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Is Human evolution on-going?

May 14, 2013

The answer to the question of course depends on how you view evolution. The Jesuit philosopher, Tielhard de Chardin, has described the evolutionary  idea of the Omega Point as where the highest level of human consciousness and complexity would be achieved. To Tielhard this complexity or Noosphere, is the convergence of the evolution of matter into a geosphere, a biosphere, to human consciousness and then to a supreme consciousness called the Omega point. In some sense he believed that humankind would evolve into all- seeing and all-knowing angels. His radical theories were suppressed in his lifetime yet the meme lives on.


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The dream of a distant, perfect Omega point was also taken up by scientist Frank Tipler. Tipler’s take on the Omega Point is of a cosmological state where intelligent life takes over, within five million years or so, the entire universe. When the far future universe collapses he speculates, ‘according to the laws of physics’, that the computational power of the universe expands to infinity and that all earthly space-time worlds and individuals throughout time simulated with that combinatorial capacity will last forever as the universe achieves a solidarity point cosmological singularity. In other words eternal life throughout the cosmos for all those (on Earth) who have lived, are living and are yet to live.

It’s all pretty far out stuff and perhaps more logically based renowned engineer and science writer Ray Kurzweil has outlined his vision of singularity. According to Kurzweil, who drew on the work of legendary technocrat John Von Neumann and science fiction writer Vernor Vinge, the technological singularity is the emergence of super-intelligence through an on-going intelligence explosion. These super-intelligences will, like the famed Von Neumann machines, design successive generations of ever more powerful artificial intelligence minds that will, in the not too distant future, surpass that of human intelligence. It all sounds very reasonable on the face of it although some have accused him of bad science.

Kurzweil has also spoken of his belief that the human life span will increase to virtual eternal youth. It may sound far- fetched to say the least but this man was also involved with the development of beta level AI in the i-phone Siri voice recognition system so his technical credibility is not in question. The man has stated often of his belief he will live for hundreds of years or more. More power to him and perhaps he may help us all live longer in the end.

I have been inspired by some of these theories and ideas in my fiction, including my recently released (Hot Digital Books, 2013) novel Gaia Redux. Both Tippler and Kurzweil are technophiles and have limitless faith in the power and prestige of science and some of my characters are similarly inclined. Perhaps Kurzweil is right and longevity and the complexity of technology will increasingly expand like our own universe. I imagine that only a privileged elite will attain a greatly expanded life span by being in the position to purchase such required alterations as stem cell based organ replacement and treatment. Whether this shall lead to an acceleration of human evolution could be for future generations to experience and deal with. Meanwhile science writers of fact and fiction will continue to press the envelope of human possibility.

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How the NRA is cleverly exploiting a Texas sized inferiority complex

May 8, 2013

The NRA (the National Rifle Association) is currently holding a massive convention in Houston Texas and the rhetoric id truly frightening as it is no doubt meant to be. NRA Executive Vice-President President Wayne LA Pierre declared that the Boston bombing tragedy was somehow made worse because the gun laws are so restrictive in Massachusetts. This is a blatant untruth and he knows it but is in keeping with the on-going demagoguery that characterises an organisation which doesn’t know the meaning of compromise, rational thought or fairness, much less common human decency.

Another example of their sloganeering double-think is the mindless phrase ‘Guns save lives’. The opposite is true of course with those owning guns and people around them more likely through accident or design. Try telling that to media meisters like gun lovers LaPierre, former rock star Ted Nugent, and recent NRA President David Keene. He and his confederates have cleverly played into a Texas sized cultural inferiority complex regarding that state in relation particularly the US northeast, meaning New York, Washington D.C. and Boston.

A bit of history is in order. We are coming up to the 50th anniversary of the assassination of JFK. President Kennedy was killed by a Texan named Lee Harvey Oswald and replaced by a Texan named Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ). This post is not about any assassination conspiracy theory, it is about the psychology, in my view, of many Texans then and now and how this has been played on by unscrupulous gun freaks in Houston and elsewhere during the current gun control debate. LBJ was made to feel rather undervalued and isolated while Vice President and on the day JFK was killed Attorney General Bobby Kennedy (himself killed in 1968 after which there were also calls for gun control) was investigated a growing scandal involving LBJ protégé Billy Sol Estes. There were rumours LBJ was going to be dumped in the coming 1964 election although all that changed following his ascendency to the Presidency later that day on November 22, 1963.

