Is nature continuous or discrete? How the atomist error was born

May 20, 2018

The modern idea that nature is discrete originated in Ancient Greek atomism. Leucippus, Democritus and Epicurus all argued that nature was composed of what they called ἄτομος (átomos) or ‘indivisible individuals’. Nature was, for them, the totality of discrete atoms in motion. There was no creator god, no immortality of the soul, and nothing static (except for the immutable internal nature of the atoms themselves). Nature was atomic matter in motion and complex composition – no more, no less.

Despite its historical influence, however, atomism was eventually all but wiped out by Platonism, Aristotelianism and the Christian tradition that followed throughout the Middle Ages. Plato told his followers to destroy Democritus’ books whenever they found them, and later the Christian tradition made good on this demand. Today, nothing but a few short letters from Epicurus remain.

Atomism was not finished, however. It reemerged in 1417, when an Italian book-hunter named Poggio Bracciolini discovered a copy of an ancient poem in a remote monastery: De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things), written by Lucretius (c99-55 BCE), a Roman poet heavily influenced by Epicurus. This book-length philosophical poem in epic verse puts forward the most detailed and systematic account of ancient materialism that we’ve been fortunate enough to inherit. In it, Lucretius advances a breathtakingly bold theory on foundational issues in everything from physics to ethics, aesthetics, history, meteorology and religion. Against the wishes and best efforts of the Christian church, Bracciolini managed to get it into print, and it soon circulated across Europe.

This book was one of the most important sources of inspiration for the scientific revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries. Nearly every Renaissance and Enlightenment intellectual read it and became an atomist to some degree (they often made allowances for God and the soul). Indeed, this is the reason why, to make a long and important story very short, science and philosophy even today still tend to look for and assume a fundamental discreteness in nature. Thanks in no small part to Lucretius’ influence, the search for discreteness became part of our historical DNA. The interpretive method and orientation of modern science in the West literally owe their philosophical foundations to ancient atomism via Lucretius’ little book on nature. Lucretius, as Stephen Greenblatt says in his book The Swerve (2011), is ‘how the world became modern’.

There is a problem, however. If this story is true, then modern Western thought is based on a complete misreading of Lucretius’ poem. It was not a wilful misreading, of course, but one in which readers committed the simple error of projecting what little they knew second-hand about Greek atomism (mostly from the testimonia of its enemies) onto Lucretius’ text. They assumed a closer relationship between Lucretius’ work and that of his predecessors than actually exists. Crucially, they inserted the words ‘atom’ and ‘particle’ into the translated text, even though Lucretius never used them. Not even once! A rather odd omission for a so-called ‘atomist’ to make, no? Lucretius could easily have used the Latin words atomus (smallest particle) or particula (particle), but he went out of his way not to. Despite his best efforts, however, the two very different Latin terms he did use, corpora (matters) and rerum (things), were routinely translated and interpreted as synonymous with discrete ‘atoms’.

Further, the moderns either translated out or ignored altogether the nearly ubiquitous language of continuum and folding used throughout his book, in phrases such as ‘solida primordia simplicitate’ (simplex continuum). As a rare breed of scholar interested in both classical texts and quantum physics, the existence of this material continuum in the original Latin struck me quite profoundly. I have tried to show all of this in my recent translation and commentary, Lucretius I: An Ontology of Motion (2018), but here is the punchline: this simple but systematic and ubiquitous interpretive error constitutes what might well be the single biggest mistake in the history of modern science and philosophy.

This mistake sent modern science and philosophy on a 500-year quest for what Sean Carroll in his 2012 book called the ‘particle at the end of the universe’. It gave birth to the laudable virtues of various naturalisms and materialisms, but also to less praiseworthy mechanistic reductionisms, patriarchal rationalisms, and the overt domination of nature by humans, none of which can be found in Lucretius’ original Latin writings. What’s more, even when confronted with apparently continuous phenomena such as gravity, electric and magnetic fields, and eventually space-time, Isaac Newton, James Maxwell and even Albert Einstein fell back on the idea of an atomistic ‘aether’ to explain them. All the way back to the ancients, aether was thought to be a subtle fluid-like substance composed of insensibly tiny particles. Today, we no longer believe in the aether or read Lucretius as an authoritative scientific text. Yet in our own way, we still confront the same problem of continuity vs discreteness originally bequeathed to us by the moderns: in quantum physics.

Theoretical physics today is at a critical turning point. General relativity and quantum field theory are the two biggest parts of what physicists now call ‘the standard model’, which has enjoyed incredible predictive success. The problem, however, is that they have not yet been unified as two aspects of one overarching theory. Most physicists think that such unification is only a matter of time, even though the current theoretical frontrunners (string theory and loop quantum gravity) have yet to produce experimental confirmations.

Quantum gravity is of enormous importance. According to its proponents, it stands poised to show the world that the ultimate fabric of nature (space-time) is not continuous at all, but granular, and fundamentally discrete. The atomist legacy might finally be secured, despite its origins in an interpretive error.

