrifying scenario may soon await us: the prospect that this accelerating progress in technologies will cause a runaway effect wherein artificial intelligence will exceed human intellectual capacity and control. 

This is called the technological singularity hypothesis or what I would call the ultimate nightmare: Because the capabilities of such an intelligence may be impossible to comprehend, the technological singularity is an occurrence beyond which events are unpredictable or even unfathomable.”[ii]

To me, the choice seems obvious: either we return to our biological and spiritual home – reconnecting to our bodies, our communities, our sense of place, and Mother Earth – or become soulless slaves to the machine.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Americans demand maximum personal freedom yet are terrified of being alone

Sewells Falls Sluiceway to Nowhere
CC Jean Stimmell: 11/8/14
A seminal paradox: Americans crave maximum personal freedom yet are terrified of being alone. I want to write more about this later. To help focus our minds on the upcoming conversation, check out the following quotes from How to Be Alone by Sara Maitland (as bought to my attention by the inestimable Maria Popova):

We live in a society which sees high self-esteem as a proof of well-being, but we do not want to be intimate with this admirable and desirable person.

We see moral and social conventions as inhibitions on our personal freedoms, and yet we are frightened of anyone who goes away from the crowd and develops “eccentric” habits.

We believe that everyone has a singular personal “voice” and is, moreover, unquestionably creative, but we treat with dark suspicion (at best) anyone who uses one of the most clearly established methods of developing that creativity — solitude.

We think we are unique, special and deserving of happiness, but we are terrified of being alone.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Awakening into the NOW with William Blake

Ultra wide-angle image of sun shining through
a snow burdened branch behind my house
CC Jean Stimmell: 11/29/14
I had a vision while meditating today
of wearing a protective head net,
like arctic explorers wear sunglasses,
not to protect from snow blindness
but from the searing immediacy
of being in the present moment.

If only we could awake to the NOW
we would see the sun burn 
 through the  snowy branch
in real time as Blake foresaw:
“everything would appear 
to man as it is, Infinite.”

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Finding what I was searching for without knowing what it was

Great Bay as seen from Wagon Wheel Farm: 10/26/14
CC Jean Stimmell 
The less I resist 
the quicksand of living, 
 the more I sink into 
sense of place.

As I grow old and resist less – as I try to say poetically above – the more I appreciate the following quote by the late, great Peter Mattheissen:

 “The great stillness in these landscapes that once made me restless seeps into me day by day, and with it the unreasonable feeling that I have found what I was searching for without ever having discovered what it was.”*

Jenness Pond as the sun sets: 10/28/14
CC Jean Stimmell

Sunday, November 23, 2014

A new day will dawn when we embrace entanglement

This essay was published in the Concord Monitor 12/7/14
Echo Lake, Franconia NH
CC Jean Stimmell: September 2014
Maybe it’s because of my hippie past, but I have always been fascinated by the idea of “entanglement.”  Entanglement is the theory that once two objects or particles have interacted with one another, they will be forever joined; thereafter, whatever happens to one will instantly happen to the other, even if one has moved to the other side of the universe.

The notion of entanglement comes from quantum physics and was first proposed in the 1970s by a group of underemployed, alternative-thinking, hippie physicists, outliers whom many in the “scientific community considered to be a threat to the very foundation of Western rationality.”⁠1 Even the broad-minded Einstein was scornful of such “spooky actions at a distance.” 

Yet, over the years, after many rigorous experiments designed to test the validity of entanglement, the tables have turned. This outrageous theory, originally scorned by critics as a hallucination by misguided mystics and drop-outs, is now pretty much accepted by mainstream science. 

As the New York Times recently noted, the theory of entanglement is now all but proven. The final verification depends on one last experiment which is now ongoing; if the results come back negative as scientists expect, it will be a done deal. ⁠2

What does this all mean?  

The ramifications are potentially mind-blowing! That is what excites me and has motivated me to follow this story throughout the years.  Entanglement, to me, is a paradigm shifting event in the history of science, as momentous as discovering gravity or that the earth is flat.  It changes everything by re-introducing mystery back into our staid and small-minded world. 

Rather than smugly knowing everything, suddenly we will know nothing. Our mouths will gape open in awe at possibilities beyond comprehension.

As it was in the beginning, we will see the world as it really is –  as through the eyes of a child, a mystic, an indigenous person, or an artist. As the poet Christian Wiman has written: “If quantum entanglement is true, if related particles react in similar or opposite ways even when separated by tremendous distances, then it is obvious that the whole world is alive and communicating in ways we do not fully understand. And we are part of that life, part of that communication.”⁠3

My hope is that this idea of entanglement has legs enough to shift us from our present ideology of rampant individualism – a death spiral of  dog-eat-dog  competition – to the creation of a new vision for humanity where we can all live peaceably together in interdependent community, nested in our own precious niche within ever-widening ecosystems, participating directly in the wonder and mystery of Life.

1 Let’s Be Fysiksists Again Matthew Wisnioski.  SCIENCE VOL 332 24 JUNE 2011
2 Is Quantum Entanglement Real?
NYT 11/14/14http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/16/opinion/sunday/is-quantum-entanglement-real.html?_r=0
3 My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer by Christian Wiman p.33

Monday, November 17, 2014

Twining all-embracing faith

Twining all-embracing faith
Honeysuckle along the Merrimack
CC Jean Stimmell: 11/12/14
“Faith is the willingness to give ourselves over, at times, to things we do not fully understand… the full engagement with this strange and shimmering world.”

This profound quote comes from The Accidental Universe written by the physicist, Alan Lightman.  His definition of faith is truly ecumenical: as applicable to religious folks as it is to scientists. He does, however, go on to make a critical distinction between the nature of science and the nature of humanity:

By the experimental nature of what they do, scientists must pose their questions very carefully: in order to prove or disprove a hypothesis, they must frame their questions in such a manner that they will have a definite answer.

“But artists and humanists often don’t care what the answer is because definite answers don’t exist to all interesting and important questions. Ideas in a novel or emotion in a symphony are complicated with the intrinsic ambiguity of human nature. … For many artists and humanists, the question is more important than the answer*”

* Physicist Alan Lightman from his acclaimed book The Accidental Universe, as quoted in http://www.brainpickings.org/2014/01/15/alan-lightman-accidental-universe-science-spirituality/

Friday, November 14, 2014