Sunday, March 28, 2021

Society/Self And Wave/Particle Duality

                                                                                           written 21 March 2021

                                                                                       published 28 March 2021



            One of my favorite movies is "A Beautiful Mind", about the Nobel prize winning mathematician, John Nash.  The larger story is a triumph of intention and heart over mental illness.  But I was fascinated by the core of Nash's mathematical discovery, what he called "governing dynamics".  He showed there are two fundamental, simultaneous forces organizing any society, human or otherwise: the drive for individual gain, and the drive for societal gain.  In the movie, when Nash presents his thesis in 1950, his advisor notes that it overturns centuries of capitalist economic theory.  

            Capitalism is an economic model based only on the first of these two drives, the assumption that everyone is always operating from their most selfish motives.  Over the last half century, this has devolved to maximizing profits for corporate shareholders at the expense of everything else.  In addition to creating corruption at the top, it has produced massive wealth inequity.  In America, the wealthiest country in the world, two men (Jeff Bezos and Elan Musk) own as much wealth as the poorest 40% of the country, more than 130 million people.  This profit has come at great environmental cost as well, with increasing air, water, and food contamination, global species extinction, and the potential collapse of the entire biosphere (not to mention the economy), due to abrupt climate change.   

            State Communism is an economic model based only on the second drive, the assumption that the collective society is the only value.  This created corruption at the top, massive institutional oppression of the individual, stifled creativity, and, because only humans are considered in the collective, generated wide spread environmental degradation. 

            Neither extreme is a complete or sustainable solution.  A combination like democratic socialism may be the right balance, where the vital creative energy of capitalism is channeled and constrained by fundamental social structures, much like a fireplace prevents a housefire.

            The imperative to value both society and self is similar to the fundamental quantum mechanical wave particle duality.  When physics was first formalized, matter was determined to be particles, with definite qualities like mass and location in space with defined boundaries, much like the sense of the individual.  The quantum revolution threw that certainty into question.  Matter manifests as both a particle and a wave, depending on how one does the experiment.  It shows particle like properties when examined as a particle, but wave like properties when examined like a wave.  Waves are associated with motion and are not localized in space, but extend to the whole of reality.

            In philosophic history, the particle view, or "atomism", has been in and out of vogue several times, and the quantum wave nature of matter was first dismissed as absurd.  But decades of scientific experimentation have expanded the investigation of matter with increasing sophistication, into dimensions previously unobtainable.  The results continually demonstrate wave particle duality is the reality we inhabit, no matter how difficult it is to comprehend.  Technology based on this physics has radically transformed our entire economy and society, presenting further validation.  Reality is both specific and whole, and our continued survival depends on embracing this at the deepest level.

            Which brings us back to the relationship between the "self" and "other", or self and society.  As I have mentioned many times before, all the spiritual traditions on the planet include some variation on the Golden Rule, which arises from an understanding that we are all fundamentally connected.  Yet every day the news reports events where people kill, oppress, disenfranchise, and impoverish others out of pride or fear for self.

            The problem is not Trump and his followers, the Q-anon crazies, regressive Republican voter suppression, extreme capitalist wealth inequity, misogyny, intolerance based on race religion or sexual preference, environmental degradation for short term corporate profit, or even the threat of extreme climate change.  Every one of these critical socially disruptive issues are symptoms of the same problem, failure to experience that we are both self and society, particle and wave.  Every individual must be honored as a unique expression of manifestation, while at the same time recognizing that our personal survival depends on nourishing all individuals, and not just the humans, within our collective reality.  Embracing this will be a game changer.  Failure leads to inevitable, and perhaps imminent, collapse.


Sunday, March 21, 2021

Termites, Capitalists, And Resilience

                                                                                           written 14 March 2021

                                                                                       published 21 March 2021


            When termites attack a wood building, they eat the structural resilience designed into the building.  Being intimately aware of the tension in the fibers they are eating, they leave before the rupture point.  Then, the unexpected load of an earthquake, strong winds, or a party with fifty friends, makes the house fall down.  Free market capitalism works the same way.

            In manufacturing, uncertainties in component production and transportation can cause expensive delays in assembly, which can be avoided by stockpiling materials.  The greater the stockpile, the greater the resilience in the system, but with greater cost incurred.  In the 1970's, the Japanese perfected what became known as "just in time manufacturing".  With exacting timing of component production and reliable inexpensive transportation, parts arrive for assembly "just in time", reducing stored inventory costs.  As long as everything works as designed, this gives a competitive economic advantage, and the process spread around the world.  But like termites, all system resilience is squeezed out, making systems extremely vulnerable to the unexpected.

            For example, in July, 1993, there was an explosion at a Japanese factory making epoxy resin used to encapsulate semiconductor chips.  Despite a massive global market for semiconductors, this one factory was the primary source for the resin.  Chip prices doubled within days and looming shortages threatened disruption of multiple industries.  At great cost, the market place scrambled to establish alternative production lines to produce this essential ingredient. 

