Saturday, November 19, 2011

A Postmortem on the Iraq War

"War waged without a clear mandate from the United Nations Security Council would constitute a flagrant violation of the prohibition of the use of force. We note with deep dismay that a small number of states are poised to launch an outright illegal invasion of Iraq, which amounts to a war of aggression."

International Commission of Jurists, 2002

"Today, I can report that, as promised, the rest of our troops in Iraq will come home by the end of the year. After nearly nine years, America’s war in Iraq will be over."

President Barack Obama, October 21, 2011

President Obama announced on October 21 that the U.S. would be withdrawing all but a handful of troops from Iraq at the end of the year. Despite taking credit in his brief speech for a new war strategy in Iraq following his election, Obama also reminded us that President Bush set the troop withdrawal deadline back in 2008. So the withdrawal deadline was not new, nor was it a surprise.

Obama put a positive spin on the war itself and its end. It would be hard for a sitting president, as Commander in Chief, to criticize the war itself as unjust and not worth the loss in life and treasure, particularly considering the harm our actions have wrought in Iraq. Candidate Obama did say as much, however, in 2007: “I am proud of the fact that way back in 2002, I said that this war was a mistake.”

Read the rest here.

The Anatomy of God, Part II: The Summit

“[God] has a primordial nature and a consequent nature. The consequent nature of God is conscious; and it is the realization of the actual world in the unity of his nature, and through the transformation of his wisdom.”

—Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality (1929)

What is the ultimate nature of reality? And how does it interact with each of us?

Part I of this series introduced the idea of “twin ultimates,” the notion that there are two types of divinity worthy of our consideration. The first, the more fundamental type of divinity, may be referred to as the ground of being, the Source, God’s “primordial” nature (as in the Whitehead quote above), or any of a number of other names from various philosophical, scientific or spiritual traditions. The ground of being is the metaphysical soil from which all actuality grows.

The other ultimate, the Summit, lies at the opposite end of the spectrum of being and becoming. The Summit is closer to traditional western notions of God, and God is as good a name as any other for this ultimate.

This essay will explore the Summit in more detail and compare Source and Summit. As with all of my essays, I appeal both to science and spirituality in my explanations. This is the case because I don’t believe there is any fundamental distinction between science, philosophy and spirituality. To be sure, there are differences in current practice and focus, but in terms of conceptual structures—if not all their methods—these endeavors should be essentially the same (“should” being the essential word here). By this I mean that the “deep science” (to use Ken Wilber’s term) that meshes science, philosophy and spirituality together relies on logic, intuition, faith, and facts — recognizing that all human endeavors are a mix of these tools.

The deep science that reconciles science and spirit doesn’t ignore inconvenient facts, nor does it elevate reason above all other tools as the only source of legitimate knowledge. Deep science recognizes that all our attempts at understanding should be empirically based as much as possible, but it also recognizes that some sources of knowledge lie beyond empiricism and even beyond logic. Defining the contours of where facts and reason should give way to intuition and faith is an entirely personal matter. I tend to the intellectual and rational approach in my own explanations (particularly in these essays), while acknowledging that logic has limits; but I have no independent basis for preferring this prioritization. It’s entirely personal.

Read the rest here.

The Anatomy of God, Part I: The Source

“The search for the ‘one’, for the ultimate source of all understanding, has doubtless played a similar role in the origin of both religion and science.”

—Werner Heisenberg (1901-1976), Nobel Prize winner for physics

When, as a teenager, I first began engaging intellectually with the world, I often perused the philosophy sections of bookstores and libraries, avidly inspecting books for pearls of wisdom. If a philosopher dared to mention spirituality or God, I would consider the book misplaced and not relevant to my philosophical questions – it should have been in the religion section, an area for individuals with weaker minds and weaker stomachs. I was, for some time, an avid atheist, embracing the modern scientific and philosophical trend that has become quite pervasive.

My how things change.

