Compassion

The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect. It is also necessary in both public and private life to refrain consistently and empathically from inflicting pain. To act or speak violently out of spite, chauvinism, or self-interest, to impoverish, exploit or deny basic rights to anybody, and to incite hatred by denigrating others “even our enemies” is a denial of our common humanity. We acknowledge that we have failed to live compassionately and that some have even increased the sum of human misery in the name of religion. We therefore call upon all men and women ~ to restore compassion to the centre of morality and religion ~ to return to the ancient principle that any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate ~ to ensure that youth are given accurate and respectful information about other traditions, religions and cultures ~ to encourage a positive appreciation of cultural and religious diversity ~ to cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings “even those regarded as enemies.” We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world. Rooted in a principled determination to transcend selfishness, compassion can break down political, dogmatic, ideological and religious boundaries. Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity. It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensible to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community. – From the Charter for Compassion, a TED Wish by Karen  

Tribal Leadership

David Logan, former Associate Dean of Executive Education @ USC, spoke recently at a TED extension event at USC (TEDxUSC). He shared his findings on the nature of “Tribal Leadership” common in all cultures. He creates a hierarchy of five tribal levels: Tribal Level One:  gangs and prison populations Tribal Level Two:  functional organizations (groups of people at the DMV, etc.) Tribal Level Three:  personal advancement among peers and competitors Tribal Level Four: Tribal Level Five: I’ve left these last two blank. While I understand what David is saying, I’m not convinced that stark categorical definitions can even begin to describe the nature of ethically advanced communities.  I’m sure his book (free download) is far more nuanced and expanded. David assigns his definitions of “higher community” and then notes that only 2% of human population exists in Tribe Five. I’ve seen this before, and in every place I see it there’s always a strong sense of elitist in-grouping:  gurus, clears, masters, clergy, etc..  I don’t buy it. These kinds of simplifications (five tribal levels, eight spiral colors, etc..) take profoundly complex dynamics and force them into something resembling hierarchical religion. I’ll read his book and report back. I actually did enjoy his talk at USC and encourage you to watch it. Some valuable insights here from a very charismatic  

Greek To Me

Chris Anderson’s TED organization continues to amaze me. I just checked on my TED Talk page and see that it has been volunteer-translated into nine languages, including Greek, Hebrew, Arabic, and Portuguese. Each translator donates their time to the broader TED community (the “TED community” is anyone who contributes to, or benefits from, TED talks, blog, forums, etc.). My Greek translator is Nicholas Koutris, a former paratrooper in the Greek Special Forces and masters graduate in Economics from University of Rotterdam. Says Nicholas about TED, About TED I believe that this knowledge distribution is crucial for the development and the consciousness of the people. In ten minutes of ted presentation, you gain knowledge equivalent to hours of lectures. This is Educational acceleration, Exponential learning… you name it! That is what surprises me and makes me feel committed! Arabic translation was given by Anour Dafa-Alla, the first Sudanese to participate in the IOI — and fellow countryman and technologist, Adel Ibraham. Acceleration in learning is real. It is happening all over the planet as the microprocessor creates previously unthinkable bridges between people. Nine people (so far) have translated a talk by someone they don’t know, whom they may never meet, but in whose ideas they found enough value to invest precious time. This is a very exciting and promising time to be alive. We are interconnecting exponentially. One more thought.. Cynthia and I watched a documentary last night called As We Forgive. This movie won the Student Academy Award for its filmmaker Laura Waters, along with numerous top festival awards. Laura was interviewed recently on the Compathos site. I encourage everyone to view this deeply stirring account of raw humanity at both its most terrible and transcendent extremes. Among the most powerful and important films we’ve ever  

Surfing the Exponential (Synthetic Biology)

