Flight

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“Man must rise above the Earth — to the top of the atmosphere and beyond — for only thus will he fully understand the world in which he lives.” -Socrates

“Within all of us is a varying amount of space lint and star dust, the residue from our creation. Most are too busy to notice it, and it is stronger in some than others. It is strongest in those of us who fly and is responsible for an unconscious, subtle desire to slip into some wings and try for the elusive boundaries of our origin.” -K.O. Eckland

“I fly because it releases my mind from the tyranny of petty things…” -Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

“To put your life in danger from time to time… breeds a saneness in dealing with day-to-day trivialities.” -Nevil Shute

“That this tiny two-seater box of metal managed to rise into the air at all felt unbelievable. Once we broke ground, it seemed as if I were floating on a magic carpet… When I took over the controls, I felt as if I were at the center of my universe instead of orbiting someone else’s. I felt then, and still believe now, that piloting a small aircraft is about as good as it gets.” -Barbara Rowell

“The engine is the heart of an aeroplane, but the pilot is its soul.” -Walter Alexander Raleigh

“When I’m up in the air, it’s like I’m closer to heaven; I can’t explain the feeling.” -First Officer Jeffrey Gagliano

If I had felt the ability to handle an aircraft on my own before doing astrophysics, I might have opted out on the pursuit of multiple degrees in science and theology… But I suppose it is good that that did not happen, because it is relatively clear to me now that there is not a good career as a pilot (unless, maybe you are a test pilot).

Flying is definitely the most empowering and liberating day-to-day experience. To be a good pilot, you must completely forget about yourself and lose yourself to become a “useful part” of the airplane. For me, I was so terrified of flying a small plane for awhile that I could not accomplish the goal of losing myself, I just kept thinking about my fear and about how I was incapable and how ridiculous FAA Part 141 standards are. But when you do feel comfortable with the airplane and comfortable flying it alone, there is a feeling of the airplane needing you, and you needing it back- to escape the earth, to escape yourself, to escape into the sky.

When I did my cross country solo flights, afterward I felt that I could accomplish anything- that if I could fly a piece of technology across hundreds of miles alone, away from the bounds of gravity that have kept human beings on the ground for hundreds of thousands of years, that I could go anywhere, that I could do anything. It was the first time that I felt that flying to space is probably not even that big of a deal at all.

I see flying as a merger of religion and science in some allusive way. It is a religion because you have to lose yourself to become a part of something bigger -the airplane- and in doing so, you create a technological extension of yourself in a truly miraculous way. And it is a science of course because you need to have some understanding of how the technology and mechanics and physics of it works and you need to treat all of your actions in a very procedural, rigorous, scientific way. Part 141 flight is very useful for a scientist because it reiterates the scientific critical mindset in a very demanding way. You need to be very critical of every action you take in flight – in every situation in the air you must ask yourself- am I 100% certain that this action is the correct action to take? If not, you could be risking your life or someone else’s. And that’s what’s glorious about it- it’s probably the only time you can feel truly alive because at any moment, there is the possibility of a horrible death that splinters your flesh with metal. And of course, being amongst the clouds and seeing the earth and ocean from thousands of feet in the sky is truly heavenly.

But despite these thrills and allures and the spiritual uplift of flight, a career as a pilot seems to be very rough on the mind and body. I had entertained the idea of a career as a pilot a few times on and off because I love to travel and I love to fly and I love to see the stars and earth from the plane. Seeing the buildings and roads and houses and cars and people become specks is very comforting to me- to leave all the frustrations of the earth in the dust like they never mattered is so satisfying and so addicting. But now that I know about half a dozen people who spent several years pursuing flight ratings and their dream of being a pilot just to immediately quit their job as an airline pilot because of how horrible it turned out to be, I don’t think it would be smart to pursue it other than for fun and for entertaining the joke of astronaut candidacy as a woman (only 60 women in human history have ever been to space!) I’ve talked to people in the private jet industry – get paid to fly an incredible private jet to exotic places where the millionaire jet owner pays for your luxury hotels? Um, yes! – but it seems that typically said millionaire will treat you like a servant and demand demeaning assistant tasks of you despite your years and years of flight training.

I kind of have an inside perspective on aviation. I now work at a flight testbed at an airport and my understanding from the pilots and test pilots there is that commercial aircraft are already perfectly automated. There is no need for a pilot whatsoever- the pilot is the aircraft babysitter in a commercial aircraft. In fact, if you fly regularly in commercial aircraft, some of the landings were probably automated. But in a small plane, nothing is automated, you do all the work or “hand flying” and I think that’s the only way it can be satisfying and exciting and fun. But people will never get in a commercial aircraft without a human pilot and so there will always be someone forced to sit there and be shipped off to some random location. In our lifetimes it might be reduced to one pilot per commercial aircraft instead of two. But just from what my body is telling me from the draining exhaustion of several hours of consecutive flight training and the draining exhaustion of cabin pressure in a commercial plane- I don’t think it is healthy to be in an airplane for extremely extensive periods.. And some research backs this by claiming that airline pilots tend to die as soon as they retire. So I don’t think we should make people who love to fly because it is spiritually uplifting die in commercial aircraft. We should embrace automated aircraft.