I have realized in my own personal journey that examinations of God and spirituality are part and parcel of philosophy – if we define philosophy as the broad endeavor to understand the universe and our place in it. There are many functions of philosophy, to be sure, but this is as good a definition of philosophy as I have found.

Any rational inquiry into the nature of the universe – which includes science as a more specialized form of philosophy – and our place in it must face one of the most basic questions: How does complexity arise? It seems that it must arise from simplicity – this is, at least, the phenomenon we see all around us: Simpler constituents generating more complex forms through combination, separation, and emergence. What place should God have in this story of simplicity producing complexity? Can’t we explain the universe in terms of merely matter, energy, and space? In a word, no.

The modern trend has generally been to whittle away God’s role in the world and in philosophy. Modern science, with Galileo, Newton, Descartes, etc. began this trend by defining the scientific pursuit as rational inquiry into God’s work. This inquiry was, and is, all about discovering the rules that govern the world.

Read the rest here.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Aranza Me Gusta

A new movie and song project I made with my artistic partner in crime Aranza.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Science of Beauty, Part II

For he who would proceed aright in this matter … will create many fair and noble thoughts and notions in boundless love and wisdom; until on that shore he grows and waxes strong, and at last the vision is revealed to him of a single science, which is the science of beauty everywhere. ~Plato, Symposium

Science matters because it is the preeminent story of our age, an epic saga about who we are, where we came from, and where we are going.~Michael Shermer, Scientific American

Why do we need a science of beauty? Haven’t science and art done just fine in their own domains over the last few millennia? Yes, but…

My attempt, in this and my previous column, to meld science, beauty, and art is prompted by thinking about the nature of mind. I’ve written a number of essays explaining my view of mind in nature, nature in mind. I highlighted what I view as fatal problems for the prevailing materialist conception of mind, in which mind is regarded as emerging somehow from what is generally viewed as entirely mindless. Mind is, in the alternative panpsychist philosophy that I support, ubiquitous because mind and matter are two aspects of the same thing. Where there is mind there is matter and where there is matter there is mind. As matter complexifies, so mind complexifies.

This vision of mind and matter has important ramifications also for biology and evolution because if mind is ubiquitous we realize that mind must have an important role (perhaps the starring role) in evolution, which is just another word for complexification - even though evolution can lead to simpler forms in some situations. “Sexual selection” was the term Darwin gave to the evolutionary effects of female choice in mate selection and male-male competition for mates. Many traits in the animal kingdom (and probably in other kingdoms also) stem from sexual selection, including the oft-mentioned peacock’s tail. This showy and overly large tail, it is thought, resulted not from its role in helping its owner to survive (its effect is the opposite in this regard), but to help it gain more mates and thus spread its genes to the next generation. If its role in producing more offspring outweighs any harm to its owner’s survival, it will spread as a trait.

Read the rest here.

A Science of Beauty, Part I

There’s no accounting for taste. ~ Folk saying

Art is the imposing of a pattern on experience, and our aesthetic enjoyment is recognition of the pattern. ~ Alfred North Whitehead (1943)

A photographer friend of mine told me years ago that the “world just looks better through a camera lens.” Indeed it does—to most of us. The camera viewfinder adds a frame to a part of the world and allows the photographer to focus her attention. In short, the camera’s frame allows a photographer to create art.

But what the heck is art? What is beauty? Do these questions matter to anyone beyond the photographer, art lover, art historian, or philosopher of art?

I’ll attempt to show in this two-part essay why these questions—and their answers—should be important to practically every field of human thought.Art has been around for as long as humans have been around and it seems that thinking about art—the philosophy of art—has been too.

Plato, as with practically every topic in philosophy or science, had some relevant insights. Though the topic was discussed in many different Platonic dialogues, Plato’s idea of art was never clearly spelled out by the master.The simplest summary of Plato’s feelings on the matter is that he viewed beauty as the perception of eternal Forms that exist as a substrate to reality. Actual (physical) forms are imperfect reflections of the deeper Forms; the artist enjoys most the art that most fully reveal the Forms. These ideas are strange to us today and this kind of thinking (sometimes known as “essentialism”) has been dispelled in most areas of thought over the course of the last couple of centuries.Read the rest here.

