The Day The Earth Smiled

My friend Carolyn has this crazy idea for everyone to wave at her spacecraft on July 19. I’m crazy, and I’ll be waving and lifting a glass of Family Syrah in celebration. Something great, something big, something very special that’s never happened before is about to happen! On July 19, 2013, the Cassini spacecraft, currently in orbit around Saturn, will be turned to image that planet and its entire ring system during an eclipse of the sun, as it has done twice before during its previous 9 years in orbit. But this time will be very different. This time, the images collected will capture, in natural color, a glimpse of our own planet alongside Saturn and its rings on a day that will be the first time the Earth’s inhabitants know in advance their picture is being taken from a billion miles away. It will be a day to revel in the extraordinary achievements in the exploration of our solar system that have made such an interplanetary photo session possible. And it will be a day for all of us to smile and celebrate life on the Pale Blue Dot. My fondest wish is that you, the people of the world, do exactly that. I hope, at the appropriate time, regardless where or on which side of the planet you are, that you stop what you’re doing, go outside, gather together with friends and family, contemplate the utter isolation of our world in the never-ending blackness of space, relish its lush, life-sustaining beauty, appreciate the rarity it is among the Sun’s planets, and marvel at your own existence and that of all life on planet Earth. And then, by all means, rejoice! Hoot and holler, twist and shout, raise a glass, make a toast, dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free, or celebrate in silence. Whatever it takes. But be sure to smile, knowing that others around the world are smiling too, in the sheer joy of simply being alive on a pale blue dot. Carolyn Porco Founder, The Day The Earth  

Connection

While some would seek to divide us by physical borders, political ideology, caste identity, or religious moralism, in the larger reality there are no borders. We are all made of the identical stardust, subject to the same universal laws, and given the freedom to love unconditionally, or to define and defend our exclusions. This video is another reminder of our very small community. When looking down at the pale blue planet, astronauts have described an overwhelming sense of fragile sacred unity. Here’s a musical offering to the greater reality of our planetary lives together — songwriter Ed Robertson in duet with I.S.S. astronaut Chris Hadfield, with live choir. “You can’t make out borders from up here, Just a spinning ball with a very tiny atmosphere. All black and white just fades to gray, Where the sun rises 16 times a day. What once was fueled by fear, now has 15 nations orbiting together here. So sing your song, I’m listening. Out where stars are glistening. I can hear your voices bouncing off the moon.”   One astronaut said, “When we originally went to the moon, our total focus was on the moon. We weren’t thinking about looking back at the Earth. But now that we’ve done it, that may well have been the most important reason we went.” A twenty-minute documentary explores in stunning HD the “Overview Effect” experienced by astronauts. I would suggest that accelerations in global-virtual connection are creating a similar kind of social overview effect: re-wiring our “sense of place and being” from local-tribal to global-concurrent-participatory. “We have to start acting like one species with one destiny. We are not going to survive if we don’t.”    

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  

Quantum Teleportation

If this experiment turns out to be accurate (doubtful), I believe it will be the discovery of the century, equivalent in many ways to Einstein’s theories. Luc Montagnier, who shared the Nobel prize for medicine in 2008 for his part in establishing that HIV causes AIDS, says he has evidence that DNA can send spooky electromagnetic imprints of itself into distant cells and fluids. If that wasn’t heretical enough, he also suggests that enzymes can mistake the ghostly imprints for real DNA, and faithfully copy them to produce the real thing. In effect this would amount to a kind of quantum teleportation of the DNA. Two adjacent but physically separate test tubes were placed within a copper coil and subjected to a very weak extremely low frequency electromagnetic field of 7 hertz. The apparatus was isolated from Earth’s natural magnetic field to stop it interfering with the experiment. One tube contained a fragment of DNA around 100 bases long; the second tube contained pure water. After 16 to 18 hours, both samples were independently subjected to the polymerase chain reaction (PCR), a method routinely used to amplify traces of DNA by using enzymes to make many copies of the original material. The gene fragment was apparently recovered from both tubes, even though one should have contained just water. DNA was only recovered if the original solution of DNA ” whose concentration has not been revealed “ had been subjected to several dilution cycles before being placed in the magnetic field. In each cycle it was diluted 10-fold, and “ghost” DNA was only recovered after between seven and 12 dilutions of the original. It was not found at the ultra-high dilutions used in homeopathy. Physicists in Montagnier’s team suggest that DNA emits low-frequency electromagnetic waves which imprint the structure of the molecule onto the water. This structure, they claim, is preserved and amplified through quantum coherence effects, and because it mimics the shape of the original DNA, the enzymes in the PCR process mistake it for DNA itself, and somehow use it as a template to make DNA matching that which “sent” the signal (arxiv.org/abs/1012.5166). “The biological experiments do seem intriguing, and I wouldn’t dismiss them,” says Greg Scholes of the University of Toronto in Canada, who last year demonstrated that quantum effects occur in plants. Yet according to Klaus Gerwert, who studies interactions between water and biomolecules at the Ruhr University in Bochum, Germany, “It is hard to understand how the information can be stored within water over a timescale longer than picoseconds.”  