There is just one nagging problem: quantum field theory claims that all discrete quanta of energy (particles) are merely the excitations or fluctuations in completely continuous quantum fields. Fields are not fundamentally granular. For quantum field theory, everything might be made of granules, but all granules are made of folded-up continuous fields that we simply measure as granular. This is what physicists call ‘perturbation theory’: the discrete measure of that which is infinitely continuous and so ‘perturbs one’s complete discrete measurement’, as Frank Close puts it in The Infinity Puzzle (2011). Physicists also have a name for the sub-granular movement of this continuous field: ‘vacuum fluctuations’. Quantum fields are nothing but matter in constant motion (energy and momentum). They are therefore never ‘nothing’, but more like a completely positive void (the flux of the vacuum itself) or an undulating ocean (appropriately called ‘the Dirac sea’) in which all discrete things are its folded-up bubbles washed ashore, as Carlo Rovelli puts it in Reality Is Not What it Seems (2016). Discrete particles, in other words, are folds in continuous fields.

The answer to the central question at the heart of modern science, ‘Is nature continuous or discrete?’ is as radical as it is simple. Space-time is not continuous because it is made of quantum granules, but quantum granules are not discrete because they are folds of infinitely continuous vibrating fields. Nature is thus not simply continuous, but an enfolded continuum.

This brings us right back to Lucretius and our original error. Working at once within and against the atomist tradition, Lucretius put forward the first materialist philosophy of an infinitely continuous nature in constant flux and motion. Things, for Lucretius, are nothing but folds (duplex), pleats (plex), bubbles or pores (foramina) in a single continuous fabric (textum) woven by its own undulations. Nature is infinitely turbulent or perturbing, but it also washes ashore, like the birth of Venus, in meta-stable forms – as Lucretius writes in the opening lines of De Rerum Natura: ‘Without you [Venus] nothing emerges into the sunlit shores of light.’ It has taken 2,000 years, but perhaps Lucretius has finally become our contemporary.

This article was originally published by: https://aeon.co/ideas/is-nature-continuous-or-discrete-how-the-atomist-error-was-born?utm_source=Aeon+Newsletter&utm_campaign=bb63ea6739-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_05_16&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_411a82e59d-bb63ea6739-70411565

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The world’s largest reforestation effort in history is underway

April 02, 2018

The largest tropical reforestation effort in history aims to restore 73 million trees in the Brazilian Amazon by 2023.

The multimillion dollar, six-year project, led by Conservation International, spans 30,000 hectares of land—the equivalent of the size of 30,000 soccer fields, or nearly 70,000 acres.

The effort will help Brazil move towards its Paris agreement target of reforesting 12 million hectares of land by 2030.

“This is a breathtakingly audacious project,” Dr. M. Sanjayan, CEO of Conservation International, said in astatement. “Together with an alliance of partners, we are undertaking the largest tropical forest restoration project in the world, driving down the cost of restoration in the process. The fate of the Amazon depends on getting this right—as do the region’s 25 million residents, its countless species and the climate of our planet.”

The Amazon is the world’s largest rainforest, home to indigenous communities and an immense variety and richness of biodiversity. The latest survey detailed 381 new species discovered in 2014-2015 alone.

But this precious land has been threatened by decades of commercial exploitation of natural resources, minerals and agribusiness, as Conservation International editorial director Bruno Vander Velde writes, “leading to about 20 percent of original forest cover to be replaced by pastures and agricultural crops, without securing the well-being of the local population.”

“The reforestation project fills an urgent need to develop the region’s economy without destroying its forests and ensuring the well-being of its people,” he notes.

Fast Company reports that instead of planting saplings—which is labor- and resource-intensive—the reforestation effort will involve the “muvuca” strategy, a Portuguese word that means many people in a small place. The strategy involves the spreading of seeds from more than 200 native forest species over every square meter of deforested land and allowing natural selection to weed out the weaker plants. As Fast Company notes, a 2014 study by the Food and Agriculture Organization and Bioversity International found that the muvuca technique allowed more than 90 percent of native tree species planted to germinate. Not only that, they especially resilient and suited to survive drought conditions for up to six months.

According to Rodrigo Medeiros, vice president of Conservation International’s Brazil office, priority areas for the restoration effort include southern Amazonas, Rondônia, Acre, Pará and the Xingu watershed. Restoration activities will include the enrichment of existing secondary forest areas, sowing of selected native species, and, when necessary, direct planting of native species, Medeiros said.

The Brazilian Ministry of Environment, the Global Environment Facility, the World Bank, the Brazilian Biodiversity Fund, and Rock in Rio’s environmental arm “Amazonia Live” are also partners in this effort.

This article was originally published by:
https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/11/the-worlds-largest-tropical-reforestation-project-has-begun-in-the-amazon

What Happens If China Makes First Contact?