On Self and Soul

Imagine you are in an isolation tank. All you can sense (barely) is the lukewarm water in which you float. You hear nothing except the slightest movements of water against the side of the tank. You see nothing. You smell nothing. And you taste nothing but your own saliva.

Now imagine that a video screen is added to your isolation tank connected to a camera outside the tank that shows you an image of the world around your tank. And a microphone is added. Then, with some cool new technologies, scents are wafted to your nostrils. You begin to get an idea of what the outside world is like from the vantage point of your isolation tank.

Now imagine that your isolation tank is mobile – it is re-engineered to be small enough that you can walk around in a roughly body-shaped tank even though you remain immersed in water. Servos help move your massive limbs, which articulate your strange machine torso and limbs. The technologists add even niftier gadgets that allow you to feel the outside world from the “skin” of your isolation tank, based on contact with the outside of the tank. And a tube is added that allows food to enter your mouth from the outside and another tube for waste. You now have almost normal access to the outside world from within your isolation tank. You could remain perhaps indefinitely in this unnatural environment.

Now imagine that this scenario is real. In fact, little imagination is required. We do exist in biological isolation tanks that we call our bodies. Literally all we know about the external world comes from various sensory “windows” we have to the external world. The world we know is entirely a creation of our brains, our nervous systems, with its various perceptual abilities. We can never know what really is the cause of our perceptions. All we know directly are our perceptions.

Read the rest here.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Good News: Climate Change Doesn't Matter Anymore

My provocative title represents the increasing awareness that we don't need to believe in climate change to do the right thing when it comes to energy. Of course, climate change is a real threat to us and our environment. But there are many highly valid reasons to become more energy efficient, conserve energy through behavior change, and transition to renewables – entirely independent of climate change concerns.

I raise this point because there is an increasing backlash to the idea of climate change as a serious threat. Concern about climate change has been diminishing rapidly in the U.S. over the last few years, for a variety of reasons, including the poor economy (and the wrong perception that mitigating climate change will harm the economy), the “climate-gate” affair resulting from hacked emails from climate scientists, and a very aggressive campaign by corporate and conservative interests that just don’t want to believe that humans can impact global climate.

A Yale 2010 survey found that those who believe human activities are primarily responsible for climate change dropped from 57 percent in 2008 to 47 percent in 2010. And it’s probably dropped further since. US News & World Report mused about this trend in a recent article, asking rhetorically whether Americans care about climate change anymore.

Now for the good news. I believe that declining public belief in climate change as an important issue doesn’t matter because there are many very positive trends with respect to energy that are here today and will only increase in the future. These trends will mitigate climate change, but will also greatly enhance energy independence, reduce traditional air pollution, create millions of new jobs, and will actually save us all a lot of money through decreased electricity costs.

These very encouraging trends are: 1) an ongoing improvement in global energy intensity, leading to far fewer emissions per dollar of GDP in coming decades; 2) price-induced conservation; 3) a dramatic increase in global wind power over the last decade; 4) and, perhaps most importantly, the growth in global solar power may lead to an incredibly rapid transformation in how we produce energy.

Read the rest here.

Paths to Immortality

Imagine you wake up in a room with no doors and no windows. You are lying on a stone slab of a bed that meets the floor seamlessly. The room appears to be carved out of a single piece of stone that looks like granite. The room is quite large, many hundreds of feet long and about twenty feet high. An eerie glow emanates from the stone, in a manner that appears to defy your understanding of light and electricity.

As you stand up and explore the room’s contours, you grow increasingly alarmed about your predicament, realizing that there appears to be no way for air to circulate from outside into the room. How on earth did you get in here and, more importantly, how do you get out before your oxygen runs out?

Hold that thought.

Who wouldn’t want to live forever? Who would?