Poor LBJ with only a teacher’s college education had felt looked down on and excluded by ‘the Harvards’ in the JFK cabinet like McGeorge Bundy and Kennedy himself. What does this have to do with the NRA gun convention? Well Texas has always fancied itself as a kind of semi-autonomous nation state ever since the famous last stand by Davey Crockett and Sam Houston and other honourary Texans at the Alamo when it was just that. Some of this cowboy mythology has seeped into the orgy of gun fetishism in Houston. For example, the slogan ‘stand and fight’ has been heard repeatedly and the old ‘Don’t tread on me’ American pre-revolutionary flag much in evidence. Texas politicians have been shrill in their support of all things guns and ammo.   As reported by Media Matters blogger Alexander Zaichik ‘Texas senator Ted Cruz drew a standing ovation and sent the “Don’t Tread on Me” flags waving when he promised to filibuster any gun bill to hit the Senate floor on his watch. Texas governor Rick Perry said something to the effect of loving guns and people with guns, but not liking people who hate guns’ He reminds me of former Texas governor and US President George w. Bush  who helped repeal the restrictions on assault rifles in 2004, only much worse.These guys never saw a gun they didn’t like and millions will die over time because of it. Counter to the false propaganda such talk is rapidly eroding America’s reputation as a land freedom and opportunity. This whole gun thang is well out of hand.  
There is something irrational and downright obscene in it all following the gun massacres in Sandy Hook Connecticut, Colorado, Texas and really every state in the union when you talk about cumulative gun deaths.
In Texas they may carry a big stick but just like LBJ (and I’m not taking away from his brilliant record as a lawmaker with ground breaking legislation concerning civil rights, public health care and much more while President from 1964-68) there is a feeling in the ‘everything’s big in Texas state that they don’t quite cut it academically or culturally. Hence the cutting words about the terrorist attack on Boston. A policeman was killed at the premier science institute of MIT so he was a good guy with a gun killed by a bad guy with a gun and every policeman shot is in the same category. That institution and Harvard have always been the object of envy and derision of many in the country and in particular the former civil war confederate states of the American south which includes Texas.
This reminds me of another LBJ related factoid that may or may not be relevant so here goes. One of the Johnson cabinet advisors on Vietnam, Walt Rostow, had been a professor at MIT before he left on leave to work on matters Vietnam and more in the Johnson administration. When his time was up there he found he was not welcome back at MIT and blamed the highly respected MIT linguist and anti-war activist Noam Chomsky for the fact he had to find work at the Texas Rice University. Chomsky retorted that Rice was a ‘perfectly fine university’ and Rostow held his tongue, no doubt concerned he could lose his position in Texas as well if he kept it up. The upshot of all this is that Texas is not known for its art or literature or music or really anything else but it is surely known for its oil, and yes, for its widespread gun ownership.
Once while I was growing up as an Australian in the US (incidentally a member of my family was a graduate of MIT, although no snobbery is meant, I like LBJ, was also a teachers college graduate) the family was travelling through Texas and we heard from a Texan family friend that a husband that shot and killed a man found in bed with his wife in his own home could be confident in getting acquitted of murder or really any other charge base on then recent court cases. I don’t know how much things have changed on the ground since the 60’s but I would say that rule of thumb would be even more applicable for this kind of determined killer.
The public face of the NRA, Wayne LaPierre, has stated over and over again like some demented mantra that ‘The only person that can stop a bad man with a gun is a good man with a gun’. What does he say about the five year old in Kentucky that killed his 3 year old sister or the much decorated US Army sniper killed on a shooting range by a fellow veteran he was trying to help adjust to civilian life? The truth is NRA fanatics such as LaPierre, NRA Endowment member Jeff Knox who resolves to reject “any and all” bills containing new gun regulations, the poster boy for assault rifles Ted Nugent, the seven-figure checks signed every year by Midway’s Larry Potterfield, the ammo and sporting goods mogul whose “round-up” campaigns have bolstered NRA-ILA coffers for 20 years are immune to even simple logic. They and their confederates (it is no coincidence that the red battleground states of the civil war are statistically the most supportive of unbridled gun ownership) and many others too numerous to count (apparently the NRA has increased membership to 5 million) are feeling cocky after the recent, shameless defeat of gun ownership registration in the US senate. President Barak Obama will have his hands full dealing with that lot and it seems there is a tinge of racism to a lot of what the NRA says and does and a case in point is the recent attack ad concerning Obama and his family having armed security on the dubious grounds that all schools should have them as well.
The NRA convention has also showcased the deadly wares of the guns and ammo industry. Smug representatives of these merchants of death like Larry Potterfield of Midway brag of how business is booming while making out seven-figure checks to this fear-mongering organisation. Apparently gun ownership has never been bigger or bolder and the future appears bright for any and all that want to own an assault rifle with a massive magazine clip.
I have written about corruption and autocratic rule in the private and public sector in my fiction and I’m afraid that the US seems to be turning into a kind of regressive garrison state although there are rich veins of sanity and excellence from Obama on down so I hope this trend abates or there is a miraculous cultural paradigm shift. Something has got to give and this rampant cognitive dissonance should not go on. Perhaps cooler heads will prevail.
 Criticising the NRA can be a rather dangerous occupation something I’m sure the secret service is well aware of. I made a few telling comments about the wilful distortion of the Second Amendment rights in the US Constitution and the role of wild eyes gun rights propagandists like Ted Nugent on the social media. There was some blow back with pictures of hunting parties turning up on my social media sites and if this was meant to scare me off if didn’t work although with that said I am happy to have a rational debate on matters gun control and ownership if that is in fact possible with these personalities.

