The Leonardo DiCaprio Case – Global warming, leadership and leaders

Global warming, leadership, and leaders

Probably all of us have heard about global warming. Some may be more concerned about it than others. We, The Meaning of Life Team, are alarmed. Global warming and other related environmental issues can threaten humanity’s future and potential, and without such future and potential, we may lose the meaning of our life, the purpose of the life of humanity.

If you don’t believe that global warming is a major or the major challenge for humanity (in spite of all the laboratory evidence, Earth-wide gauges, and already-serious consequences), then this post is not for you. Still, this post is not about global warming itself, but few of the difficulties of managing it or its consequences.

Global warming is (what a surprise) a worldwide phenomenon. All of us, all the 7+ billion human beings contribute to it with our carbon footprints. Consequently, the solution(s) (any solution) must be global as well. No individual act can prevent or mitigate a problem of such magnitude. Any global solution, even, e.g., a global movement of individual people reducing their personal carbon use, must be initiated or co-ordinated somehow by someone(s). So the role of the leaders (any leader’s) is crucial for these most wanted and most hoped-for developments.

There are various types of leaders. The most obvious and visible ones are political leaders, authorized to act on our behalf. Business leaders are also directly making decisions sometimes affecting the lives of millions. Religious leaders may just influence, not command their followers, but their power is undeniable. Hollywood stars, especially the rich and famous ones, visit us daily in our home as role models through the television, tabloids and the net.

Leonardo DiCaprio is one of these leaders, a celebrity, and a paradigm for many people. He is also a UN Messenger of Peace with a special focus on climate change designated by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in 2014. So his leadership doesn’t come with decision-making power, but his influence far exceeds his symbolic role.

His actual contribution to this symbolic level was adequate. His movie “Before the Flood” was well receipted, met the expectations of professional climate researchers, environmental activists, and the general public. It is difficult to judge a case of an actor and a movie, but many think that he is honestly concerned about climate change and he expressed his own sincere opinion regarding the required actions.

Especially because of this perceived honestly, it was a bitter disappointment to learn that he regularly takes private jets, even for a trip to accept an environmental award. He did that in spite of his statements in the movie and his evident knowledge of the carbon footprint of such private jets. Furthermore, he did those in spite of the apparent risk of potentially damaging his own reputation, one of his (an actor’s) most valuable assets. Even after the scandal he couldn’t stand in front of us and say that he was sorry and it won’t happen again.

We are not here to condemn him; we are here to understand the incident, and its causes and implications. There are other well-known examples of leaders not just neglecting climate problems, but actively disrupting vital safeguards of the natural environment and diminishing international cooperations for solutions. (yes, he is the man) So this phenomenon, leadership problems regarding environmental issues, is relevant, and worth looking at it.

The reasons behind Leonardo’s actions were probably as follows: convenience, sheer habits, self-esteem, display of status symbols, peer pressure & comparison, expectations of friends & relatives and privacy issues. If you were such a big star, you would also appreciate some peaceful hours on a private plane without other passengers to approaching you all the time for an autograph. Understanding breeds empathy.

However, in spite of all our understanding and empathy, such behavior is harmful in more than one level:

  • Private jets do have huge environmental footprints. It is not by accident that experts recommend public transport.
  • Bad example 1. “OK, I cannot have a private jet (yet), but at least I will travel first class, by limousine and I will go on a hunting trip to Africa.”
  • Bad example 1. “if he, the Messenger of Peace with climate change focus can do such things, and can slip through the net, I can do anything!”

In the long term, the environmental situation gets worse, so we cannot afford such mistakes and behavior indefinitely. Ultimately climate disasters can change their minds, but can we afford to wait until the last minute?

So first, sooner better than later we must persuade these leaders somehow to act more responsibly. Yes, we must convince Leonardo Di Caprio to give up private jets. The real question is how do you do it? How can you make them give up something from their status symbols or comfort? They get used to situations when they persuade or force others. How can you influence, teach or force those, who get used to influencing millions, showing an example to many and (in case of politicians) having the force of the very state behind them? How can you even reach them in their private jets and behind their walls and bodyguards?

