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The FeuerThoughts blog offers the meandering thoughts from the brain and fingers of Steven Feuerstein. Me. Let's see...I am known primarily for my writings and trainings on the Oracle PL/SQL language, having written ten books on the topic. I am also involved with the Refuser Solidarity Network (www.refusersolidary.net), which supports the Israeli refuser movement. For even more of me, check out www.stevenfeuerstein.comSteven Feuersteinhttp://www.blogger.com/profile/16619706770920320550noreply@blogger.comBlogger388125
Updated: 5 hours 5 min ago

Planet Hard Drive? Muddled nonsense from Scientific American

Thu, 2015-07-23 07:59
In the August 2015 issue of Scientific American, I came across an article titled "Planet Hard Drive", a "thought experiment" arguing that we can think of Earth as a kind of "hard drive" and "although Earth has an enormous capacity to store information, order is still rare....but the growth of order on Earth also stems from the production of cultural information."

The article is behind a paywall, so I cannot reproduce it here, but if you are a subscriber, here you go.

I find it generally hard to read SciAm these days, as well as many other scientific sources, because of the pervasive species-ism (humans unique, more important than all others) found sadly among scientists.

But this article was, I thought, a real disappointment, coming from SciAm. I sent this letter to the author:

Professor Hidalgo, 
I read your SciAm article with the above title, and I found it scientifically sloppy and offensively tone deaf, given the state of our planet today (specifically the threat of climate change and human-cause extinctions and species degradation). 
You might not read past that initial paragraph but if you do:
Scientifically Sloppy
I am all for interesting “thought experiments”, but it should have a reasonable amount of logical consistency. I think your experiment fails in this regard. 
Specifically, you talk about the growth of order on earth from production of cultural information.
This implies a clear net positive change in order due to our intensely “ordered” products. 
Yet previously, you recognized that there is order (lots of it) in living things. 
And that's where I see a very deep (specie-ist-driven) fallacy: to create our products humans destroy a vast amount of living things and therefore wipe out corresponding enormous amounts of order. 
Vast parts of the rainforest, extinction of entire species, degradation of the ocean, etc., etc., etc. - do you really think that if you even attempted to conceptualize the volume of order sacrificed to build iPhones, you could come out with a net positive growth in order?
I suppose it might be remotely possible - but you don’t even address this trade-off, making your argument incomplete and sloppy. I am very surprised that SciAm did not insist on a more rigorous treatment.
Sdaly, you seem to blithely accept that destruction of life on our planet in order to manifest our culture-as-thought as products. 
Which that brings me to…
Offensively Tone Deaf
Your insistence to see the entire world through a human filter and impose human paradigms onto the rest of the natural world is shocking, giving the growing awareness (especially among the most rational of us, like many scientists).“A tree, for example, is a computer”
“Objects of this kind [manufactured products] are particularly special.”
“Biological cells are finite computers”
“People are also limited, and we transcend our finite compuational capacities by forming social and professional networks.”“Special” “Transcend”
You use words that impute relentlessly positive values to human activity. 
Yet if you do not place humans “above” all others, you could at least say (my changes in bold):
“People are also limited, and we augment our finite compuational capacities by forming social and professional networks. A necessary consequence of this agumentation is the destruction of the computational capacities of billions of other living creatures.
At the very end of your muddled thought experiment, you finally hint at a bigger picture:“The resulting hyperconnected society will present our species with some of the most challenging ethical problems in human history.”Ah, ethics! Finally! Professor Hidalgo will now point out the grave price paid by our planet and co-inhabitants for human's desire for comfort and convenience, but....
No, no. For you, like way too many other humans, all that matters is the human species.“We could lose aspects of our humanity that some of us consider essential: for example, we might cheat death.”Now that would be a real ethical disaster (cheating death) - precisely because it mean accelerated devastation of our planet and non-humans.
But that doesn’t seem to even register in your thinking.
Categories: Development

A Lot To Listen To

Mon, 2015-07-20 06:40
A Lot To Listen To

Sometimes, if you're lucky,
there is nothing to hearbut the sound of the windblowing through trees.
Now you could say:"That's not much to listen to."Or you could listen...
Listento the rustling, hissing, whispering, sometimes angry soundof thousands of almost silent brushings of leaf against leaf,of feather-light taps of twig striking twig,any single act nothing to hear at allbut when the tree is big enoughand the leaves are numerous enoughand the branches reach out thinner and thinnerpoking out toward the suncarrying leaves to their destiny,
then you might be able to hearthe sound of the windblowing through trees.
It's a lot to listen to,if you can hear it.



Copyright 2015 Steven Feuerstein
Categories: Development

A natural born tree right in my own backyard!

