How You can make Donald Trump’s election the greatest turning point in history

I am a Canadian-American dual citizen, and I live in Canada in a college town, which puts me squarely in the middle of what Americans would call a progressive liberal social sphere. Virtually every single opinion that I absorb, both in real life and through social media, is aligned with that perspective.

I have found it hard, in the few days since the election, to interact normally with people. I haven’t felt much like laughing, or even smiling to say hello. I have seen the same all around me. I am greatly saddened by the triumph of hate and fear over logic and empathy. Most importantly, under the new president, catastrophic climate change is all but guaranteed. The next 4 years are crucial, because digging up any more fossil fuels will push us over the edge. I am terrified – not for our planet, but for us. The planet will survive as we choke ourselves. We cannot deal with the other important issues if our society collapses with the climate.

Looking back on the election, it seems like a lot of people did not care. Nearly half of eligible voters chose not to vote. In fact, less voted than in the last presidential election. Why didn’t people care? Maybe they didn’t believe this would happen, they thought enough other people would vote, they were let down by the choices, they didn’t want to vote for someone who they didn’t believe in. Perhaps the election was an example of the classic trolley problem. Perhaps there are more reasons.

The biggest issue that I’ve seen is that all sides are stuck in their bubbles of perception. My bubble did not realize that large swaths of people do not consider climate change, LGBTQ rights, women’s safety, or racism as an issue at all when voting. They vote purely for what they believe is the survival of their families, and normal politicians have always screwed them over, from their point of view. How can these people even attempt to empathize with other issues when they live paycheck-to-paycheck? That is something that only the more fortunate can do.

Unfortunately, human tendency is to ignore all these differences in perception. We want to be liked, and so we don’t want to upset other people. We keep our opinions to ourselves. We run away from the taboo topics: politics, religion, abortion. Less than 1 in 10 people post about politics on Facebook. The ideological opinions and news that we do see online is heavily filtered by Facebook algorithms, which curate our news feeds so that we almost exclusively see ideas that we already agree with anyway. Yet it has been shown that these algorithms only act out our wishes – they show us the type of content that we engage with. If you don’t engage with other peoples’ viewpoints, it won’t show you them.

We are simply too afraid to discuss the most important topics, and share cat videos instead. I strongly believe that this is the root of the great political chasm that has ripped America apart.

And yet… in the past few days I have seen, for the first time, an unprecedented amount of passion about politics.

Every single Facebook post, every single in-person conversation is a passionate monologue, a dialogue, a fight about politics. I have seen boundless amounts of grief, sorrow, shock, and fear, with a few bursts of joy. I have also seen a lot of empathy and forgiveness of others’ beliefs. The important thing is that, now that the results are in, everyone cares. Everyone cares enough to voice their opinion, and to put themselves out there.

I am terrified for the world. I am terrified for minorities, for refugees, for the LGBTQ community, for women, for the environment. At the same time, the aftermath of this election is a tremendous opportunity for the world to wake up and engage itself.

My only hope is that the shock of this election becomes a turning point that will get people to not only care about important issues, but to be active and discuss them.

It is time for the world to grow up and to learn how to comfortably swap, debate, and argue in a respectful and truth-seeking manner. To learn how to properly convince someone of an opposing viewpoint without alienating them. To learn how to become more open to new ideas and opposing viewpoints. To realize that the real winner of any argument is the loser, because the loser gains a whole new perspective on life. To realize that people who are unafraid to voice strong opinions and unafraid to admit when they are wrong are respected, not shunned.

And so, it is time for You to take responsibility as a citizen of this planet. To make your voice heard and reach out and share your opinions and dare to disagree. To open a calm and truth-seeking discussion when someone mentions views that oppose yours. And to celebrate conflict for what it truly is: an opportunity to elevate your perception and the perception of others.

If we can come together and do this, Trump will have won the election, but the human species will have won its voice.


Why Lying is Irrational

Many years ago I decided to become 100% happy. This took some thinking to figure out, and I needed to use logic to determine how to achieve my goal. One of the key branches of this logic is that lying and happiness cannot mix.

To be clear, one can get a thrill or a joy out of lying, but this is very different from happiness. Happiness is a state of being that is independent of external factors. It is long term. Thrills and joys are short term and circumstantial.

