This school replaced detention with meditation. The results are stunning.

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This school replaced detention with meditation. The results are stunning.

Imagine you’re working at a school and one of the kids is starting to act up. What do you do?

Traditionally, the answer would be to give the unruly kid detention or suspension.

But in my memory, detention tended to involve staring at walls, bored out of my mind, trying to either surreptitiously talk to the kids around me without getting caught or trying to read a book. If it was designed to make me think about my actions, it didn’t really work. It just made everything feel stupid and unfair.

Instead of punishing disruptive kids or sending them to the principal’s office, the Baltimore school has something called the Mindful Moment Room instead.

The room looks nothing like your standard windowless detention room. Instead, it’s filled with lamps, decorations, and plush purple pillows. Misbehaving kids are encouraged to sit in the room and go through practices like breathing or meditation, helping them calm down and re-center. They are also asked to talk through what happened.

Meditation and mindfulness are pretty interesting, scientifically.

Mindful meditation has been around in some form or another for thousands of years. Recently, though, science has started looking at its effects on our minds and bodies, and it’s finding some interesting effects.

One study, for example, suggested that mindful meditation could give practicing soldiers a kind of mental armor against disruptive emotions, and it can improve memory too. Another suggested mindful meditation could improve a person’s attention span and focus.

Individual studies should be taken with a grain of salt (results don’t always carry in every single situation), but overall, science is starting to build up a really interesting picture of how awesome meditation can be. Mindfulness in particular has even become part of certain fairly successful psychotherapies.

 

Back at the school, the Mindful Moment Room isn’t the only way Robert W. Coleman Elementary has been encouraging its kids.

The meditation room was created as a partnership with the Holistic Life Foundation, a local nonprofit that runs other programs as well. For more than 10 years the foundation has been offering the after-school program Holistic Me, where kids from pre-K through the fifth grade practice mindfulness exercises and yoga.

“It’s amazing,” said Kirk Philips, the Holistic Me coordinator at Robert W. Coleman. “You wouldn’t think that little kids would meditate in silence. And they do.”

There was a Christmas party, for example, where the kids knew they were going to get presents but were still expected to do meditation first.

“As a little kid, that’s got to be hard to sit down and meditate when you know you’re about to get a bag of gifts, and they did it! It was beautiful, we were all smiling at each other watching them,” said Philips.

The kids may even be bringing that mindfulness back home with them. In the August 2016 issue of Oprah Magazine, Holistic Life Foundation co-founder Andres Gonzalez said: “We’ve had parents tell us, ‘I came home the other day stressed out, and my daughter said, “Hey, Mom, you need to sit down. I need to teach you how to breathe.”‘”

The program also helps mentor and tutor the kids, as well as teach them about the environment.

They help clean up local parks, build gardens, and visit nearby farms. Philips said they even teach kids to be co-teachers, letting them run the yoga sessions.

This isn’t just happening at one school, either. Lots of schools are trying this kind of holistic thinking, and it’s producing incredible results.

In the U.K., for example, the Mindfulness in Schools Project is teaching adults how to set up programs. Mindful Schools, another nonprofit, is helping to set up similar programs in the United States.

Oh, and by the way, the schools are seeing a tangible benefit from this program, too.

Philips said that at Robert W. Coleman Elementary, there have been exactly zero suspensions last year and so far this year. Meanwhile, nearby Patterson Park High School, which also uses the mindfulness programs, said suspension rates dropped and attendance increased as well.

Is that wholly from the mindfulness practices? It’s impossible to say, but those are pretty remarkable numbers, all the same.

Source : https://u.pw/2cIQ35n

 

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Vibrator Maker To Pay Millions Over Claims It Secretly Tracked Use.

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Vibrator Maker To Pay Millions Over Claims It Secretly Tracked Use.

The makers of the We-Vibe, a line of vibrators that can be paired with an app for remote-controlled use, have reached a $3.75 million class action settlement with users following allegations that the company was collecting data on when and how the sex toy was used.

Standard Innovations, the Canadian manufacturer of the We-Vibe, does not admit any wrongdoing in the settlement finalized Monday.

The We-Vibe product line includes a number of Bluetooth-enabled vibrators that, when linked to the “We-Connect” app, can be controlled from a smartphone. It allows a user to vary rhythms, patterns and settings — or give a partner, in the room or anywhere in the world, control of the device. (You can see a video promoting the app’s features here; be advised, it is briefly not safe for work.)

Since the app was released in 2014, some observers have raised concerns that Internet-connected sex toys could be vulnerable to hacking. But the lawsuit doesn’t involve any outside meddling — instead, it centers on concerns that the company itself was tracking users’ sex lives.

The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Illinois in September. It alleges that — without customers’ knowledge — the app was designed to collect information about how often, and with what settings, the vibrator was used.

The lawyers for the anonymous plaintiffs contended that the app, “incredibly,” collected users’ email addresses, allowing the company “to link the usage information to specific customer accounts.”

Customers’ email addresses and usage data were transmitted to the company’s Canadian servers, the lawsuit alleges. When a We-Vibe was remotely linked to a partner, the connection was described as “secure,” but some information was also routed through We-Connect and collected, the lawsuit says.

The unhappy users allege in their lawsuit that they never agreed to the collection of this data. Standard Innovations maintains that users “consented to the conduct alleged” — but instead of taking the case to court, the company agreed to settle.

An estimated 300,000 people bought Bluetooth-enabled WeVibes, according to court documents, and about 100,000 of them used the app.

Under the terms of the settlement, anyone who bought an app-enabled vibrator can receive up to $199 dollars; anyone who actually connected it to the app can collect up to $10,000. The actual amount paid out will depend on how many people file claims; the company estimates people who bought the app will get around $40, and people who used the app around $500.

The high-end vibrators cost between $119 and $199, if purchased through the We-Vibe website.

Standard Innovation also agreed to stop collecting users’ email addresses and to update its privacy notice to be clearer about how data is collected.

Source : https://n.pr/2MqSieK

The Haunting Face of a Man Who Lived 700 Years Ago

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The Haunting Face of a Man Who Lived 700 Years Ago

This may look like a photograph, but the highly realistic face staring back at you belongs to a man who died over 700 years ago. The researchers who performed this unbelievable facial reconstruction say their work is providing new details about the way ordinary people lived in medieval England.

