Billionaire man

What would you do if you had a billion pounds?

Would you follow the technological dream of science and the colonial dream of new physical horizons, and fund a space program to take humanity another step down this road that has supposedly served us so well for hundreds of years – exploitation of supposedly virgin lands, ignorant of the life that is there? Become so convinced of the magnificence of your own ego and exceptionality, that you insist on being one of the first to go into space? Even model your spacecraft to resemble a large penis as you exhibit your contempt for lesser humans?

Or would you do something to help repair the earth and nature that has been ravaged by that technological/colonial dream, to the degree that our ecosystem is now under extreme threat, both in its loss of biodiversity, in its drowning in its own pollution, in the breakdown of its long-stable climate – all effects which have been made worse by you and your like, the rich and powerful extracting money from ‘the system’ to a degree that is surely obscene and has deprived the public purse everywhere of the means to ensure a decent life and environment for all, even undermining the democratic systems that of course put limits on your individual power.

Psychologically, the first path is chosen in humanity’s adolescence, the creation of ego that we all go through. Some appear to remain arrested at this increasingly narcissistic stage – ageing egos going in a circle of their multiple houses, yachts, private jets, exclusive parties, security obsession, separation from the masses. 

But modern psychological knowledge means we now know that this ego process is just the first stage of our development, as we grow to maturity, transcend our individual ego concerns and becoming co-operating adults and gradually becoming wiser and more spiritual. Our concern is wider than the individual; it is the good of the whole and all its parts.

Of course, this is also the perspective that will enable us to address all those problems that we have created in the world around us. Restoration of our living ecosystem becomes of paramount importance, the space ego trip seems somehow irrelevant. Not that we should not have more space programs, but that they are hardly today’s top priority.

So what would you do with your billion? And if you had more than one billion, why? What a weight of responsibility to have so much money, the weight of so much of the earth on your own shoulders? What on earth would you do, and why?

The ideas came to me after reading Prof Tim Jackson’s excellent post on The Billionaire space race; the ultimate symbol of capitalism’s flawed obsession with growth. Do read it.

Featured image is of Mars by NASA, from Tim’s post.

Mapping the Universe

I love Mekhi and Joe’s posts on physics on the blog Rationalising the Universe, which brings me more up to date on the enthusiasms for mathematics, physics and cosmology of my youth. But I had to take issue with the conclusion of the recent interesting post on What is a Field, which ended with the following statement:

There we have it, space is no longer a separate entity, space is a field and the universe now consists of fields and particles alone.

That’s exciting. Newton set the ball rolling on mathematical models of the universe, and the current mathematical model of the universe has now simplified to just fields and particles.

But look at the statement again. It says “the universe now consists of…”. Well actually it doesn’t, and I suggest that we still have little idea of ‘what the universe consists of’. But we do have a great model that explains what we see and can measure in a reasonably consistent manner.

The point is

“The map is not the territory”

Alfred Korzybski, 1931

Featured image from the blog Rationalising the Universe

Reality and consciousness

NASA image of Earth

The space programme of the 1960s and 1970s had a profound effect on the psyche of its astronauts, and indeed upon us all. For the first time we could really see the beauty, the wholeness and yet the vulnerability of our planet.

Ed Mitchell, astronaut

I first became aware of Edgar (Ed) Mitchell as an astronaut, the sixth man to walk on the moon as part of the NASA mission Apollo 14 in February 1971. That experience changed his whole perspective on life, as reported by Cassandra Vieten in a recent ‘in memoriam’ following his death in 2014. Contemplating the earth and its history from space, he ‘was engulfed by a profound sense of universal connectedness’.

“I realized that the story of ourselves as told by science—our cosmology, our religion— was incomplete and likely flawed. I recognized that the Newtonian idea of separate, independent, discreet things in the universe wasn’t a fully accurate description. What was needed was a new story of who we are and what we are capable of becoming.”

As a scientist and engineer, Mitchell had grown accustomed to directing his attention to the objective world “out there.” But this experience from space had a profound effect.

“My understanding of the distinct separateness and relative independence of movement of those cosmic bodies was shattered. I was overwhelmed with the sensation of physically and mentally extending out into the cosmos. The restraints and boundaries of flesh and bone fell away…”

This experience led him to the idea that ‘reality is more complex, subtle, and mysterious than explained by conventional science, and a deeper understanding of consciousness was needed’.

After retiring from NASA in 1972, Mitchell founded the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS), which aimed to sponsor research into the nature of consciousness. I first became aware of IONS maybe 20 years ago and was delighted to find an organisation in the US which had a similar breadth of interest on the boundaries between science and consciousness as that I had earlier found in the UK through the Scientific & Medical Network.

Being essentially UK based I have only admired the work of IONS from afar, but the organisation is clearly still going strong and has achieved much over more than 40 years since its foundation. For more detail on just how influential Ed Mitchell and IONS have been over the years, I recommend you read Cassandra Vieten’s words in full.

The study of, and hence truer understanding of, consciousness will result in profound change to our world.

Pictures courtesy of NASA