It is also important to note that by “lying” I mean any lie greater than a “white lie.” I am not concerned with you telling your host that you like the food that they’re serving while you’re sneakily feeding it to their dog.

When one lies, there are two intrinsic consequences. First, there is a feeling of associated guilt, which some people can overcome more easily than others. Second, a new storyline is born that the liar must abide by if he or she is to maintain said lie.

This storyline requires effort to successfully maintain, and this effort entails worry. A liar may be lucky and never be questioned again, or he or she may not be so lucky. It is impossible to know. But what is certain is that the longer a lie remains active for, the harder it is to maintain, and the more effort and worry will be needed to maintain it.

Worry and happiness are incompatible, and the effort in maintaining a lie comes at the expense of effort that could be used towards another endeavor which could make the would-be liar happier.

If one wants to be happy, it is therefore irrational to lie.

Are There Parallel Universes?

No one has concretely proven the existence of parallel universes. Indeed, it is a theory that is impossible to disprove. However, I would like to state why I believe it to be very unlikely that there are parallel universes.

There are 3 main theories which define this mystery: the Copenhagen theory, the Many-Worlds theory, and String theory. String theory implies that “our own universe is like a bubble that exists alongside similar parallel universes” (Do Parallel Universes Really Exist?, p 4). This post aims to counter the Many-Worlds theory, however, and doesn’t touch at all upon String Theory, which I do not know enough about to form any kind of opinion upon.

To grossly simplify, the Copenhagen theory says that subatomic particles only become concrete states of matter when they are observed. The Many-Worlds theory says that every time a subatomic particle concretizes itself into a state of matter, another universe splits off from ours, in which everything is identical except for that particle becoming a different state of matter.

Thus every single time any action is made, for example if you order a meal at a restaurant, universes split off from ours, each in which you ordered a different meal. In fact, every single possible choice would be represented by a different universe.

The problem is that actions can be smaller than decision making. Whether it be an ant twitching its leg, or a neuron firing in your brain as you read this – other universes split off from ours, each one with a different outcome for that particular action, until every single possible outcome exists in some universe. This means that as I am writing this, every time I choose a word, multiple universes split off from ours with every single possible other word I could have chosen, including words I didn’t like and erased to replace with a new word. The possibilities for just this piece of work are nearly infinite!  Yet at every instant in time, it’s not just me making decisions, its an infinite amount of people, animals, and atoms. This would mean that every single nanosecond, infinity times infinity universes are created. It simply does not seem rational to me that this would be the case.

The only way that this makes sense to me is if we are living in some sort of computer program which has been given a certain premise and designed to calculate every single possible outcome. A wild thought, but it would still provide a rational reason for universes to split off in such ways. However this would also render all of our decisions useless, and our lives meaningless, since then we would make every single decision in some universe. We would essentially be self-aware passengers in life.

Of course, this is by no means a scientific way of disproving something, but where science fails (for the moment at least), where else can we turn than to logic and reason?

Works Cited

Clark, Josh. “Do Parallel Universes Really Exist?” HowStuffWorks. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Nov. 2012. <>.

Clark, Josh. “How Quantum Suicide Works.” HowStuffWorks. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Nov. 2012. <>.

The Singularity

This is a paper that I wrote for class a few months ago. I think that awareness of the issue is important to spread. Let me know what you think!

To say that there are many unknowns in our daily lives would be an understatement. Yet we still enjoy the pretense of a certain amount of predictability and  stability. What really changes in our daily lives? People come and go, we grow a little smarter, perhaps a little more self aware, technology improves. In the end, tomorrow isn’t usually all that different from today. The day may soon come, however, when this relative predictability will be tossed into a blender, sucked up by a hurricane and strewn across the walls of our stupefied imaginations. No I’m not talking about the apocalypse – at least, not necessarily. The day of which I speak is known to futurists (people who concern themselves with predicting the future) as “The Singularity”. This term was coined from the domain of astrophysics, which defines a singularity as a “point in space-time at which the known laws of physics break down” (TalkTalk), such as in a black hole. Yet to futurists, the term is much less well defined, which is fitting, since even believers can’t quite aggregate their theories. For example, the Singularity Institute defines the Singularity as “the technological creation of smarter-than-human intelligence” (Singularity Institute), while leading theorist Ray Kurzweil defines the Singularity as the point when artificial intelligence becomes a billion times smarter than the human brain. The important part is that the Singularity marks a point in time when the world as we know it ceases to exist. An astounding notion, to be sure, but at least  we won’t have to worry about this happening in our lifetime, right? Think again. Mr. Kurzweil predicts that his version of the Singularity will happen in precisely 2045. In fact, many theorists (I wont call them believers again, since this term can imply religious fanaticism) agree that computers will reach human intelligence before the year 2030!