This 13th-century man—dubbed “Context 958″—is one of approximately 400 complete burials found and excavated beneath the Old Divinity School of St. John’s College in Cambridge, England, between 2010 and 2012. Back during the medieval era, this spot was home to the Hospital of St. John, a charitable institution set up to care for the poor and sick in the community. For centuries, the dead were buried in a cemetery right out back.

The reconstruction of Context 958 is part of a collaborative effort between Cambridge University’s Division of Archaeology and the University of Dundee’s Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification. The Wellcome Trust-funded project, called “After the plague: health and history in medieval Cambridge,” is an effort to catalogue and analyze the burials in as much depth and detail as possible.

Based on an exhaustive analysis of his remains and the burial site, here’s what we know about Context 958.

He was just slightly over 40 years old when he died. His skeleton showed signs of considerable wear-and-tear, so he likely lead a tough and hard working life. His tooth enamel stopped growing during two occasions in his youth, suggesting he likely lived through bouts of famine or sickness when he was young. The archaeologists found traces of blunt force trauma inflicted to the back of his head, which healed over before he died. The researchers aren’t sure what he did for a living, but they think he was a working-class person who specialized in some kind of trade.

Context 958 ate a diverse diet rich in meat or fish, according to an analysis of weathering patterns on his teeth. His profession may have provided him with more access to such foods than the average person at the time. His presence at the charitable hospital suggests he fell on hard times, with no one to take care of him.

“Context 958 was probably an inmate of the Hospital of St John, a charitable institution which provided food and a place to live for a dozen or so indigent townspeople—some of whom were probably ill, some of whom were aged or poor and couldn’t live alone,” noted John Robb, a professor from Cambridge University’s Division of Archaeology, in a statement.

Strangely, he was buried face down, which is rare but not unheard of in medieval burials. Robb and his colleagues are fascinated by Context 958 and those like him. Their analysis shows what it was like to live as an ordinary poor person back then—warts and all.

“Most historical records are about well-off people and especially their financial and legal transactions—the less money and property you had, the less likely anybody was to ever write down anything about you,” said Robb. “So skeletons like this are really our chance to learn about how the ordinary poor lived.”

Of course, facial reconstructions are only as good as the data they’re based on, in this case a highly-weathered skeleton. We can’t be completely certain that this is exactly what Context 958 looked like. But at the very least, it’s bringing his remains back to life. Work on other skeletons found at the site will continue, as the researchers are putting together a kind of biography of every individual studied. It’s a fitting tribute to regular folks whose lives would have otherwise been completely forgotten.

Vegans and vegetarians think they don’t kill animals but they do.

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Vegans and vegetarians think they don’t kill animals but they do.

Last year Claudio Bertonatti, one of the most renowned naturalists in Argentina, wrote an article that triggered an earthquake. The tsunami reached us here and is likely to extend even further.

In his article, The Vegan Confusion, he warns that eating vegetables doesn’t prevent the death of animals. Bertonatti has enraged thousands of vegans and vegetarians, as well as other nature conservationists. However, many who read his article learned something about animal rights that might never have occurred to them otherwise.

We spoke to Claudio about his earth-shattering idea and discussed the most important points of the controversy.

Claudio, you were a vegetarian. What made you decide to become one?

As a teenager, I grew interested in nature. I thought that by becoming a vegetarian I’d avoid killing so many animals. But then I changed my mind.

What happened?

I began studying nature and going out to the countryside to observe wildlife. I noticed that in the fields of agricultural crops there were no birds, and the few that were there were being persecuted. Then I started studying amphibians, mammals, reptiles and fish and I realized that I’d been confused.

How?

As a vegetarian, I was helping to prevent the death and suffering of domestic animals, but not of wild species.

What drove you to write the article?

In Argentina, I encounter many people who claim to be defenders of nature because they don’t eat meat or wear leather. They think that by being vegan or vegetarian they’re preventing animals from dying. It’s not true.

Why?

From the moment that humans began to raise cattle and adopt agriculture we generated an impact. There is no animal species whose survival doesn’t result in the death of other animals, whether directly or indirectly. I understand that this can be a painful realization. I’d also like to live in an ideal world, but that’s not the reality. Many vegans and people who only wear cotton seem to believe they don’t cause any deaths, but they do.

When I say this, many people feel like I’m cornering them

Indirect deaths?

Wheat, rice, corn. Most vegans eat these things. The first impact of mass cultivation is deforestation: we force nature out to make room for crops. In Argentina, they set fire to the jungle, burning nests with flamethrowers. Then they must defend the sown land from the birds who come to feed; many landowners do this by scattering poisoned grains. After that, the wild herbivores come looking for the first shoots, so the landowners put up electric fences or hunt the animals down with guns.

If you eat meat, you kill animals, but you also kill them by eating plants

What happens during harvest?

By contrast, he says, in fields dedicated to livestock there are more species of other animals.

The land is fumigated to combat fungi, insects and other plants. The animals that have been driven out move on to other areas which already support animals: the hotel is fully booked. So, the animals go to neighbouring crop fields and another wave of impacts is generated.

There are lots of wild grasslands in Argentina. You can go for a walk there and find everything: amphibians, reptiles, birds. Of course, I’d be lying if I said there’s the same variety of animals as you’d get if the cows weren’t there. The farmer also persecutes wildlife and kills any animals he considers harmful to production. Even so, the impact is less. When I say this, a lot of people feel I’m cornering them.

And many of these species – unlike cows, pigs and goats – were disappearing. So, I went back to being an omnivore.

In what sense?

In the sense that there’s no escape: if you eat meat, you kill animals, but you also kill them by eating plants. A lot of people who care about environmental issues look for good guys and bad guys, but it’s not like that: it’s far more complicated.

Give us an example.

There are lots of people here demonstrating and saying “No to mining”. The slogan should be “No to mining that recklessly exploits resources and people”. The activists use computers that wouldn’t exist without the metals brought up from the mines. I’m surprised they don’t see the bigger picture.

Most slaughterhouses in Argentina are models of cruelty. I could never pretend otherwise!