            The illusion of economic thrift from reduced resilience was central to the disaster of America's Covid-19 response.  For decades, capitalists have told us that we can't afford socialized medicine, public health for all, despite every advanced country in the world having figured out how to make it work.  Because profit, rather than a healthy population, is the primary driver in our system, there is incentive to reduce public health infrastructure to the bare minimum, accepting that some people are priced out of the market.  During normal times, the result is a high level of chronic diseases resulting from unaddressed preventative care, leading to more expensive emergency room admissions.  During the pandemic, the result was the highest death toll on the planet.

            The world hasn't faced this kind of pandemic for a century, and even nations with good public health infrastructure were hard hit.  Our health care industry is regulated to some extent, is a combination of non-profit and for-profit entities, and is somewhat backstopped by the federal government.  Even with dysfunctional federal leadership for the first year, states and hospitals worked together, sharing resources, information, and staff, and managed to avoid total collapse of health care.  But it was a close call in many communities. 

            To see the full downside effect of no resilience in an unfettered capitalist free market, look no further than the recent collapse of the Texas power grid due to cold weather.  This event wasn't even unexpected, since the same thing happened ten years earlier.  

            Convinced that government is always a problem and privatized free market capitalism is always the solution, Texas Republicans created an unregulated energy grid in the 1990's.  It was intentionally disconnected from the rest of the country to avoid federal regulations, promising that competition would insure Texans got the cheapest power possible.  But cheap is different from quality.  

            In theory, when demand exceeds supply, prices rise, reducing demand or inviting new resources into the lucrative market, bringing prices back down.  In practice, the Texas energy market rapidly concentrated into two major providers, which wound up overcharging Texans by $28B over the next 3 decades.  With no incentive to invest in reserve capacity, or costly upgrades to improve weather resilience, the entire system was unprepared for infrequent extreme conditions.  Last month, unusual cold froze half of the available Texas grid generation, reducing supply to 40 gigawatts trying to meet a 70 gigawatt demand.  People couldn't reduce demand, and there was no way to import new resources.  To avoid complete destruction, the grid was shut down, creating a record setting $20B disaster.  To add insult to injury, unregulated market prices spiked to produce some consumer bills over $10K for the month, thus capitalizing the profits and socializing the losses.

            Creating system resilience to avoid large social and economic disasters requires long term planning and upfront investment, impossible for corporate capitalism, driven by least cost, short term profit.  

Sunday, March 14, 2021

White Christian Nationalism

                                                                                             written 7 March 2021

                                                                                       published 14 March 2021



            I am a scientist by intellectual curiosity and an engineer by inclination and training.  I am also a spiritual mystic, guided mostly by quantum physics and Buddhism, but open to learning from mystics of all traditions.  As the Sufi's say, "all paths lead to the same shining mountain peak".  

            I conceive the material world emerging from a vast field of potential energy, shaped by consciousness unbounded by space or time, which can be considered divine.  But my waking consciousness is limited, and the magnitude of reality is vast and ineffable, unable to be contained within words.  Any description is metaphor at best, pointing toward what can only be experienced directly with insight and inspiration.  My work as a human is to expand my experience of this divinity, from which we arise moment to moment, striving to transcend the limits of my cultural and personal programming.  This spiritual quest is global.  All humanity yearns for fundamental connection, meaning, and purpose.  

            But humans are evolving from tribalism and apparent division, so the global spiritual quest organized as different religions, each with defined structures and sacred texts.  Despite arising with noble intentions, the leadership of these organizations can fall prey to material distractions of secular power domination and the greed of acquisition.  The patterns and words can become formalized, rigidly defended as the "only" truth.  Rather than acting as teacher or guide, such religious institution imposes itself between the individual and the essentially personal experience of the divine, defining, limiting, and distorting the relationship.  Let me be clear, this problem is not unique to any particular religion, nor have all, or most, members of any religious organization fallen into this distraction.  But the history of the world is rife with examples. 

            In America, Christianity is the majority religion, and the Bible is the sacred text.  My Bible has the words of Christ printed in red.  I have "read the red", and very little of the total Bible is printed in red.  I revere Christ and his teachings: "love God" and "love the other as yourself".  These expressions of unity perspective presuppose that everything, and everyone, is divine, and are therefore worth loving: as revolutionary at the time, as it is today.  If everyone actually lived by these simple rules, the world would be a better place!  

            Centuries after the death of Christ, the Roman Empire declared Christianity it's official state religion and a gathering of men decided what would become today's Bible.  Subsequent archeological findings indicate significant exclusions.  The Roman Catholic Church became a political powerhouse, and sanctioned killing all kinds of non-Christians and those declared heretic, contrary to Christ's teachings.  The secular wealth and power of the Church grew so egregious that the Protestant reformation occurred, and then Christians started killing each other as well.  Strife, domination, and oppression arose even between Protestant sects, and many of the people who founded America had been driven out of Europe by other Protestants.  