My goal is not to convince you of the Singularity’s imminence, it would be a waste of my time – the research has been done. Computers have followed Moore’s law, which states that computing power essentially doubles every 18 months, with astounding accuracy, even when traced back to the very first computer (Grossman). The fact is that many in the scientific community acknowledge the Singularity as something that WILL happen, at least eventually. The date of its occurrence is of course up for major debate.  Whether or not this momentous event will happen, to me the mere fact that great mind’s believe in it makes it worthy of attention. I will use the same argument as is common in climate change: while it cannot be proven that the Singularity will happen, there are many benefits to preparing for it, such as the development of strong societal moral values. The consequences of ignoring it, however, are dire. The ethical implications of the Singularity probably haven’t escaped you. If this is the first time you’re hearing about it, then I can only imagine what is going on in your head. You would certainly not be alone if images of horror movies, Terminator and the like, came to mind. You might also, (especially if you were already knowledgeable about the subject) see the great potential in the occurrence of this event. Therein lies my purpose; to fill in the gap between the biases of optimism and pessimism with the sturdier mortar of rationality and truth.

Let us commence by studying the optimistic viewpoint. Experts such as Kurzweil believe that we should embrace the Singularity with open arms. The premise is that this will be the single greatest event in Earth’s history since the rise of human intelligence. To some, this fact alone is enough to warrant research to continue. More important to others is the slew of beneficial technologies that this event could unleash. There are of course a plethora of tangible improvements which super-intelligent machines could bring about in our lives. Medical benefits might include curing all disease, reaching immortality, and even being able to reprogram our genes as we see fit. These machines could help us unlock the secrets of the universe (visions of Deep Thought, the super-computer in the book/movie The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, spring to mind). And this is just the beginning – how can we predict benefits which we aren’t smart enough to conceive? Perhaps these computers could solve world hunger, or over-population, or the economy. In the words of Albert Einstein: “The problems that exist in the world today cannot be solved by the level of thinking that created them” (Singularity Institute).

Even Kurzweil admits that the Singularity could be dangerous. He isn’t worried for several reasons, however. First of all, he believes it to be inevitable – progress cannot be stopped. The fact is that there are people who seriously believe in it, and imposing bans and regulations on technology would simply force them to perform their research illegally. This would decrease their resource pool and force them to cut corners, which would increase mistakes, thus incurring a greater chance of an “unsafe” Singularity occurring. In comes the Singularity Institute, an organization with the goal of bringing about a safe Singularity (Sachs). Proponents of the theory believe that this is the best way to maximize chances of humanity’s survival. Many Singularitarians also believe that the dangers of technology lie in the user. Why would super-intelligent machines become hostile unless we program them that way? In any case, many futurists believe that we could simply “pull the plug” if machine intelligence became dangerous (Sachs).

The other reason for Kurzweil’s confidence is related to his particular vision of the Singularity, which not all experts agree on. According to his research, the first smarter-than-human intelligence won’t be a super-computer. He believes that we’ll start by adding cybernetic implants to our own brains, closing the gap between man and machine. Indeed, over 30 000 patients with Parkinson’s disease already have neural implants (Grossman). In his future, humans will become more and more machine-like, until there is no longer a distinction. We will ultimately upload our consciousness into machine bodies and achieve immortality. To him, there’s no reason to fear the Singularity, because we will be changing along with it! Machines won’t turn on us because they will be us. Kurzweil sees the word “Singularity” as synonymous with “Utopia”.