What do you think of the way in which meat is mass produced – the meat industry?

It’s a tragedy. Feedlot and most slaughterhouses in Argentina are models of unrestrained cruelty. I could never pretend otherwise!

There’s evidence that the resources required for meat are far greater than those required for vegetables. And, that crops make up a large part of these resources: a high percentage of them are used to feed livestock.

That’s true. I know that most soya crops are used for this purpose. I’m not saying vegans are stupid or that they should all become carnivores, I’m just saying that it’s important to be sensible, to adopt an intelligent position and show some solidarity.

To a fundamentalist, it’s a sin to mention death. What else should I call it? Euthanasia?

What is an intelligent position?

Showing solidarity with nature: the lesser evil. It’s important to encourage the responsible consumption and humane killing of animals. But to a fundamentalist, it’s a sin even to mention death. What else should I call it? Euthanasia?

If I understand correctly, your intention is to warn vegans and vegetarians that zero impact is impossible.

Most of us live in cities and know very little about the animal world. Ask your friends if they can name 10 animals and 10 wild plants native to the area they live in.

We probably wouldn’t be able to.

If we don’t know anything about nature and diversity, then we won’t be able to value it. Our universe is limited to what we see: dogs, cats, chickens, pigs, ducks, cows. Our sensitivity extends only towards them. It’s like looking through a keyhole. The world is bigger than that and far more complex, whether you accept it or not.

You talk as if you know a lot of fanatics.

There are fundamentalist carnivores and vegans. As a scientist, when I hear them speaking in that confident tone – so utterly lacking in self-doubt – it scares me. Fundamentalists only pay attention to people who think like they do, and see everyone else as an enemy. It’s a contradiction.

Our universe is limited to what we see: dogs, cats, chickens, pigs, cows. Our sensitivity extends only towards them

What?

For a carnivore to be violent is logical, but for a vegan to be violent is philosophically inconsistent.

Have you met violent vegans?

I was the managing director of Buenos Aires Zoo. I resigned because I tried to transform it into a conservation centre for endangered species but couldn’t. There were these vegans who’d demonstrate in front of the zoo, shouting at the families who came in, calling them murderers. That damages veganism. People think: if this is veganism then I want no part of it. Not all vegans are like that, of course. But there are lots of people who develop a great empathy for domestic animals only. Many of them end up hating people and that’s a pathology: it’s not healthy.

For a carnivore to be violent is logical, but for a vegan to be violent is philosophically inconsistent

In your article, you say that if the whole human race suddenly became vegan, it would be a tragedy. But some say if we were all vegan then we’d need fewer crops than we do as omnivores.

I wrote the article as a way of generating debate in my country, where the vegan movement’s grasp on environmental analysis is generally quite shaky. If the whole human race became vegan because of this type of thinking (not counting other philosophical, religious or health reasons that I won’t go into), it would be a tragedy because we wouldn’t be understanding the world’s environmental problems.

You’re not convinced by the statistics.

If a well-understood veganism contributes to improving the natural world, then I’ll gladly become a vegan. My chief concern is the conservation of biodiversity: that the wealth of life on Earth does not become impoverished.

But, again, if everyone in Argentina were vegan, wouldn’t that require fewer crops?

I don’t know. I don’t think you need to be vegan to conserve nature and biodiversity. I’m not a specialist in agricultural production development, but from what I know about the environment, it’s always better to diversify production. There should be crops, cows, beekeepers… diversity.

You don’t need to be vegan to conserve nature and biodiversity

What shortcomings do you see in the vegan movement?

I never see them fighting for the creation of new protected areas or combatting the illegal trafficking of wildlife. I see them protesting bullfighting, which no longer goes on in Argentina, and slaughterhouses. It’s like they only care about domestic animals which, again, are not in danger of extinction. I’m not saying it’s wrong – just that there’s so much more to it.

In general, do you think there’s not enough of a connection between veganism and environmental awareness?

What I find dangerous is that you spend all your energy trying to save the black cat, while knowing nothing about the environment, because maybe you’re wasting your energy; maybe your energy would have a greater impact elsewhere.It’s important to have a broad vision: it could help you analyse your situation better. If, afterwards, you still want to dedicate your life to saving black cats, that’s great, I’m appreciative of it. Defending animal rights is not incompatible with nature conservation.

Clearly, there’s a conflict between environmentalists and animal rights activists and it’s definitely going to have a big impact on the future of humanity. 

It reminds me a little of left-wing political parties: they act like they’re enemies, and yet they’re very similar and should be allies. Do you know who the biggest enemy of nature conservation is?

Who?

Indifferent people. A lot of indifferent people believe that everyone who cares about the environment is the same: we don’t eat meat, we’re do-gooding greenies who never have sex. It’s not true. We’re normal people!

Environmentalists tend to think vegans and vegetarians are just sentimental. On the other hand, the indifference of some vegans to wild animals and biodiversity concerns me

Death is a part of nature. Mixing feelings with science doesn’t seem very scientific. On the other hand, human consciousness is important, as is our responsibility for an appalling and heavy-polluting industry. Who’s wrong?

Mistakes are made on both sides. Environmentalists tend to think vegans and vegetarians are just sentimental. On the other hand, the indifference of some vegans to wild animals and biodiversity concerns me: it’s not consistent. I acknowledge the fact that humanity is a machine that devours the world. One anthropologist said that we’re cosmophagic: we devour that which surrounds us.

Are you happy about the stir your text has caused?

A lot of people insult me and attack me by saying I killed a polar bear, which isn’t true. Others provide me with new perspectives for which I thank them! I’m just a journeyman of nature conservation, a gardener, and I’ve been wrong many times. I do my best, but it doesn’t offend me to find out I’m wrong. I think like a scientist, not like a fundamentalist.

You don’t need to be vegan to conserve nature and biodiversity

Source : https://bit.ly/2eYMMSZ

How academia uses poverty, oppression, and pain for intellectual masturbation.

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How academia uses poverty, oppression, and pain for intellectual masturbation.

The politics of decolonization are not the same as the act of decolonizing. How rapidly phrases like “decolonize the mind/heart” or simply “decolonize” are being consumed in academic spaces is worrisome. My grandfather was a decolonizer. He is dead now, and if he was alive he would probably scratch his head if these academics explained  the concept to him.