Synthetic Biology. I don’t think I’ve ever been as equally intrigued and frightened as much by anything in my life. I listened to Craig Venter at TED earlier this year describe how he was creating entirely new genetic life forms (not simply hybrid recombinants). My reaction was identical. Until we reasonably know the total risks of synthetic biology, I believe the potential dangers of widespread boutique gene creation will usually outweigh the benefits. But it’s too late. The race is on. We may not recognize the power of the path we’re embarking upon until it is too late. A must-read New Yorker article describes in detail: ………… A team from Pennsylvania State University, working with hair samples from two woolly mammoths “one of them sixty thousand years old and the other eighteen thousand” has tentatively figured out how to modify that DNA and place it inside an elephant’s egg. The mammoth could then be brought to term in an elephant mother. “There is little doubt that it would be fun to see a living, breathing woolly mammoth” a shaggy, elephantine creature with long curved tusks who reminds us more of a very large, cuddly stuffed animal than of a T. Rex.,  the Times editorialized soon after the discovery was announced. “We’re just not sure that it would be all that much fun for the mammoth.” It is only a matter of time before domesticated biotechnology presents us with what Dyson described as an “œexplosion of diversity of new living creatures. . . . Designing genomes will be a personal thing, a new art form as creative as painting or sculpture. Few of the new creations will be masterpieces, but a great many will bring joy to their creators and variety to our fauna and flora.” I asked Endy why he thought so many people seem to be repelled by the idea of constructing new forms of life. “Because it’s scary as hell,” he said. “It’s the coolest platform science has ever produced, but the questions it raises are the hardest to answer.” If you can sequence something properly and you possess the information for describing that organism “whether it’s a virus, a dinosaur, or a human being” you will eventually be able to construct an artificial version of it. That gives us an alternate path for propagating living organisms. Moreover, how safe can it be to manipulate and create life? How likely are accidents that would unleash organisms onto a world that is not prepared for them? And will it be an easy technology for people bent on destruction to acquire? “We are talking about things that have never been done before,” Endy said. “If the society that powered this technology collapses in some way, we would go extinct pretty quickly. You wouldn’t have a chance to revert back to the farm or to the pre-farm. We would just be gone.” “These are powerful choices. Think about what happens when you really can print the genome of your offspring. You could start with your own sequence, of course, and mash it up with your partner, or as many partners as you like. Because computers won’t care. And, if you wanted evolution, you can include random number generators.” That would have the effect of introducing the element of chance into synthetic design. Although Endy speaks with passion about the biological future, he acknowledges how little scientists know. “It is important to unpack some of the hype and expectation around what you can do with biotechnology as a manufacturing platform,” he said. “We have not scratched the surface. But how far will we be able to go? That question needs to be discussed openly, because you can’t address issues of risk and society unless you have an answer.” “It’s very hard for me to have a conversation about these issues, because people adopt incredibly defensive postures,” Endy continued. “The scientists on one side and civil-society organizations on the other. And, to be fair to those groups, science has often proceeded by skipping the dialogue. But some environmental groups will say, Let’s not permit any of this work to get out of a laboratory until we are sure it is all safe. And as a practical matter that is not the way science works. We can’t come back decades later with an answer. We need to develop solutions by doing them. The potential is great enough, I believe, to convince people it’s worth the risk.” “Do you know how we study aging?” Endy continued. “The tools we use today are almost akin to cutting a tree in half and counting the rings. But if the cells had a memory we could count properly. Every time a cell divides, just move the counter by one. Maybe that will let me see them changing with a precision nobody can have today. Then I could give people controllers to start retooling those cells. Or we could say, Wow, this cell has divided two hundred times, it’s obviously lost control of itself and become cancer. Kill it. That lets