February 01, 2018

Last January, the Chinese Academy of Sciences invited Liu Cixin, China’s preeminent science-fiction writer, to visit its new state-of-the-art radio dish in the country’s southwest. Almost twice as wide as the dish at America’s Arecibo Observatory, in the Puerto Rican jungle, the new Chinese dish is the largest in the world, if not the universe. Though it is sensitive enough to detect spy satellites even when they’re not broadcasting, its main uses will be scientific, including an unusual one: The dish is Earth’s first flagship observatory custom-built to listen for a message from an extraterrestrial intelligence. If such a sign comes down from the heavens during the next decade, China may well hear it first.

In some ways, it’s no surprise that Liu was invited to see the dish. He has an outsize voice on cosmic affairs in China, and the government’s aerospace agency sometimes asks him to consult on science missions. Liu is the patriarch of the country’s science-fiction scene. Other Chinese writers I met attached the honorific Da, meaning “Big,” to his surname. In years past, the academy’s engineers sent Liu illustrated updates on the dish’s construction, along with notes saying how he’d inspired their work.

But in other ways Liu is a strange choice to visit the dish. He has written a great deal about the risks of first contact. He has warned that the “appearance of this Other” might be imminent, and that it might result in our extinction. “Perhaps in ten thousand years, the starry sky that humankind gazes upon will remain empty and silent,” he writes in the postscript to one of his books. “But perhaps tomorrow we’ll wake up and find an alien spaceship the size of the Moon parked in orbit.”
China’s new radio dish was custom-built to listen for an extraterrestrial message. (Liu Xu / Xinhua / Getty)
In recent years, Liu has joined the ranks of the global literati. In 2015, his novel The Three-Body Problem became the first work in translation to win the Hugo Award, science fiction’s most prestigious prize. Barack Obama told The New York Times that the book—the first in a trilogy—gave him cosmic perspective during the frenzy of his presidency. Liu told me that Obama’s staff asked him for an advance copy of the third volume.At the end of the second volume, one of the main characters lays out the trilogy’s animating philosophy. No civilization should ever announce its presence to the cosmos, he says. Any other civilization that learns of its existence will perceive it as a threat to expand—as all civilizations do, eliminating their competitors until they encounter one with superior technology and are themselves eliminated. This grim cosmic outlook is called “dark-forest theory,” because it conceives of every civilization in the universe as a hunter hiding in a moonless woodland, listening for the first rustlings of a rival.
Liu’s trilogy begins in the late 1960s, during Mao’s Cultural Revolution, when a young Chinese woman sends a message to a nearby star system. The civilization that receives it embarks on a centuries-long mission to invade Earth, but she doesn’t care; the Red Guard’s grisly excesses have convinced her that humans no longer deserve to survive. En route to our planet, the extraterrestrial civilization disrupts our particle accelerators to prevent us from making advancements in the physics of warfare, such as the one that brought the atomic bomb into being less than a century after the invention of the repeating rifle.

Science fiction is sometimes described as a literature of the future, but historical allegory is one of its dominant modes. Isaac Asimov based his Foundation series on classical Rome, and Frank Herbert’s Dune borrows plot points from the past of the Bedouin Arabs. Liu is reluctant to make connections between his books and the real world, but he did tell me that his work is influenced by the history of Earth’s civilizations, “especially the encounters between more technologically advanced civilizations and the original settlers of a place.” One such encounter occurred during the 19th century, when the “Middle Kingdom” of China, around which all of Asia had once revolved, looked out to sea and saw the ships of Europe’s seafaring empires, whose ensuing invasion triggered a loss in status for China comparable to the fall of Rome.

This past summer, I traveled to China to visit its new observatory, but first I met up with Liu in Beijing. By way of small talk, I asked him about the film adaptation of The Three-Body Problem. “People here want it to be China’s Star Wars,” he said, looking pained. The pricey shoot ended in mid-2015, but the film is still in postproduction. At one point, the entire special-effects team was replaced. “When it comes to making science-fiction movies, our system is not mature,” Liu said.

I had come to interview Liu in his capacity as China’s foremost philosopher of first contact, but I also wanted to know what to expect when I visited the new dish. After a translator relayed my question, Liu stopped smoking and smiled.“It looks like something out of science fiction,” he said.

A week later, I rode a bullet train out of Shanghai, leaving behind its purple Blade Runner glow, its hip cafés and craft-beer bars. Rocketing along an elevated track, I watched high-rises blur by, each a tiny honeycomb piece of the rail-linked urban megastructure that has recently erupted out of China’s landscape. China poured more concrete from 2011 to 2013 than America did during the entire 20th century. The country has already built rail lines in Africa, and it hopes to fire bullet trains into Europe and North America, the latter by way of a tunnel under the Bering Sea.

The skyscrapers and cranes dwindled as the train moved farther inland. Out in the emerald rice fields, among the low-hanging mists, it was easy to imagine ancient China—the China whose written language was adopted across much of Asia; the China that introduced metal coins, paper money, and gunpowder into human life; the China that built the river-taming system that still irrigates the country’s terraced hills. Those hills grew steeper as we went west, stair-stepping higher and higher, until I had to lean up against the window to see their peaks. Every so often, a Hans Zimmer bass note would sound, and the glass pane would fill up with the smooth, spaceship-white side of another train, whooshing by in the opposite direction at almost 200 miles an hour.