I am concerned about how the term is beginning to evoke a practice of getting rid of colonial practices by those operating fully under those practices. Decolonization sounds and means different things to me, a woman of color, than to a white person. And why does this matter? Why does my skin itch when I hear the term in academic white spaces where POC remain tokens? Why does my throat become a prison of words that cannot be digested into complete sentences? Is it because in these “decolonizing” practices we are being colonized once again?

I am not granted the same humanity as a white scholar or as someone who acts like one. The performance of those granted this humanity who claim to be creating space for people of color needs to be challenged. They promote Affirmative action, for instance, in laughable ways. During hiring practices, we’re demanded to specify if we’re “aliens” or not. Does a white person experience the nasty bitterness that comes when POC sees that word? Or the other derogatory terminology I am forced to endure while continuing in the race to become America’s Next Top Academic? And these same white colleagues who do not know these experiences graciously line up to present at conferences about decolonizing methodology to show their allyship with POC.

The effects of networking are another one of the ways decolonizing in this field of Humanities shows itself to be a farce. As far as I understand history, Christopher Columbus was really great at networking. He tangled people like me in chains, making us believe that it was all in the name of knitting a web to connect us all under the spell of kumbaya.

Academic spaces are not precisely adorned by safety, nor are they where freedom of speech is truly welcome. Not all of us have the luxury to speak freely without getting penalized by being called radicals, too emotional, angry or even not scholarly enough. In true decolonization work, one burns down bridges at the risk of not getting hired. Stating that we are in the field of decolonizing studies is not enough. It is no surprise that even those engaged in decolonizing methods replicate and polish the master’s tools, because we are implicated in colonialism in this corporatized environment.

Such was the response of Mapuche leader Ñana Raquel to a group of Human Rights students from the United States visiting the Curarrehue, Araucanía Region, Chile in April 2015. Her anger motivated me to reflect upon how to re-think, question, undo, and re-read perspectives of how I am experiencing the Humanities and how I am politicizing my ongoing shifts in my rhyzomatic system. Do we do that when we engage in research? Ñana Raquel’s questions, righteous anger, and reaction forced me to reconsider multiple perspectives on what really defines a territory, something my grandfather carefully taught me when I learned how to read ants and bees.

As politicized thinkers, we must reflect on these experiences if we are to engage in bigger discussions about solidarity, resistance and territories in the Humanities. How do we engage in work as scholars in the service of northern canons, and, in so doing, can we really admit what took us there? Many of us, operating in homogeneous academic spaces (with some hints of liberal tendencies), conform when that question is bluntly asked.

As someone who was herself observed and studied under the microscopes by ‘gringos’ in the 1980s, when pedagogues came to ask us what life was like in a war zone in El Salvador, Raquel’s questions especially resonate with me. Both of us have been dispossessed and situated in North American canons that serve particular research agendas. In this sense, we share similar experiences of being ‘read’ according to certain historical criteria.

Raquel’s voice was impassioned. On that day, we had congregated in the Ruka of Riholi. Facing center and in a circle, we were paying attention to the silence of the elders. Raquel taught us a priceless lesson.  After questioning the processes used to realize research projects in Nepal and Jordan, Raquel’s passionate demand introduced a final punch. She showed us that while we may have the outward face of political consciousness, we continued to use an academic discipline to study ‘exotic’ behaviors and, in so doing, were in fact undermining, denigrating and denying lessons of what constitutes cultural exchange from their perspective.

From these interactions in the field emerge questions that go to the heart of the matter: How do we deal with issues of social compromise in the Humanities? In unlearning? In many cases, academic circles resemble circuses rather than centres of higher learning, wherein a culture of competition based on external pressures to do well motivates the relationship between teacher and student.

One of the tragic consequences of a traditional system of higher education is working with colleagues who claim to have expertise on the topic of social activism, but who have never experienced any form of intervention. I am referring here to those academics who have made careers out of the pain of others by consuming knowledge obtained in marginalized communities.This same practice of “speaking about which you know little (or nothing)” is transmitted, whether acknowledged or not, to the students who we, as teachers and mentors, are preparing to undertake research studies about decolonizing.

Linda Smith speaks about the disdain she has for the word “research,” seeing it as one of the dirtiest words in the English language. I couldn’t agree more with her. When we sit down each semester to write a guide to “unlearning’,” or rather a syllabus, we must reflect upon how we can include content that will help to transmit a pre-defined discipline in the Humanities with current social realities.

How can we create a space where a student can freely speak his/her mind without fear of receiving a bad grade?

Today, anything and everything is allowed if a postcolonial/decolonizing seal of approval accompanies it, even if it is devoid of any political urgency. These tendencies appear to be ornamental at best, and we must challenge the basis of those attempts. We can’t keep criticizing the neoliberal system while continuing to retain superficial visions of solidarity without striving for a more in-depth understanding. These are acts for which we pat ourselves on the back, but in the end just open up space for future consumers of prestige.

The corridors of the hallways in the institution where I currently work embodies this faux-solidarity in posters about conferences, colloquiums, and trips in the Global South or about the Global South that cost an arm and a leg. As long as you have money to pay for your airfare, hotel, meals and transportation, you too could add two lines in the CV and speak about the new social movement and their radical strategies to dismantle the system. You too can participate in academic dialogues about poverty and labor rights as you pass by an undocumented cleaner who will make your bed while you go to the main conference room to talk about her struggles.

We must do a better job at unpacking the intellectual masturbation we get out of poverty, horror, oppression, and pain–the essentials that stimulate us to have the orgasm. The “release” comes in the forms of discussions, proposing questions, writing grant proposals, etc. Then we move onto other forms of entertainment. Neoliberalism has turned everything into a product or experience. We must scrutinize the logic of power that is behind our syllabi, and our research work. We must listen to the silences, that which is not written, and pay attention to the internal dynamics of communities and how we label their experiences if we are truly committed to the work of decolonizing.

Source : https://bit.ly/2oLgBfT

Understanding transhumanism.

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Understanding transhumanism.

