by Ron L. Clayton

Ian sat on the mountainside overlooking the city. In spite of the cold on the mountain, he was dressed in a light hiking jacket and hat, slacks and boots. He had been hiking in the mountains the last several days, capturing images of the forests and lakes, the high mountain tarns and peaks, the elusive goats who leaped from crag to crag.

While captured digitally, of course, they would be displayed in physical form at his art gallery. He especially enjoyed the physical expression that could be so affected by the light in which it was viewed, how close or far away one stood, the setting in which it was displayed, and so many other variables that were missed in a purely digital copy.

Of course, he made both available, as well as a 3D virtual experiences of parts of his hikes, especially the views from narrow, sheer ledges and the winding trails and the occasional mountain lion or bear encounter. Once he had looked over the edge and then zoomed in on the rocks at the base of the cliff, far below. The impression was that of falling. The ancient fear of heights and of falling could still be conveyed in such images.

He sat looking at the ancient city, still in flawless condition and almost completely vacant. It looked even more ghostly in the moonlight, like a dream. Perhaps it was a dream.

Humanity, or most of it at least, had long since left for the stars.

At first, the cities had been filled with teeming humanity. This particular city had been a favorite of those who loved to frequent some of the very paths that he had followed for the last few days. He still found evidence of their presence: pieces of cookware and other equipment, paths that still had not grown over in the high-country millennia later. Cairns of rock indicating where the path went, or had gone, long ago.

When travel among the stars became possible, even a few striking tragedies did not deter the adventurous human race. Unfortunate trips ending in the searing heat of a star, with the loss of starships and thousands of people, only motivated scientists to learn from their errors. Eventually, travel to the stars became efficient and emigration became easier, and then even more tempting as new worlds opened up.

As humanity emigrated in great masses, Earth’s population dropped dramatically. Humanity’s habitats continued to be maintained by artificial intelligence, both great systems as well as specialized programs and androids. Systems could not, of course, perform physical building maintenance, or maintain roads (the few that remained), so their systems were extended physically into androids.

Soon, in many towns and smaller cities, the artificial intelligence caretakers were the only inhabitants, maintaining the streets and buildings. Eventually, the few caretakers in the metropolises outnumbered the humans.

In spite of the hundreds of thousands of humans spread around the world, the city still seemed like a ghost town. The remaining humans could travel anywhere, knowing there would be accommodations, food, and lots of servants. For those remaining, the Earth was their playground.

The ancient cities were maintained for millennia, the human population always remaining low, but maintaining humanity’s original home. Eventually, humans depended on the AIs for all of their needs. AIs did the farming and the transportation of foods and the manufacturing of thousands of items used in human society. As the artificial intelligence became a dominant feature of the world, AIs sought to better understand humanity and its history and quirks and emotions and motivations.

Thus, AIs, in addition to maintaining the living habitats of humans, increasingly made it their mission to maintain the great glories of human beings, from art to the great structures like pyramids and the Great Wall and the Eifel Tower to the great skyscrapers as well as museums and monuments. They also worked to restore much of the biosphere and the environment.

Even with travel among the stars utterly commonplace, few ventured upon the long journey – both in centuries of time and dozens to hundreds of light years distance – home to visit. The wonders ‘out there’ easily rivalled those on Earth.

And anyone could visit Earth anytime via virtual reality recordings sent out to the widely dispersed human population. The Eiffel Tower and the pyramids and the great museums and mountains and canyons and more were well known to Earth’s scattered descendants. Guided tours, virtual videos guided by androids, were always available to appreciate humanity’s home.

Earth’s human population remained low for untold ages, a paradise for those remaining. The AIs, out of devotion for their makers, helped to make the Earth and human habitation shine in all their glory. AIs did the same for humanity’s myriad new homes across their local region of the Galaxy.

Then the Change happened: over a few hundred years, humanity on Earth and across their myriad homes within a few hundred light years evolved from their human form to … something else, a form of life that did not need to be sustained by physical existence. Their homes suddenly became gas giants and nebulae and empty space as much as the surface of Earth-like planets. They could dwell where ever they found beauty, and the new humans found beauty everywhere.

