Something not to miss if/when you are near NYC

Edward Tufte is an extraordinary and very rare observer of our world.

I have learned a great deal from him, and recommend that if you are able to visit any of the following, or attend any of his lectures, GO.

The Work of Edward Tufte and Graphics Press.

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The disappearance of Flight 188. – By William Saletan – Slate Magazine

The pilots “forgot” that they were flying the airplane!

I saw that this had happened a short while ago. William Saletan has asked good questions about what happened here.

This inevitability was anticipated by an early joke of the computer era, about the world’s first fully automated flight, in which a the computer-generated recording announced, more or less, “Welcome to the world’s first computer-managed flight. You will enjoy a new world of comfort, conveniences, speed and safety on this flight. … Sit back and relax. Nothing can go wrong…can go wrong…can go wrong.”

The joke got the danger wrong. The problem is not malfunctioning computers. Nor is the problem malfunctioning people. People “malfunction” as an essential feature of our existential design, and our machines malfunction because we, imperfect and blind to our functioning, are their designers. On the other hand, our “malfunctioning” is the ground in which our freedoms are born, including what we call free will. Without malfunctioning, we have no invention, no new possibilities.

The danger is that the kind of beings we are is being redesigned by the tools and the world we have invented, and we are not observing what is happening.

This is an example of why I spoke so strongly against the metaphoric background that Jill Bolte Taylor spoke from in her poetic and inspiring TED Talk. When we are in the business of inventing what it is to be human and human futures, we should take care about what we are inventing.

Following the line of another joke, we should be careful that we do not end up where we are headed.

Tell me what you think.

Best,

Chauncey

Remembering Francisco Varela

Thanks to the passionate involvement with certain questions and communities of my wife Shirah and my friends Jon and Tova Ramer, I had the opportunity last week to visit with His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Bishop Desmond Tutu (at the Seeds of Compassion Event, in the company of a lot of other people).

Video feeds of the many parts of this extraordinary event are already available on the Internet. Go here. I particularly recommend the video of the morning of Tuesday April 15th. You have to scroll down in the window entitled, “EVENT GUIDE” to select it.

Francisco Varela, of blessed memory, “sat beside me” while I was there. I kept remembering him. Fernando Flores introduced me to Varela. As a scientific advisor to the Dalai Lama, Varela was instrumental in starting the fruitful exploration being supported by the Mind and Life Institute.

Here is Francisco talking about his life’s work:

“I guess I’ve had only one question all my life. Why do emergent selves, virtual identities, pop up all over the place creating worlds, whether at the mind/body level, the cellular level, or the transorganism level? This phenomenon is something so productive that it doesn’t cease creating entirely new realms: life, mind, and societies. Yet these emergent selves are based on processes so shifty, so ungrounded, that we have an apparent paradox between the solidity of what appears to show up and its groundlessness. That, to me, is a key and eternal question.

“As a consequence, I’m interested in the nervous system, cognitive science, and immunology, because they concern the processes that can answer the question of what biological identity is. How can you have some kind of identity that simultaneously allows you to know something, allows cells to configure their own relevant world, the immune system to generate the identity of our body in its own way, and the brain to be the basis for a mind, a cognitive identity? All these mechanisms share a common theme.”

And here he is speaking about his dream of a peaceful future of survival and dignity for everyone on the planet:

“If everybody would agree that their current reality is A reality, and that what we essentially share is our capacity for constructing a reality, then perhaps we could all agree on a meta-agreement for computing a reality that would mean survival and dignity for everyone on the planet, rather than each group being sold on a particular way of doing things.”

Argh, but we miss you, Francisco.