I first read Ray Kurzweil’s book, The Age of Spiritual Machines, in 2006, a few years after I dropped out of Bible school and stopped believing in God. I was living alone in Chicago’s southern industrial sector and working nights as a cocktail waitress. I was not well. Beyond the people I worked with, I spoke to almost no one. I clocked out at three each morning, went to after-hours bars, and came home on the first train of the morning, my head pressed against the window so as to avoid the spectre of my reflection appearing and disappearing in the blackened glass.

At Bible school, I had studied a branch of theology that divided all of history into successive stages by which God revealed his truth. We were told we were living in the “Dispensation of Grace”, the penultimate era, which precedes that glorious culmination, the “Millennial Kingdom”, when the clouds part and Christ returns and life is altered beyond comprehension. But I no longer believed in this future. More than the death of God, I was mourning the dissolution of this narrative, which envisioned all of history as an arc bending towards a moment of final redemption. It was a loss that had fractured even my experience of time. My hours had become non-hours. Days seemed to unravel and circle back on themselves.

The Kurzweil book belonged to a bartender at the jazz club where I worked. He lent it to me a couple of weeks after I’d seen him reading it and asked him – more out of boredom than genuine curiosity – what it was about. I read the first pages on the train home from work, in the grey and ghostly hours before dawn.

“The 21st century will be different,” Kurzweil wrote. “The human species, along with the computational technology it created, will be able to solve age-old problems … and will be in a position to change the nature of mortality in a postbiological future.”

Like the theologians at my Bible school, Kurzweil, who is now a director of engineering at Google and a leading proponent of a philosophy called transhumanism, had his own historical narrative. He divided all of evolution into successive epochs. We were living in the fifth epoch, when human intelligence begins to merge with technology. Soon we would reach the “Singularity”, the point at which we would be transformed into what Kurzweil called “Spiritual Machines”. We would transfer or “resurrect” our minds onto supercomputers, allowing us to live forever. Our bodies would become incorruptible, immune to disease and decay, and we would acquire knowledge by uploading it to our brains. Nanotechnology would allow us to remake Earth into a terrestrial paradise, and then we would migrate to space, terraforming other planets. Our powers, in short, would be limitless.

It’s difficult to account for the totemic power I ascribed to the book. I carried it with me everywhere, tucked in the recesses of my backpack, though I was paranoid about being seen with it in public. It seemed to me a work of alchemy or a secret gospel. It is strange, in retrospect, that I was not more sceptical of these promises. I’d grown up in the kind of millenarian sect of Christianity where pastors were always throwing out new dates for the Rapture. But Kurzweil’s prophecies seemed different because they were bolstered by science. Moore’s law held that computer processing power doubled every two years, meaning that technology was developing at an exponential rate. Thirty years ago, a computer chip contained 3,500 transistors. Today it has more than 1bn. By 2045, Kurzweil predicted, the technology would be inside our bodies. At that moment, the arc of progress would curve into a vertical line.


Many transhumanists such as Kurzweil contend that they are carrying on the legacy of the Enlightenment – that theirs is a philosophy grounded in reason and empiricism, even if they do lapse occasionally into metaphysical language about “transcendence” and “eternal life”. As I read more about the movement, I learned that most transhumanists are atheists who, if they engage at all with monotheistic faith, defer to the familiar antagonisms between science and religion. “The greatest threat to humanity’s continuing evolution,” writes the transhumanist Simon Young, “is theistic opposition to Superbiology in the name of a belief system based on blind faith in the absence of evidence.”

Yet although few transhumanists would likely admit it, their theories about the future are a secular outgrowth of Christian eschatology. The word transhuman first appeared not in a work of science or technology but in Henry Francis Carey’s 1814 translation of Dante’s Paradiso, the final book of the Divine Comedy. Dante has completed his journey through paradise and is ascending into the spheres of heaven when his human flesh is suddenly transformed. He is vague about the nature of his new body. “Words may not tell of that transhuman change,” he writes.

Dante, in this passage, is dramatising the resurrection, the moment when, according to Christian prophecies, the dead will rise from their graves and the living will be granted immortal flesh. The vast majority of Christians throughout the ages have believed that these prophecies would happen supernaturally – God would bring them about, when the time came. But since the medieval period, there has also persisted a tradition of Christians who believed that humanity could enact the resurrection through science and technology. The first efforts of this sort were taken up by alchemists. Roger Bacon, a 13th-century friar who is often considered the first western scientist, tried to develop an elixir of life that would mimic the effects of the resurrection as described in Paul’s epistles.

The Enlightenment failed to eradicate projects of this sort. If anything, modern science provided more varied and creative ways for Christians to envision these prophecies. In the late 19th century, a Russian Orthodox ascetic named Nikolai Fedorov was inspired by Darwinism to argue that humans could direct their own evolution to bring about the resurrection. Up to this point, natural selection had been a random phenomenon, but now, thanks to technology, humans could intervene in this process. Calling on biblical prophecies, he wrote: “This day will be divine, awesome, but not miraculous, for resurrection will be a task not of miracle but of knowledge and common labour.”

This theory was carried into the 20th century by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a French Jesuit priest and palaeontologist who, like Fedorov, believed that evolution would lead to the Kingdom of God. In 1949, Teilhard proposed that in the future all machines would be linked to a vast global network that would allow human minds to merge. Over time, this unification of consciousness would lead to an intelligence explosion – the “Omega Point” – enabling humanity to “break through the material framework of Time and Space” and merge seamlessly with the divine. The Omega Point is an obvious precursor to Kurzweil’s Singularity, but in Teilhard’s mind, it was how the biblical resurrection would take place. Christ was guiding evolution toward a state of glorification so that humanity could finally merge with God in eternal perfection.

Transhumanists have acknowledged Teilhard and Fedorov as forerunners of their movement, but the religious context of their ideas is rarely mentioned. Most histories of the movement attribute the first use of the term transhumanism to Julian Huxley, the British eugenicist and close friend of Teilhard’s who, in the 1950s, expanded on many of the priest’s ideas in his own writings – with one key exception. Huxley, a secular humanist, believed that Teilhard’s visions need not be grounded in any larger religious narrative. In 1951, he gave a lecture that proposed a non-religious version of the priest’s ideas. “Such a broad philosophy,” he wrote, “might perhaps be called, not Humanism, because that has certain unsatisfactory connotations, but Transhumanism. It is the idea of humanity attempting to overcome its limitations and to arrive at fuller fruition.”