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The Post-Fact Era

“Oh, tell me who was it first announced, who was it first proclaimed, that man only does nasty things because he does not know his own interests; and that if he were enlightened, if his eyes were opened to his real normal interests, man would at once cease to do nasty things, would at once become good and noble because, being enlightened and understanding his real advantage, he would see his own advantage in the good and nothing else?” -Fyodor Dostoevsky

“The best way to escape from a problem is to solve it.” -Brendan Francis

I feel a need to write something on the era of irrationalism that we now face. As a public educator, I knew that there were a lot of people that were generally not rational- countless religious rebuttals against my scientific explanation of the universe and constant questions about rumors circulating on the internet like that of an asteroid about to hit earth were common when I educated the public. But I liked to think that most people were not irrational and that with an increasingly technological and google-able world of infinite knowledge at our fingertips, that I didn’t have to worry about the rationalism of the world. But it seems that optimism had wronged me.

I thought that teaching science was teaching individuals how to be rational-thinking citizens. Now I know that you can’t truly teach an individual anything- especially not rationalism. I cannot teach a student not to believe the rumors on the internet or to not blindly accept their parent’s religious beliefs or any belief or claim for that matter. And that is why there are still fundamentalist Christian astrophysicists. Rationalism can only come from within. How we can foster that I truly do not know.

In my limited political understanding, the electoral college system was put in place to prevent Americans from electing 50 Cent as president (actually 50 Cent as president would be way better), in other words, to save us from a fundamentally irrationally governed society. Likewise, government exists because the mass populace “mob” cannot be trusted to know what is the right thing to do, so we need educated, wise, informed, elected officials to make decisions for us. Now the people governing the nation are less educated and less informed and less wise than a large percentage of it’s citizens. It’s like a reversal of government! We now live in an era where democracy and politics do not exist, and instead, chaos, confusion, and non-fact, irrational discussion abound. Horrifyingly, we have a large chunk of the populace that is ok with being racist, anti-environment, and anti-woman. We see now that America is fundamentally irrational- middle class people, fighting against elitism, thought that a billionaire elitist (with no experience in government or in helping people) would help them. And so now, the unhinged leader of the western world can say or tweet anything and call it a fact. Welcome to the Post-Fact Era.

The problem for me is that it was already so hard interviewing for all-male companies and being the only female in the room and constantly facing being ignored, discredited, humiliated, and treated with inferiority. And now it is harder and will continue to be harder. It is clear that the “white walkers” voted so that they would have permission to treat people with the cruelty of racism and sexism. Now people have permission to treat women with as much sexism as they want because the president, the role-model of the country, thinks that his daughter is “a piece of ass.”

A great discussion of this election with mostly non-bias is on The Partially Examined Life: http://www.partiallyexaminedlife.com/2017/01/16/ep156-1-philosophy-politics/

Many people voted for Trump because they think doing so supports the idea that anyone can be anything in America. Anyone can rise to the top. Anyone can be president. You don’t have to work hard in a particular field or go to Harvard. But it’s not true. Anyone cannot be anything. Rising to the top of anything has a lot to do with timing, with luck, with connections, and of course with money. And thus, while many individuals are skilled and talented and hard working, luck, timing, connections, and money aren’t going to align for all of those individuals. However, it seems clear now that money is all that’s needed to rise to the top because the president of the United States simply bought his presidency. “The ideals of modern democracy – the equality of social conditions and individual empowerment – have never been more popular. But they have become more and more difficult, if not impossible, to actually realise in the grotesquely unequal societies created by our brand of globalised capitalism” (Pankaj Mishra). We don’t just live in a capitalist society, we live in a market society- everything is for sale. (And if you don’t think so, well, if you spend your free time on social media, social media sold your free time for billions of dollars and you didn’t even get paid). And if everything is for sale, then there will never be equality. There are too many people and too few opportunities and too much of society driven by dollar and only dollar for equality to exist. We want liberty, equality, and prosperity, but we cannot because we are imprisoned by money and leaders and political motives. Capitalism can only give a delusion of an equality just out of grasp. And so now the ideals of modern democracy are shattered because democracy is shattered- millions of votes truly didn’t count. But what is truly disheartening is that a woman who spent 70 years working towards her dream, who not only had the experience and skill but also had the connections, luck, timing, and money, somehow fell short of realizing her dream. In the wake of that, how can any of us possibly believe in working hard to achieve our own dreams? And so, the “American dream” -work hard and you can achieve anything (if it ever truly existed)- is gone.