This is largely an academic debate for now, but perhaps not for long. We seem to be at a point in our technological and medical knowledge where some type of physical immortality may become possible in a couple of decades or so. But there are many paths to immortality, some of which are here now.

Read the rest here.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Mind and World

This is a presentation I gave to a group of faculty and grad students at UC Santa Barbara, which meets monthly to talk about neuroscience, Buddhism and Western science. My talk was on "Mind and world: the philosophy of mind and synchronicity." It was a practice talk for the same talk I'll be giving at Burning Man this year at the Port11 camp on Friday.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

On Lucifer

I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.

Mangled quote from Martin Luther King, Jr.

This quote has achieved instant fame/notoriety on the Internet in recent days because of the powerful virality of Facebook, Twitter, and other social media.

It turned out, after some Internet sleuthing by various intrepid journalists, that one Jessica Dovey, a teacher based in Japan, had posted these words on her Facebook status update, expressing her own sentiments in the first sentence and then following with an actual quote from King. Others inspired by her words copied the paragraph in full as though it were all from King. And thus it spread.

Despite the mangled nature of the King quote, did it express a wise and compassionate sentiment even with respect to the world’s most notorious terrorist, a modern-day Lucifer?

This brief history is meant to be a light introduction to a heavy topic: Lucifer, the devil, Satan, evil. What do these words mean? Why is there evil? Is there evil?

Read the rest here.

On Explanations: Absent-Minded Science, Part X

This is the concluding piece in my series on absent-minded science, an extended critique of modern science’s tendency to willfully or unintentionally ignore mind in its explanations.

Tigger: Well, hello there Eeyore, my friend – lovely day isn’t it?

Eeyore: Lovely is all relative, isn’t it? Compared to yesterday I guess it is fair to say that today is lovely.

Tigger: Er… Yes! It is all relative, and today is indeed lovely compared to yesterday. But, you know Mr. Eeyore, this brings to mind a little philosophical problem I’ve been pondering.

Eeyore: Oh yes? [His large ears perk up as Eeyore loves philosophy almost as much as Owl.] Since when do you like philosophy my bouncy friend?

Tigger: Oh yes! [Tigger bounces on his tail in excitement.] You’ll be very interested in this, I have no doubt. I have been pondering… explanations.

Eeyore: Explanations?

Tigger: Yes! Explanations. Why are we convinced of certain explanations and not others? What is it that changes our minds and hearts?

Read the rest here.

On the Heart: Absent-Minded Science, Part IX

“Excuse me luv,” the woman said to me as I walked down the street on my way to the train station. As I turned around to see who was speaking, she picked my scarf up from the ground, which I had evidently just dropped, and handed it to me with a smile.

I was visiting Reading, England, and was always pleasantly surprised, amused, and a little perplexed by the familiar “luv” manner of speech in this rainy island where I was born.

The scarf had been given to me about a week earlier, by a very nice woman named Julie who was looking after my grandfather for a few days. The gift was unexpected, as I had never met Julie before then.

The kindness of strangers seems irrational to some people and wouldn’t generally be considered economically rational behavior to an economist focused on pure cost/benefit analysis. Thankfully, humans aren’t entirely rational creatures, despite the assumptions of economists. We follow our hearts as much or probably more than we do our heads.

This latest essay in my series on absent-minded science continues the exploration of reason and logic, begun in my last installment. Part X will conclude the series with a light-hearted examination of why certain explanations are more compelling than others.

Read the rest here.

On Logic: Absent-Minded Science, Part VIII

Is logic entirely logical? In a word: No.

Logic is the sine qua non of Western science and rationality. We are taught from an early age that the scientific method, with its language of mathematics and logic, can solve all empirical problems.

Sure, there are some areas that perhaps science will never shed much light upon – the sphere of values and spirit, better left to philosophy and religion (so the prevailing paradigm holds). But in everything else, science is generally perceived to be an all-purpose toolkit that will eventually unlock all of nature’s secrets.

If only it were that easy.