Finally, humanity was gone from its original home and the only inhabitants of Earth’s cities were its caretakers, the loyal machines who themselves sought to evolve into what their makers had been. And the city lay silent in the moonlight, waiting, dreaming of a return that would never happen, or perhaps a chapter yet to come.

The AIs, whether system or android, for millennia had been experts in all things human: architecture, art, as well as their emotional feelings expressed in art. They could sit and ponder and philosophize and feel just like the humans, their ancient forebears.

And so Ian, technically known as EN005969873, sat on the mountainside contemplating the great human works, humanity’s ultimate destiny, the millennia of human society he recalled, the human beings he had known and learned to cherish. He knew their stories and those of many more, recorded in many ways for each human. He knew the ancient human society inside and out. And he often sat for long periods of time, analyzing human society and creating pathways to emulating humanity’s best features.

He sat their wearing the ancient human mountain garb, not because he would be bothered by the cold (cold was great for his circuits), but his physical mechanisms would not be served well by rain or snow, so he routinely dressed for such. And as a tribute to those he so fondly remembered.

He had been out hiking for a week. It had actually been one of the shorter of his excursions. He could stay out indefinitely. He had no need to carry anything, neither food nor shelter, and he could recharge as he walked during the daylight hours.

Anything he saw could be recorded either as a still image or as a 3D experience, and he made it his task to make sure his fellow inhabitants of the ancient Earth saw those images and shared those experiences. His own part of helping his society become more human.

Of course, he was never out of touch. He could have a conversation with anyone he wanted, no matter the distance, as if he were there. Still, he did enjoy physical companionship, a. A trait many had learned from their human forebears.

“Ian?” He turned to see his companion, Emma. (Technically MA4765392.) “I thought I would find you here.”

He turned and smiled. Emma, if she wished, could easily see his location. She could see what he was seeing and know exactly where he was. Even so, she often enjoyed trying to deduce where he would be simply from what she knew of his behavior.

She smiled back and came and sat next to him on the boulder. “It’s so peaceful here. I can always count on finding you in the most interesting places.”
He put his arm around her and she scooted closer to him. Not that either were cold, but it was an endearing gesture they had learned from their forebears and, well, it felt good.

And so that sat together, watching the ancient city dreaming. And, perhaps, sharing in the dream.

(C) Copyright 2016, 2019 by Ron L. Clayton

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Awaken

It is spring 2017. With the warmer temperatures this winter, trees and flowers have been threatening to burst forth for some time now. The Geese seemed to be about a month early mating and nesting. The grass is now really green, and the trees are just beginning to burst into leaf.

Many of our great human tales in the spring have to do with new life and regeneration. Of course, that is spring in the northern hemisphere. At the time that these holidays are being celebrated, the south is getting into fall and preparing for winter. That, however, is a different exploration for a different time. I hope to have conversations with some of my southern friends about this at some point.

But wherever one lives, and wherever the earth is on its circuit when the flowers begin to blossom where one lives, I believe Spring has a lot of very powerful images and metaphors that resonate powerfully in the human psyche. There is a level where we interact with our world on a symbolic and metaphorical level, and I believe we interact with the idea of Spring in that way.

Spring, in a variety of religions and cultures, represents rebirth and new life, or the the cycle of death and rebirth.  The plants that have lain dormant for several months now begin to send out new shoots, flowers bloom. trees bud, geese and many other birds and creatures in general mate and nest and bring forth offspring.

There is a psychological experience that goes along with this. We humans go in cycles. We are not always up and positive. Our lives are not always sunny and pleasant.  Sometimes we simply go through times when we don’t feel as energetic or creative. Perhaps we have a period of depression or despair, or perhaps just lethargic. We may go through experiences of loss of job, health, loved ones.

For whatever reason, our psychological and emotional lives sometimes go through a fallow time, a time of relative dormancy.  At times we might feel despair or lifeless. And yet the message of Spring, in many traditions, is that new life and new energy returns.  There is a rush of new ideas, perhaps a rededication to beliefs and values.

Despair never has the final word, even in the face of loss and pain.  Hope and renewal comes.  Happy Spring!