Moreover, Americans voted for Trump because they see him as an ideal version of the successful American- go to school for as short as possible and get a job making as much money as possible. Or else cheat “the system” as much as possible so you can make as much money as possible. Trump cheated the system by saying the most obnoxious, inconsiderate, and stupid things you could possibly say so that he could get as much attention as possible. Now all of us know how to “get ahead” – say or do the dumbest thing you can possibly think of and everyone will talk about you and suddenly you’re the ruler of the world. And that is indeed how many people get ahead, by doing stupid things and getting attention and consequently a lot of money for doing said stupidities. And thus, a market society half built on sheer stupidity. American values revolve solely around dollar signs and Trump epitomizes those values. We can only hope that maybe, maybe, this state of the nation and this leader will make people re-consider their values and see that someone who has lived solely for materialism is not an ideal person. If so, maybe it could be a turning point for America and we will realize that we need to change our values.

Alas, the “search for rational political explanations for the current disorder is doomed” and “we cannot understand this crisis because our dominant intellectual concepts and categories seem unable to process an explosion of uncontrolled forces.” And of course,  “enlightenment humanism and rationalism can no longer adequately explain the world we’re living in.” The world is far too complex and too bureaucratic for the average, half-educated person to know what he wants or what is good for him or his world. The individual, especially a wild card like Trump, “is a deeply unstable entity, constantly shaped and reshaped in its interplay with shifting social and cultural conditions.” As is discussed in the following article: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/dec/08/welcome-age-anger-brexit-trump

The nation has failed because we have not sought enlightenment as Fyodor Dostoevsky said. If we haven’t sought wisdom, then we cannot possibly begin to understand what is good for us or our world. America, a nation symbolized by fast-food, Hollywood, and consumerism, certainly has not sought wisdom. And that is why I believe we are now here in the Post-Fact Era. We are so confused by the world -and by what choices we need to make and what presidents we should elect- because we haven’t ever attempted to understand it. If we could somehow create a society based more on wisdom than capitalism, then I think that would be a movement towards true equality and prosperity.

Silence the Violence

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“As you pass from sunlight into darkness and back again every hour and a half, you become startlingly aware how artificial are thousands of boundaries we’ve created to separate and define. And for the first time in your life you feel in your gut the precious unity of the Earth and all the living things it supports.”

-Russell Schweikart, Apollo 9

We always think, “Horrific things happen in the world, but they’re never going to happen here, where I am.” Even though that is an extremely irrational thought, it is how I’ve always felt at some sheltered, naive core of mine. And yet, yesterday the worst mass shooting in modern US history happened in the nearest city to me, at a bar that I would consider going to if I was in Orlando.

I would never think terrorism would happen in central Florida. But maybe the pro-gun philosophy here was asking for it. Coming from a widespread LGBT community in the Bay Area, I am deeply upset that an act of love between two people may have inspired a terrorist to kill. If terrorism makes us fearful of expressing love or going out to bars and venues to have fun, our species would be pushed off the edge of vitality.

Violence is a disease of our species and it will not be cured with more violence. As long as guns exist in easy access, these things will continue to happen over and over again. Only peace and love in the face of violence can eventually begin to alleviate violence, (even if that means your individual death). But the death of an individual that showed love in the face of violence would ripple throughout the world. Even if the people in the Orlando nightclub had guns on them, it would have done little to stop someone with such lethal skill. People in Florida think they need to have a gun in their home in case some militant threat shows up- but honestly, even if ISIS showed up at your door, there’s nothing your one gun and limited skill are going to do to mitigate the threat. It is a primitive species that kills each other in sheer brutality. Apparently we have not evolved beyond our primitive animal nature.

The earth and our species seem to be at a stage of immense danger. I am more convinced than ever that we must colonize another planet- Mars or the Moon with an artificial atmosphere- in order for our species to continue. Violence, overpopulation, and pollution threaten the entire earth. Guns must not be allowed on the new planet we colonize. We need a peaceful leader for Mars, a leader that does not condone war, separation by nation, religion, gender, race or sexual orientation, or violence in any facet. If I could have anything to do with it, the first space colony would not have guns, would not have weapons, would not differentiate between prior nationality or race or gender, and there would be no development of Martian or Lunar nations. We would all be planetary citizens only and there would be agreement that every individual is entitled to their own personal and spiritual beliefs about life with freedom from indoctrination from others. No astronaut in the colony will be categorized as “American” or “Japanese” or “Black” or “Hispanic” or “Female” or “Male.” And no person should ever be forced to check boxes identifying these artificial boundaries. And if you didn’t agree with these means of the pursuit of planetary peace, then you can stay on earth. And frankly, that would not worry me at all, because only individuals that cooperate peacefully and intelligently can pursue complex space endeavors at all. Violent people like ISIS terrorists would simply not be able to make it to the moon or Mars on their own. I see the far-future earth as possibly becoming a place for the ignorant and violent, for the people left behind that are not able to make it to space either due to lack of peaceful cooperation or lack of intelligence.

