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Nov
2nd
Sat
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Q: What kind of things make you worry?

Cormac McCarthy: “If you think about some of the things that are being talked about by thoughtful, intelligent scientists, you realize that in 100 years the human race won’t even be recognizable. We may indeed be part machine and we may have computers implanted. It’s more than theoretically possible to implant a chip in the brain that would contain all the information in all the libraries in the world. As people who have talked about this say, it’s just a matter of figuring out the wiring. Now there’s a problem you can take to bed with you at night. (…)

Well, I don’t know what of our culture is going to survive, or if we survive. If you look at the Greek plays, they’re really good. And there’s just a handful of them. Well, how good would they be if there were 2,500 of them? But that’s the future looking back at us. Anything you can think of, there’s going to be millions of them. Just the sheer number of things will devalue them. I don’t care whether it’s art, literature, poetry or drama, whatever. The sheer volume of it will wash it out. I mean, if you had thousands of Greek plays to read, would they be that good? I don’t think so.” “
Cormac McCarthy, an American novelist, playwright, and screenwriter, interviewed by John Jurgensen in Hollywood’s Favorite Cowboy, The Wall Street Journal, Nov. 20, 2009. Photo: Cormac McCarthy
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If men could only know each other, they would neither idolize nor hate.
Elbert Hubbard, was an American writer, publisher, artist, and philosopher (1856-1915) cited in Pearl S. Buck: The Final Chapter, Etc Publications, 1989, p. 168.
Jun
1st
Sat
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“Only the understanding of evolution offers a chance to get a real understanding of the human species. We are determined by the interplay between individual and group selection where individual selection is responsible for much of what we call sin, while group selection is responsible for the greater part of virtue. We’re all in constant conflict between self-sacrifice for the group on the one hand and egoism and selfishness on the other. I go so far as to say that all the subjects of humanities, from law to the creative arts are based upon this play of individual versus group selection. (…) And it is very creative and probably the source of our striving, our inventiveness and imagination. It’s that eternal conflict that makes us unique. (…)

Q: (…) [W]ill we reach a higher state of humanity?

Do we really want to improve ourselves? Humans are a very young species, in geologic terms, and that’s probably why we’re such a mess. We’re still living with all this aggression and ability to go to war. But do we really want to change ourselves? We’re right on the edge of an era of being able to actually alter the human genome. But do we want that? Do we want to create a race that’s more rational and free of many of these emotions? My response is no, because the only thing that distinguishes us from super-intelligent robots are our imperfect, sloppy, maybe even dangerous emotions. They are what makes us human.” “

Edward O. Wilson, American biologist, researcher (sociobiologybiodiversity), theorist (consiliencebiophilia), naturalist (conservationist) and author, Interview with Edward O. Wilson: The Origin of Morals, originally in P. Bethge, J. Grolle, Wir sind ein Schlamassel, Der Spiegel, 8/2013. (Photo: Edward O. Wilson in Puerto Rico, NYT)

See also: ☞ E. O. Wilson on human evolution, altruism and a ‘new Enlightenment’, Lapidarium notes

Apr
7th
Sun
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Colored Plates - Synergetics - R. Buckminster Fuller. Written by Robert W. Gray, Summer 1997

"Up to the Twentieth Century, reality was everything humans could touch, smell, see, and hear. Since the initial publication of the chart of the electromagnetic spectrum, humans have learned that what they can touch, smell, see, and hear is less than one-millionth of reality. Ninety-nine percent of all that is going to affect our tomorrows is being developed by humans using instruments and working in ranges of reality that are nonhumanly sensible." "
Buckminster Fuller, an American engineer, systems theorist, author, designer, inventor, and futurist (1895-1983), R. Buckminster Fuller on Education, University of Massachusetts Press, 1979, p. 130.
Mar
27th
Wed
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Lucretius: ‘O unhappy race of men, when they ascribed actions to the gods’

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[W]hat cause has spread divine influence
of the gods through powerful states, filling
cities with altars, and brought it about
that men set up sacred ceremonies,
rituals which today are flourishing
at important times and in great places.
(…)

— V [1161-1166], p. 229.

[People] kept observing what went on
in the sky in fixed order—various seasons
of the year returning—and could not see
the causes that made these happen. Therefore,
they found themselves a way out, by linking
all these to the gods, making everything
directed by gods’ will. And they set up
habitations and spaces for the gods
up in the sky, for they saw night and moon
moving through the heavens—moon, day, and night,
glorious nocturnal constellations,
celestial torches wandering at night,
flying fires, clouds, sun, rain, snow, and wind,
lighting, hail, swift peals and ominous sounds
of menacing thunder.

