Sometimes the natural colors on this planet simply astound me. Nowhere else in our solar system do we have such fantastically rich visual diversity.
It is my hope that by the end of this essay you will look to the sky and see airplanes a bit differently than you do now. It is my hope that by the end of this essay you will hear the roaring hiss of a jet engine and look up with a new sense of admiration for who you are.
I’ve watched thousands of airplanes fly over me. I’ve flown in hundreds of them. I’ve watched the earth float by beneath me, studied how these machines work their magic, how humans build their wings, and how pilots master their controls. I’ve even been lucky enough to pilot one myself.
But when I hear one going by, no matter what I’m doing, I still stop and tilt my head to the sky with a childish sense of wonder and watch this mechanical work of art float past (a rather dangerous distraction when I’m driving; I’ve lost a hat this way).
On several occasions in the past few months I’ve found myself on the beach, gazing at the birds and watching as they glide across the ocean. Seconds later I’m presented with the opportunity to observe a similar bird, this time a manmade one, its shiny metal body and heavy engines pushing itself across the sky.
How are these manmade creatures of flight different from those found in nature? They’re both built for the same task: to fly, to temporarily defeat gravity and make use of an invisible force, to float through an invisible landscape.
The natural creature is certainly the more elegant and it’s far more attune with its surroundings. While it blends into the landscape and reacts to the flowing currents of air, its clumsy mechanical counterpart pummels through with sheer force, relying solely on the most basic and most fundamental principals to stay aloft.
One creature was created by nature, the other was created by us, a creation by a creation, a new species of flying creatures designed, engineered, and built entirely by humans. We saw birds flying through the air and we wanted to experience that flow, to obtain that mobility.
For thousands of years we tried manufacturing feathers. We tried making ourselves as light as possible. We tried jumping off cliffs and making contraptions that seemed to mimic the wings in nature.
Everything failed and many lives were lost, but we continued building, testing, risking, and experimenting.
As we began to understand the invisible landscape, we learned to combine visible shapes with invisible forces. We manufactured structures from whatever materials were available and even began inventing and shaping materials that didn’t exist naturally.
Elegance wasn’t nearly as important as function. What mattered was obtaining flight. And so we took to the skies in birds made of wood and metal, eventually refining our models and smoothing our designs.
When I look to the sky now and I see an airplane flying over me, what I see is an example of what it means to be human, that innate desire we all possess to recreate the things we hold with respect and admiration, that need to prove to ourselves and to others that nothing is beyond our ability.
We create because that’s who we are. We live our lives making choices and decisions based on hopes and dreams because we believe. We believe that even the remote possibility is entirely possible, that despite all the odds, the impossible is only two steps away from possible.
To create, to turn thought into action, to push and fight and struggle against all logical reason and bring life to visions and ideas, to shape hopes and dreams into tangible moments of reality and string them together one by one, to learn how to fly when we were born to walk, that is what it means to be human.
Lynn Fang explores the intersection of science and spirituality and in her latest letter, The Living Universe, she writes about her experience discovering a connection to the universe.
For all the observing we have to do, we are quite limited by our 5 senses. These detect only a limited range within the wide spectrum of electromagnetic frequencies. Even if we create devices to detect other frequencies, they are limited by our own consciousness. It's true that no human being has had an experience outside his or her own consciousness, her own mental, intuitive experience. The only objectivity we know is that of our mental perception.
I've begun to see the world around me as totally alive and interconnected. I am related to the trees, the grass, the birds, the rocks, minerals, mountains, and water. We are all made of the same things and we come from the same source. We have evolved to this degree of complexity.
If everything is alive, then the Earth has a sentient voice. The oceans are conscious, the forests are aware, the grass is listening, the flowers are smiling, the animals are playing. My thoughts are alive, as are those of the trees, birds, bugs, and shrubs.