Gaia Redux by David Byerlee, original book cover art

May 6, 2013

Gaia Redux by David Byerlee, original book cover art

I was an Alien!

May 6, 2013

Okay, as bit of clarification is needed here before I get taken in for examination by the Men in Black .. I was indeed an alien and have been on three separate occasions but only an alien, not in the E.T. sense, but in once being an international on a working visa in Japan the UK and in different circumstances (my father worked and still lives in the US and is now a naturalised American) in the US. Even so the subject of extra-terrestrial aliens is a fascinating one and will not go away any time soon.

An enthralling book, ‘Mutants and Mystics; science fiction, superhero comics and the paranormal’ by Jeffry J. Kripal, that deals with alien encounters in fact or fiction is one that I have discussed in an earlier post. In it the author speaks of mythomemes, such as the six limbed, Tantric goddess Kali who like the aliens in popular mythology and in the recorded interviews of abductees by the reputable Harvard scholar the late John E. Mack, can render her victims paralysed yet fully aware. Author Kripal also gives an account of his own experiences under the spell of this all powerful being Kali while in India. He goes on to point out similarities between the black almond-eyed Kali with various super heroes like Spider-Man and so on.

The book is engrossing and I would recommend it to all students of matters alien and UFO.He mentions the famous alien abductee case of Barney and Betty Hill. The author recounts how this married couple were abducted in September 1961 and later gave descriptions aliens with massive heads, insect-like eyes, ‘slits for mouths, and bluish grey or metallic skin’. Kripral speculates that although ‘Barney drew these eyes from within a hypnotic trance state: the sketch looks like a child’s drawing of Spider-Man’s head. Other pop-cultural sources cited the Cheshire cat in Alice in Wonderland as well as the sci-fi TV classics the Twilight Zone and the Outer Limits. The latter is a favourite of mine (I have ancient VHS commercial tapes of many of the Outer Limits episodes including the one mentioned here) and an episode, the Bellero Shield, which featured an alien with wraparound eyes, was aired just twelve days before Barney’s hypnosis session.    

Yes it is all very intriguing yet none of this would really interest most hard scientists in a real world way. Even sci-fi writer Arthur C. Clarke (who collaborated on the script for the classic 2001 a Space Odyssey) commented that on the day a UFO really lands and can be seen and recorded by many the topic  would be off his radar (which he worked on during War 2) so to speak. Even his wife Betty asked him if he had been watching the Twilight Zone when he first witnessed the apparition in the sky through binoculars.