Liu Cixin, China’s preeminent science-fiction writer, has written a great deal about the risks of first contact. (Han Wancheng / Shanxi Illustration)
It was mid-afternoon when we glided into a sparkling, cavernous terminal in Guiyang, the capital of Guizhou, one of China’s poorest, most remote provinces. A government-imposed social transformation appeared to be under way. Signs implored people not to spit indoors. Loudspeakers nagged passengers to “keep an atmosphere of good manners.” When an older man cut in the cab line, a security guard dressed him down in front of a crowd of hundreds.
The next morning, I went down to my hotel lobby to meet the driver I’d hired to take me to the observatory. Two hours into what was supposed to be a four-hour drive, he pulled over in the rain and waded 30 yards into a field where an older woman was harvesting rice, to ask for directions to a radio observatory more than 100 miles away. After much frustrated gesturing by both parties, she pointed the way with her scythe.We set off again, making our way through a string of small villages, beep-beeping motorbike riders and pedestrians out of our way. Some of the buildings along the road were centuries old, with upturned eaves; others were freshly built, their residents having been relocated by the state to clear ground for the new observatory. A group of the displaced villagers had complained about their new housing, attracting bad press—a rarity for a government project in China. Western reporters took notice. “China Telescope to Displace 9,000 Villagers in Hunt for Extraterrestrials,” read a headline in The New York Times.

The search for extraterrestrial intelligence (seti) is often derided as a kind of religious mysticism, even within the scientific community. Nearly a quarter century ago, the United States Congress defunded America’s seti program with a budget amendment proposed by Senator Richard Bryan of Nevada, who said he hoped it would “be the end of Martian-hunting season at the taxpayer’s expense.” That’s one reason it is China, and not the United States, that has built the first world-class radio observatory with seti as a core scientific goal.

seti does share some traits with religion. It is motivated by deep human desires for connection and transcendence. It concerns itself with questions about human origins, about the raw creative power of nature, and about our future in this universe—and it does all this at a time when traditional religions have become unpersuasive to many. Why these aspects of seti should count against it is unclear. Nor is it clear why Congress should find seti unworthy of funding, given that the government has previously been happy to spend hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars on ambitious searches for phenomena whose existence was still in question. The expensive, decades-long missions that found black holes and gravitational waves both commenced when their targets were mere speculative possibilities. That intelligent life can evolve on a planet is not a speculative possibility, as Darwin demonstrated. Indeed, seti might be the most intriguing scientific project suggested by Darwinism.Even without federal funding in the United States, seti is now in the midst of a global renaissance. Today’s telescopes have brought the distant stars nearer, and in their orbits we can see planets. The next generation of observatories is now clicking on, and with them we will zoom into these planets’ atmospheres. seti researchers have been preparing for this moment. In their exile, they have become philosophers of the future. They have tried to imagine what technologies an advanced civilization might use, and what imprints those technologies would make on the observable universe. They have figured out how to spot the chemical traces of artificial pollutants from afar. They know how to scan dense star fields for giant structures designed to shield planets from a supernova’s shock waves.
In 2015, the Russian billionaire Yuri Milner poured $100 million of his own cash into a new seti program led by scientists at UC Berkeley. The team performs more seti observations in a single day than took place during entire years just a decade ago. In 2016, Milner sank another $100 million into an interstellar-probe mission. A beam from a giant laser array, to be built in the Chilean high desert, will wallop dozens of wafer-thin probes more than four light-years to the Alpha Centauri system, to get a closer look at its planets. Milner told me the probes’ cameras might be able to make out individual continents. The Alpha Centauri team modeled the radiation that such a beam would send out into space, and noticed striking similarities to the mysterious “fast radio bursts” that Earth’s astronomers keep detecting, which suggests the possibility that they are caused by similar giant beams, powering similar probes elsewhere in the cosmos.Andrew Siemion, the leader of Milner’s seti team, is actively looking into this possibility. He visited the Chinese dish while it was still under construction, to lay the groundwork for joint observations and to help welcome the Chinese team into a growing network of radio observatories that will cooperate on seti research, including new facilities in Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. When I joined Siemion for overnight seti observations at a radio observatory in West Virginia last fall, he gushed about the Chinese dish. He said it was the world’s most sensitive telescope in the part of the radio spectrum that is “classically considered to be the most probable place for an extraterrestrial transmitter.”
More on: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/12/what-happens-if-china-makes-first-contact/544131/

Canadian province trials basic income for thousands of residents

January 05, 2018

Canada is testing a basic income to discover what impact the policy has on unemployed people and those on low incomes.

The province of Ontario is planning to give 4,000 citizens thousands of dollars a month and assess how it affects their health, wellbeing, earnings and productivity.