Wed, 2015-06-17 06:33
As some of my readers may have noticed, I spend a lot of time these days among trees, paying attention to trees, cutting back invasive trees to save native trees, etc.

And one thing that I came to realize is that at least in an area like Chicagoland, humans tightly control the reproduction of trees. 
I live on a lovely tree-lined street. Big trees - 100 ft tall or more. Maples, oaks, ash....but there are no baby trees, except for smallish trees that the city plants when they have to remove diseased trees (such as all the ash trees, under assault from ash borers).
It makes me sad to think of how impoverished my immediate surroundings are, how unnatural. We don't even let trees - majestic living things that make our lives possible, that live through many of our own generations - live out natural life cycles. 
In fact, I have come to accept that trees planted singly along streets to enhance our lives are really just ornaments. If "a man is not an island" then certainly a tree is not a forest. And very few trees live naturally outside of forests of many, many trees.
Well, enough of sadness. Veva and I were sitting on our patio last week, enjoying the (finally) warm weather and our lovely garden (thanks to Veva), when she pointed out something truly wonderful:

Can you see it? We planted the birch trees years ago. They are now 40 feet tall, but nestled in between? A natural born baby birch tree! Can't see it? Here maybe this will help:

I feel so much better now. The (minimal) wildness of our garden (as in: no grass) made it possible for a birch seed to take hold and grow. A tree that humans did not plant and hopefully will allow to grow to maturity.
Humans love to debate things like "Do plants feel?" Of course, it is terribly difficult for us to imagine such a thing - because the way that plants would think and feel would be so different from us. So we will likely never really be able to answer the question.
Which means it would make a lot more sense to err on the side of caution and assume that trees and plants and creatures do feel, do think in their own way, do take joy in life.
And watching this natural born tree grow, it is certainly easy to believe that it is joyful. I sure am.


Categories: Development

The human being is the only animal that...

Sat, 2015-05-16 07:41
Last night, I decided to re-read Stumbling on Happiness, a book I'd discovered a few years ago and was (then) delighted with. 
I chose that over one of my (back then) favorite books of fiction, because I'd been thinking yesterday and how odd it is that lots of left-leaning humans are all upset about climate change and really pissed at their elected officials about their non-action on this literally world-changing issue at a time when radical action is necessary - yet they don't take radical action in their own lives.
It's pretty clear that politicians will not change direction (will not override the influence of the source of their funding), until their constituents demonstrate a deep desire for change, backed up by action.
Anyway, there I was wondering once again about humans and why we behave the way we do. And so I sought out some answers in SoH. After all, the renowned Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point, says right on the cover: "If you have even the slightest curiosity about the human condition, you ought to read it. Trust me."OK, so fine. If a person says "trust me", usually you want to run in the other direction. But hey....
So I started reading and soon found Daniel Gilbert talking about psychologists are expected sometime in their career to finish The Sentence that starts with "The human being is the only animal that..." and now it was his turn.
Exciting! And then he finished the sentence:"The human being is the only animal that thinks about the future."And then you know what I did?
I stopped the reading book - and tossed it into the recycle bin. Yep, I threw the book away. That's how much Gilbert disgusted me, right then and there.
Why? Because of all the things we know about the world and the way it "works", the one thing we can never know is what another animal - even another human - is actually, truly thinking
All we can know, all we can see, all we can measure, and then draw conclusions from, is how an animal manifests their thinking into the world.
Gilbert cites as one "proof" of his Sentence that squirrels will, ahem, squirrel away nuts in advance of winter even in places where they will then find, winter after winter, that nuts or other food remain abundant. 
Go, Gilbert, go! Apply a human frame of judgement onto other animals, sure, why not? Why not assume that means that squirrels don't think about the future, rather than saying: "Maybe they do think about the future and know that they cannot trust what the future will bring, because they are not willing to destroy forests to build houses to hide them from the vagaries of the future."
So I threw out the book, but that got me thinking about The Sentence. I thought I would offer my own variations on that statement and invite others to do the same. Here goes...
The human being is the only animal that:
  • creates garbage, including vast "islands" of plastic in the middle of our oceans
  • causes the extinction of entire species, year in and year out
  • poisons water, the source of all life on this planet
  • learns multiple languages
  • holds it in
And just to pre-empt some typical responses:
The human being is the not only animal that:
  • creates art - lots of birds do, too. Just check out nests of bowerbirds.
  • has a sense of right and wrong - black bears do, too. Just check out Among the Bears. Seriously: READ THIS BOOK.
  • uses tools - birds, chimpanzees and others repurpose stones, branches, etc. as tools
  • is altruistic - again, black bears, and even more so ants. Many species of ants are way more altruistic than humans.
So what can you think of that only a human does? And please don't tell me about your belief about internal states of mind. That's just an opinion. Tell me about what humans do.


Categories: Development