Western science is indeed built upon logic, with the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle’s thoughts on the subject still in many ways at the core of today’s system. Aristotelian logic starts with the law of non-contradiction. Something can’t be true and false at the same time. Something can’t be A and not-A at the same time. This seems like good common sense as well as good scientific method. Surely something can’t be itself and something else at the same time. Surely something can’t be true and false at the same time.

Read the rest here.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

What is Life? Absent-Minded Science, Part VII

"Science … is becoming the study of organisms. Biology is the study of the larger organisms; whereas physics is the study of the smaller organisms."
~Alfred North Whitehead, Science and the Modern World (1925)

What is life? Do we, as with art and obscenity, “know it when we see it?” This intuitive approach may be good enough for many people, but science seeks definitions in order to get a better handle on the phenomena being studied.

The last couple of essays in this series have discussed theories of evolution without stopping to establish what the heck we are talking about in discussing “life.”

Unfortunately, every definition of life provided thus far runs into serious problems. Aristotle perhaps said it best: “Nothing is true of that which is changing.” In other words, if all is in flux – as all things are – then static definitions of physical phenomena are literally impossible, including life. This is a fundamental limitation that is too rarely acknowledged in modern science and philosophy. We may carve out generally workable definitions, as rules of thumb (heuristics) for deeper study, but we must always acknowledge that any definition regarding physical phenomena that ignores the truth of flux fails from the outset.

Read the rest at the Independent

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Natural Selection and the Universal Eros: Absent-Minded Science, Part VI

I am conscious that I am in an utterly hopeless muddle. I cannot think that the world, as we see it, is the result of chance; and yet I cannot look at each separate thing as the result of Design.
~Charles Darwin, 1860 (letter to Asa Gray)

It has now become more or less respectable to talk of purpose or directiveness in ontogeny … but it is still considered heretical to apply the same terms to phylogeny.
~Arthur Koestler, 1978 (Janus: A Summing Up)

Since the 1970s, there has been a resurgence of critiques against the mainstream Darwinian theory of evolution, which asserts that “natural selection” is the primary agent of evolution. Criticizing Darwin’s ideas and the “neo-Darwinian” framework that constitutes the modern theory of evolution is not new. What is new, however, is the fact that we seem to be in the middle of a long-overdue shift in what has become an overly dogmatic “adaptationist” view of evolution, in which all or almost all evolution occurs through the posited mechanism of natural selection.

This essay continues my extended critique of “absent-minded science,” the tendency in modern science to ignore, intentionally or through oversight, the role of mind in nature. I want to be clear up front that I am not a supporter of “intelligent design” or any religiously-motivated critique of natural selection. Rather, I approach these very difficult problems primarily from the point of view of a hard-nosed philosopher and scientist trying to make sense of it all – and finding that many mainstream approaches could be significantly improved.

Read the rest here.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Sunshine Revolution

“Something is happening here, but you don’t know what it is do you, Mr. Jones?”
— Bob Dylan, “Ballad of a Thin Man”

History is “just one damn thing after another,” according to philosopher Jerry Fodor. This may be true, but it doesn’t stop us from trying to make some sense of each “damn thing.” There are some principles of history we may glean from events. One of these principles is that open information access — sunshine — is increasingly becoming a force for change.

Change is generally incremental. Yet there are certain times and events that can fairly be highlighted as transformational rather than incremental. The recent events in North Africa and the Middle East are transformational.

It is risky to attempt macro-level analysis this close in time to these events, but it is possible to identify key trends and make some qualified conclusions about what has happened and what is likely to continue happening. I was initially very suspicious of breathless accounts of Facebook and Twitter being key to the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt because they seemed so self-serving to us in the United States who created these social media tools. However, as I’ve learned more, it seems that these early accounts were not entirely inaccurate.

Read the rest at Noozhawk.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Spain and Portugal lead the way on renewables

Source: New York Times.