Now let us dive into the dark depths of the pessimistic perspective (cue ominous music). The first argument that comes to my mind is: how can we make safe-guards for entities that will be smarter than us? The challenge would at first be akin to a 4-year-old trying to make sure that his parents do exactly what he tells them; later on it would be more like an ant ordering us about. There’s no doubt that there are endless doomsday scenarios for the fertile human mind to imagine. One could say that our society, and especially our media conditions us to fear technological change. Yet even if this is the case, it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Jeremy Cooperstock, Artificial Intelligence professor at McGill says: “the potential for [the Singularity] to do harm is such that we should look at these doomsday scenarios and consider them… it’s important that we consider the potential of the technology that we create” (Survival of Machines). It is interesting to note that an analysis of the prospects of life on Earth by William McLaughlin established that the decline of humans is very likely within the next 100 years (McLaughlin).

There are many other reasons to be afraid of the Singularity. Bill Joy, founder of Sun Microsystems, wrote an article in 2000 titled “Why the future doesn’t need us”, in which he demonstrates his exasperation at Kurzweil and others for the banality with which they regard the Singularity. This article advocates awareness of the dangers of all technological advancement, but he has several arguments directly against the Singularity. He contemplates Murphy’s law, which states that anything that can go wrong, will. He draws strong parallels to the problems that our technologically-happy society has already created for itself. This is exemplified by how the overuse of antibiotics has led to new strains of disease which are more deadly and resistant than the originals. He cites a text by brilliant mathematician (albeit terrorist) Theodore Kaczynski, which observes that once machines become better than humans at everything, humans will probably be forced to give up control over the machines, simply because we won’t be smart enough to manage the changes which they are making on the world. If we do somehow manage to retain control, then the world will still be controlled by a few “elite” people, who will have a much easier time exerting this control due to these machines. He also recognizes a common evolutionary concept – that throughout history, whenever a better species comes along, it invariably eliminates its lesser competitors. He therefore urges that we proceed with the utmost caution; scientists must take the equivalent of a Hippocratic Oath, and technologies which could lead to the extinction of the human race should be abandoned (Bill).

Obviously it’s impossible to predict the future (at least until super-intelligent machines exist). However in the face of the Singularity, it’s important to have some sort of cohesive plan of action. Of course individual opinions will vary, but as a planet we must decide: are we for the Singularity, or against it? It’s imperative that this be a planet-wide decision, for if even one group embraces the Singularity, then all others must, or forever live in fear of domination. Conversely, if but one group is against the Singularity, they will quickly become obsolete. Therein lies the biggest problem with being an anti-Singularitarian. How would one go about stopping it? I agree with the claim that even planet-wide regulation would drive the progress underground, to disastrous results, since it’s obvious that proponents won’t give up. The appeal of the Singularity is too great for some. Kurzweil himself has an ulterior motive. Since he sees the Singularity as bringing about immortality, he consumes 200 pills a day to keep himself healthy, so that he has the maximum chance to be alive when this breakthrough occurs (Grossman). I’m not saying this to discredit Kurzweil, I have the utmost respect for him and I’m sure that the global benefits are more important to him, I’m just trying to reinforce the point that he’s unlikely to let go of his dream.

I agreed with Kurzweil’s theory that if the Singularity arrives as he expects it, machines will not overthrow man because we will become one of them. I say “agreed”, because upon further consideration, his Utopia has little chance of going to plan. After all, just because technology’s progress is exponential doesn’t mean that common citizens can follow suit. I only bought the laptop that I’m writing on years after it’s model had been on the market. If brain-augmenting cybernetics come on the market, they’ll first be exclusive to the super-rich. It will take many years, even decades for the technology to permeate through to all levels of society. Segregation would take place, and with good reason! Why shouldn’t technologically augmented people consider themselves as superior? Even if humanity survived this trying period without the “cyberhumans” wiping the rest out, what about those who refuse implants? These will undoubtedly be many, from the religious, to the skeptical. What will their fate be? They will be considered lesser forms of life, and if not exterminated, might be kept as pets. This is the good scenario, the one where the Singularity occurs as Kurzweil predicts it. If  instead the first hyper-intelligent machines are in the form of pure artificial intelligence, the consequences could be much, much worse. After reading Joy’s article, I find myself agreeing with many of his points. I fully support the creation of raw, “dumb” computing power, but to me, combining this power with intelligence is simply a risk not worth taking. The surest method in insuring our survival is to mandate the integrity of our scientists. As Joy suggests (and I have in past writings), they must be required to take a kind of Hippocratic Oath for scientists.

