The Asset-Light Generation – A Sign of Humanity Evolution?

We are moving from an era where it was important to possess everything to an era where it is considered cumbersome.  From racks of CDs and DVDs to music (Spotify) and movies (Netflix) in the cloud, accessible by subscription from a small handheld device.  From bookcases full of books to reading on demand from an iPad.  From stores full of products to eCommerce sites full of data.  From workplaces with cubes and desks to telecommuting and Workforce as a Service (WaaS).  From owning cars to sharing cars (Uber).  From a physical wallet full of cash and credit cards, to digital wallet transactions with just enough bitcoin in the account to satisfy “just in time” needs.

This new era is called the Shared Economy or Collaborative Economy and the individuals who thrive in it are becoming known as the Asset-Light Generation (fka Millennials, or Gen Y).

It strikes me that in many philosophies and spiritual teachings, the suppression of material desires is a crucial step on the road to evolving the spirit.

“All suffering is caused by desire.”
– Buddha

“If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.”
– Jesus Christ

“It is preoccupation with possessions, more than anything else, that prevents us from living freely and nobly.”
– Bertrand Russell

“When we share – that is poetry in the prose of life.”
– Sigmund Freud

“It ain’t no fun if the homies can’t have none.”
– Snoop Dogg

So I wonder – if each generation of humanity is becoming less interested in ownership and increasingly more comfortable with the idea of sharing resources, is that another indication that humanity is evolving spiritually?

Or is it just cool tech?


Signs of Real Humanity Evolution

We humans spend a lot of time talking about and worrying about and doing stuff that doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things.  And I’m not just talking about the obvious things, like Real Housewives of New Jersey.  I mean stuff that the media and schools tell us is important.  Including stuff that I used to think was important – like politics, GMOs, how “big chemical” is poisoning us, the revolving door between government, finance and business, widespread corruption, and how the financial elite continues to fleece us peons.  I still think these things are important, because they impact those whom we care about.

But, from a broader, larger, and historical perspective, which party wins the election, what the stock market does, which countries rise or fall, or who wins the war, are, to quote Dr. Evil, “quite inconsequential.”  It’s like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.  Everyone dies and new humans take their place.  Every civilization declines and new ones rise.

Where is the evolution of humanity?

Evolution Devolution

It is a mistake to think it is found in science or technology.  As much as I love gadgets and the bleeding edge of high tech, products do not equate to the evolution of a species.  Cloning, nuclear power, nanotech, and 3D printing are not signs of human evolution.  They are merely examples of our ability to control matter.

Nor are medical advances that extend our life expectancy.  Does it really make sense that living longer evolves our species in some way?  On the contrary, it only causes more problems.  Humans now have to compete with an ever-increasing number of humans for limited resources.  Instead of dying of quickly of natural causes, we live past our natural life expectancy and instead die slowly and miserably, often without dignity.  And the increasing human population rapidly takes away and destroys habitats for countless species of other conscious life forms, as well as using them for cruel experimental medical research, which continues the cycle and only serves to make big pharmaceutical companies even bigger.  It is all based on the mistaken assumption that we live in a cold materialistic objective reality.  Hardly evolved thinking.

All is not lost however.  Despite the war profiteers and religious nuts that contribute to the devolution of humanity, we slowly progress in the right direction.  From the Magna Carta in 1215 to the United States Bill of Rights in 1789 to broader recognition of gender and racial equality in the 20th Century, to the fact that homicide rates have dropped by a factor of 30 in Europe over the past 500 years, it can be said that this trend represents positive evolution.

Another good sign is the general trend away from religious dogma and toward spiritual growth.  The percentage of Americans who don’t identify with a particular religious preference has grown steadily from 2% in 1950 to 16% in 2010.  At the same time, the desire for “spiritual growth” has increased from 58 percent in 1994 to 82% five years later, according to a USA Today/Gallup poll.  Why is this a sign of evolution?  Because religious dogma teaches you that you are right and they are wrong, while unaffiliated spiritual discovery almost always results in the recognition that love is what really matters.

And finally, my favorite sign of human evolution is exemplified by what India did a few months ago in declaring dolphins to be “non-human persons” with similar rights including the right not to be held captive.  Three other countries have similar laws and more are sure to follow.  I believe that this, along with a significant trend away from cruel animal practices (think free range chickens, more vegetarians, and the growth of no-kill shelters) is a sure sign that more and more humans are recognizing that they aren’t the only ones with rights on this planet.  Truly evolved thinking.

So maybe there’s hope for us yet.

DNA: Evidence of Intelligent Design or Byproduct of Evolution?

DNA is a self-replicating nucleic acid that supposedly encodes the instructions for building and maintaining cells of an organism.  With an ordered grouping of over a billion chemical base pairs which are identical for each cell in the organism, the unique DNA for a particular individual looks kind of like statements in a programming language.  This concept is not lost on Dr. Stephen Meyer (Ph.D., history and philosophy of science, Cambridge University), who posits that the source of information must be intelligent and therefore DNA, as information, is evidence of Intelligent Design.  He argues that all hypotheses that account for the development of this digital code, such as self-organization and RNA-first, have failed.  In a well publicized debate with Dr. Peter Atkins (Ph.D., theoretical chemistry, University of Leicester), a well known atheist and secular humanist, Atkins counters that information can come from natural mechanisms.  Sadly, Atkins resorts to insults and name calling, so the debate is kind of tainted, and he never got a chance to present his main argument in a methodical way because he let his anger get the best of him.  But it raised some very interesting questions, which I don’t think either side of the argument has really gotten to the bottom of.