The contemporary iteration of the movement arose in San Francisco in the late 1980s among a band of tech-industry people with a libertarian streak. They initially called themselves Extropians and communicated through newsletters and at annual conferences. Kurzweil was one of the first major thinkers to bring these ideas into the mainstream and legitimise them for a wider audience. His ascent in 2012 to a director of engineering position at Google, heralded, for many, a symbolic merger between transhumanist philosophy and the clout of major technological enterprise.

Transhumanists today wield enormous power in Silicon Valley – entrepreneurs such as Elon Musk and Peter Thiel identify as believers – where they have founded thinktanks such as the Singularity University and the Future of Humanity Institute. The ideas proposed by the pioneers of the movement are no longer abstract theoretical musings but are being embedded into emerging technologies at organisations such as Google, Apple, Tesla and SpaceX.

Losing faith in God in the 21st century is an anachronistic experience. You end up contending with the kinds of things the west dealt with more than a hundred years ago: materialism, the end of history, the death of the soul. When I think back on that period of my life, what I recall most viscerally is an unnamable sense of dread. There were days I woke in a panic, certain that I’d lost some essential part of myself in the fume of a blackout, and would work my fingers across my nose, my lips, my eyebrows, and my ears until I assured myself that everything was intact. My body had become strange to me; it seemed insubstantial. I went out of my way to avoid subway grates because I believed I could slip through them. One morning, on the train home from work, I became convinced that my flesh was melting into the seat.

At the time, I would have insisted that my rituals of self-abuse – drinking, pills, the impulse to put my body in danger in ways I now know were deliberate – were merely efforts to escape; that I was contending, however clumsily, with the overwhelming despair at the absence of God. But at least one piece of that despair came from the knowledge that my body was no longer a sacred vessel; that it was not a temple of the holy spirit, formed in the image of God and intended to carry me into eternity; that my body was matter, and any harm I did to it was only aiding the unstoppable process of entropy for which it was destined.

To confront this reality after believing otherwise is to experience perhaps the deepest sense of loss we are capable of as humans. It’s not just about coming to terms with the fact that you will die. It has something to do with suspecting that there is no difference between your human flesh and the plastic seat of the train. It has to do with the inability to watch your reflection appear and vanish in a window without coming to believe you are identical to it.

What makes the transhumanist movement so seductive is that it promises to restore, through science, the transcendent hopes that science itself has obliterated. Transhumanists do not believe in the existence of a soul, but they are not strict materialists, either. Kurzweil claims he is a “patternist”, characterising consciousness as the result of biological processes, “a pattern of matter and energy that persists over time”. These patterns, which contain what we tend to think of as our identity, are currently running on physical hardware – the body – that will one day give out. But they can, at least in theory, be transferred onto supercomputers, robotic surrogates or human clones. A pattern, transhumanists would insist, is not the same as a soul. But it’s not difficult to see how it satisfies the same longing. At the very least, a pattern suggests that there is some essential core of our being that will survive and perhaps transcend the inevitable degradation of flesh.

Of course, mind uploading has spurred all kinds of philosophical anxieties. If the pattern of your consciousness is transferred onto a computer, is the pattern “you” or a simulation of your mind? One camp of transhumanists have argued that true resurrection can happen only if it is bodily resurrection. They tend to favour cryonics and bionics, which promise to resurrect the entire body or else supplement the living form with technologies to indefinitely extend life.

It is perhaps not coincidental that an ideology that grew out of Christian eschatology would come to inherit its philosophical problems. The question of whether the resurrection would be corporeal or merely spiritual was an obsessive point of debate among early Christians. One faction, which included the Gnostic sects, argued that only the soul would survive death; another insisted that the resurrection was not a true resurrection unless it revived the body.

Transhumanists, in their eagerness to preempt charges of dualism, tend to sound an awful lot like these early church fathers. Eric Steinhart, a “digitalist” philosopher at William Paterson University, is among the transhumanists who insist the resurrection must be physical. “Uploading does not aim to leave the flesh behind,” he writes, “on the contrary, it aims at the intensification of the flesh.” The irony is that transhumanists are arguing these questions as though they were the first to consider them. Their discussions give no indication that these debates belong to a theological tradition that stretches back to the earliest centuries of the Common Era.

While the effects of my deconversion were often felt physically, the root causes were mostly cerebral. My doubts began in earnest during my second year at Bible school, after I read The Brothers Karamazov and entertained, for the first time, the problem of how evil could exist in a world created by a benevolent God. In our weekly dormitory prayer groups, my classmates would assure me that all Christians struggled with these questions, but the stakes in my case were higher because I was planning to become a missionary after graduation. I nodded deferentially as my friends supplied the familiar apologetics, but afterward, in the silence of my dorm room, I imagined myself evangelising a citizen of some remote country and crumbling at the moment she pointed out those theological contradictions I myself could not abide or explain.

I knew other people who had left the church, and was amazed at how effortlessly they had seemed to cast off their former beliefs. Perhaps I clung to the faith because, despite my doubts, I found – and still find – the fundamental promises of Christianity beautiful, particularly the notion that human existence ultimately resolves into harmony. What I could not reconcile was the idea that an omnipotent and benevolent God could allow for so much suffering.

Transhumanism offered a vision of redemption without the thorny problems of divine justice. It was an evolutionary approach to eschatology, one in which humanity took it upon itself to bring about the final glorification of the body and could not be blamed if the path to redemption was messy or inefficient. Within months of encountering Kurzweil, I became totally immersed in transhumanist philosophy. By this point, it was early December and the days had grown dark. The city was besieged by a series of early winter storms, and snow piled up on the windowsills, silencing the noise outside. I increasingly spent my afternoons at the public library, researching things like nanotechnology and brain-computer interfaces.