However the scariest part of the Singularity is that we are getting closer day by day, while the world at large remains unaware. Even those who are creating the various pieces necessary for it to occur often don’t take into account the implications of their work. In the words of Benoit Boulet, director of the McGill Centre for Intelligent Machines: “We’re not really trained to think about it. We’re highly specialized engineers and mathematicians and scientists, and we don’t really reflect too much on the philosophy of what we’re doing.” The problem with being optimistic about the Singularity (and I surprise myself by saying this, since I often consider myself as an optimist) is that failure means the extinction of our species. The world has never united as one to oppose a common threat. Neither has it faced a situation of this magnitude. Scientists are the horses driving our evolution forward, enticed by the dangling promise of a Utopia. We must prevent them from driving us all off a cliff.

Works Cited

Grossman, Lev. “Sin·Gu·Lar·I·Ty. (Cover Story).” Time 177.7 (2011): 42-49. Canadian Reference Centre. Web. 8 Apr. 2012. <>

Joy, Bill. “Why the future doesn’t need us.” Wired Magazine. April 2000. Web. 9 Apr. 2012. <>

McLaughlin, William. “Evolution in the Age of the Intelligent Machine.” Leonardo , Vol.17, No. 4 (1984), pp. 277-287. Published by: The MIT Press.Article Stable URL:

Sachs, David. “Survival of the Machines.” The Gazette: B.1. Montreal Gazette. Jul 19 2008. Web. 8 Apr. 2012. <>

Singularity Institute. Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, Inc. Web. 7 Apr. 2012. <>

TalkTalk encyclopedia. “Singularity”. Web. 9 April 2012. <>

This is one of the most inspiring talks I’ve heard

TED Blog

A friend recently told me this story: The first time he took his daughter, age 4, on the New York City subway at 9 o’clock in the morning, she anxiously tugged on his sleeve and motioned for him to bend down.

She whispered: “Are these people all mad at each other?”

New York strap-hangers know the scene well — a subway car full of people, all tired and straight-lipped, looking past each other without interacting in the slightest. They clutch at books, mash thumbs at smartphones and disappear into their music — actively ignoring the others around them.  The scene is repeated on trains in major cities all around the world, as people file into work day after day.

But two recent TED speakers — one in London and one in New York. — are hoping to change this. Both gave talks, just weeks apart, about creative ways to encourage…

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On climate change deniers

While it’s true that almost all scientists agree that global warming is a real threat, climate change deniers, or “skeptics”, claim that these scientists skew stats or that their data doesn’t take everything into account. Let’s concede, as is the case, that all stats are falsifiable, and all stats are prone to error. Then what happens if we take stats out of the global warming debate altogether? Let’s just go by things that we know. We know, thanks to an elementary school level science experiment**, that the greenhouse effect is real; CO2 does trap heat in the biosphere. We know that we’re pumping tons of CO2 into the atmosphere every day, thus changing our atmosphere’s makeup. Even if the concept of statistics had never been created, we all know that we’re doing something wrong. Ignoring this fact is analogous to a smoker pretending that smoking is fine. Even before the research was done and the stats were calculated, the evidence for smoking being bad was all there. Inhaling smoke, which causes a rejection reflex from the body (coughing), is clearly detrimental to the health. People just didn’t want to think about it. Unfortunately, our survival instincts dictate that the easiest course of action is inaction. As a modern society, we are all smokers, but we must not let this primal tendency allow us to become the cancer of our planet!



On Morality

My mother is an amazing woman. While I was a youth, she imbued in me certain paradigms of her morality; everyone should be treated with respect and kindness and all suffering is bad and should be abolished. I emerged from childhood with a very acute sense of empathy, which to this day prevents me from knowingly doing any lasting harm to anybody. I would like nothing more than for everyone to be safe and happy. Yes, I do hate killing insects – not because they scare me (which they may or may not) – but because I feel bad for them. Obviously I’ve been taking this thought process to the extreme. Living my life like this has been draining mentally, but rewarding; it has allowed me to be thoroughly at peace with myself. The ethical pillar of my existence. Solid, immovable. Sounds comforting, doesn’t it? And yet it is the perilous nature of life that our perspective is ever-expanding. The pillar that once could easily support my moral ceiling has seen load after load added to it. Usually, whenever a crack appears, it’s easy enough to patch up. Just add some mortar and pretend that it never happened. However recently my patchwork masonry stopped being effective; another load was added, and the pillar finally began to crumble.