ID’ers trot out the Second Law of Thermodynamics and state that the fact that simple molecules can’t self replicate without violating that Law proves Intelligent Design.  But it doesn’t really.  The Second Law applies to the whole system, including many instances of increased disorder weighed against the fewer instances of increased order.  Net net, disorder TENDs to increase, but that doesn’t mean that there can’t be isolated examples of increased order in the universe. That seems to leave the door open to the possibility that one such example might be the creation of self-replicating molecules.

Another point of contention is about the nature of information, such as DNA.  Meyer is wrong if he is making a blanket assertion that information can only come from intelligence.  I could argue that, given a long enough period of time, if you leave a typewriter outdoors, hailstones will ultimately hit the keys in an order that creates recognizable poetry.  So the question boils down to this – was there enough time and proper conditions for evolutionary processes to create the self-replicating DNA molecule from non-self replicating molecules necessary for creating the mechanism for life?

The math doesn’t look good for the atheists.  Dr. Robert L. Piccioni, Ph.D., Physics from Stanford says that the odds of 3 billion randomly arranged base-pairs matching human DNA is about the same as drawing the ace of spades one billion times in a row from randomly shuffled decks of cards.  Harold Morowitz, a renowned physicist from Yale University and author of Origin of Cellular Life  (1993), declared that the odds for any kind of spontaneous generation of life from a combination of the standard life building blocks is one chance in 10E100000000000 (you read that right, that’s 1 followed by 100,000,000,000 zeros).  Famed British Royal Astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle, proposed that such odds were one chance in 10E40000, or roughly “the same as the probability that a tornado sweeping through a junkyard could assemble a 747.”  By the way, scientists generally set their “Impossibility Standard” at one chance in 10E50 (1 in a 100,000 billion, billion, billion, billion, billion).  So, the likelihood that life formed via combinatorial chemical evolution (the only theory that scientists really have) is, for all intents and purposes, zero.

Atkins, Dawkins, and other secular humanists insist that materialism and naturalism are pre-supposed and that there is no argument for the introduction of the logic of intelligence into science.  That sounds to me to be pretty closed minded, and closes the door a priori on certain avenues of inquiry.  Imagine if that mentality were applied to string theory, a theory which has no experimental evidence to start with.  One has to wonder why science is so illogically selective with respect to the disciplines that it accepts into its closed little world.

My interest in this goes beyond this specific debate.  I have a hobby of collecting evidence that our reality is programmed.  I’m not sure yet whether DNA has a place in that collection yet.  It will definitely need a little more thought.



Entropy and Puppies, like a Hand and a Glove

Ah yes, the good old 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. The idea that the total disorder of a system, e.g. the universe, always increases.  Or that heat always flows from hot to cold.  It’s why coffee always gets cold, why money seems to dissipate at a casino, why time flows forward, why Murphy had a law, why cats and dogs don’t tend to clean up the house.

Ultimately, due to this rather depressing physical law, the universe will die by “heat death,” where it reaches a state of absolute zero, no more heat, no motion of particles.  Don’t worry, that’s not predicted for another 10^100 (or, a Googol) years.  But, I always wondered, is it always always the case, or can entropy decrease in certain circumstances?

Got a spare fortnight? Google “violations of the second law of thermodynamics.”  Personally, I rather like Maxwell’s idea that it is a statistical argument, not an absolute one. “Maxwell’s Demon” is that hypothetical device that funnels hot molecules in one directions and cold ones in the opposite, thereby reversing the normal flow of heat.  Could a nanotech device do that some day?  Yes, I know that there has to be energy put into the system for the device to do its work, thereby increasing the size of the system upon which the 2nd law holds.  But, even without the demon, aren’t there statistical instances of 2nd Law violation in a closed system?  Not unlike the infinitesimal probability that someone’s constituent atoms suddenly line up in such a manner that they can walk through a door (see recent blog topic), so could a system become more coherent as time moves to the future.

What about lowering temperature to the point where superconductivity occurs?  Isn’t that less random than non-superconductivity.  One might argue that the energy that it takes to become superconductive exceeds the resulting decrease in entropy.  However, I would argue that since the transition from conductive to superconductive occurs abruptly, there must be a time period, arbitrarily small, during which you would watch entropy decrease.

There are those who cite life and evolution as examples of building order out of chaos.  Sounds reasonable to me, and the arguments against the idea sound circular and defensive.  However, it all seems to net out in the end.  Take a puppy, for instance.  Evolutionary processes worked for millions of years to create the domestic dog.  Entropy-decreasing processes seem to responsible for the formation of a puppy from its original constituents, sperm and an egg.  But then the puppy spends years ripping up your carpet, chewing the legs of the furniture and ripping your favorite magazines into little pieces; in short, increasing the disorder of the universe.  Net effect?  Zero.