O unhappy race of men,
when they ascribed such actions to the gods
and added to them bitter rage! What sorrow
they made for themselves then, what wounds for us,
what weeping for our children yet to come!
There is no piety in being seen
time and again turning towards a stone
with one’s head covered and approaching close
to every altar, and hurling oneself
prostrate on the ground, stretching out one’s palms
before gods’ shrines, or spreading lots of blood
from four-footed beasts on altars, or piling
sacred pledges onto sacred pledges,
but rather in being able to perceive
all things with one’s mind at peace.
(…)

— V, [1160-1205], p. 230-231.

[W]hen all the earth shakes underfoot
and tottering towns fall or their collapse
is threatened and hangs in doubt, no wonder
if races of mortal men hate themselves
and make room for the amazing powers
and immense forces of gods here on earth,
so that they have control of everything.
(…)
— V, [1234-1240], p. 232.

[I]n their hearts the human race stirs up
anxious tides of worries, for the most part
with no good reason. For just as children
tremble in blinding darkness and are afraid
of everything, so sometimes in the light
we dread things which are no more to be feared
than those which during the night young people
tremble at, dreaming of what will happen.
Therefore, this terror, this darkness of mind,
must be dispelled, not by rays of sunlight
or bright arrows of the day, but by reason
and the face of nature.
(…)

— VI, [35-46], p. 241.

People say that gods, when angry, bring on
raging storms and then, when a lull occurs
in the fury] of the winds, that gods’ anger
is appeased and everything which was there
has changed back again, now that their anger
has been soothed. [I will explain] all the rest
which mortals creatures observe taking place
on earth and in the sky, when so often
they are in suspense, their minds full of dread,
things which demean their souls with fear of gods.
These weigh on them and press them to the ground.
Their ignorance of causes forces them
to assign things to the rule of deities
and to concede that gods are in control.
(…)

— VI, [55-67], p. 242.

[T]hey are carried back to old religion
and accept harsh masters, who, they believe,
in their misery, can do everything,
being ignorant of what can and cannot be,
in short, by what law each thing possesses
limited power, a deep-set boundary stone.
And therefore men lose their way even more,
carried away by their blind reasoning.

— VI, [66-73], p. 242.

See also:

How Epicurus’ ideas survived through Lucretius’ poetry, and led to toleration, Lapidarium notes
Lucretius on the infinite universe, the beginning of things and the likelihood of extraterrestrial life
Titus Lucretius Carus, a Roman poet and philosopher (ca. 99 BC – ca. 55 BC), De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things), translation: Ian Johnston, Richer Resources Publications, Arlington, Virginia, 2010. (Illustration: Lucretius)
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And differences
among various natures of human beings
and in the habits which arise from them
must exist in many other matters.
(…)

I can affirm—the remaining traces
of those natures which reasoning cannot
remove from us are so slight, that nothing
stops us living a life worthy of gods.
Titus Lucretius Carus, a Roman poet and philosopher (ca. 99 BC – ca. 55 BC), De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things), translation: Ian Johnston, Richer Resources Publications, Arlington, Virginia, 2010. III [315-318], III [320-323] p. 105. 
See also: ☞ How Epicurus’ ideas survived through Lucretius’ poetry, and led to toleration, Lapidarium notes
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The generic human need to make and listen to music, for instance, might be explained at the level of evolutionary psychology, but the emergence of the classical symphony certainly cannot. In fact, the insistence on finding explanations of cultural difference in terms of biological evolution exactly misses the point of the great evolutionary innovation represented by Homo sapiens, the massive development of non-genetic learning.
Bernard Williams, English moral philosopher, described by The Times as the “most brilliant and most important British moral philosopher of his time.” (1929-2003), Truth and Truthfulness, Princeton University Press, 2002, p. 28.
Feb
25th
Mon
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Feeling insignificant because the universe is large, has exactly the same logic as feeling inadequate for not being a cow.
David Deutsch, British physicist at the University of Oxford, he pioneered the field of quantum computation by formulating a description for a quantum Turing machine, as well as specifying an algorithm designed to run on a quantum computer, The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations That Transform the WorldAllen Lane, 2011.
Nov
4th
Sun
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Imagine the most extreme example, a human being who does not possess the power to forget, who is damned to see becoming everywhere; such a human being would no longer believe in his own being, would no longer believe in himself, would see everything flow apart in turbulent particles, and would lose himself in this stream of becoming; like the true student of Heraclitus, in the end he would hardly even dare to lift a finger. All action requires forgetting, just as the existence of all organic things requires not only light, but darkness as well.
Rodrigo Quian Quiroga , Professor at the University of Leicester, UK. His graduate work was in physics at the University of Buenos Aires, Borges and Memory: Encounters with the Human Brain, Scientific American, Nov 2, 2012.
Oct
24th
Wed
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I find the question “Why are we here?” typically human. I’d suggest "Are we here?" would be the more logical choice.
Leonard Nimoy, American actor, film director, poet, musician and photographer, answering the question why we are here in The meaning of Life, LIFE Magazine, Dec 1988.
Sep
23rd
Sun
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This unusual and highly successful species spends a great deal of time examining his higher motives and an equal amount of time ignoring his fundamental ones.
Desmond Morris, British zoologist and ethologist, cited in The Dopamine Project
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S. J. Gould, F. Drake, L. Nimoy, J. Cage, A. Hammer on the Meaning of Life