It is among a number of regions and countries across the globe that are now piloting the scheme, which sees residents given a certain amount of money each month regardless of whether or not they are in work.

Although it is too early for the Ontario pilot to deliver clear results, some of those involved have already reported a significant change.

One recipient, Tim Button, said the monthly payments were making a “huge difference” to his life. He worked as a security guard before having to quit after a fall from a roof left him unable to work.

“It takes me out of depression”, he told the Associated Press. “I feel more sociable.”

The basic income payments have boosted his income by almost 60 per cent and have allowed him to make plans to visit his family for Christmas for the first time in years. He has also been able to buy healthier food, see a dentist and look into taking an educational course to help him find work.

Under the Ontario experiment, unemployed people or those with a low income can receive up to C$17,000 (£9,900) and are allowed to also keep half of what they earn at work, meaning there is still an incentive to work. Couples are entitled to C$24,000 (£13,400).

If the trial proves successful, the scheme could be expanded to more of the province’s 14.2 million residents and may inspire more regions of Canada and other nations to adopt the policy.

Support for a basic income has grown in recent years, fuelled in part by fears about the impact that new technology will have on jobs. As machines and robots are able to complete an increasing number of tasks, attention has turned to how people will live when there are not enough jobs to go round.

Ontario’s Premier, Kathleen Wynne, said this was a major factor in the decision to trial a basic income in the province.

She said: “I see it on a daily basis. I go into a factory and the floor plant manager can tell me where there were 20 people and there is one machine. We need to understand what it might look like if there is, in fact, the labour disruption that some economists are predicting.”

Ontario officials have found that many people are reluctant to sign up to the scheme, fearing there is a catch or that they will be left without money once the pilot finishes.

Many of those who are receiving payments, however, say their lives have already been changed for the better.

Dave Cherkewski, 46, said the extra C$750 (£436) a month he receives has helped him to cope with the mental illness that has kept him out of work since 2002.

“I’ve never been better after 14 years of living in poverty,” he said.

He hopes to soon find work helping other people with mental health challenges.

He said: “With basic income I will be able to clarify my dream and actually make it a reality, because I can focus all my effort on that and not worry about, ‘Well, I need to pay my $520 rent, I need to pay my $50 cellphone, I need to eat and do other things’.”

Finland is also trialling a basic income, as is the state of Hawaii, Oakland in California and the Dutch city of Utrecht.

This article was originally published by: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/canada-universal-basic-income-ontario-trial-citizens-residents-poverty-unemployment-benefits-a8082576.html

The Venus Project Plans to Bring Humanity to the Next Stage of Social Evolution. Here’s Ho

June 29, 2017

Since 1975, Roxanne Meadows has worked with renowned futurist Jacque Fresco to develop and promote The Venus Project. The function of this project is to find alternative solutions to the many problems that confront the world today. She participated in the exterior and interior design and construction of the buildings of The Venus Project’s 21-acre research and planning center.



Daniel Araya: Roxanne, could you tell me about your background and your vision for The Venus Project? How was the idea originally conceived?

Roxanne Meadows: My background is in architectural and technical illustration, model making, and design. However, for the last 41 years, my most significant work has been with Jacque Fresco in developing models, books, blueprints, drawings, documentaries and lecturing worldwide. We are the co-founders of The Venus Project, based out of Venus, Florida where we have built a 21-acre experimental center. The Venus Project is the culmination of Jacque Fresco’s life’s work to present a sustainable redesign of our culture.

In our view, The Venus Project is unlike any political, economic or social system that’s gone before it. It lays out a sustainable world civilization where technology and the methods of science are applied to redesigning our social system with the prime concern being to maximize quality of life rather than profit. All aspects of society are scrutinized – from our values, education, and urban design to how we relate to nature and to one another.

The Venus Project concludes that our social and environmental problems will remain the same as long as the monetary system prevails and a few powerful nations and financial interests maintain control over and consume most of the world’s resources. In Jacque Fresco’s book The Best That Money Can’t Buy, he explains “If we really wish to put an end to our ongoing international and social problems, we must ultimately declare Earth and all of its resources as the common heritage of all of the world’s people. Anything less will result in the same catalogue of problems we have today.”

DA: One of the more interesting aspects of The Venus Project vision is its futuristic design. Have you been approached by companies or governments interested in using The Venus Project as a model? Do you foresee experiments in smart urban design that mirror Jacque Fresco’s thinking?

RM: No company or government, as yet, has approached The Venus Project to initiate a model of our city design, but we feel the greatest need is in using our designs to usher in a holistic socio-economic alternative, not just our architectural approach itself. As Jacque very often mentions, “Technology is just so much junk, unless it’s used to elevate all people.”

We would like to build the first circular city devoted to developing up-to-date global resource management, and a holistic method for social operation toward global unification. The city would showcase this optimistic vision, allowing people to see firsthand what kind of future could be built if we were to mobilize science and technology for social betterment.

