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The Future According to a Philosopher, Buddhist, and Scientist

Oct 24, 2017

The Future According to a Philosopher, Buddhist, and Scientist


Humanity isn’t doing so hot right now. Following our country’s change of direction earlier this year, the science-backed doomsday clock ticked to the second closest humanity has ever come to the apocalypse, topped only once before by Russia’s first successful hydrogen bomb test in the Cold War. But if we do somehow make it, society will someday be led by the most educated and least paid generation in history. So how are we going to fare? We asked experts from three different fields for their professional opinions.

Philosophy: Dr. Philip Rudd

Dr. Philip Rudd earning his doctorate at the University of Iowa, so he can be considered a connoisseur of sound. He’s the right man to speak philosophy with because music has been long-proven to have deep ties to philosophy, especially considering the kinds of music he currently teaches during his orchestra, violin, and music history classes at Denison University. Having studied music at such extensive depths, he took a liking to the philosophical understandings of the music he naturally came across. Nowadays, he retains his interest by focusing his research on aesthetics, theology, and existentialism. Though it has been several years since he taught music and philosophy in my hometown, Dr. Rudd has remained widely regarded, so reaching out to him was an instinctive first-choice.

“In my view, philosophy has moved from the more abstract and theoretical work of the past century into a mode that is driven by the need to find answers for serious issues in the world,” Dr. Rudd began. He believes the older generation’s dogmas, or sets of principles a society believe in, has been weakened by our desire for short, powerful meanings in life. Think “love is love,” “follow your heart,” or anything else people on Instagram try to be artsy by posting under pictures of them oh-so-mysteriously staring off into the distance.

Those pictures actually represent philosophy’s greatest threat. “If the only philosophical resources of the modern world are Tweets, Facebook memes, simplistic slogans, and internet comment-section outrage,” Dr. Rudd referenced, “real-life issues such as refugee crises, Trumpism, nationalism, environmental disaster, etc. will be solved by politics of brute force rather than by philosophy.”

Dr. Rudd has a great point. We saw how brute-forced bullying worked for the presidential election, so our minds are scarred on a generational level by what attitudes promote success. Short, easy-to-say phrases that hold powerful meanings (such as “make America great again”) have defeated traditional more complex belief systems that are based on a wide array of logic, awareness, and morals (such as why displaying racism, denying global warming, and making fun of people with disabilities won’t help Flint Michigan get drinkable water). If we stick with this simple train of thought, tomorrow is doomed from our short-term desires of today.

Thankfully, Dr. Rudd has hope. “The dreamers and thinkers are still out there, and [that’s] a good thing, because the future will require immense wisdom,” he predicted, noting the necessity of older philosophy’s depth in creating limitations for technology. Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk also back this up. The exponential advancement of AI puts humanity at risk if we don’t program technology with the morals, and to make these morals, we will need to heed Dr. Rudd’s urge on keeping the comprehensive, thought-provoking older dogmas alive.

Keeping the rooted beliefs of old dogmas alive for tomorrow will be essential if we’re repairing the damages done by those only focusing on today, so we will need to ready the roots of our morals for the impact. “Philosophy will need to adapt to cope with a future in which we may have to rebuild our world itself,” Dr. Rudd reflected before hinting our possibilities, “or even other worlds…”

Buddhism: Bill Bohlman

Most of us already have a basic understanding on Christian beliefs because America is predominantly Christian, so hearing about a religion we don’t often cross paths with could be a breath of fresh air. Enter Bill Bohlman, the VP of Religious Affairs at the Buddhist Temple of Chicago who was kind enough to shed some light on Buddhism by sharing his own interpretation.

“Unlike most other belief systems, Buddhism has neither a creation story nor an end of times story,” Bill shared. Contrary to other religions’ views that offer reasons as to how we got here and what happens after we die, Buddhism is formed around a belief in an eternal now, which Bill describes with, “the past is how we remember it; the future is how we think it will be. The only time that really exists is this very moment.”

But didn’t philosophy warn us on solely focusing on short-term gratification? Not in the same way, thanks to karma, which Buddhism doesn’t view in the black or white terms of good or bad. “It is simply that all things are the result of that which has come before. Therefore, from a Buddhist perspective, the future is shaped by [our] actions today,” Bill clarified. Despite focusing on the now, Buddhism doesn’t teach to ignore the future.