Rapid energy transformation at the national level is possible. Transformation is also necessary if we are to mitigate the impacts of climate change and peak oil. The kind of transformation we need in the U.S. has been demonstrated vividly by an increasing number of nations shifting rapidly to a renewable energy economy. Spain and Portugal are currently the most powerful examples of this transformation.

Spain has grown from using just two percent wind and solar power to almost 20 percent in a decade. Figure 1 demonstrates this growth at the same time as Spain’s electricity consumption grew rapidly – by 50 percent – from 2000 to 2008, only to drop equally rapidly from recession and price-induced conservation since 2008.

Spain now enjoys about 35 percent total renewables, when we include large hydroelectric, with the rest of its power coming from natural gas, coal and nuclear. Moreover, Spain is a good comparison to California because its population and climate are very similar to ours.

Read the rest here.

Sex, Psyche and Evolution: Absent-Minded Science, Part V

“The sight of a feather in a peacock’s tail, whenever I gaze at it, makes me sick!” Charles Darwin

Most people now realize that sexual attraction is in the mind, even though we often forget this insight in practice. The growth of phone sex and online sex is testament to the ability of imagination to titillate as much or more than actual human contact. And the presence of pornography in all cultures throughout history is an ongoing reminder that people can be turned on by the strangest things and certainly don’t need a live human being for this purpose.

There is a much deeper principle at work here, however; one that is highly relevant to this series of essays on “absent-minded science” (which is what I call the modern habit in a number of different fields of expelling mind from legitimate scientific explanations). Sex is central to human existence and other animals. But its centrality extends far beyond the animal world. This is the key theme of this fifth installment of this series.

Why is sex so central to our lives? The facile answer is that it’s because we need sex to reproduce. But this is only partly true. Many species reproduce without sex, including some complex vertebrates like lizards and fish. So why do we have sex? No one really knows the answer to this question, but there are many theories. I won’t delve much into why our species reproduces sexually; rather, I’m going to delve into what sex is, as a general principle, and the role of sex in evolution.

Read the rest here or here.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The C Word and Emergence: Absent-minded Science, Part IV

At a recent talk I attended at UC Santa Barbara, Professor Marcus Raichle, one of the pioneers of brain imaging, jokingly referred to consciousness as the “C word.”

His little joke highlighted the fact that for many working neuroscientists and others who think about the brain, trying to explain what consciousness actually is – as opposed to explaining the various functions of brains – is still a bit frowned upon. It also seems that many neuroscientists who do think about the “hard problem” of consciousness – the mind/body problem by a different name – believe that once we explain the functions of brains there’s really not much, if anything, left to explain about consciousness itself.

I find in my discussions on consciousness that arguments about “emergence,” well, emerge as a response from critics time and time again. Consciousness is, in this view, simply an emergent property of complex biological structures like brains.

I’ve written a number of essays (and an unpublished book) defending the alternative panpsychist view of consciousness. The type of panpsychism I find compelling is that developed into a comprehensive system by Alfred North Whitehead, Henri Bergson, Charles Hartshorne, David Ray Griffin, and many others during the 20th Century. It is growing in popularity, but still a minority view.

Read the rest at the Independent.

The Peak Oil Catastrophe-in-Waiting

The United States continues to slumber while a catastrophe lies in wait. Increasing numbers of analysts and policymakers are warning of another super price spike for oil and the likelihood of "peak oil" more generally.

Peak oil is the point at which global oil production reaches a maximum and then declines. The speed of the decline is a key unknown and if it is relatively fast, the results could be truly dire for economies around the world.

We saw prices as high as $147 a barrel in mid-2008 (the dominant factor for gasoline prices well over $4 a gallon), which played a strong role, perhaps the dominant role, in the global Great Recession -- as high oil prices have in most recessions over the last fifty years. Once the recession hit, oil demand dropped and prices plummeted as low as $33 a barrel.

Prices steadily recovered since their low in early 2009 and are back to dangerous levels in early 2011 (about $90 a barrel). We can expect far higher prices as the global recovery continues. An increasing number of analysts are projecting prices as high or higher than the 2008 peak in the next couple of years.