There is a simple answer: not easily. But we have to try because the prize is great: their decisions affect our and our children’s future, they influence the behavior of millions.

You cannot force the rich and powerful to act properly because they have more power than you have. You have to be more clever, diligent and persistent. They are just humans after all, fundamentally similar to you.

First of all: don’t try to do it alone. Our power is our number. They are a few; we are many. They do depend on us, on several people to get their wealth, to gain popularity and to have security. We provide these to them.

There are many possible ideas/methods. For example, you can:

  • Initiate a movement. Try to reach and recruit similar-minded people. Be a leader yourself; it will give you initial leverage.
  • Use the results of the science of persuasion and psychology. You know, just humans, they are…
  • Go gradually, step by step, through many intermediaries. Don’t try to hunt down the lion first, try to catch smaller fishes at the beginning. Build step-stones, gather your strength.
  • Collect ideas from many people. Some of your newly acquired comrades may have a brilliant idea.
  • Think long term. You don’t have to come up with a solution tomorrow. The environment problem will stay with us for a while…

Or you can just join us. We are already working on the problem.

 

The Meaning of Life Team

Singularity as a Heaven for Humanity?

Heaven for Humanity

It was interesting to read about and see the studio discussion of Ray Kurzweil, Google’s Director of Engineering in the SXSW Conference. He is a well-known futurist and he claims “Of his 147 predictions since the 1990s, …86 percent accuracy rate.” An undeniably smart guy with (probably merited) high self-confidence. Let’s see his latest forecasts!

“2029 is the consistent date I have predicted for when an AI will pass a valid Turing test and therefore achieve human levels of intelligence. I have set the date 2045 for the ‘Singularity’ which is when we will multiply our effective intelligence a billion fold by merging with the intelligence we have created.”

The related article confirms that “Kurzweil’s timetable for the singularity is consistent with other predictions,– notably those of Softbank CEO Masayoshi Son, who predicts that the dawn of super-intelligent machines will happen by 2047.”

Ray Kurzweil may even be right. The future is unpredictable and computers are still developing rapidly. New technologies are developed daily. However, there are also reasonable doubts here.

Even if we assume Moore’s law will be valid for the next 18 years (not fully realistic), computer’s speed may increase by about 260 thousand times “only”. We can’t see the million times here. Besides our intelligence is difficult to be measured. We can hardly estimate our memory capacity, let alone the number and nature of calculations our brain makes automatically during e.g. image/pattern recognitions. Moreover, how can we “merge” our brain/intelligence with that of the machines? It sounds great, but any programmer can tell you that even building interfaces between computer programs are difficult sometimes. What about building functional connections between two entirely different “hardware”, “software” and “operations”, between human brains ad silicon chips?

These problems somewhat resonate with those expressed regarding any other “singularity” theory. Singularity theories usually rely on assumptions of exponential growth – the growth of knowledge, growth of performance. However, it is known that in several areas of science new discoveries requires investments increasing more that linearly. USD 5 bn price tag of the Large Hadron Collider is a good example. Moreover, there are physical limits to certain developments, as there are limits for the speed (the speed of light) and the accuracy of certain physical measurements (Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle). It is simply too bold to say the exponential growth is feasible anyway in a limited environment, on Earth. And yes, we used the word “environment” not accidentally.

But we don’t have to rely on word only. We can test his predictions relatively soon. In his 2005 book “The Singularity Is Near” he predicted that we can buy a computer with computational capacity of the human brain for 1000 dollars in 2020. So we can just sit back and wait for the first test results.

What is also very interesting in his speech is his positive outlook of these developments for us. “What’s actually happening is [machines] are powering all of us,” Kurzweil said. “They’re making us smarter.” Yes, there are many positive effects on computers. We can hardly wait to be cleverer – we all know that we need it, right? But they can also make us weaker and stupider. It is proven that those parts of the brain and the body, which are not used and exercised usually, become weaker. Brain and body functions taken over by machines will not be better – they will be artificially augmented, resulting in dependencies. Remember the cars/elevators and obscenity, glasses and weaker eyesight, orthodontics and tooth degradation. Such effects can happen in short-term (lack of exercise results in weaker muscles) and long-term (lack of evolutionary pressure can allow the inheritance of unfavorable genes variants).