If and only if we can get to another planet standing on a firm tenet of nonviolence, will we be able to progress and persist as a species. As long as guns and extremism and disregard for our planet exist on earth, the conquest of space will be the only venture that can provide the solution. I no longer, in any minute sense, see the pursuit of space travel as merely something “fun and cool” and extraneous, but absolutely the single most serious and important endeavor of humanity, for our safety and survival.

All of us, regardless of nationality, race, gender, etc., face the same human condition. To impart hatred or violence on another is to threaten your own human condition because that hatred will propel outward and hurt us all. It is hard enough that together, everyday, we must face the void and confusion of the mystery of the universe, but to live on a planet without any security of safety is more terrifying than the void behind the human condition itself.

Caught Midway Between Atoms and Galaxies

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“In our short century or less, we generally aim to create a comfortable existence within the tiny rooms of our lives. We eat, we sleep, we get jobs, we pay the bills, we have lovers and children. Some of us build cities or make art. But if we have the luxury of true mental freedom, there are larger concerns to be found. Look at the sky. Does space go on forever, to infinity? Or is it finite but without boundary or edge, like the surface of a sphere? Either answer is disturbing, and unfathomable. Where did we come from? We can follow the lives of our parents and grandparents and their parents backward in time, back and back through the generations, until we come to some ancestor ten thousand years in the past whose DNA remains in our body. We can follow the chain of being even further back in time to the first humans, and the first primates, and the one-celled amoebas swimming about in the primordial seas, and the formation of the atmosphere, and the slow condensation of gases to create Earth. It all happened, whether we think about it or not. We quickly realize how limited we are in our experience of the world. What we see and feel with our bodies, caught midway between atoms and galaxies, is but a small swath of the spectrum, a sliver of reality.” -Alan Lightman 

Caught midway between atoms and galaxies we are. The universe is so confusing for most of us that we don’t even want to bother with the big existential questions – we have enough problems. So how can we really believe that anyone who is caught midway between atoms and galaxies can somehow put themselves above all of existence and explain it in totality? Astrophysics rests on that uncertain tenet. And despite Alan Lightman’s momentary glimpse into this shaky scientific grounding, the rest of his essay, “What Came Before the Big Bang?” speaks of the cosmologists who think they are on the verge of explaining it all – all of space and time and reality – who poise themselves like gods of knowledge for the rest of us to marvel at. And somehow all of us believe that these beings caught between atoms and galaxies just like us are actually able to sit in a throne of creation and know all of the cosmos.

Astrophysics made me an anti-realist. The equations of astrophysics hardly describe the truth of the universe, they merely describe what the universe looks like for a being “caught midway between atoms and galaxies.” Equipped with telescopes and equations and calculators, we look out into the cosmos and think that we are able to catch some objective truth of reality. But our animal brains were never intended to decipher photons with strict astrophysical accuracy. Our animal brains didn’t evolve to decipher galactic and atomic realms at all. Our animal brains evolved for us to be keen at survival. But keen enough to understand the workings of all of existence? No – understanding the objective truth of the whole universe has nothing to do with biological survival and thus has nothing to do with brains molded for survival. There is a limit to our science. There is only so much an animal caught in the confusing, mucky middle of existence can really say about what the universe is. Untruth is the condition of our life. Astrophysics is our story of untruth about the cosmos. It is a description more of humanity’s relative, limited, sensory perspective of existence than of the totality of a possibly infinite cosmos. We know we were born from a star in a spiral galaxy and it is amazing that we know that. But for us to say that we know something about the pico second the universe began or the nature of all of an almost undefinable cosmos of a proportion so much bigger than us we can barely fathom it lies on the brink of insanity. But of course I understand the push to dissect the first second of the universe- we want to know our existential narrative and that is why I chose to study astrophysics. But we’re just not smart enough to realize that an ape’s pencil scribblings of equations is not going to unlock all the mysteries of the cosmos. And we’re not going to stop because we’re too proud- we think our intellects are superior enough to know everything. We simply cannot know everything because we are “caught midway between atoms and galaxies”- we do not have an impartial, outside, god-like view of the universe, but alas, we will always think we do. 

Indeed, to say any thing about the totality of existence—of space, of time, of all the cosmos—is sheer madness. It’s sheer madness simply because a being caught in the middle of it all—stuck in a shrouded alley of reality—cannot possibly ever have the insight to say something about the everything of existence. Humans trying to say something about the all of the cosmos is like an amoeba trying to say something about the all of the earth. And as firm of an atheist as I am, that is probably the strongest argument of all for some kind of god. Because if none of us can know what is going on in terms of the totality of reality, then any belief about how we are here is, perhaps, on equal footing. There is no knowledge of the whole of reality- so how can we claim that one person’s idea about the whole of reality is more right than another’s? None of us know if our experience of reality is representative of the whole of the universe. Our carpet of gazillions of galaxies that we call the cosmos could be one little odd, unrepresentative pocket of a much wider, weirder universe. The universe could be much stranger and much more complicated than an animal caught between atoms and galaxies could possibly understand.