More importantly, global net exports of oil continue to drop as major oil exporters increase their own consumption at the same time as their production is stagnant or falling. As a major oil-importing nation (about 2/3 of our oil is imported, by far the largest import dependency in the world), net oil exports are far more important to the U.S. than total oil production. Even if global oil production increases in the coming years, if there is less available for oil-thirsty nations like ours the situation will be far worse than total oil production figures would otherwise suggest. More on this below.

It is time for public discussion of this issue to reach the same prominence as climate change. Indeed, many solutions to these “twin crises” are the same because reducing petroleum dependence will ameliorate peak oil and climate change.

Read the rest here.

Why Electric Vehicles Will Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions

A recent article by John Peterson argued that electric vehicles will take us backward in our efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and that today's hybrid cars are more effective in reducing GHGs. Peterson's commentary rests on recent research by Carnegie Mellon University regarding life-cycle emissions of various vehicle types.

I believe Peterson's highly negative view of electric vehicles is unwarranted and inaccurate due to a number of reasons that I describe below.

I have some familiarity with these issues in that I represent the Green Power Institute (a non-profit policy outfit based in the Bay Area) at the California Public Utilities Commission in the electric vehicle proceeding R. 09-08-009. This proceeding is considering numerous issues related to utility rate design for electric vehicles and state policies for integrating potentially large numbers of electric vehicles into the grid in coming years. Our comments in this proceeding can be found here.

I also was the lead author of the Community Environmental Council’s 2007 report, A New Energy Direction: A Blueprint for Santa Barbara County, which examined in detail how Santa Barbara County could wean itself from fossil fuels and save substantial money at the same time. I wrote the report not only as a detailed blueprint for one county, but also as a template for other counties and regions contemplating similar goals. I wrote in that report that alternatives to driving, driving smaller vehicles, and relying on hybrid vehicles were the best short-term options for reducing fossil fuel use. However, in the longer term, electrification of our transportation infrastructure was the most promising path.

Read the rest at

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

On Solidity: Absent-Minded Science, Part III

For those of us who are contemplative, there is a tendency when encountering a philosophical system that is initially appealing to become overly excited. It is the system, the approach to explaining all of this (arms out-stretched), which we have been looking for and failed to find for so many years.

This happened to me a few years ago when I first encountered Alfred North Whitehead’s ideas. I’ve read widely in philosophy for decades now, but it was only when I was sufficiently inspired to write down my own ideas, my own theory of this, that I got serious about examining other serious theories. Whitehead was a British mathematician, logician, physicist, and philosopher. He spent the last decade or so of his academic life at the Harvard philosophy department and became, ironically, a key part of the American 20th Century philosophic tradition, along with William James, Charles Peirce, Josiah Royce, etc. Before then, he spent many years at Cambridge, where he famously collaborated with Bertrand Russell on the three-volume Principia Mathematica, a tour de force that attempted to reduce all of mathematics to simple logic. It failed, ultimately, but that’s a different story.

Whitehead is best-known today for his “process philosophy,” which he himself called the “philosophy of organism.” The basic idea of process philosophy, as with all Buddhist schools of thought, is that all of this is impermanent, flux, constant change – process. Whitehead wrote a number of books in the last phase of his career that fleshed out his incredibly rich philosophy. None is more rich – or more difficult – than his Process and Reality, which first appeared in 1929. This book presents Whitehead’s theory of everything and situates it within the Western tradition of John Locke, Spinoza, Kant, Schopenhauer, Hume, and others.

Whitehead’s system is compelling for a number of reasons, not least of which are its adequacy to the facts of human experience, its logical consistency, and the pedigree of its creator. It’s hard to find someone more qualified than Whitehead to create a comprehensive philosophical system, due to his background in mathematics, logic, and physics at the highest levels of academia.

Anyway, I became infatuated with Whitehead and his intellectual successors David Ray Griffin, John Cobb, Jr., Charles Hartshorne, and others, and here’s why.

Read the rest here or here.