Tuesday, May 1, 2012
Late getting this blog post out today. Busy day, running errands including the always god-awful chore of renewing my license. The payoff - the DMV is right next to The Honey Baked Ham Company. I didn't buy a ham - just the stripped bone which I use to make wonderful pea soup. Very cool that they sell the bones. And then a trip to The Spice House in Evanston. Now that is an amazing place! Kind of like an old timey country store with barrels and a wood floor but not hokey The first thing you notice is, of course, the smell - freshly ground spices of every kind mixed into one pungent, spicy, sweet smell in your nose. They don't charge for the smell so even if you don't need any spices, go there for a whiff. Bought Tahitian vanilla (there is none better), Bourbon vanilla beans, freshly ground cardamom, tellicherry pepper, white pepper, Saigon cinnamon (you couldn't get Vietnamese cinnamon a few years back before the embargo was lifted), chile powder and more. Everyone looks forward to my party cooking - I want the flavors to pop so fresh spices always.
There was a man with his family - foreign, maybe Middle Eastern and he was quizzing the shop-girl about when the Ceylon cinnamon had been ground - she checked - it was ground on Friday. He was satisfied with that response and ordered four pounds of it to be shipped to Phoenix. I burned with curiosity to know what he could possibly want with four pounds of cinnamon and why it had to be shipped. The conspiracist in me wondered if there was an evil use for cinnamon and if I should be reporting him to the authorities as a "person of interest, overly interested in cinnamon". Sad my mind went there. I was relieved of my curiosity and worry when I heard him describe to the cashier that he works with bees - cinnamon is in one of the remedies he prescribes to heal a hive. So interesting!!! A scientist not a cinnamon terrorist!
And speaking of interesting, remember my fascination with the book, The Most Human Human and the ensuing discussion? You will remember that I took a leap and suggested that maybe we should just outsource the left side of our brains because the functions that reside there are, for the most part, accomplished better by computers. What makes us uniquely human does not reside in our left side. When I was clipping art for writing prompts, one article jumped out at me - Smithsonian magazine, entitled You, Robot - How to Become the Engineers of Our Own Evolution written by Abigail Tucker. The article was about a new and growing movement called "Transhumanism" - "a movement that seeks to transform Homo sapiens through tools like gene manipulation, 'smart drugs' and nanomedicine" in an effort to become engineers of our own evolution. "Transhumans," Tucker writes, "say we are morally obligated to help the human race transcend its biological limits; those who disagree are sometimes called Bio-Luddites." Apparently there is end of life thinking among the followers - some crossover event in the mid 21st century ("rapture for geeks"). "Some transhumanists believe the only humans able to adapt will be those who have become cyborgs and merged their minds with intelligent machines."
The article ended with concerns voiced by political scientist, Francis Fukuyama, the author of the book, The End of History. He was on the President's Council on Bioethics (did you know there is a Council of Bioethics? - good to know, right?) I quote, he "warns that efforts to rid ourselves of negative emotions could have unforeseen side effects, making us less human. 'If we weren't violent and aggressive, we wouldn't be able to defend ourselves,' he wrote in Foreign Policy. 'If we never felt jealousy, we would also never feel love.' "
This is a lot to think about. First off, that I wasn't far-fetched to think at some point in the future, it might be routine to get a computer implant at birth - something to enhance us (the term the transhumanists use is "enhanced humans"). Not so far fetched either to think that maybe we will be outsourcing the left side of our brain to machines as I predicted. And I can envision society planners scheming about how there could be world peace if we "enhanced" our brains to eliminate our violent barbaric natures. With some creative thinking we could think of a whole slew of benefits to merging ourselves with intelligent machines. We could become a smarter, less impulsive, kinder, less aggressive, more productive species!
If you think this is weird, think about the modern trend of prescribing brain altering drugs for people diagnosed with mood disorders. At least half the people I know are either on, or have been on brain meds like anti-depressants - as if it's not normal to feel depression, grief, anxiety and other unpleasant emotions. As you know, this past year has been an absolute bear for me. There were two times when I contemplated ending my life but my support system was good and I got immediate help. I have cried almost every day since last June, plumbed depths of sadness and despair I didn't even know existed within me, railed at the gods, took to my bed at times, flirted with alcoholism, and more.What I never considered was taking drugs to make the pain go away. Somehow through all of it, I knew I was experiencing life at its finest. Strange to say that right - that being so unhappy can be characterized as life as its finest? Think about it - the peak experiences we have are the meat of life - the rest, filler like the recitative in an opera. To expand the analogy, some arias are transcendent and joyful while others make you want to slash your wrists, they're so tragic. What arias share in common is, they are the peak experiences of the opera. We wait patiently through all the recitative (filler) to experience the highs and lows - to feel strongly.
Today Elizabeth finished the books, The Hunger Games. We both agreed the books were beyond barbaric, and yet we counted ourselves among those who enjoyed them. If you liked them too (or the movie) don't fool yourself that somehow you are above the barbarism of the central government who made a television spectacle of children fighting other children to the death. While you tut-tut them, step back and look at your own complicity - you are one of them. You bought the book or went to the movie, so own your own barbaric nature. It's in each of us.
The challenge today is thinking about the future and where we are headed as a species. The transhumanist movement may be fringe now, but there is something there that's all too real and possible. Big pharma is already altering the human race one pill at a time, anesthetizing millions of us to our feelings. Well meaning social planners seeking world harmony could be the ones who do the most damage - proponents of technologies that would pacify the masses. Not all of this is as far-fetched as it sounds. I, for one, like the unenhanced version of Sarah just fine, neuroses and all. If you're in my camp, let's keep our radar on alert for anything that would "enhance" us. Let them call us Bio-Luddites!