Zeitgeist 3 – Moving Forward

Peter Joseph (probably not his real last name) has released a new Zeitgeist film. I disagree with a number of Peter’s “Venus Project” assumptions, conclusions, and leading questions. I also found his first two films especially lacking in solid content, relying more on hearsay, dubious history, and weak conspiracy theories. In some cases, Zeit 3 is terribly naive (“upgradable” technology, idealized production and distribution incentives and strategies, utopian city design, overstated energy alternatives, etc.). Yet I’m sharing this movie with you because I think the film is a good conversation starter and especially good thought provoker, addressing a number of profoundly important questions. I find it ironic that the filmmaker, an atheist, uses a John Ortberg lecture as his core value statement — ultimately pointing to the failure of GDP as an adequate, or even relevant, measurement of our individual and collective well-being (a position I passionately agree with). I’m convinced that we need to start thinking towards third-way “systems-based” economies that combine the best elements of free-markets and central resource planning, while retaining the liberties of an unalienable rights-based republic re-imagined in healthier paradigms of resource sustainability, human empathy, and global-equitable access to fundamental human needs. Centralized economies fail for many reasons. One reason is because, historically, they haven’t appropriately rewarded the people and organizations who excel and add real value back into the community. But cultural definitions of excellence, value, reward, and community vary subjectively. Corrupt, bailed-out banking systems and an obese military-industrial economy are two areas in which we can start to radically re-define the terms excellence and reward. And we can start to expand our definition of community from tribes and borders to a sense of global family. I agree with the filmmaker (@ 2:16) that we are faced today with a potentially fatal “value system” disorder and (@ 2:20) that many of today’s economic assumptions are gross distortions driven by temporary access to cheap, concentrated energy. For the health and well-being of our great grandchildren and our planet in general, we need to develop a better informed and more comprehensively linked value system between our economic systems, our natural resources, and our fundamental connectedness as a human  


One size fits all. The shape or coloration of the god or high heaven matters less than that there is one, somehow, somewhere, hearing the hasty prayer and chalking up the mite the widow brings tot eh temple, A child alone with horrid verities cries out for there to be a limit, a warm wall whose stones give back an answer, however faint. Strange, the extravagance of it ”who needs those eighteen-armed black Kalis, those musty saints whose bones and bleeding wounds appall good taste, those joss sticks, houris, gilded Buddhas, books Moroni etched in tedious detail? We do; we need more worlds. This one will fail. – John Updike Updike was both a prolific writer and consummate art-literature critic. Of his six rules for reviewing a book, rule number six hits home with me. Normally, I want to review a book because (1) I love it, or (2) I passionately disagree and want to present a balancing viewpoint. I’ve never been good at remaining the dispassionate reviewer when reviewing a topic of deep personal bias. Updike’s Rules are a reminder of criticism done right, and apply broadly to life in general. To these concrete five might be added a vaguer sixth, having to do with maintaining a chemical purity in the reaction between product and appraiser. Do not accept for review a book you are predisposed to dislike, or committed by friendship to like. Do not imagine yourself a caretaker of any tradition, an enforcer of any party standards, a warrior in any ideological battle, a corrections officer of any kind. Never, never… try to put the author “in his place,” making of him a pawn in a contest with other reviewers. Review the book, not the reputation. Submit to whatever spell, weak or strong, is being cast. Better to praise and share than blame and ban. The communion between reviewer and his public is based upon the presumption of certain possible joys of reading, and all our discriminations should curve toward that  

Ann vs. Darren

I’ve been watching lectures and Q&A from the 2006 Beyond Belief conference. Highly recommended. One short exchange between Darren Schriber and Ann Druyan really caught my attention. You might remember Ann as Carl Sagan’s biographer. Darren employs a personal religious experience as a platform to make some larger points in the religion-science conversation. Ann’s reply is nothing short of brilliant. This video has just 3,000 hits in four years on YouTube? Maybe we could add a cat playing the piano, or a baby biting Ann’s finger? More people should view this, as it speaks to heart of fundamentalism, reductionism, and  

Perceptual – Conceptual

“The most violent revolutions in an individual’s beliefs leave most of his old order standing. Time and space, cause and effect, nature and history, and one’s own biography remain untouched. New truth is always a go-between, a smoother-over of transitions. It marries old opinion to new fact so as ever to show a minimum of jolt, a maximum of continuity.” “Grant an idea or belief to be true, what concrete difference will its being true make in any one’s actual life? How will the truth be realized? What experiences will be different from those which would obtain if the belief were false? What, in short, is the truth’s cash-value in experiential terms?” “Life defies our phrases. It is infinitely continuous and subtle and shaded, whilst our verbal terms are discrete, rude, and few.” “The intellectual life of man consists almost wholly in his substitution of a conceptual order for the perceptual order in which his experience originally comes.” -William James “The lesson of history is that our firmest convictions are not to be asserted dogmatically; in fact they should be most suspect; they mark not our conquests but our limitations and our bounds” – Morris Kline, writing in Mathematics, the Loss of  

Forer Effect

Been reading about the Forer Effect and observing how this bias works in my life. Somewhat related to an earlier post on cognitive bias, you’ll want to read journalist David McRaney’s description of “subjection validation.” And here’s a very creative example of cognitive bias subjective validation by particle physicist and cosmologist Simon Singh during his lecture on Big Bang