I have not seen what is called smart urban design mirror Jacque Fresco’s thinking. I see smart cities as mainly applying technology to existing and new but chaotically designed, energy- and resource-intensive cities without offering a comprehensive social direction or identifying the root causes of our current problems. Our technology is racing forward but our social designs are hundreds of years old. We can’t continue to design and maintain these resource- and energy-draining cities and ever consider being able to provide for the needs of all people to ensure that they have high-quality housing, food, medical care and education. Smart cities within a terribly dysfunctional social structure seem contradictory to me.

DA: My understanding is that technological automation forms the basis for The Venus Project. Given ongoing breakthroughs in artificial intelligence and robotics, do you imagine that we are moving closer to this vision?

RM: Our technological capacity to initiate The Venus Project is available now, but how we use artificial intelligence today is very often for destructive purposes through weaponry, surveillance, and the competitive edge for industry, often resulting in technological unemployment. In the society we are proposing, nothing is to be gained from these behaviors because there is no vested interest. In our project, we advocate concentrating on solving problems that threaten all of us— climate change, pollution, disease, hunger, war, territorial disputes, and the like. What The Venus Project offers is a method of updating the design of our society so that everyone can benefit from all the amenities that a highly advanced technologically-developed society can provide.

DA: I know The Venus Project is envisioned as a post-capitalist and post-scarcity economy. Could you explain what you mean by resource-based economics?

RM: Money is an interference factor between what we want and what we are able to acquire. It limits our dreams and capabilities and our individual and societal possibilities. Today we don’t have enough money to house everyone on the planet, but we do still have enough resources to accomplish that and much more if we use our resources intelligently to conserve energy and reduce waste. This is why we advocate a Resource Based Economy. This socio-economic system provides an equitable distribution of resources in an efficient manner without the use of money, barter, credit or servitude of any kind. Goods and services are accessible to all, without charge. You could liken this to the public library where one might check out many books and then return them when they are finished. This can be done with anything that is not used on a daily basis. In a society where goods and services are made available to the entire population free of charge, ownership becomes a burden that is ultimately surpassed by a system of common property.

When we use our technology to produce abundance, goods become too cheap to monetize. There is only a price on things that are scarce. For instance, air is a necessity but we don’t monitor or charge for the amount of breaths we can take. Air is abundant. If apple trees grew everywhere and were abundant you couldn’t sell apples. If all the money disappeared, as long as we have the technical personnel, automated processes, topsoil, resources, factories and distribution we could still build and develop anything we need.

DA: I know that the scientific method forms the basis for decision making and resource management within your project. Could you explain how this approach is applied to social behavior? For example, what is the role of politics in The Venus Project?

RM: Today, for the most part, politicians serve the interest of those in positions of wealth and power; they are not there to change things,  but instead to keep things as they are. With regard to the management of human affairs, what do they really know? Our problems are mostly technical. When you examine the vocations of politicians and ask what backgrounds they have to solve the pressing problems of today, they fall far short. For instance, are they trained in finding solutions to eliminating war, preventing climate change, developing clean sources of energy, maintaining higher yields of nutritious, non-contaminating food per acre or anything pertaining to the wellbeing of people and the protection of the environment?  This is not their area of expertise. Then what are they doing in those positions?

The role for politics within the scientific and technologically organized society that The Venus Project proposes would be surpassed by engineered systems. It is not ethical people in government that we need but equal access to the necessities of life and those working toward the elimination of scarcity. We would use scientific scales of performance for measurement and allocation of resources so that human biases are left out of the equation. Within The Venus Project’s safe, energy-efficient cities, there would be interdisciplinary teams of knowledgeable people in different fields accompanied by cybernated systems that use “sensors” to monitor all aspects of society in order to provide real-time information supporting decision-making for the wellbeing of all people and the protection of the environment.

DA: In your view, is abundance simply a function of technological innovation? I mean, assuming we get the technology right, do you believe that we could eventually eliminate poverty and crime altogether?

RM: Yes, if we apply our scientists and technical personnel to work towards those ends. We have never mobilized many scientific disciplines giving them the problem of creating a society to end war, produce safe, clean transportation, eliminate booms and busts, poverty, homelessness, hunger, crime and aberrant behavior. For instance, one does not need to make laws to try and eliminate stealing, when all goods and services are available without a price tag.  But scientists have not been asked to design a total systems approach to city design, let alone to planetary planning. Scientist have not been given the problem to develop and apply a total holistic effort using the methods of science, technology and resource management to serve all people equitably in the development of a safe and sustainable global society. Unfortunately, only in times of war, do we see resources allocated and scientists mobilized in this way.

DA: I assume schooling and education are important to Jacque’s vision. How might schools and universities differ from the way they are designed today?

RM: The education and values we are given seem to always support the established system we are raised in. We are not born with bigotry, envy, or hatred – we do pick them up from our schools and culture. In fact, even our facial expressions, the words we use, notions of good and bad, right and wrong, are all culture bound.  A healthy brain can, in fact, simply become a Nazi faster in a Nazi society.  It has no way of knowing what is significant or not, that is all learned by experience and background.  The manipulation is so subtle that we feel our values come from within.  Most often we don’t know whom our values are really serving.