Everything is energy, all information is energy. I open myself to the energy around me, and I sense that when I send love and gratitude to the trees, they light up ever so slightly and send it back to me. The birds are aware of my presence, the dogs respond to the energy I offer.
When I look up at the night sky, I feel as though I am seen. I remember that even though I see darkness, beyond my visual perception there are stars that fill every pocket of darkness. If we could exist on this little blue marble planet, then what life might be possible out there in other star systems? The ones we can't see? The ones on the other side of the Universe? How can this Universe not be alive?
I can relate with Lynn's words on so many levels. Just earlier this evening I was walking on the beach in Florida during sunset, feeling intricately connected to the pink clouds in the distance, the endless ocean, the birds riding the wind above me.
When the sun disappeared behind the horizon and the stars emerged, I spent nearly an hour just gazing at them, allowing myself to feel the sense of scale and the sense of absolute oneness with everything my eyes soaked in. We are one with everything.
In The Next 50 Years: Why I’m Optimistic Because Everything Will Be Terrible, science fiction writer John Shirley talks about where we are now and where we're headed.
It's worth remembering that he is a science fiction writer, so there's a lot he talks about in this article that I feel is a bit "out there" (or at least several hundred years off), but the highlighted points below stood out as particularly thought-provoking.
I believe in the power of human good and in natures ability to find natural ways of correcting imbalances, but I also feel that our growing mastery over the elements and our growing usage of technology is tampering with those natural checks and balances; we're putting more responsibility in our hands without actually accepting the responsibility.
Addiction to social media, videogames, cell phones and the internet is now a recognized phenomena and that has implications for our relationship to future tech. Because its addictive capacity will only increase as its experiential quality improves.
It's strange—most of our technology is about extending our reach... but paradoxically, we're in danger of a relationship to technology that actually cuts us off from one another. Cartoonists already caricature families who sit together talking to everyone but each other on their plethora of devices...
The real singularity will be simply an unprecedented cybernetic intelligence explosion to many orders of magnitude, combined with astronomically improved interactivity—but the Kurzweilian singularity that allows us to interface with machines until, in his words, "there will be no distinction between human and machine" , will not come about sustainably because the psychological and social consequences would be so dire.
People who are quadroplegic have noted that they feel less emotion than they did, when they could still feel their entire bodies. The projection of the self into electronics reduces our relationship to the body, the seat of our emotions, and for several reasons that might lead to an increase in psychopathology.
And empathy may be a precious commodity in the future. Most people unconsciously cut off their empathy when they're feeling endangered — when the population increases to 8 and 9 and 10 billion, we may instinctively become, as a race, proportionately less empathetic — unless, with self-observation and cognitive therapy, we actively struggle against that kind of degeneracy.
Mastery of technology must include acknowledgement of its dark side. Mastery of technology means accepting of limitations. Limitations have value, eg limiting electricity to what will work for a particular power line means electrical flow isn't wasted. Water is good; a flood usually isn't. Technology too needs limits.
An invention which pollutes is only partly invented. And a lot of the time we rush into technology so quickly we don't realize it's going to pollute... It was recently discovered that every time a garment made from synthetic fabric goes through the wash, it lets go of thousands of tiny plastic fibers which end up fouling coastal environments throughout the globe. No one expected that. No one thought that form of manufacture through.
It's time for a new philosophy of technology—one that acknowledges its dark side and thinks pro actively about the consequences of new technology so that technology can be tweaked and negative consequences prepared for. Technology needs to evolve a conscience.
Only world government — not an autocratic one, but a world governance committed to human rights, the rights of women (which are integral to population control), and environmental justice — can deal with the kinds of international crises that will arise in an environmentally stricken and overpopulated world. World government will not mean anyone gives up their culture, except the bits that reject human rights; it will not be a great gray conformity; there will still be at least as much national sovereignty, for most issues, as states in Europe have in the EU — and remember that the EU, a fuzzy foreshadowing of world government, is in a very early stage. It's having problems, and that was inevitable as it's still evolving. But it does have the right idea. Toward the end of the 21st century the world will move toward a framework of consensus, on some basic rules regarding population growth, the environment, and access to technology. Empowering third world people with education and technology will give them a step toward the resources and coping ability they'll need to survive.