But it is a beautiful thing that we are all caught in the middle of a mystery. What if each of us was born with a scientific manual telling us exactly how we got here and where the universe came from? What if that manual charted and mapped out every second of the cosmos that led to your birth? If we had all the answers, it would make us indolent, proud, dull. It would prevent the great quest for space, for knowledge, for understanding, for creative vision. Indeed, what value would our lives have at all if we all knew everything? The unknown pushes us further, it drives our lives. Truth of the whole wide universe is not something a human being can have, untruth is our ingenious human condition. 

While there is a limit to what we may know about the universe, there is no limit to our technology, there is no limit to what we can make, what we can build. There is no limit to how far into space we could go. Engineering will ultimately lead us to more knowledge than theoretical science ever will. Moreover, space engineering has the power to make us a space-faring species, which will ultimately determine our survival. And that is why I believe that space engineering is a wiser endeavor than cosmology and theoretical astrophysics. 

Meditation and Intelligence

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What makes someone intelligent? Is it genes, experience, practice, or education? Certainly those all play a part, but meditation may be an even larger contender than those to true intelligence. The geniuses of humanity are notorious for their tendency towards solitary self-reflection and that is primarily what meditation is. Meditation is the art of reflecting on your existence and your mind without engaging yourself in any form of activity. If we constantly engage with the world, if we are constantly in action, it tends to imply that a minimal amount of self-reflection is occurring and if you are not self-reflecting or meditating on existence or the world, then it is impossible that much intelligence stirs in that bony cavity.

The idea of sitting and doing absolutely nothing as a way to contribute to greater intelligence may seem contradictory. But the truth is, we don’t know that much about our brains and what they need. And it seems only reasonable that we should set aside waking time for our most important organ to re-boot, to be still, to self-organize, self-analyze, and self-reflect. And then there’s the countless array of scientific studies that seem to be proving that meditation is a key to intelligence. Some studies are even reporting that meditation may increase the size of your brain’s gray matter. One study from Harvard reports the greater intelligence of those who have meditated throughout their life: http://journal.frontiersin.org/Journal/10.3389/fnagi.2014.00076/abstract and another article lists some of the intelligence boosters of meditation: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/16/eight-meditation-brain-benefits_n_3903855.html

When you have a lot going on in your life, it’s tempting to frantically go around occupying your mind with (a) the next thing that you need to be doing, (b) what you don’t like about your current life and how to change what you don’t like, or (c) when your next break is and what you’re going to do with it. If your mind is swirling with all of those things, you certainly aren’t maximizing your intelligence, nor your happiness or success. To be happy and successful and intelligent, we must occupy our mind with the present moment, analyze that present moment, and be grateful for what the present moment has to offer- and meditation is the way to get to that mindset. It’s only when we sit still can we take a step back from all the things in our life and see the big picture of the things happening in our life. And seeing the big picture of our lives is crucial for us to make the most intelligent choices. And it’s only when I sit and meditate do I realize how special my life is now. But because I have so much on my to-do list, it’s not until I meditate that I stop being caught up in whatever I have to do and let my mind wander to where it wants to go and then I can realize the uniqueness of my life, as you can yours. And when I realize how special my life is, I make myself more grateful and happy and hence make more room in my mind for intelligence rather than filling it with my dislikes, lists, and potential vacations. If we meditate, we are more likely to analyze and question our existence and our world because we are giving our brains more conscious time to figure life out rather than piling things on it.

Your life is rushing away from you as mine is from me. If we don’t stop regularly to truly contemplate our existence or to at least completely stop and take a step back from the flying screen of consciousness, it is less likely that we will live our lives intelligently. So, if you’re not meditating, you cannot possibly be maximizing your intelligence.

Peace Out for Space

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Space exploration and astronomy are the keys to world peace. Why? Because they can unite us for a cause that transcends nationality, political ideology, or religion. Because they compel us to see our shared connectedness with earth and all humans. Because they are necessary for the survival of humanity (we must work to extend our species beyond the tiny planet that can destroy itself). From down here on earth it seems like we have a lot to fight over. But from space, it’s clear that we shouldn’t be at war- we should be preserving and nourishing the delicate pale blue dot on which all humans exist. Looking back on earth from space, our national affiliations and ideologies are deeply challenged because one can then only see oneself as a citizen of earth. It is only when we are all able to leave the earth and see the view like the one above for ourselves that we can truly understand that the earth is our shared island paradise in a vast sea of darkness. It is only then that we can truly see how fragile and precious we are. It is only then that we can truly see that we are all together in this experience of life. It is only then that we can truly see that all humanity is one.