Yes, education will differ considerably from that of today. As Fresco explains in his book The Best That Money Can’t Buy “The subjects studied will be related to the direction and needs of this new evolving culture. Students will be made aware of the symbiotic relationship between people, technology, and the environment.”

DA: I can only assume that critics routinely dismiss The Venus Project as a kind of hopeful utopia. How do you respond to that criticism?

RM: Critics very often reject or dismiss new ideas. What is utopian thinking is to believe that the system we are living under today will enable us to achieve sustainability, equality or a high standard of living for all when it is our system which generates these very problems in the first place. If we continue as we are, it seems to me that we are destined for calamity. The Venus Project is not offering a fixed notion as to how society should be. There are no final frontiers. It does offer a way out of our dilemmas to help initiate a next step in our social evolution.

Many are working at going to other planets to escape the problems on this one, but we would be taking our detrimental value systems with us. We are saying that we have to tackle the problems we face here on the most habitable planet we know of.  We will have to apply methodologies to enable us to live together in accordance with the carrying capacity of Earth’s resources, eliminate artificial boundaries, share resources and learn to relate to one another and the environment.

What we have to ask is, what kind of world do we want to live in?

DA: My last question is about the challenges ahead. Rather than taking the necessary steps to reverse climate change, we seem to be accelerating our pollution of the Earth. Socially, we are witnessing a renewed focus on nativism and fear. How might the values of The Venus Project manage against these negative tendencies in human beings?

RM: The notion of negative tendencies in human beings or that we possess a certain “human nature” is a scapegoat to keep things as they are. It’s implying that we are born with a fixed set of views regarding our action patterns. Human behavior is always changing, but there is no “human nature,” per se.  Determining the conditions that generate certain behaviors is what needs to be understood.

As Jacque elaborates, “We are just as lawful as anything else in nature. What appears to be overlooked is the influence of culture upon our values, behavior, and our outlook. It is like studying plants apart from the fact that they consume radiant energy, nutrients, require water, carbon dioxide, gravity, nitrogen, etc. Plants do not grow of their own accord, neither do humans values and behavior.”

All social improvement, from the airplane to clean sources of energy undergoes change, but our social systems remain mostly static. The history of civilization is experimentation and modification. The Free Enterprise System was an important experiment and tremendous step along the way that generated innovation throughout our society. What we now advocate is to continue the process of social experimentation, as this system has long outlived its usefulness and simply cannot address the monumental problems it is facing today. We desperately need to update our social designs to correspond with our technological ability to create abundance for all. This could be the most exciting and fulfilling experiment we as a species could ever take on; working together cooperatively to deal with our most pressing problems which confront us all and finding solutions to them unencumbered with the artificial limitations we impose upon ourselves.


Daniel Araya is a researcher and advisor to government with a special interest in education, technological innovation and public policy. His newest books include: Augmented Intelligence (2016), Smart Cities as Democratic Ecologies (2015), and Rethinking US Education Policy (2014). He has a doctorate from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and is an alumnus of Singularity University’s graduate program in Silicon Valley. He can be found here:www.danielaraya.com and here: @danielarayaXY.

https://futurism.com/the-venus-project-plans-to-bring-humanity-to-the-next-stage-of-social-evolution-heres-how/

The meaning of life in a world without work

May 18, 2017

Most jobs that exist today might disappear within decades. As artificial intelligence outperforms humans in more and more tasks, it will replace humans in more and more jobs. Many new professions are likely to appear: virtual-world designers, for example. But such professions will probably require more creativity and flexibility, and it is unclear whether 40-year-old unemployed taxi drivers or insurance agents will be able to reinvent themselves as virtual-world designers (try to imagine a virtual world created by an insurance agent!). And even if the ex-insurance agent somehow makes the transition into a virtual-world designer, the pace of progress is such that within another decade he might have to reinvent himself yet again.

The crucial problem isn’t creating new jobs. The crucial problem is creating new jobs that humans perform better than algorithms. Consequently, by 2050 a new class of people might emerge – the useless class. People who are not just unemployed, but unemployable.

The same technology that renders humans useless might also make it feasible to feed and support the unemployable masses through some scheme of universal basic income. The real problem will then be to keep the masses occupied and content. People must engage in purposeful activities, or they go crazy. So what will the useless class do all day?

One answer might be computer games. Economically redundant people might spend increasing amounts of time within 3D virtual reality worlds, which would provide them with far more excitement and emotional engagement than the “real world” outside. This, in fact, is a very old solution. For thousands of years, billions of people have found meaning in playing virtual reality games. In the past, we have called these virtual reality games “religions”.