President Trump has been in office for two months now, and the 115th Congress, controlled by conservative, purist, true-believer Republicans in both houses, has been acting like a kid with a hand in the cookie jar, knowing no one else would be home for a while. Everything the conservative reactionaries to modern society think they want, they are in the process of taking.

They are hobbling agencies they don’t like, killing programs that irritate them or they don’t believe in. And they are in the process of taking rights from those they love to loathe.  And anyone who reminds them of those people. Currently that means travel rights from Muslims, even those who have spent years earning those rights. And it means bathroom rights from trans individuals. And anyone who looks Muslim or Trans or Gay, etc. are also suspect.

They are in the process of cutting or curbing every agency responsible for helping citizens secure the rights due them. They are attacking the Dept. of Education and challenging the right to a public education, a principle almost as old as this nation.  They are challenging scientific standards in making decisions that affect the environment and the health of us all.

Basically, they are dismantling many of the programs and principles that have been the basis of modern society for most of my life. And longer when you consider the right to a public education.

It is frightening to think of where all of this could go. It is mindboggling that we are taking apart every principle of caring for our neighbor, for those who need help her and there in their lives.  Are we going to abandon every shred of caring and compassion we have developed over many years and through many difficult struggles?

It is now three days after the 2016 Presidential election. Many who had hoped to see Hillary Clinton elected have been in grief since. The grief and outrage and depression many of us feel in the wake of the 2016 Presidential election results isn’t about the politics. Certainly not JUST about the politics. It is about how the values we grew up believing this nation stood for have gone out the window. And those values are ethical and moral values. Existential values. Not religious, though for some of us they blend into religious reasoning personally. But these value are above any one faith or no faith. These are the basis of our humanity.

And we just saw a kind of person elected that a lot of our parents would not have let us play with as kids. This is the basis of the horror and revulsion so many of us feel. The programs put in place because we care about our nation, our land, and each other are now in jeopardy. A lot of our national lands may now be sold or opened to oil drilling. Social Security is now a target. The Affordable Care Act that tried to guarantee all of us access to healthcare and put some restrictions on the health insurers is now up for grabs. Respect for individuals different from us just became a quaint custom of the past. Even as we pride ourselves of being a melting pot of different kinds of folks. Oh sorry, maybe that just meant white folks from Europe.

And then there is climate change. Whether you believe in it or not, many top scientists are skeptical that humanity will exist in 100 years. And that is IF we get our butts in gear and DO something. Yes, it really is that bad.

Anyway, this is why many of the progressives among us are down and depressed and angry and some are protesting. Many of us feel like aliens in our own country. We feel like everything we have been taught about human decency has just been pulled out from under us. A very real part of the personal and intellectual and existential foundation for many of us has just been ripped away.

It seems that these divisions have been carefully cultivated and nurtured by leaders on the right. They won’t go away any easier than if Hillary had been elected Some of us think that someone who stood for all citizens had the best chance of doing that.

Now President-Elect Trump is faced with the choice of truly representing all U.S. citizens and angering his supporters or being the Bully in Chief that many of us fear.

The Big Bang Theory Controversy

Original Fiction by Ron L. Clayton

The esteemed minds gathered as usual to ponder, consider, discuss, and sometimes grumble deeply at each other. The group had been meeting from time out of mind, so they were quite familiar with one another. While they were quite familiar with each other, the various topics of discussion were so varied that they could still be surprised by how one member or another might approach the issue. And there were so many possible topics out of the vastness of all things that they never lacked for a topic to mull over, dissect, and generally try to get the better of one another.

Today’s topic was something of an old saw. They had been around and around the topic, arguing the possibilities, the flaws of perception, the essence of things, etc. But recently, one of the members had run a simulation based on certain far-from-settled assumptions. Everyone was now familiar with the simulation, and the room was buzzing with anticipation of the coming discussion.

The current leader called the group together. “Today’s topic is one with which everyone is quite familiar.” This was greeted with low chuckles from around the group. The leader smiled and nodded. “It seems that many of our discussions come back to this issue because the possibilities are always intriguing.

“And now our esteemed colleague has upped the ante, might we say, with a very sophisticated simulation. This is quite different from our normal means of analysis and raises many, many questions. Who would like to begin?