It starts with you. Bill advised, “Buddhism is about understanding that the only person you can hope to control is yourself.” Individuals should be mindful of their current actions because they will affect how much suffering is in the future. Basically, if you’re good today, you’ll bring those good vibes into tomorrow.

But are we each responsible for all terrible actions made? Referring to war, poverty, and all the bad we’ve brought upon ourselves, Bill admitted, “unfortunately, the human species has never proven to be able to avoid suffering.” Our collective future will be shaped by our actions as a whole, so we’ll all be affected by the world’s choices today. Sorry, elephants.

Thankfully, Bill and all other Buddhists have our backs. “All we can do as Buddhists is our part in reducing future suffering,” he reassured before courteously apologising, “I know this isn’t a rosy picture of the future, but Buddhism is about reality, not wishes. The future starts right now; it is up to us how it turns out.”

There’s no better example of being noble: though Bill is aware that crime, selfishness, and suffering is still going to happen on a widespread level regardless of his actions, he believes in something greater than himself as an individual. Buddhism inspires believers like him to continually be a good person each and every day for the good of all, not just so he alone will make it to an endless paradise after death.

Regardless of your religious opinions, Bill’s lesson is still one we all could take note of. If we do, maybe tomorrow won’t be too bad after all. Besides, if everybody believes that the only time that really exists is in the very moment, maybe nobody will block our view at concerts by recording with their smartphones, right?

Science: Gregory Heinlein

Though not technically a doctor yet for about another year, Gregory is currently working on furthering the design of everybody’s favorite NASA project, BLI2DTF. If you aren’t in the loop with the lingo of current government undertakings, he’s behind the fuel-saving next generation of blended wing body aircraft. Oh, and he’s also working on a design for the Go Fly Prize, which is Boeing’s $2 million reward for building a jetpack, so he’s gotten more than a hearty enough serving of science to offer some valuable insight.

Gregory was quick to bring up how our current limits are being pushed by machine learning, or when Artificial Intelligence is used to autonomously make itself smarter. Machine learning bypasses our simple human minds’ restrictions on the rate of obtaining and utilizing new knowledge by using machines to think for us. This also means their power will continue to explode like the value of a Bitcoin, much like they already have. “Take for example driverless cars. 15 or 20 years ago, the idea that you could have enough computational power onboard a small vehicle so that it could drive itself was science fiction,” Gregory related. “Now, the technology that allows this to happen is being used in almost every scientific field from optimizing designs, to analyzing huge data sets, to much more efficiently performing tasks that humans used to do.”

Then machine learning is a good thing, right? Not if you’re already having enough trouble holding off sinking into the seemingly endless ocean our generation’s student debt, because your job is going to be replaced. “In the future, a robot or machine learning program could effectively do every job on the planet.” Gregory declared. “Of course many people say ‘oh not my job!’ (like creating art, doing design work in any field, picking fruit, making furniture, etc.), but they fundamentally misunderstand how machine learning works, and [how] a machine can take their job while doing it better and [cheaper].”

Like most of us at some point, Mr Heinlein also wonders how we can adapt to not having a job, although likely for different reasons. “I believe in the future, humans are going to have to [both] redefine themselves and their role in society because they will no longer be an integral part of fulfilling their basic needs (food, water, shelter, etc.).” A lack of jobs can create an across-the-board pandemonium over our need for self-fulfillment because of how our societal structure operates by defining us with our careers. Think of how often a person’s occupation is the first thing stated when others describe them, or how the unemployed are generally frowned upon because they couldn’t “just get a job.” If robots get all durka durka on us, there could be enormous ramifications, and unfortunately, Mr Heinlein doesn’t believe interesting inventions like driverless cars will help us. “Other ‘game changing’ technologies are in essence meaningless if we cannot figure out how to work in a new machine-driven society,” he stated.

So what are we supposed to do? “Humans need to switch to intellectual pursuits,” Gregory recommended before concluding, “otherwise, we are going to end up like the movie Idiocracy, and there, we will all perish.”

Though camouflaged by a seemingly morose ending, Mr Heinlein’s words actually have a reassuring message. Instead of getting caught up in the routine of waking up, going to work, sleeping, and repeating, perhaps you should go find something to do solely for enjoyment. Not necessarily some extra job to pay rent, but something to do solely for you. That way, even if I, Robot becomes a reality and we lose our tenuous physical and intellectual grips on the world like Gregory predicted, at least you’ll have something that gives you a purpose. That’s sort of how I took up writing (and I can hardly read), so we’ll eventually figure how to manage just dandily.