            Untold millions have been killed in the name of Christ, who preached love, and many more souls have been taught to fear God and hate others, whom Christ directed we love.  This denial of God is the root of much misery.

            These days the overt killing has diminished, but the rise of White Christian Nationalism is a modern political equivalent.  They believe Christ was white, the Bible was written in English, and America is supposed to be ruled by white Christians.  They are willing to disenfranchise everyone else to achieve those ends, by violence if necessary, like other religious terrorists.  This not only violates the teachings of Christ, but violates the American ideals of our democratic republic: equal protection under the law, citizen voting rights, and majority rule.

            This movement is of concern, but demographics are against them.  While 70 percent of Americans identify as Christians, only 43 percent are white, and only 17 percent (and declining) are white evangelicals, those most likely to support White Christian Nationalism.  

            The hateful exclusionary goals of White Christian Nationalism should be rejected by all who love America, and those who feel Christ in their heart should reclaim those religious organizations that have missed the mark, the original meaning of sin.  We humans are too numerous and too powerful to be so foolishly divided at a time of so many global challenges.


Sunday, March 7, 2021

Covid-19: Good News, Bad News

                                                                                             written 28 February 2021

                                                                                               published 7 March 2021



            There is good news about Covid-19.  On February 28th, daily US cases had dropped from the January 8th third wave peak of 396,176, to 53,480, and daily deaths dropped from 6,421 on February 12th, to 1,318.  California and Mendocino County numbers are showing similar trends.  The US has administered over 50 million doses of vaccine and rates are increasing weekly.  Prioritizing vaccination of older people has diminished new cases and deaths in elder care facilities. 

            A third vaccine, this by Johnson and Johnson, was approved by the FDA, and millions of doses are being shipped.  Unlike the first two, this is a single dose vaccine, and doesn't need extreme refrigeration.  The Federal government is now giving coherent and consistent messaging, with regular press briefings by actual medical experts, coordinating with State and local governments.  Another large Covid-19 economic relief bill has passed the House, and should clear the Senate, despite complete lack of Republican support.

            The bad news is the totals are grim.  At the end of February, reported the US was still number one, with 29,235,040 Covid-19 cases (1/4 of the global total and almost three times number two India), and 525,578 deaths (more than twice number two Brazil). 

            The facts about Covid-19 are still polarized for crass political gain by Republicans, and the third peak was created by ill-considered social gatherings around Christmas, New Year, and the super bowl.  The current low daily new case and death rates are higher than the second wave peak in July, indicating a pandemic still raging out of control.  Almost 200 countries lost fewer of their citizens during the entire year of pandemic than America did just last week.

            There is increasing concern about the rise of virus variants.  Most life forms have their genetic information stored as double strand DNA, a stable configuration that reduces copying errors during replication.  Covid-19, is a simple RNA virus, which has a single stand of genetic material, prone to replication errors.  Increased copying errors helps the virus move into new species by rapidly creating new genetic possibilities.  Most are not viable, or of no help, but a few allow for greater infection rates and transmissibility.  Whenever there is a large pocket of infection, the possible emergence of more potent variants increases. 

            Public health researchers keeping track of genetic structures have reported the emergence of hundreds of variants, mostly with no effect.  The variant that first infected the west coast of America was similar to the "original" found in China.  But the strain that infected the east coast, and then the rest of the country, was a somewhat more transmissible version that caused havoc in Italy.  Seven variants have been identified arising in the US alone, which is no surprise given our large infected population.  However, researchers are intently monitoring three different variants first identified in the UK, South Africa, and Brazil, each with as much as 70 percent greater transmissibility, with some indications of increased lethality as well.  

            Dr. Peter Hotez of Baylor College of Medicine, said that the current decline in cases is like being in the eye of a hurricane, and the next big surge will be caused by the spread of the variants.  The more transmissible UK variant is doubling in the US every ten days, and is expected to dominate across the US by the end of March.  While genetic sequencing can identify different variants, the quantity of this kind of testing is currently very limited, so we are still flying blind with this pandemic.

            So far, all the approved vaccines show good results against the known variants.  There is indication that prevention from getting the disease is somewhat reduced, particularly the South African strain, but the excellent protection from serious illness, hospitalization, or death, seems unaffected.  Since all the current vaccines focus on targeting proteins comprising the spikes on the surface of the Covid-19 virus, if a significant enough variation occurs in the genetics for these proteins, the virus could escape control, and run rampant through the population.  It is expected that some form of booster shot, a modification of the current vaccines, may be required. 

            One year in, we are more prepared to deal with Covid-19, with better hospital procedures, several therapeutics, and some very effective vaccines, but we are still a long way from "normal".