What is a religion if not a big virtual reality game played by millions of people together? Religions such as Islam and Christianity invent imaginary laws, such as “don’t eat pork”, “repeat the same prayers a set number of times each day”, “don’t have sex with somebody from your own gender” and so forth. These laws exist only in the human imagination. No natural law requires the repetition of magical formulas, and no natural law forbids homosexuality or eating pork. Muslims and Christians go through life trying to gain points in their favorite virtual reality game. If you pray every day, you get points. If you forget to pray, you lose points. If by the end of your life you gain enough points, then after you die you go to the next level of the game (aka heaven).

As religions show us, the virtual reality need not be encased inside an isolated box. Rather, it can be superimposed on the physical reality. In the past this was done with the human imagination and with sacred books, and in the 21st century it can be done with smartphones.

Some time ago I went with my six-year-old nephew Matan to hunt for Pokémon. As we walked down the street, Matan kept looking at his smartphone, which enabled him to spot Pokémon all around us. I didn’t see any Pokémon at all, because I didn’t carry a smartphone. Then we saw two others kids on the street who were hunting the same Pokémon, and we almost got into a fight with them. It struck me how similar the situation was to the conflict between Jews and Muslims about the holy city of Jerusalem. When you look at the objective reality of Jerusalem, all you see are stones and buildings. There is no holiness anywhere. But when you look through the medium of smartbooks (such as the Bible and the Qur’an), you see holy places and angels everywhere.

The idea of finding meaning in life by playing virtual reality games is of course common not just to religions, but also to secular ideologies and lifestyles. Consumerism too is a virtual reality game. You gain points by acquiring new cars, buying expensive brands and taking vacations abroad, and if you have more points than everybody else, you tell yourself you won the game.

You might object that people really enjoy their cars and vacations. That’s certainly true. But the religious really enjoy praying and performing ceremonies, and my nephew really enjoys hunting Pokémon. In the end, the real action always takes place inside the human brain. Does it matter whether the neurons are stimulated by observing pixels on a computer screen, by looking outside the windows of a Caribbean resort, or by seeing heaven in our mind’s eyes? In all cases, the meaning we ascribe to what we see is generated by our own minds. It is not really “out there”. To the best of our scientific knowledge, human life has no meaning. The meaning of life is always a fictional story created by us humans.

In his groundbreaking essay, Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight (1973), the anthropologist Clifford Geertz describes how on the island of Bali, people spent much time and money betting on cockfights. The betting and the fights involved elaborate rituals, and the outcomes had substantial impact on the social, economic and political standing of both players and spectators.

The cockfights were so important to the Balinese that when the Indonesian government declared the practice illegal, people ignored the law and risked arrest and hefty fines. For the Balinese, cockfights were “deep play” – a made-up game that is invested with so much meaning that it becomes reality. A Balinese anthropologist could arguably have written similar essays on football in Argentina or Judaism in Israel.

Indeed, one particularly interesting section of Israeli society provides a unique laboratory for how to live a contented life in a post-work world. In Israel, a significant percentage of ultra-orthodox Jewish men never work. They spend their entire lives studying holy scriptures and performing religion rituals. They and their families don’t starve to death partly because the wives often work, and partly because the government provides them with generous subsidies. Though they usually live in poverty, government support means that they never lack for the basic necessities of life.

That’s universal basic income in action. Though they are poor and never work, in survey after survey these ultra-orthodox Jewish men report higher levels of life-satisfaction than any other section of Israeli society. In global surveys of life satisfaction, Israel is almost always at the very top, thanks in part to the contribution of these unemployed deep players.

You don’t need to go all the way to Israel to see the world of post-work. If you have at home a teenage son who likes computer games, you can conduct your own experiment. Provide him with a minimum subsidy of Coke and pizza, and then remove all demands for work and all parental supervision. The likely outcome is that he will remain in his room for days, glued to the screen. He won’t do any homework or housework, will skip school, skip meals and even skip showers and sleep. Yet he is unlikely to suffer from boredom or a sense of purposelessness. At least not in the short term.

Hence virtual realities are likely to be key to providing meaning to the useless class of the post-work world. Maybe these virtual realities will be generated inside computers. Maybe they will be generated outside computers, in the shape of new religions and ideologies. Maybe it will be a combination of the two. The possibilities are endless, and nobody knows for sure what kind of deep plays will engage us in 2050.

In any case, the end of work will not necessarily mean the end of meaning, because meaning is generated by imagining rather than by working. Work is essential for meaning only according to some ideologies and lifestyles. Eighteenth-century English country squires, present-day ultra-orthodox Jews, and children in all cultures and eras have found a lot of interest and meaning in life even without working. People in 2050 will probably be able to play deeper games and to construct more complex virtual worlds than in any previous time in history.

But what about truth? What about reality? Do we really want to live in a world in which billions of people are immersed in fantasies, pursuing make-believe goals and obeying imaginary laws? Well, like it or not, that’s the world we have been living in for thousands of years already.

  • Yuval Noah Harari lectures at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and is the author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind and Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/may/08/virtual-reality-religion-robots-sapiens-book#img-1