 With respect to UFO’s I would also agree with the wild eyed Dr Timothy Leary whom commented before his death in 1996, ‘I can’t believe that aliens would travel countless light years to abduct some elderly lady in Kansas. Now the good Doctor was known to have created more than a few mythologies of his own but I would concur with the adage that extraordinary beliefs or theories should be backed up by extraordinary evidence. So far that evidence has been scant despite such alleged sightings of a massive ‘Independence Day’ scale UFO over Arizona but no less than a former Governor of that state. Even former US President Jimmy Carter has reported a UFO sighting and while the craze was well and truly in high gear in the 1960’s I thought I saw one in the US state of Maryland. I’ve seen nothing like that since and I’m sure now it was a light aircraft with blinking lights. 

It could well be that my direct exposure to American life and culture has informed my work (my science fiction novel ‘Gaia Redux’ was published only weeks ago by Hot Digital Books) and my world view. Considering the potency of US pop culture from the Simpsons to surfing I am only one of a multitude in this respect.

Whatever happens I’m sure our modern mythologists, the science fiction writers and movie directors will keep on milking this mythomeme for what it is worth and I think that is perfectly legitimate. After all it’s only a movie, a book or a comic book until the real thing arrives, although I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting.Until then we can enjoy this mythomeme vicariously.  

A conflict between the economy and the environment

May 1, 2013

This is a hot topic in our present day society. The political arguments about the carbon tax have gone back and forth here in Australia for the last two years has shown no signs of winding down. When it comes to jobs and the economy opponents of any tax or cost with respect to the environment have a potent case that can sway voters and change governments. Al Gore who himself is no stranger to political shenanigans has spoken and written on this topic eloquently through books such as ‘The Tipping Point’ and the film ‘An inconvenient truth’. That the world has been facing a crisis in sustainable development and consumption is not news although actually doing something about it has proven more problematic to say the least.

We can all make a difference and we can begin by reducing waste. When I was working in Japan as a teacher of English I was part of an environmental group that endeavoured to urge Tokyo residents to recycle and reuse. I must admit it was a hard sell in that many Japanese considered the purchase of new household items, electronics and cars to be good for the economy. We here in Australia are not far from that view now in that where once an average person would get something repaired the contemporary solution is to replace it with something new. Certain items are now so cheap such replacement is conventional wisdom. This does have unintended consequences. For example the ultra- inexpensive clothes you and I buy at places like K Mart are more often than not made by what amounts to slave labour working in appalling conditions. The recent fire that claimed hundreds of lives in a clothing factory in Bangladesh is testimony to that. Similarly electronic goods such I-phones and laptop computers are commonly assembled by poorly paid workers in Asia and in the undeveloped world generally. Perhaps paying a little bit more would be the humane way to go. Also along those lines saving energy is beneficial to the planet so car- pooling and spending less time in the shower could be a start.

The super- rich lifestyle can only last so long and by some estimates we need or shall soon need multiple planet earths to just keep up. Each individual can make a contribution here and I certainly intend to do so. Not doing so doesn’t bear thinking about with respect to future generations.      .

Ten Interview Questions with writer David Byerlee for The Next Big Thing

October 30, 2012

Q: What is the working title of your book?

A: The working title is Gaia Redux.

Q: Where did the idea come from for the book?

A: Gaia was the name of the ancient Greek goddess of the Earth and the scientist James Lovelock has used that term Gaia for his philosophy about the earth being interconnected through its geology, biomass and atmosphere. In that sense he sees the world as being like a living organism in its own right. The Gaia philosophy or hypothesis has inspired me and is part of the narrative. Redux means brought back, restored or returned. Both words are often used literature and film.

Q: What genre does your book fall under?

A: The genre is Speculative writing although terms like Science Fiction or SF could be used. This could also be called New Age Millennial fiction, a term I came up with, although Speculative fiction is fine.

Q: Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

A: Some of the Actors I would like to see in a Gaia Redux movie would be Russell Crowe, Sam Waterson, Jennifer Lawrence, and others.

Q: What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

A: In a post- apocalyptic world survivors have managed to salvage the DNA, seedlings and offspring of a wide variety of species and are seeking to create a better world here and in the cosmos.

Q: Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I have just signed a contract with the publishing company Julia Sophistique Pty Ltd to publish my book as an eBook in the next year. This company will  present my book in trade shows as well as seeking further contracts  for other formats of publishing or movie rights through negotiation.