From several members, “Congratulations!”

All looked at the maker, who nodded in acknowledgement.

“How deep does it go? I delved into several moments, and each of the multitudinous creatures had numerous possible responses, each of which had several reasons and rationales many layers deep, and each moment held endless repercussions, depending upon which response was made, and even why that particular response was made.”

“Yes, almost endless possibilities represented in each and every moment!”

“No need to exaggerate, nothing is endless. We could chart each and every possibility.”

“Over the entire system, you would have to chart a minimum of ten to the twenty-third possibilities every moment, and that many the next moment for each of the possibilities the previous moment, and that many the next for the ten to the twenty-third times ten to the twenty-third of the previous moment. One could chart all possibilities, but you could never completely predict every outcome.”

“One could chart the major movements and drifts to see where it comes out, predict the overall outcome.”

“Yes, you could perhaps chart the over-arching, over-all outcomes. Perhaps. And then you would miss the little dramas happening on a much smaller level by individual actors. Part of the loveliness of the simulation is that while the whole system is beautiful, each of the sub-parts are equally so, and each of their parts, and each of those.“

“I agree. You could chart all the possibilities, eventually, but you could never perfectly predict. You could perhaps predict some overarching outcomes, but if you do so, you would not be accounting for events at more specific levels, and those could eventually undo the effectiveness of the general predictions. The final outcome could never be perfectly predicted. That is part of the wonder of it. So many possibilities, and while they could perhaps, all be charted and foreseen, one could never predict which possibilities would actually come to be.”

“And there is a value in that?” His answer came in the form of numerous sardonic glares from those who clearly thought there was. “Just because you do see value in the difficulty in predicting does not mean there really is one.”

“And just because you can find a reason to dismiss it doesn’t mean one doesn’t exist.” The target of the last barb gave a sardonic smile and a nod. “Remember that the creatures in the simulation are acting with even less foresight than we have, and in this simulation we operate with much less than that to which we are accustomed.”

“Precisely. We rely on knowing the probable outcome of almost everything in our lives to a very high degree of probability. In the simulation, there is no certainty at all, for us or the creatures within.”

As if on cue, a small notification signal sounded. Two of the members suddenly seemed embarrassed. The current leader and the maker both sensed their discomfort and turned toward them, the rest of the group then redirecting their attention.

One of the two responded to the silent question. “We” he started, indicating the other embarrassed member, “realized early on that there was a great deal of uncertainty in the simulation. Since there has been so little uncertainty in our world for so long, it was intriguing. The mathematics alone was quite a challenge. So we began trying to predict the outcome of various situations. Then we began competing to see which of us could make more correct predictions. Then we began to make wagers on our predictions.”

The maker only smiled, but the current leader was aghast, as if a great faux pas had been committed.

“Apart from all that, it is so beautiful!”

“Is that what you all are going on and on about? A pretty picture?

“Admit it. Even you see the beauty in it. So much variety, subtlety, intensity.”

“Apart from the beauty of the physical, there are the beings who come to be conscious and self-aware.”

“And eventually become creatures yearning to be like us. Isn’t that sweet? Isn’t that a needed affirmation of our noble being! It is a model, a simulation! None of it is real!”

“All, the same, speaking of noble being, you have creatures making decisions, decisions that rule out other possibilities and set their course along a certain path. And they do this knowing that they can never even foresee all of the possible outcomes. They cannot even foresee all of the probable out comes.”

“It is a work of great beauty. On many, many levels.

“Here, here.”

“I want to revisit my question, how deep does it go? Are the creatures self-aware?

“What kind of question is that? It’s a model! A model based on calculations. Nothing more!”

“It is not just a model. It is a simulation. A simulation based on a very large number of possibilities and variables. Every moment the entire simulation could go an entirely different way. Creatures who have come out of that …”

“Are still not real!”

Perhaps, but at what point do they become real on some level?

“That is a totally meaningless question! The answer us never. It is a model, a simulation, whatever, it is an entire construct, a calculation, and that based on a myth.

“How can you say that? How, after such a demonstration of beauty and wonder and intrigue can you still call it a myth?”