When all humans are able to look back on our beautiful blue marble floating in space, perhaps the Cosmic Religion that Einstein once spoke of can become a reality. Einstein said, “The religion of the future will be a cosmic religion. It will have to transcend a personal god and avoid dogma and theology. Encompassing both the natural and the spiritual, it will have to be based on a religious sense arising from the experience of all things, natural and spiritual, considered as a meaningful unity.” Space exploration and astronomy will move us into this “meaningful unity” because the view of earth from space will allow us to imagine ourselves and all people as a part of the “experience of all things” that is the phenomenon of the one tiny earth that we all share. Thus the Cosmic Religion that Einstein envisioned (and my Cosmic Meaning of this site) will ignite. Einstein’s Cosmic Religion will allow us to loosen our grip on our human differences and instead focus on our cosmic similarities. Once the Cosmic Religion ignites, all of humanity will orient itself towards space. Human endeavors already seem to be converging towards space- the majority of music, art, film, and media today mention space, supernovae, starships, moonwalking, etc just because it’s trendy. But the seriousness of it is that human culture is emergently pointing towards the cosmos. Humanity will converge toward the cosmic religion and it must for world peace. While directly traveling into space may be necessary for the cosmic religion to stir in most people, astronomy can do the same for those who can imagine and study our smallness and interconnectedness with the universe.

The colonization of other planets, commercial space flights, the building of apartments in space, space elevators, worldships, etc., will deflect humans from international conflicts and direct us toward the great common mission of space. This is in part because space programs allow nations to collaborate, generating international work that yields greater understanding, respect, and peace between governments and peoples. Furthermore, the colonization of space will make war unnecessary. When we are no longer stranded on a weapon-ridden planet and are free to travel and extend into the depths of space, the human species will become unkillable and immortal. With endless planets or worldships to populate, the extinction of humans via nuclear warfare would become impossible. Simply having wider distances between human colonies in space would make terrorist attacks and war more difficult and thus less likely to occur. With endless territories and resources in space, there will be little left for us to fight over and peace will be triumphant on earth and our colonies. However, if the cosmic religion does not take hold, perhaps colonies would first cohere based on traditional religion or ideologies and thus create hatred towards each other, but when we eventually encounter another intelligent species and encounter their religions, may we finally see our beliefs and theologies as mere human constructs and not universal laws. If war and overpopulation suffocate earth prior to a worldwide interest in space, space colonization may become our shared struggle for human survival, and while that is the unfortunate scenario, the struggle for survival via space colonization will most definitely unite us, spark the cosmic religion, and bring peace to all worlds. In our ladder towards peace, we will move from citizens of nations, to citizens of earth, to citizens of the cosmos- the cosmopolites.

Ronald Reagan said, “Mankind’s journey into space, like every great voyage of discovery, will become part of our unending journey of liberation. In the limitless reaches of space, we will find liberation from tyranny, from scarcity, from ignorance and from war. We will find the means to protect this Earth and to nurture every human life, and to explore the universe. . .  This is our mission, this is our destiny.” Space is our intellectual and physical liberation. The weightlessness of space will lead us to the weightlessness of enlightenment. The vast peace of outer space will lead us to vast peace for humanity.

Space is the only solution to all of our problems. Space is our true home, it’s where we come from and we need to return to space for the survival of our species. Space can space out the guns, war, violence, pollution and overpopulation to tolerable amounts until they will eventually dissipate. The earth can’t.

You Don’t Exist

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You don’t exist … I don’t exist … Those may seem like strange statements, but there’s something very real about them. The words “you” and “I” imply that a being that is completely independent from everything else exists in the world on its own as a separate existence. But that is simply not true. There is no part of you or me that exists independently of everything else around us. The oxygen we breathe, the atoms and elements in our bodies, the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the language on our lips, the ideas in our minds- indeed all the things that we may identify as the personality and composite of our individual self- came from other people, came from other living things, came from the stars.