Q: How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

A: I wrote the first draft some years ago and one part was published as a short story in Japan in the 1990s. This short story, ‘Precursors’, can be downloaded on my website: http://davidjamesbwriter.com

I have revisited the novel recently and have updated it to suit our 21st century reality and the challenges ahead. I feel that Gaia Redux is a novel of our times even though it is set in the future.

Q: What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

A: I like the works of Robert A. Heinlein who wrote Stranger in a Strange Land as well as the Speculative fiction novels of Margaret Attwood who wrote Oryx and Crake both of whom discussed alternate identities and environments in future worlds. The film Avatar resonates in terms of the look and feel of my narrative Gaia Redux , although some it (in its previous incarnation) was written well before the film came out. There are some aspects of the Twilight series that resonate with Gaia Redux as well. That said I feel that Gaia Redux is unique and stands apart from other works of Speculative fiction and I imagine many writers feel the same way about their work.

Q: Who or What inspired you to write this book?

A: My father was a leading Earth scientist who specialised in Earthquakes and volcanoes, so to a great extent, I was inspired by his example and his work.  While writing the novel I was also inspired by the revolutionary and controversial scientific work of James Lovelock, who came up with the Gaia hypothesis as mentioned.

Q: What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

A: My book creates an alternative world, a kind of mirror world of what we could be like and how we may be living in the future. I have tried to give some idea of how humankind might deal with environmental collapse and how a new, positive society could be created out of the ashes. Much of this is expressed through the characters and my goal was to have readers care about them and their situation. I believe the ultimate future of the world lies in Off World environments and that our rapidly advancing science and technology can make this happen in real time, give or take a century or two.

The Pyramids of Giza should not be destroyed or covered up!

October 25, 2012

The great pyramids of Giza are tremendous examples of human ingenuity and perseverance and their very existence is being debated in the Islamic world. To think that these priceless heritage sites, which are the closest to man-made mountains the ancient world has ever produced, could well be destroyed by Islamic fanatics is sadly unsurprising considering the trashing of a number of other temples, statues and heritage sites throughout the Islamic world in recent years and decades. Some of the more moderate extremists, if I can put it that way, have suggested covering these pyramids in wax to conceal their mystery and beauty. The image of that would be comical if it weren’t so tragically plausible under the circumstances.

I wrote this post because I think it important to protest any such move and in an effort to rally support for resistance to such destruction. Additionally, during vacation from teaching in London, I once visited the Pyramids of Giza around the first anniversary of 9/11and was amazed to find I was the only tourist around. I contemplated this as I sat on a camel and was led by a loquacious Egyptian who was happy to tell me about the Sphinx and those magnificent pyramids. It occurred to me that if I had shared the space with, say a bus load of Israeli Egyptologists, then the outcome could have been very much different.

I survived that experience and the memory shall stay with me forever, yet how long will scholars and tourists alike have to walk the lands of the Pharaohs and witness first hand these miracles in stone produced at great cost in blood and treasure? Unfortunately radical Islam does not believe in culture as such or certainly gives little or no respect to cultures outside Islam. It is said that the great Library of Alexandria was put to the torch and the Sphinx de-nosed by raiding Arabic Muslims in the 7th century. The Muslim Brotherhood president of Egypt has been urged to take on this agenda of destruction of such ‘relics of antiquity’.

The feeling about is that modern technology could achieve what the Muslim prophet’s companion Amr bin al-As and his Arabian tribesmen who invaded and conquered Egypt around 641 could not, through a quick demolition of these massive pyramids. It would be a case of Islamic cultural vandalism on a scale not seen before.

Even the legendary and highly influential Egyptian Egyptologist,  Dr Hawass, may not be able to stop such horrific vandalism. Hopefully the fanatics on the ground  in Egypt and the rest of the Islamic world can be persuaded that an increasingly impoverished Egypt can ill afford to have such iconic national treasures wiped out with the press of a button. Many voices will be needed to thwart such a defiant and diabolical act of destruction. Make no mistake, this action is political rather than religious, and the very notion of destroying the Pyramids and more is an example of intimidation and muscle flexing in the Land of the Pharaohs as well as on a global scale.