Once, after following link after link, I came across a paper called “Are You Living in a Computer Simulation?” It was written by the Oxford philosopher and transhumanist Nick Bostrom, who used mathematical probability to argue that it’s “likely” that we currently reside in a Matrix-like simulation of the past created by our posthuman descendants. Most of the paper consisted of esoteric calculations, but I became rapt when Bostrom started talking about the potential for an afterlife. If we are essentially software, he noted, then after we die we might be “resurrected” in another simulation. Or we could be “promoted” by the programmers and brought to life in base reality. The theory was totally naturalistic – all of it was possible without any appeals to the supernatural – but it was essentially an argument for intelligent design. “In some ways,” Bostrom conceded, “the posthumans running a simulation are like gods in relation to the people inhabiting the simulation”.

One afternoon, deep in the bowels of an online forum, I discovered a link to a cache of “simulation theology” – articles written by fans of Bostrom’s theory. According to the “Argument for Virtuous Engineers”, it was reasonable to assume that our creators were benevolent because the capacity to build sophisticated technologies required “long-term stability” and “rational purposefulness”. These qualities could not be cultivated without social harmony, and social harmony could be achieved only by virtuous beings. The articles were written by software engineers, programmers and the occasional philosopher.

The deeper I got into the articles, the more unhinged my thinking became. One day, it occurred to me: perhaps God was the designer and Christ his digital avatar, and the incarnation his way of entering the simulation to share tips about our collective survival as a species. Or maybe the creation of our world was a competition, a kind of video game in which each participating programmer invented one of the world religions, sent down his own prophet-avatar and received points for every new convert.

By this point I’d passed beyond idle speculation. A new, more pernicious thought had come to dominate my mind: transhumanist ideas were not merely similar to theological concepts but could in fact be the events described in the Bible. It was only a short time before my obsession reached its culmination. I got out my old study Bible and began to scan the prophetic literature for signs of the cybernetic revolution. I began to wonder whether I could pray to beings outside the simulation. I had initially been drawn to transhumanism because it was grounded in science. In the end, I became consumed with the kind of referential mania and blind longing that animates all religious belief.


I’ve since had to distance myself from prolonged meditation on these topics. People who once believed, I have been told, are prone to recidivism. Over the past decade, as transhumanism has become the premise of Hollywood blockbusters and a passable topic of small talk among people under 40, I’ve had to excuse myself from conversations, knowing that any mention of simulation theory or the noosphere can send me spiralling down that techno-theological rabbit hole.

Last spring, a friend of mine from Bible school, a fellow apostate, sent me an email with the title “robot evangelism”. “I seem to recall you being into this stuff,” he said. There was a link to an episode of The Daily Show that had aired a year ago. The video was a satirical report by the correspondent Jordan Klepper called “Future Christ”, in which a Florida pastor, Christopher Benek, argued that in the future, AI could be evangelised just like humans. The interview had been heavily edited, and it wasn’t really clear what Benek believed, except that robots might one day be capable of spiritual life, an idea that failed to strike me as intrinsically absurd.

I Googled Benek. He had studied to be a pastor at Princeton Theological Seminary, one of the most prestigious in the country. He described himself in his bio as a “techno-theologian, futurist, ethicist, Christian Transhumanist, public speaker and writer”. He also chaired the board of something called the Christian Transhumanism Association. I followed a link to the organisation’s website, which included that peculiar quote from Dante: “Words cannot tell of that transhuman change.”

All this seemed unlikely. Was it possible there were now Christian Transhumanists? Actual believers who thought the Kingdom of God would come about through the Singularity? I had thought I was alone in drawing these parallels between transhumanism and biblical prophecy, but the convergences seemed to have gained legitimacy from the pulpit. How long would it be before everyone noticed the symmetry of these two ideologies – before Kurzweil began quoting the Gospel of John and Bostrom was read alongside the minor prophets?

A few months later, I met with Benek at a cafe across the street from his church in Fort Lauderdale. In my email to him, I’d presented my curiosity as journalistic, unable to admit – even to myself – what lay behind my desire to meet.

He arrived in the same navy blazer he had worn for The Daily Show interview and appeared nervous. The Daily Show had been a disaster, he told me. He had spoken with them for an hour about the finer points of his theology, but the interview had been cut down to his two-minute spiel on robots – something he insisted he wasn’t even interested in, it was just a thought experiment he had been goaded into. “It’s not like I spend my days speculating on how to evangelise robots,” he said.

I explained that I wanted to know whether transhumanist ideas were compatible with Christian eschatology. Was it possible that technology would be the avenue by which humanity achieved the resurrection and immortality? I worried that the question sounded a little deranged, but Benek appeared suddenly energised. It turned out he was writing a dissertation on precisely this subject.

“Technology has a role in the process of redemption,” he said. Christians today assume the prophecies about bodily perfection and eternal life are going to be realised in heaven. But the disciples understood those prophecies as referring to things that were going to take place here on Earth. Jesus had spoken of the Kingdom of God as a terrestrial domain, albeit one in which the imperfections of earthly existence were done away with. This idea, he assured me, was not unorthodox; it was just old.

I asked Benek about humility. Wasn’t it all about the fallen nature of the flesh and our tragic limitations as humans?

“Sure,” he said. He paused a moment, as though debating whether to say more. Finally, he leaned in and rested his elbows on the table, his demeanour markedly pastoral, and began speaking about the transfiguration and the nature of Christ. Jesus, he reminded me, was both fully human and fully God. What was interesting, he said, was that science had actually verified the potential for matter to have two distinct natures. Superposition, a principle in quantum theory, suggests that an object can be in two places at one time. A photon could be a particle, and it could also be a wave. It could have two natures. “When Jesus tells us that if we have faith nothing will be impossible for us, I think he means that literally.”

By this point, I had stopped taking notes. It was late afternoon, and the cafe was washed in amber light. Perhaps I was a little dehydrated, but Benek’s ideas began to make perfect sense. This was, after all, the promise implicit in the incarnation: that the body could be both human and divine, that the human form could walk on water. “Very truly I tell you,” Christ had said to his disciples, “whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these.” His earliest followers had taken this promise literally. Perhaps these prophecies had pointed to the future achievements of humanity all along, our ability to harness technology to become transhuman. Christ had spoken mostly in parables – no doubt for good reason. If a superior being had indeed come to Earth to prophesy the future to 1st-century humans, he would not have wasted time trying to explain modern computing or sketching the trajectory of Moore’s law on a scrap of papyrus. He would have said, “You will have a new body,” and “All things will be changed beyond recognition,” and “On Earth as it is in heaven.” Perhaps only now that technologies were emerging to make such prophecies a reality could we begin to understand what Christ meant about the fate of our species.