My life, and your life, are just strings of cause and effect. Our lives are like mazes of dominoes in which each domino represents each moment of our lives. As soon as you are born, the dominoes hurtle into their string of collapse. This moment now is the domino pushing over the perfectly vertical subsequent domino. There is no part of you that is exempt from the causes and effects of the world- your totality can be erased by the world in infinitely many ways. It is profoundly confusing to me that the present moment is hurtling so fast into the past that there isn’t even time for me to really analyze it- there just isn’t time to really get a good look at it. I’m constantly in the present moment, but I never have had enough time to figure out those other moments, I never had enough time to understand what each of those moments really meant- they disappear almost faster than I can begin to analyze them. It’s absurd, really. Because of this, I sometimes suspect that time must be a product of consciousness. How long are we in the present moment before it goes into the past? A second? A microsecond? A picosecond?! If we can’t even answer that, all of our other notions of time should be brought into question. Clearly, we don’t understand time because we can’t even say what the present is. All time dependent physics might be out the window if we realize time is something caught up in us, not a property of the universe. Time must be different for a conscious, evolved animal than it is for the Universe! But we generally take the phenomena of the infinitesimal present slipping into the past for granted- we ignore it so much that we don’t even notice it. But I think it is very strange. In part, this is why I like meditation. Meditation allows time to slow down for your consciousness, so that you can analyze the present moment more thoroughly. In the same way that physics and astrophysics seek to understand physical reality, vipassana meditation seeks to understand our experiential reality. Vipassana meditation is very serious, long-term meditation (talking, reading, writing, or use of technology is not allowed and very little eating and sleeping is permitted) in which you seek to gain insight into your experiential reality for several days or months. Vipassana is most commonly practiced within Buddhist traditions, but no religious association is necessary whatsoever. To do vipassana is to be a scientist of your own experience. Vipassana centers (which are primarily in east Asia) are beautiful places where you can live for free, if you give your life up to becoming a spiritual scientist. Vipassana is my plan B, but regardless I hope to live at a vipassana center in the future. Anyway, the point is, the domino cause and effect play-out of our lives and the present moment slipping away at light speed only makes sense when we realize that there is no self- that we are just part of the flux of the cosmos. There is a great web of cause and effect that makes up each moment of our lives, but there is no self at the center of that web.

I know that there is no “me” that continues from moment to moment because the “me” that I could try to define for you now is different from the “me” I would have defined a year ago and will be different still from the “me” a year into the future. My goals change, my ideas change, my memory changes (mostly in a deliberate attempt to forget), my location changes. Perhaps my likes, dislikes, and interests stay relatively constant- but is that how I am to define this grand self- by an array of frivolous likes and dislikes? Or by a set of interests that any other human being could have? It seems that my social security number is the only permanent part of me. So is that what the I narrows down to- an undying number? What about the cells in my body- are they what make up me? No because every several years all the cells that were once me regenerate into a completely new set of cells. And your DNA definitely isn’t you because that’s 95%+ animal. What if you hooked up my brain to a computer and translated my consciousness into it- then would we be closer to pinpointing the self? Hardly. The feelings and emotions and thoughts that we have are so deeply connected with our bodily sensations that if you concentrated on a brain separated from bodily mechanism, I fear we’d be much further from locating the self. My brain is not me. My brain is nearly useless without my eyes, my ears, my mouth, my nose, my hands, my body! Consciousness and the perception of the self are emergent properties of the whole organism- the nervous system extends throughout the whole body, – so zeroing in on one organ (the brain) and hoping to explain the whole creature is a sad misunderstanding of our human existence. The brain is a highly overrated piece of meat, in my opinion. Nevertheless, when we look hard for what the self is and what its persistent characteristics are, the only thing we really find is a social security number. But we think something else is there, even though it is no where to be found.

The only (linguistic) problem with saying “I don’t exist” is that I am implying the absence of something that I have mentally defined (to claim the opposite of something is to remain caught up in the something). While “I don’t exist” is true, to totally escape the belief of an “I”, I must declare my self as a state of emptiness. Our language and our culture have doomed us into a state of self-obsession. Our language revolves around the words “me,” “I,” “you,” and the sense of the other, making it very difficult to surrender to a complete belief of no self.

The perception of a self is a mere biological illusion encoded into us by evolution so that an individual creature tends toward self-preservation for its genetic survival. But for us to be more than mere mammals, we must see that biological mechanism for what it is- an illusion. Atoms -which make up our bodies-  are mostly empty space. The cosmos is mostly empty space. Hence, to declare my being as a state of emptiness is scientifically correct. I don’t believe in my “self” but I do believe in our deep cosmic interdependence. And the more that we come to know and understand this cosmic interdependence as our true “self,” the more meaningful life can be. I am more cosmos than I am a self. I am mostly empty space, just as the cosmos is mostly empty space. Letting go of the heavy self and embracing the lightness of emptiness is perhaps to glimpse the fringe of enlightenment. Ultimately, in realizing your inherent emptiness, you realize that nothing changes when you die. When you die, you remain the emptiness that you always were, except your body, now free to disintegrate into the rest of nature, can finally fulfill its ultimate purpose- to become completely integrated and interdependent with nature, without any remnant of a “self” as an obstacle. Death is the release of the one thing  -the illusion of the self- that prevents you from being genuinely integrated with the cosmos.