“The first thing I look at each morning is a picture of Albert Einstein I keep on the table right beside my bed. The personal inscription reads “A person first starts to live when he can live outside of himself.” In other words, when he can have as much regard for his fellow man as he does for himself. I believe we are here to do good. It is the responsibility, of every human being to aspire to do something worthwhile, to make this world a better place than the one he found. Life is a gift, and if we agree to accept it, we must contribute in return. When we fail to contribute, we fail to adequately answer why we are here.” 

Armand Hammer, American business manager and owner, physician (1898-1990)  

“I find the question “Why are we here?” typically human. I’d suggest “Are we here?” would be the more logical choice.”

Leonard Nimoy, American actor, film director, poet, musician and photographer  

“Observations of distant galaxies have produced provocative evidence for a startling idea: Our universe was just one bubble in a great fountain of bubble universes springing from the Big Bang that created all reality. Given billions of years of evolution, sophisticated living structures have developed, including creatures conscious of their universe, able to manipulate it in massive ways. There is no doubt that life will have developed in many places in our universe. Our own significance, our ultimate potential and our ensemble of possible destinies will be understood by finding and studying the other intelligent creatures of space. Thus a prime task is to seek out other intelligent civilizations and to share knowledge with them.”

Frank Drake, American astronomer and astrophysicist  

“No why. Just here.”

John Cage, American composer, music theorist and writer (1912-1992)

“The human species has inhabited this planet for only 250,000 years or so-roughly.0015 percent of the history of life, the last inch of the cosmic mile. The world fared perfectly well without us for all but the last moment of earthly time–and this fact makes our appearance look more like an accidental afterthought than the culmination of a prefigured plan.

Moreover, the pathways that have led to our evolution are quirky, improbable, unrepeatable and utterly unpredictable. Human evolution is not random; it makes sense and can be explained after the fact. But wind back life’s tape to the dawn of time and let it play again–and you will never get humans a second time.

We are here because one odd group of fishes had a peculiar fin anatomy that could transform into legs for terrestrial creatures; because the earth never froze entirely during an ice age; because a small and tenuous species, arising in Africa a quarter of a million years ago, has managed, so far, to survive by hook and by crook. We may yearn for a ‘higher’ answer — but none exists. This explanation, though superficially troubling, if not terrifying, is ultimately liberating and exhilarating. We cannot read the meaning of life passively in the facts of nature. We must construct these answers ourselves — from our own wisdom and ethical sense. There is no other way.”

 Stephen Jay Gould, American paleontologist, evolutionary biologist, and historian of science (1941-2002)

The meaning of Life, LIFE Magazine, Dec 1988. (Illustrations: 1, 2)
See also: ☞ What is the meaning of life?, Quora answers
Life tag on Lapidarium
Sep
9th
Sun
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Often there are two different reasons given for this natural desire to simplify. First is that we as humans have a very limited imagination and whichever medium we use to understand the world - be it science, religion, philosophy, or art - we will end up exploting the same limited set of ideas available to us.
Vlatko Vedral, Professor of Physics at the University of Oxford and CQT (Centre for Quantum Technologies) at the National University of Singapore, Decoding Reality: the universe as quantum information, Oxford University Press, 2010 
See also: ☞ Vlatko Vedral: Decoding RealityLapidarium notes
Aug
26th
Sun
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“Our knowledge of the universe around us has increased a thousand fold and more. We learned that Homo sapiens was not forever imprisoned by the gravitational field of Earth … We’ve seen deeply into our universe and looked backward nearly to the beginning of time.” “
Neil Armstrong, the first person to set foot upon the Moon. He was an American NASA astronaut, test pilot, aerospace engineer, university professor and United States Naval Aviator (1930-2012), in rare speech when NASA turns 50.
See also: ☞ July 21, 1969 on the front page of The NYT
Inspired Mankind With One Small Step, NYT, Aug 25, 2012.
Did Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin have instructions of what to do if they couldn’t take off from the moon?, Quora
May
26th
Sat
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On the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much - the wheel, New York, wars and so on - whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man - for precisely the same reasons.
Douglas Adams, English writer and dramatist (1952-2001), The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Pan Books, 1979, Chapter 23