us think about new therapies for all kinds of diseases.” “We are surfing an exponential now, and, even for people who pay attention, surfing an exponential is a really tricky thing to do. And when the exponential you are surfing has the capacity to impact the world in such a fundamental way, in ways we have never before considered, how do you even talk about that? “ This is open-source biology, where intellectual property is shared. What’s available to idealistic students, of course, would also be available to terrorists. Any number of blogs offer advice about everything from how to preserve proteins to the best methods for desalting DNA. Openness like that can be frightening, and there have been calls for tighter control of the technology. Carlson, among many others, believes that strict regulations are unlikely to succeed. Several years ago, with very few tools other than a credit card, he opened his own biotechnology company, Biodesic, in the garage of his Seattle home “a biological version of the do-it-yourself movement that gave birth to so many computer companies, including Apple.” “Strict regulation doesn’t accomplish its goals,” Carlson said. “It’s not an exact analogy, but look at Prohibition. What happened when government restricted the production and sale of alcohol? Crime rose dramatically. It became organized and powerful. Legitimate manufacturers could not sell alcohol, but it was easy to make in a garage or a warehouse.” By 2002, the U.S. government intensified its effort to curtail the sale and production of methamphetamine. Previously, the drug had been manufactured in many mom-and-pop labs throughout the country. Today, production has been professionalized and centralized, and the Drug Enforcement Administration says that less is known about methamphetamine production than before. “The black market is getting blacker,” Carlson said. “Crystal-meth use is still rising, and all this despite restrictions.” Strict control would not necessarily insure the same fate for synthetic biology, but it might. Bill Joy, a founder of Sun Microsystems, has frequently called for restrictions on the use of technology. “It is even possible that self-replication may be more fundamental than we thought, and hence harder” or even impossible “to control,” he wrote in an essay for Wired called Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us.  “The only realistic alternative I see is relinquishment: to limit development of the technologies that are too dangerous, by limiting our pursuit of certain kinds of knowledge.” Still, censoring the pursuit of knowledge has never really worked, in part because there are no parameters for society to decide who should have information and who should not. The opposite approach might give us better results: accelerate the development of technology and open it to more people and educate them to its purpose. Otherwise, if Carlson’s methamphetamine analogy proves accurate, power would flow directly into the hands of the people least likely to use it wisely. For synthetic biology to accomplish any of its goals, we will also need an education system that encourages skepticism and the study of science. In 2007, students in Singapore, Japan, China, and Hong Kong (which was counted independently) all performed better on an international science exam than American students. The U.S. scores have remained essentially stagnant since 1995, the first year the exam was administered. Adults are even less scientifically literate. Early in 2009, the results of a California Academy of Sciences poll (conducted throughout the nation) revealed that only fifty-three per cent of American adults know how long it takes for the Earth to revolve around the sun, and a slightly larger number “fifty-nine per cent” are aware that dinosaurs and humans never lived at the same time. The industrial age is drawing to a close, eventually to be replaced by an era of biological engineering. That won’t happen easily (or quickly), and it will never solve every problem we expect it to solve. But what worked for artemisinin can work for many of the products our species will need to survive. “We are going to start doing the same thing that we do with our pets, with bacteria,” the genomic futurist Juan Enriquez has said, describing our transition from a world that relied on machines to one that relies on biology. “A house pet is a domesticated parasite,” he noted. ” It is evolved to have an interaction with human beings. Same thing with corn” a crop that didn’t exist until we created it. “Same thing is going to start happening with energy,” he went on. “We are going to start domesticating bacteria to process stuff inside enclosed reactors to produce energy in a far more clean and efficient manner. This is just the beginning stage of being able to program  