I could sense my reason becoming loosened by the lure of these familiar conspiracies. Somewhere, in the pit of my stomach, it was amassing: the fevered, elemental hope that the tumult of the world was authored and intentional, that our profound confusion would one day click into clarity and the broken body would be restored. Part of me was still helpless against the pull of these ideas.

It was late. The cafe had emptied and a barista was sweeping near our table. As we stood to go, I felt that our conversation was unresolved. I suppose I’d been hoping that Benek would hand me some portal back to the faith, one paved by the certitude of modern science. But if anything had become clear to me, it was my own desperation, my willingness to spring at this largely speculative ideology that offered a vestige of that first religious promise. I had disavowed Christianity, and yet I had spent the past 10 years hopelessly trying to re-create its visions by dreaming about our postbiological future – a modern pantomime of redemption. What else could lie behind this impulse but the ghost of that first hope?

Source : https://bit.ly/2oMlOmn

Mixed-Race America Is Not Enough to Save The Country.

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Mixed-Race America Is Not Enough to Save The Country.

Americans like to fantasize that a mixed-race future will free them from the clutches of racism.

But this illusion is incompatible with an America in which the presidential election was won by the candidate who ran a “Make America Great Again” campaign, which many critics have pointed out was widely heard as a call to “Make America White Again.”

If the election results are a vindication for those championing the politics of President Trump, the demographic trends point in the opposite direction. Today, the United States’ mixed-race population is growing three times faster than the general population, and optimism about the impact that mixed-race people can have on a racially-divided country abounds.

What Biracial People Know,” a recent op-ed in The New York Times, argues that the growing multiracial population may act as a “vaccine” to the bigotry that buoyed Trump’s campaign, granting America “immunity” to the longstanding politics of exclusion shaped by racism.

But this hope that a mixed-race future will result in a paradise of interracial and ethnically-ambiguous babies is misleading. It presents racism as passive — a vestigial reflex that will fade with the presence of interracial offspring, rather than as an active system that can change with time. A 2015 study by Pew Research Center concluded that mixed-race Americans describe experiences of discrimination in the form of slurs, poor customer service, and police encounters. These figures were highest among people of black-white and black-Native American descent.

In their personal lives, mixed-race people may feel pressure to identify with one group or the other. They may have their sense of identity or belonging dismissed by the groups to which they belong, or by the dominant society.

Diana Sanchez, an associate professor in psychology at Rutgers University and a scholar of multiracial identity and experiences, says mixed-race individuals may face subtle forms of aggression in their daily interactions. “People have trouble putting multiracial people in a box … and have opinions about how they should be racially categorized,” she explained. In such instances, mixed-race people may not seamlessly blend in with others’ perceptions, but rather be told that they do not belong to a group, or that they must choose only one, contrary to their personal identity. For some, this disconnect between their sense of self and how the world identifies them can be difficult to navigate.

But when it comes to systemic barriers, experts point out that instances of racial discrimination for mixed-race people may not be very different from the experiences of people who identify as belonging to a single race. Tanya Hernandez, professor of law at Fordham University and the author of the forthcoming book Multiracials and Civil Rights, points out that in legal cases covering a wide-range of contexts, including education, employment, public accommodations, and criminal justice, “people who identify as mixed-race … describe … strikingly binary, black/white or White/non-white forms of discrimination.” Hernandez adds that many mixed-race people find themselves discriminated against, not explicitly because of their mixed-ness, but because of their belonging to a non-white group. She explained that in most of these cases, “the individual…is lumped together in stark contrast to whites, so it’s a white/non-white racial hierarchy.”

The fact that mixed-race people who present as non-white face discrimination because of their proximity to a non-white group reinforces the idea of racial discrimination emphasizing categorization with one group, rather than hybridity. As Sanchez notes, regardless of personal identity, “a lot of research points [out that] mixed-race people tend to be perceived along the lines of their minority identity.”

But what happens to those who aren’t easily categorized?

While not all mixed-race people are considered racially ambiguous, and not everyone perceived as racially ambiguous is of mixed parentage, there is evidence that the inability to categorize people as one race or the other may itself present new forms of bias. Sanchez’s research suggests that white people from less-diverse neighborhoods have more difficulty processing the faces of mixed-race individuals, and that this may result in bias. White people with less exposure to non-whites “have more discomfort trying to make decisions about mixed-race people…and that has consequences for their beliefs around those groups,” she notes.

The upshot, according to Sanchez, is that “the more [people] are exposed to racially-ambiguous individuals, the more likely they are to see race as a social construct, not a biological one.” That realization, that race is a social fiction, “would be a step in the right direction … in terms of trying to reduce racial prejudice and social inequalities,” she says. If people are willing to accept that race is a human fabrication, they may also be more willing to shift their attitudes and perceptions about other groups.

Still, Hernandez, whose work often compares discrimination in the United States to parts of Latin America, is not particularly optimistic. She points out that the myth of racial mixture leading to societal harmony has long been a feature of many Latin American countries. She illustrates the point with the popular notion that Brazil has eluded racism through racial mixture, or the idea that Venezuela is a “café con leche” society in which everyone is racially mixed and free of prejudice. In these cases, Hernandez reiterated that the mere existence of multiracial communities “has not undermined the continuing racial hierarchy, in which the darker you are, the worse you are thought of … White supremacy is alive and well in Latin America.”

Acknowledging that mixed-race people may experience discrimination and that institutional racism, along with individual prejudice, can take forms that target mixed-race people, is central to developing policies that address the dynamic face of racism and the effects it has on our communities. But realizing that a mixed-race society can also uphold racism is crucial to a nuanced understanding of the challenge of recognizing and overcoming racism and bias.

Ultimately, the narrative that imagines mixed-race people as a panacea for racism is a flawed one that reinforces ideas around the very existence of race. Instead, we might want to refocus our conversation around how the collective fiction of race is weaponized to limit access to equality and justice for some groups and not others, then maybe we’re onto something.

Source : https://n.pr/2MotSmk