If your nonexistence seems radical, it’s not- it’s one of the basic tenets of Buddhism. Here’s an introduction to emptiness on the Partially Examined Life (a podcast that I would highly recommend): http://www.partiallyexaminedlife.com/2010/10/10/episode-27-nagarjuna-on-buddhist-emptiness/

Artificial Planets

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Living on the moon or Mars is within our future, but it’s only a temporary solution to a long term problem. The long term problem being the death of the sun. Of course sending people to the moon and Mars will solve our biggest immediate problem- overpopulation. Overpopulation is to blame for pollution, crime, poverty, and under education (if there were only a few of us here, we’d all be educated, well-off, and have resources aplenty). Overpopulation isn’t just the elephant in the room, it’s the steadily growing monster in the room. Because of overpopulation, we will eventually be forced to start building apartments alongside the International Space Station. Hopefully a spaceship will be included with each lease of such apartments… Some sci-fi writers imagine the entire plane of the solar system turning into a great ring of urban compartments (pictured below).

The solution to the long term problem is an artificial planet or some kind of living space ark (http://news.discovery.com/space/private-spaceflight/project-persephone-icarus-interstellar-100yss-120920.htm). It does seem that having a bubble-like artificial planet where inhabitants live on the inside, with some kind of artificial sun in the center of the bubble planet, would be most protective (as pictured above). I think this is very exciting because it may eventually allow, through many generations, for the only scenario that I would want in a theological heaven- the possibility to trek the universe and maybe visit other worlds in the cosmos- to actually see and visit the starry heaven above. Those born on the artificial planet millions of years after its launch may be able to browse catalogs of the other worlds that the artificial planet previously visited, along with their landscapes, and maybe their inhabitants…

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Fashion = Tech

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In the future, there will be no difference between fashion and technology… Just as there will be no difference between engineering and biology. Our most important technologies will become the things that we wear. It’s already happening in myriad instances. For example, the sixth sense technology “necklace” and digital “hand map”: http://www.pranavmistry.com/projects/sixthsense/, and high-tech biological tracking “bracelets”: https://jawbone.com/up. And fashion has been quick to jump into integration with wearable technology: http://www.wearable-technologies.com/2014/04/endless-fashion-week/. I’m trying to predict some possibilities of this fashion-technology fusion in my sci-fi book. These technologies will increasingly become devices that interact and merge with our human biology. They will be devices that can predict and prevent illness and morph to protect us from temperature and environmentally harsh conditions.

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Organic Technology

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I’m pretty sure that the endless glaring of fluorescent lights, the walls and layers of concrete and steel all around us, and the hours of daily computer screen staring are mentally and physically killing the human species slowly and silently. This is what my body seems to be telling me anyway. It feels bad to be under glaring artificial lights instead of sunlight. It feels bad to be surrounded by steel instead of nature. It feels bad to stare at an electronic screen all day. We have this technological membrane around us and it’s blocking out all of the things we need as creatures. Every time we slap down a layer of concrete, we’re killing and walling off the plants and animals that keep us alive. This isn’t how we’re supposed to be living.

Technology, in some of its current forms, is killing us. It’s a slow suicide of our species. But let me clarify- I don’t mean than the intellectual ideas within technology- the ideas that have learned to manipulate matter like matter learned to manipulate radiation billions of years ago- are bad. I mean the way we materialize those technologies are bad.

The number one killer of human beings (before health issues set in) is the car. Your car is more likely to kill you than anything else. No wonder. We’re these fragile, complex organic creatures and we’re whizzing around like bullets in pieces of dumb metal while assuming that all the other pieces of whizzing metal are being driven by rational, careful people. And it’s not just killing you- it’s killing the environment too, of course.

Our technology shouldn’t be so dumb that it directly kills us all the time. Our technology shouldn’t be dangerous pieces of metal and steel that can quickly wipe out a delicate Homo Sapien. All technology should be organic. All technology should be smart enough so that fatal accidents aren’t even a possibility. Technology is supposed to be a convenience, but right now it’s more of a fatality. Directly and indirectly.

Mercedes-Benz has the right idea: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=APOO05P0KIU Our cars, our airplanes, our buildings- they should be grown, not built. Like Mercedes-Benz Biome, subway systems should be organic membranes, maybe resembling a snake or caterpillar, that can detect and react to the presence of other living things- so that no human being is ever killed by it.

And the internet. Pretty hard to tell if it’s doing more harm than good. Click. Reward. Click. Reward. Click… is the internet turning us into robots or cerebral mush without any ability to think for ourselves? All the information we could possibly want is already somewhere within the technological strands of the world wide web- no need to look beyond it, right?… I think that it will eventually be determined that prolonged computer use is correlated with health problems.

When I use the internet, the words and images it conveys fill my consciousness so fully that it’s hard to think about anything but whatever that blinding screen holds. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s zapping brain cells in some way. But ah, the connectedness with the world it gives us, that’s such a great thing… But is the internet providing us a pseudo connectedness with the world to hush our evolutionary, spiritual desire for a connectedness with nature? We’re losing ourselves in the internet everyday and we like to lose ourselves. But are we also losing the things that make us human?