I believe we'll achieve a collective progressive consciousness as a result of the revelatory shocks we'll endure in the next fifty years. We'll learn... we'll come to understand that we can't treat Spaceship Earth as a party cruise ship.
A whisper, “look!” In the flow, we go; traversing the land, not separate, but in sync, in silence. Step. Thought. Step. No thought. We exist, woven by time into the fabric of now. In fields of gold we lie, on a plateau, greeted by acrobats of the sky. An oasis, an adventure, a walk beside the mountain. In the breeze, between the trees, in the green valley caressed by the sea, we sit.
A whisper, “there!” Time frozen. Beauty, an earthly embrace shared not by two, but three! On a hair of grass, in the wind, motionless, a hummingbird floats. A heartbeat, its wings move like magic and we smile. In the moment, in the beauty of the present, there is no ‘other’, no separation, no tomorrow, only now, only ‘one’. Together.
Last week my nephew celebrated his first birthday and over the weekend I attended two birthday parties for him. I watched as he opened numerous presents and found himself surrounded with more toys than he could possibly know what to do with.
He played with each toy for a few moments until he seemed to become so overwhelmed by everything around him that he reached up for his mother (my sister) with open arms. The abundance was too much. He just wanted simplicity.
It was easier to return to the familiar comfort of his mothers' arms than it was to indulge in the excess of toys surrounding him.
I realized that like my nephew being surrounded with toys, we often surround ourselves with more than we know what to do with and, as a result, we become physically and psychologically overloaded.
Stress, feelings of isolation, boredom, a missing sense of purpose and direction, confusion, self-doubt, a lack of enthusiasm -- all of these are evidence of living with more than we can handle. Continue reading
Are you a dreamer? Do you frequently find yourself gazing off into the distance getting lost in a world of "What If"?
Back to work. You can't daydream forever.
But what if you could? What if you had the freedom to daydream when you felt like daydreaming? To work when you felt like working?
Humans aren't supposed to spend their days in office buildings. We're not supposed to spend large amounts of time moving ourselves from one place to another in giant hunks of metal while our bodies slowly deteriorate and our relationships slowly fade.
We're not supposed to spend gargantuan amounts of time plopped down in front of electronic devices moving our fingers and eyelids, absorbing radiation, and spending more waking time in the virtual world than in the real one.
We not supposed to arrive at home and focus our attention on a box that has been pre-programmed to brainwash us while simultaneously allowing our bodies to atrophy. Continue reading
Is it right to feel, while I'm driving to work one sunny seventy-degree day, a sense of envy upon seeing two Canadian geese grazing in the grass? Am I really so sick of being indoors that I feel envious of wild animals? I have all the power to change my lifestyle -- is my sense of responsibility preventing me from taking action? Surely there is more to life than sitting in front of an electronic device, moving around bits of electrons, and solving problems that, in the grand scale of things, mean absolutely nothing.
As of late, life has felt like the pages of a book in the hands of a speed-reader -- a speed-reader with only 10% comprehension. I've been focusing solely on my changing duties at work while trying to maintain a daily workout routine and get a healthy amount of sleep. It feels as though I have neither the time nor the energy (and maybe not even the motivation) for anything else.
I've been making it a goal to get away from the computer as much as possible on the weekends to fill my love for the outdoors and relax. During the week, the three hour daily commute to and from work seems to suck away any available time I might otherwise have for writing and learning new things. To fulfill one of my goals for 2009, I've also been trying to set aside time after work for light socializing. Still, I feel like I'm missing the entire day; like time is moving on without me while I'm stuck in a pool of molasses wondering why.