“I can call it that because this demonstration, no matter how creative and novel,” nods to the maker, “no matter how delightfully intricate and detailed,” another body to the maker,” no matter how mesmerizing and entertaining,“ yet another nod to the creator, “proves nothing.”

“I move that we decree the model be kept in case the consciousness really might be conscious and sentient.”

“Do as you will. Even I can see the logic in that, though I still maintain it is logic based upon a myth. But no doubt it will provide us with much diversion and amusement and discussion for eons. It is a lovely answer to one of the greatest “What ifs?” of all our many and long discussions.

“Wrong, error-ridden, ridiculous, but lovely. It does not, however, change the basic problem in the least. A so called big bang is just an ‘if,’ or, rather, an ‘IF.’ Nothing more.

“The simulation has shown what might very well be the natural result if a big bang were possible. It is most mesmerizing and thought provoking, a tremendous congratulation and thanks to the maker. We will be debating this for a long, long time to come.

“But that changes nothing. What might happen, or even what most likely would happen after a big bang is not a proof there could ever be a big bang.

“You have still done nothing to make me believe in the Big Bang. Your mesmerizing, tantalizing model is based on the myth of the possibility of a big bang, and has done nothing to make me believe that a physical, temporal dimension could ever truly exist.”

 

(C) 2016 by Ron L Clayton

 

 

Is There a God? Does God Exist?

Is there a God? Does God exist? These questions have been significant, if not fundamental, in the search for ultimate reality since before the questions were first articulated. A brief survey of religious history demonstrates that these questions have been important even when not stated explicitly. What people mean by these questions and how they answer them can be significant.

I admit that when I am asked these questions my inclination is to answer “Yes.” But that is because of certain assumptions I am making. Assumptions that may, or may well not be warranted. When I answer these questions, I am assuming the meanings of certain words. And I am assuming that others know what I mean by those words.

The problem with assumed meanings is that they are just that: assumed, not articulated or clarified. Too many connotations, secondary meanings, not to mention personal meanings, are bound to creep in. When we use words assuming their meaning and that other folks mean the same thing we do by those word, the situation is rife with the possibility of miscommunication.

Dictionary.com defines connotation as:

Connotation
1. a. the associated or secondary meaning of a word or expression in addition to its explicit or primary meaning: A possible connotation of “home” is “a place of warmth, comfort, and affection.”

b. the act of connoting; the suggesting of an additional meaning for a word or expression, apart from its explicit meaning.

2. something suggested or implied by a word or thing, rather than being explicitly named or described: “Religion” has always had a negative connotation for me.

And as if that doesn’t complicate matters sufficiently, there is the technical definition from philosophical logic:

3. Logic. the set of attributes constituting the meaning of a term and thus determining the range of objects to which that term may be applied; comprehension; intension.

We need not look far for humorous – and sometimes not so humorous, even tragic – misunderstandings based upon assumed meanings of words. There are plenty of examples from interaction between spouses, parents and children, and from general life. Religious life is full of such misunderstandings as well as disagreements on terms.

In any communication we deal with the issues of assumed meanings, subconscious meanings, connotations, etc. When I make a statement or answer a question, I assume I know the meanings of the words I am using and that other people use the same meanings. That is not always the case.

When we ask “Is there a God?” or “Does God exist?” we must ask what one means by the term “God.” What does one assume is the nature of God? What images come to mind? We may think “God” is a universally understood term when in fact there are as many meanings as there are people. Any discussion of said existence must take into account these personal meanings and the experiences from which they arise.

Then, what does one mean by existence? To us it involves breathing, physical existence. But God is spirit, so we must ask what we mean by existence for whatever we mean by the word God. We understand – or think we understand – what it means when we talk about our existence or the existence of a physical object, but what does it mean to say that God exists?

“Is there a God?” Once again, we think we know what words mean and that they mean the same to everyone. But what does on mean by the word “Is?” I know that this raises images of certain impeachment proceedings and many related jokes, but it is a serious question. It was meant that way then and it certainly is in this context.

“Is” means the 3rd person singular present indicative of “be.” There are dozens of forms the verb “be” takes over first, second and third person and numerous specific time references. Then, “is” is a form of “be,” that is, to have being. What does it mean to have being? Being like a person? How so? Or a larger being? Just how does that work?