This “tipping point” load came from a recent biology class. We were exploring natural selection, more specifically how all living things evolve to take advantage of their environment. How does this work? The creatures with weaker attributes die, and those which are best suited to their environment survive. While the mantra “survival of the fittest” is a common one, it’s not one that I often abide by. Instead of taking full advantage of a particular situation, I routinely allow others to “win” at things, since I enjoy other people’s happiness. For example I won’t try my hardest when playing sports, or I’ll let other people decide which activity we’re going to participate in. This is already a basic example of how my mentality is removed from natural selection’s aims. Yet the point of the biology lecture that stuck with me was called “trophic cascade”: “an ecological phenomenon triggered by the addition or removal of top predators and involving reciprocal changes in the relative populations of predator and prey through a food chain, which often results in dramatic changes in ecosystem structure and nutrient cycling (Encyclopædia Britannica)”. For example, humans would never have been able to thrive if dinosaurs hadn’t been wiped out. *Crack* If the death of one species means that another can flourish, then why should I care if the blue whale becomes extinct? That would allow another species to fill in the blue whale’s spot in the food chain. *Snap* Why do I waste my brainpower by feeling sorry for killing a spider if by killing it I’ll save a bunch of insects? *Crumble* Why do I feel bad for taking advantage of people when my species came into dominance by being the best at taking advantage of any given situation? *Shatter* Why should I care about faceless people dying, when their death gives opportunity to other humans? To answer these questions, it’s due to the way my mother raised me.

Clearly my thinking is far from efficient, and no where near optimized for survival as seen in nature. Indeed, there’s always been a negative connotation with being a so-called “good” or “nice” person. Nice people are soft. Nice guys don’t get girls. Nice people can’t get anything done. So was I screwed over? Despite her best intentions, did my mother raise me to be weak? Maybe. But she also raised me to be enlightened. Try as I might, I cannot completely abandon myself to a more “primal” way of thinking. It’s our capacity for moral action, amongst other things, which separates us from animals. And it’s my high ethical standards which distinguishes me from my peers. I’ve definitely been considered “soft” when I was younger. But this is no longer the case. I’ve learned to balance my empathy with more “aggressive” thinking. Doesn’t this make me less “enlightened”? I don’t believe so, for my thinking is thus. The only two objectives of life which I can discern is the primal goal to advance humanity, and the enlightened goal of enjoying oneself. Being completely nice and empathetic, while evoking enlightenment and Jesus, does nothing to advance humanity, and can greatly lessen one’s enjoyment of life. Therefore I embrace my mother’s gift to me, without abandoning myself to it. I try and force myself to become more calloused when my enjoyment of life is hampered.

My answers to the previous situations become thus: I should care about species which are endangered because of humans, since we’re creating environmental pressures too rapidly for evolution to properly restore balance, and we’ll regret it if we ever find a way to live in harmony with nature. I should care about all life, simply because life is awesome. Worrying about killing insects is a waste of time, since they have a very low brain capacity. I’m glad that I don’t automatically take advantage of people. It places me higher on the evolutionary scale. However I do want to make more efforts to “go for mine”, since most people seem to think that way, and I can’t wholly base my happiness on the enjoyment of others. Feeling sorry for those faceless people who have passed on is useless, but it’s also a reminder that I’m a human and that I can empathize.

I’ve spent my life convincing myself that I’m a perfect altruistic being who wants nothing but the best for everybody. Yet this is just a sham – an ideal I created which I simply cannot live up to. However every pillar needs a solid foundation, and I couldn’t be happier with mine. For while morals might be technically useless on the individual level, writing this has helped me realize that they’re necessary on the societal scale. Our morality is the keystone piece of our evolution – a tool designed not to take advantage of isolated situations, but to help us reap the benefits of society. The pillar still holds.