9 March 2008

Disturbing realities at the dawn of the 21st century

The middle ages have supposedly gone by. Enlightenment has supposedly showed us that we can use reason to understand ourselves, the world, the nature, the mind; that we could (and should) go back to the origins of the so-called Western Civilization and resurrect what was lost for more than a thousand years.

Yet, a few unexpected things have recently happened and, despite their dissimilarities, they seem to be closely connected, pointing towards a grim future, unless.... unless we act, we remind ourselves of the principles that, only twenty years ago, we would take for granted. I'm referring to Science, to Reason, to Education, to our right to question authority, to Democracy, to Free Thought, Free Speech...

The unexpected things were
  1. Resurgence of religious fundamentalism
  2. Degrading of education at all levels and in many parts of the world
  3. Establishment of new ideals that young people should aspire for, mostly related to business concepts
  4. New types of wars
I think that there are deep relations between them. Religious hysteria drives people back to a dark era. Education is, in many countries and many institutions, a commodity that is being traded at a given monetary price. Business is considered an ideal for many young people who will try to fill their CVs with buzzwords (team player, leadership, etc.), everywhere, from America to China. Wars are glorified invasions, intrusions, violations, murders of innocent civilians. People go around with pre-conceived ideas about what other people are like, and do not see them as human beings. Meanwhile, new pseudo-sciences are being promoted, even at a State level (e.g. Creationism or Intelligent Design, started in the U.S., and, already, in Europe, for the latter merely follows the former with a time lag, thanks to the enlightened politicians who will not (cannot) copy the good things that come out of America but, merely, the idiocies).

Supposedly, technology (e.g. transportation, communication), and especially the Internet, has brought people closer to one another. But has it?

Most people I come across to, could not care less.
They are happy to watch the rugby game, drink beer, do their job while keeping a boss happy, never ask questions, never read history but only have a vague idea of what happened when, never think about anything except, possibly, in a very myopic manner, accept lies if they are convenient for them, be afraid to express their opinion, be very afraid to speak, be very very afraid to speak freely... Fear, that's what I see, a hidden fear being slowly instilled within many individuals. Indeed, things seem, at a surface level, more progressive than in times past, but are they so? Or is it, merely, an institutionalized political correctness that drives us?

What should we do to stop getting back to a Dark Age?


  1. Too cynical. Your motivation is good but I am afraid that your means could not meet your ends. To help overcome the weaknesses of human nature the better approach is through understanding why people and society the way they are. By understanding we may see some positive ingredients in all the dark sides you listed. By directing these positive ingredients in a wise way, we may progress.

  2. That is the whole point: you *have* to be cynical when you come across idiots who, say, invent "creationism" or "astrology".

    On the other hand, the issue of religious fundamentalism is related to (i) economic situation and (ii) biology. It could very well be that it is part of the homo sapiens biology to yearn for the supernatural. Otherwise, how can one explain thousands of years of religion? Which means that, no matter how much one tries, if he or she is prone to this kind of behaviour, then he or she cannot change it. It's like one's propensity to chocolate. You can do nothing about it. I respect that.

    What I do not respect and, actually, find it ridiculous, is to try to explain your metaphysical tendencies by scientific methods. This is obscene. And cynicism is a (my) natural reaction.

  3. At very most, I accept your cynical attitude as one approach against aggressive religious people. Even so I do not think it is the best choice.

    In addition your statement put many innocent people,who"watch the rugby game, drink beer, do their job while keeping a boss happy", as the preach objects. I suppose that this group of people is most possible ones that you want and can win over. But can anyone be persuaded if they feel being hurt?

    Highly recommend Milton Erickson's work, for example "My voice will go with you". He is regarded as clinically the most successful psychiatrist in 20th century. He developed diverse approaches, which dramatically changed people's belief system for their sake. The start point of all his approaches is: everyone's map of reality is respectable, no matter how stupid, absurd and evil it sounds. By this respect, he was able to enter the patient's world and design creative solutions. There is a case he helped an obsessive religious girl out to a life of sanity.

    Einstein said: If you do the same thing, do not expect different results. Have you checked your results? Have you tried other approaches other than cynicism? When you criticise, do you feel that at the root we share all the tendencies? Do you feel even those people you despise yell for growth, just like you and me?



What measure theory is about

It's about counting, but when things get too large.
Put otherwise, it's about addition of positive numbers, but when these numbers are far too many.

The principle of dynamic programming

max_{x,y} [f(x) + g(x,y)] = max_x [f(x) + max_y g(x,y)]

The bottom line

Nuestras horas son minutos cuando esperamos saber y siglos cuando sabemos lo que se puede aprender.
(Our hours are minutes when we wait to learn and centuries when we know what is to be learnt.) --António Machado

Αγεωμέτρητος μηδείς εισίτω.
(Those who do not know geometry may not enter.) --Plato

Sapere Aude! Habe Muth, dich deines eigenen Verstandes zu bedienen!
(Dare to know! Have courage to use your own reason!) --Kant