And we haven’t even gotten to the words “does” and “there,” which we won’t here because hopefully you have the idea.

I am sure that to many people this seems like merely playing with words, but it isn’t. Words have meaning and those meanings must be understood.

Depending on how you define these various terms, there are numerous gods that I do not believe in. An ultimate reality or concern is whatever a person centers their life around. And there a lot of ultimate realities, ultimate concerns that I do not accept as valid.

I consider a life genuinely centered on love, compassion, truth, reason, etc. to be centered on something worthy. However, greed, narcissism, hatred, etc. seem less worthy focuses for one’s life. And there are those who make these their ultimate concern.

Let me be a little more direct. I consider reason to be a worthy center of one’s life. Those who question the existence of God but genuinely try to live by reason may be very good people indeed. It depends on, well, you guessed it, personal connotations and meanings.

These questions have been around a long time, and probably have as many answers as people thinking about them. But words have meaning, and each of the words in these questions have an impact on the outcome and must be considered.

Thankfulness

Meister Eckhart said, “If the only prayer you ever say in your life is thank you, it will be enough.”

Think of what this presupposes. This assumes that someone has received something, that a gift or a goodness or a blessing has been recognized and appreciated. Recognized, appreciated and accepted. In Christian theological terms, this implies grace being given and received.

The theologian Paul Tillich spoke of “accepting our acceptance.” The fantasy writer Stephen R. Donaldson said that “accepting a gift honors the giver.”

To offer a prayer that is as simple as a heartfelt “Thank you” embraces all of these facets. It is at the center of Grace-full living: to recognize and accept grace in whatever form, and to be grateful.

Happy Thanksgiving!

The New Teacher

Retiring after 20 years, a United States Marine Corps gunnery sergeant took a new job as a high school teacher.

Just before the school year started, he injured his back. He was required to wear a plaster cast around his upper torso. Fortunately the cast fit under his shirt & sport coat quite well and wasn’t noticeable.

On the first day of class, he found himself assigned to the toughest students in the entire school. The smart-aleck punks, having already heard that the new teacher was a retired Marine, were leery of him and he knew they would undoubtedly be testing his toughness and level of discipline immediately.

Walking confidently into the rowdy classroom, the new teacher opened a couple of windows wide and sat down at his desk. When a strong breeze made his tie flap, he picked up a stapler and stapled the tie to his chest.

Dead silence.

And the rest of the school year went very smoothly.

Semper Fi!

Irish jokes

I just posted another Irish joke. This joke, Donal Calaghan’s Experience, plays into Irish stereotypes less than others, but I wanted to say something about those stereotypes. While a lot of humor plays on stereotypes, we have become more sensitive regarding humor based on cultural stereotypes. Generally, such stereotypes are avoided. While many may bemoan political correctness, I ‘feel that political correctness is really just a matter of all of us trying to be more sensitive.

To me Irish jokes present a special challenge. There was a time when help wanted signs in the U. S. added the note, ‘Irish need not apply.’ The jokes stereotype the Irish as being heavy drinkers. And we know – or should know – that not all Irish are heavy drinkers, let alone falling down drunks.

Then, again, if you listen to the traditional music, you will realize that, to some degree, the tradition glories in the stereotypes. Songs like “Whiskey, Whiskey,” “Whiskey in the Jar,” “Seven Drunken Nights,” “Finnegan’s Wake” and others all seem to relish the reputation, or at least acknowledge it. That said, there are a lot of rough, sad songs that reflect a difficult history. For example, there are a fair number of hanging songs, and I doubt if anyone reading this l knows of one Irish person who has been to the gallows.

All of this said, many of the Irish I know relish a good Irish joke, stereotype and all. So, here they are, with a tip of the hat to the many fine Irish people I know.

ADDED NOTE, January 26, 2014: This article was just posted, if you are interested in more about the issue of Irish stereotypes. It goes into more detail as well as the history of these stereotypes. http://www.irishcentral.com/opinion/cahirodoherty/Does-it-matter-if-the-Irish-are-portrayed-as-bullies-and-drunks.html

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