Scientists & Sociopaths

“Only justice, fairness, consideration and cooperation can lead men to the dawn of eternal peace.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower

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Presently, our world is largely run by politicians, financiers and other figures, many of whom exhibit traits of narcissism and sociopathy. Power seems to be held by those who manipulate society without much regard for its citizens. But while the Machiavellian  may fail to see the utility in collaboration, he is surely in the minority. And though he stands at the top of society, it is innovation that feeds the roots of every industry, and science that upholds every facet of our civilization. Clearly, the true potential of our species remains not with the short-sighted ends of the selfish, but with the thinkers who work for the broader visions of humanity. Should there be an ideological revolution, a global cooperation, then it must begin with those who are capable of embracing a cosmic perspective.

“For peace to reign on Earth, humans must evolve into new beings who have learned to see the whole first.” – Immanuel Kant

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Carl Sagan: “Once we overcome our fear of being tiny, we find ourselves on the threshold of a vast and awesome Universe that utterly dwarfs the tidy anthropocentric proscenium of our ancestors. We gaze across billions of light-years of space to view the Universe shortly after the Big Bang, and plumb the fine structure of matter. We peer down into the core of our planet, and the blazing interior of our star. We read the genetic language in which is written the diverse skills and propensities of every being on Earth. We uncover hidden chapters in the record of our origins, and with some anguish better understand our nature and prospects…

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Nebula NGC 6357 (8,000 l.y. away)

…We invent and refine agriculture, without which almost all of us would starve to death. We create medicines and vaccines that save the lives of billions. We communicate at the speed of light, and whip around the Earth in an hour and a half. We have sent dozens of ships to more than seventy worlds, and four spacecraft to the stars. We are right to rejoice in our accomplishments, to be proud that our species has been able to see so far, and to judge our merit in part by the very science that has so deflated our pretensions…

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Earth at night. Photo by NASA.

…[But] the sword of science is double-edged. Its awesome power forces on all of us, including politicians, a new responsibility—more attention to long-term consequences, a global and trans-generational perspective, an incentive to avoid easy appeals to nationalism and chauvinism. Mistakes are becoming too expensive.”

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SAUL LOEB/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology.” – Carl Sagan

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By 2037, an estimated 47% of jobs done by humans will be performed by machines. (Source: The Economist, 2017)

“You can’t have people making decisions about the future of the world who are scientifically illiterate. That’s a recipe for disaster.” – Neil deGrasse Tyson

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The Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland is the world’s largest machine, built in collaboration with over 10,000 scientists and engineers from more than 100 countries.

“Science is international but its success is based on institutions, which are owned by nations. If we wish to promote culture, we have to combine and organize institutions with our own power and means.” – Albert Einstein

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The ALMA array in Chile is the world’s most complex telescope and largest astronomical project, built in collaboration with the scientific communities of Asia, Europe and North America. Photo by ESO/José Francisco Salgado.

“Science knows no country, because knowledge belongs to humanity, and is the torch which illuminates the world.” – Louis Pasteur

There is no foreseeable end to the progression of the human mind and the evolution of its intellect. The growth of our knowledge is accelerating. We predict cosmic and quantum phenomena with increasing precision, and manipulate the laws of nature in ways that are inconceivable to the ordinary mind. We expect to find and spread life beyond Earth within a few centuries. We will soon have the ability to edit our own genes, and to guide our own evolution. And we will soon create machines more powerful—minds more intelligent—than ourselves. We dream of colonizing the galaxy, and of discovering the truth about our origins. As Sagan said, “we are a way for the Cosmos to know itself.”

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We exist at a peculiar time in humanity. While some of us dream of colonizing Mars or achieving AI supremacy, others claim that the Earth is flat or that homosexuals cause hurricanes. Sure, we’ve always had a diversity of ideologies, but never have we seen such a divide between our intelligence and our ignorance. Just as we begin to discover our capacity for growth and exploration, we find ourselves on the verge of self-destruction. If humanity is to survive, then we must mobilize the intellectual community to take its place as the head of the human system. We need an agreement among the thinkers who will ultimately guide the future of our species.

“I believe, indeed, that overemphasis on the purely intellectual attitude has led directly to the impairment of ethical values. Without ethical culture, there is no salvation for humanity”…”A new type of thinking is essential if mankind is to survive and move toward higher levels.” – Albert Einstein

For this reason, my argument is directed towards an academic audience. But these ideas are meant to give everyone a sense of purpose and belonging—you don’t have to be very smart to understand this discussion. The following is meant to make you think outside the box, but the argument I present is conceptually simple and, for most readers, rather intuitive. And if you’re anything like me, then you might find this idea to be incredibly satisfying on both an intellectual and emotional level.

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And should you care about injustices or inequalities of any kind, then realize that our moral progress is bound to our intellectual progress. In fact, the Enlightenment ideals of liberty and equality were born largely from the critical reasoning advanced by the Scientific Revolution. Together, these movements formed the moral and intellectual foundations of Western Civilization. But if our progress is to continue, then we need another movement, one that stirs every scholar and humanitarian around the world. We need a spiritual revival¹ that makes practical use of the compassion and altruism potentiated by every major faith. But unlike other religious² awakenings, this one must begin with the intellectual mind.

¹The word “spiritual” can mean different things to different people. As neuroscientist and philosopher Sam Harris writes in his book, Waking Up (2014), “Scientists generally start with an impoverished view of spiritual experience, assuming that it must be a grandiose way of describing ordinary states of mind—parental love, artistic inspiration, awe at the beauty of the night sky…Many atheists consider all talk of spirituality to be a sign of mental illness, conscious imposture, or self-deception.” But he argues that “the landscape of human experience includes deeply transformative insights about the nature of one’s own consciousness,” and that many spiritual insights “confirm some well-established truths about the human mind: Our conventional sense of self is an illusion; positive emotions, such as compassion and patience, are teachable skills; and the way we think directly influences our experience of the world…” While he is referring to insights revealed by meditation and mindfulness, I reason that the spiritual tendencies of the mind allow for more than just a temporary access of these insights or a brief escape from the burdens of consciousness. Rather, human nature might allow for a permanent realization of these truths.

²Throughout my philosophy, I use the words “spirituality” and “spiritual” rather interchangeably with “religion” and “religious.” However, I recognize that spiritual insights and experiences often exist outside the context of organized religion. Concepts like self-transcending love and moral goodness can certainly manifest outside of dogmatic beliefs and superstitious rituals. Nonetheless, my philosophy has some elements that might be considered “religious” in the sense that they might inspire various forms of moral and social order, but never in the sense that they should limit our freedom of thought and expression. Free will may be an illusion, but one that we can create.


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