Watson vs. Jennings

The best game show contestant on the best game show ever (Ken Jennings on Jeopardy) will soon compete against IBM’s Watson-class computer. Watson is favored to win. Today’s Watson technology requires a large room full of hardware. In 15 years, this same computing power will sit on a desktop. As we approach Turing-class computing (2050?), the power of today’s Watson computer will seem as quaint as the Sperry-Univac is today. I can envision a day when we no longer define religion in terms of having the “right knowledge.” I’m thinking David Hayward could do a cartoon showing three of the world’s leading religious thinkers as Jeopardy panelists – a Christian, a Muslim, a Buddhist – while Watson provides far deeper and more nuanced answers – even what we would call wisdom. And why not? With the entire written history of world religions (and every other branch of knowledge) in its memory (think Internet 2050), and thousands of increasingly nuanced processing algorithms at its disposal, it’s only a matter of time (perhaps 2 or 3 generations) before “epistebots” and “theobots” surpass the best human experts in their ability to parse and disseminate specific knowledge and even wisdom. Consider that this “entire body of human knowledge and wisdom” will one day be on every global desktop, in every language, in every home and mobile device, instantly accessible in deeply interactive and immersive ways we cannot imagine today. This is good news for religion, and humanity in general. As we are released from the need to define ourselves by tribal knowledge, we begin to define ourselves more relationally, more collectively, more empathically, more humanly. Even the perception of “enemy” must change as we begin to see ourselves as part of a larger global family. As we relax our desire and need for intellectual power, we can focus more on what makes us uniquely human:  our childlike awe and wonder at the universe and our ability to feel and act with greater compassion, empathy, and love towards other people, and all creation. “You have to understand all the nuances, all the regionalisms, slang and shorthand to play the game, to get the clues.” – Harry Friedman, Executive Producer,  

Wonder Never Gets Old

My friend Seth Raphael shares some wisdom today on the TED Blog. A graphic (below) caught my attention, something he calls “The Chain of Wonder.” I like the concept of “expectation violation.” So often we get into life routines that don’t violate anything – same old, same old. I’m convinced that a life worth living is a life that is constantly violating the status quo – not for violation’s sake, but to breakthrough into new levels of experience, awe, wonder, and revelation.  And in breaking through, we can legitimately call others to new places of awe, wonder, and breakthrough. But when expectations are violated, some people are not excited or positively motivated. They instead become fearful and suspicious. I think this describes much of religion – a fear response – a flight response – a call to circle the wagons. And fear coupled with Raphael’s next stage of obsession en masse perhaps describes religion’s darkest legacies. Conversely, when an expectation violation is embraced with awe and wonder, I think it can make for a much healthier life, both individually and in one’s contribution to the larger global family. Call it spirituality or whatever, how we react to uncertainty defines much of who we are, and how we perceive others. Seth has a great handle on this and I encourage you to learn more about his work. As he says, “wonder never gets old.” Seth’s Website (click on the rabbit!)  

Breathe

“…very nearly the only languages on earth that don’t have a commonly used word for an intangible life force connected to the breath are those spoken nowadays in the industrial nations of the modern West.” J. Greer The word “infinite” along with such synonyms as “limitless” and “boundless” are thought stoppers rather than meaningful concepts, because the human mind can’t actually think about infinity in any meaningful sense. When somebody says “X is infinite”, what they may be saying is “I refuse to think about X.” – G. Hardin (paraphrased from Filters Against Folly, How to Survive despite Economists, Ecologists, and the Merely Eloquent) “I am incapable of conceiving infinity, and yet I do not accept finity.” S. de Beauvoir “It is good a philosopher should remind himself, now and then, that he is a particle pontificating on infinity.” A.  

Life on Europa

A trio of skilled researchers have suggested that DNA-based life has been found on Jupiter’s moon Europa. “We can only conclude that based on this preliminary subjective data that some type of biological activity is at play on Europa.” ADDED: Ironically, another discovery of possible life on Saturn’s moon Titan was released just hours ago at New  

Certainty

Last night we watched a movie called “21” – about a group of MIT math students who made a fortune in Las Vegas by “counting cards” at the Blackjack tables. The movie was so-so, but one scene reminded me of an old mathematical nemesis — the Monty Hall problem. In the scene, a math professor (Kevin Spacey) tells the student there is a car behind one of the three chalkboards, 1, 2, or 3. He asks the student to guess which chalkboard hides the car. Student picks board #1. At this point, professor reveals that behind door #3 there is no car. So now we know that the car is behind either board #1 or board #2. Professor then asks student if he wants to change his guess. Student says “yes” and changes his guess to board #2, telling professor “I have a 66% chance behind board #2, but only a 33% chance behind board #1.” This is unintuitive to me. When one choice becomes eliminated, my intuition tells me that the probability of the car behind either remaining door is 50:50, regardless if I had previously made a choice, or not. So I created a test with my son. We did 40 trials. He guessed 1 of the 3 options, then randomly said “keep” or “change” without even knowing the choice I had eliminated. Indeed, when he changed his original choice, he was right roughly 2/3 of the time. When he did not change his choice, he was right only 1/3 of the time. (for those still puzzled, a good analysis can be found here). Does this reveal a larger metaphor? More times in life than I care to admit, I have found myself holding on to a form of certainty that was later found to be totally unfounded. Even when presented with unassailable evidence, we often refuse to acknowledge the clarity set before us – favoring deeply ingrained “religious” certainties. And some of you are still saying “no, there are two remaining doors – it’s plainly obvious to anyone that the odds are