Wait it Out

Where do we go from here? How do we carry on? I can’t get beyond the questions. Clambering for the scraps In the shatter of us collapsed. That cuts me with every could-have-been. Pain on pain on play, repeating With the backup makeshift life in waiting. Everybody says: “Time heals everything.” But what of the wretched hollow? The endless in-between? Are we just going to wait it out? There’s nothing to see here now, Turning the sign around; We’re closed to the Earth ’til further notice. Stumbling cliche case – Crumpled and puffy-faced – Dead in the stare of a thousand miles. All I want: only one street-level miracle. I’ll be a an out-and-out, born again from none more cynical. Everybody says that time heals everything all in the end. But what of the wretched hollow? The endless in-between? Are we just going to wait it out? And sit here cold? We’ll be long gone by then. And lackluster in dust we lay ’round old magazines. Fluorescent lighting sets the scene For all we could and should be being In the one life that we’ve got. (Musical interlude) In the one life that we’ve got. Everybody says that time heals everything. But what of the wretched hollow? The endless in-between? Are we just going to wait it out? Sit here. Just going to wait it out? Sit here cold. Just going to sweat it out? Wait it  

Facebook Hunter-Gatherers

Br. Paulus Terwitte, Franciscan monk and Gestalt therapist takes the stage at TED UK today (at first glance at the picture, I thought it was Steve Jobs). He reminds us that virtual technologies can never replace F2F human engagement, and that Facebook is a form of primitive hunter-gatherer behavior. In some respects, I think he’s spot on. As always, it depends on our intentionality in virtual engagement. I have a great number of thoughts, both inspired and critical, of Br Teriwtte’s TED Talk summary. But I’m out the door today to produce an orchestral recording for NPR in the Napa Valley.  So.. another time. Looking forward to viewing Br. Terwitte’s TEDTalk when it is released on video, and kudos to Chris and Bruno for inviting the meditative theologian to the TED stage. From the TED blog: …………………. Brother Paulus Terwitte takes the stage and immediately confronts the two questions he says everyone always asks. The first is, “Are you a real monk?” When he asked that, his usual reply is “Are you real?” The second is: “What do you do?” His answer to that one is, “Nothing.” He says that he does nothing because he wants to find the answer to the most important question in life, one that you can read on the first page of the Bible. We still don’t know what this question is, so he tells us that there’s a little machine used all over the world to remind us of this question — it’s the cell phone that everybody calls to say “Where are you?” And that was what God asked, “Adam, where are you?” Brother Terwitte asks, “Where are you with your thoughts and your feelings? Are you at home or all over the world?” He says that he was talking to someone the other day, when their phone rang, and the person took his mobile and walked away. It happens all the time, he notes. The phone rings, in the middle of dinner, in the middle of sharing ideas and people go away like the President is calling. Brother Terwitte says he eventually left the area after five minutes of waiting on this person, thinking he must not be so important. He says that he spends three hours of an organized, scheduled doing nothing every day at his monastery. He explains that they want to find the inner voice of their being, and that every man wants to find the inner sense of things. We all want to get the whole world in our hands, he says, and you have to decide how you (read  

Re-synthesize & Reconnect

Not blogging much this summer. TED’ster Thomas Dolby pointed me to a 2010 TED Fellow who deserves attention. From Rachel Armstrong: We are experiencing a renaissance and a change in the cultural conditions of science and technology where the information that was discovered as a result of twentieth-century science is being re-synthesized. Scientists need to work outside their own areas of expertise to make new technologies that are pertinent to the twenty-first century and to collaborate, both with other scientific disciplines and the arts and humanities. This is an opportunity for us to reconnect with each other, decide what the most important issues facing humanity are and how we may address this with the responsible use of new  

TED Talk Goes Live!

Every February, the TED Conference brings together a group of amazing people to dream about a healthy future. I was invited to give a short talk at TED2009 to describe an invention we patented some years ago. The global community is now taking an active interest in this technology. Please take three minutes to learn about the intelligent power outlet – it saves lives, prevents injuries, and greatly reduces energy  

Amazing Note Taking @ TED2009

I just discovered (HT) an archive of the most beautiful hand-written notes from TED2009. These notes were taken by Margaret Stewart, the User Experience Team Manager at Google. I’m not sure what that means, but it sounds like a very cool job. Here’s a bird’s eye view of these notes from her Flickr page: I was curious about how someone might notate my TEDTalk, so I looked it up: You can read more about Margaret at her TED Profile HERE. You’ll need to create an account to search the