So while we sincerely hope that Ray Kurzweil is right in every possible aspect, we recommend not to lay down our mental weaponry and give up thinking. Chance favors the prepared mind – not the lazy one.

The Meaning of Life Team

Recent Doubts on Free Will

 You too, my son, Testosterone?

Recent experiments seem to show that the very existence of our free will (and our meaning of life with it) can be questioned. Is that really the case?

In more than one recent experiment, the results showed that we humans are making decisions (if at all) before we are actually aware of them. Our consciousness only records and explain our decisions and does not make them.

For example in certain cases, the brain scanners can prove that the actual decision on a hand move and preparation for that very move starts before it can be made as a conscious decision.

A decision can be predicted before it is made

Recent Doubts on Free Will

In other experiments, the participating people were ready to explain their decisions as a conscious one. However, the setup of the circumstances made it impossible to actually make those decisions. People do not just tend to think that they are making conscious decisions, they are also ready to rewrite the past, adjust their own knowledge about their own decisions (retrospectively creating an ideology for them) to have a better fit with the actual events and results.

What neuroscience says about free will

A Simple Task Uncovers a Postdictive Illusion of Choice

Recent Doubts on Free Will

Furthermore, under the influence of testosterone shots, males are more likely to make impulsive and wrong decisions in an IQ test. In these tests, quick, impulsive, and intuitive answers are usually wrong – yet more testosterone motivates males to make such decisions.

Testosterone makes men less likely question their impulses

Single-dose testosterone administration impairs cognitive reflection in men

Recent Doubts on Free Will

It seems that we are just deceiving ourselves thinking that we have free will. If our decisions can be easily “adjusted” with some chemicals if we don’t make certain decisions at all, and if our subconscious mind is the real boss of our actions, how can we say that we have free will? And if we don’t have free will, if we are just robots, how can we say that our life has any meaning?

Don’t be afraid! Our situation is not so disastrous. The above deductions are just samples of some simplified logic and it mustn’t be applied mechanically to scientific results. The problems with the above simple conclusions regarding our free will are as follows:
• The above results may not be entirely correct (there are always critics and questions regarding any experiment). It may be better to wait until someone confirms the results.
• The above results may be applicable to special cases only. It is a common element in all of the experiments above that they examine quick decisions, artificially reducing the time available for the decision-making process. It is no surprise that consciousness plays smaller roles there.
• The experiments sometimes do not examine, “follow up” the next steps of the individuals: a testosterone-driven man may take a second look at the test, realize his error, and consciously correct it. Everyone deserves a second chance!
• It is not a logical contradiction to make a “free” decision subconsciously. Quick, emotional decisions may also be our own, regardless.
• We must be aware of and calculate with other scientific results too. We already know that many physical processes are predictable, “pre-determined”, controlled by the existing state of the physical system and the laws of nature, especially in the short term. So it is not a surprise that short-term decisions and processes may not be “free” – exactly the situation in all the experiments above. However, predictability of the physical processes is declining quickly with longer forecasting periods.

Hence, there is no need to panic regarding our free will until someone can make long-term valid forecasts of the behavior of human beings.

Is our future bright?

Bright Future

As per Max Roser’s article on Our World In Data The short history of global living conditions there was a tremendous improvement in the human living conditions from 1800 to date. The data he presented seems correct, impressive and persuasive. Does it mean that our future is bright, and we just have to wait until our Meaning of Life will be discovered as our knowledge increases, created by some future discoveries and inventions or just simply become an unimportant question as all our problems will be solved?

 

To make it easier for the readers to understand the transformation in living conditions that humanity has  achieved, the author of the article made a summarizing visualization in which he imagined this 200 year history as the history of a group of 100 people to see how the lives of them would have changed if they lived through this transformative period of the modern world.

 

 

In spite of this data, people do not think that the world is becoming a better place. A recent survey asked, “All things considered, do you think the world is getting better or worse, or neither getting better nor worse?” In Sweden, 10% thought things are getting better. In the US, they were only 6%. And in Germany, only 4%. Very few people think that the world is getting better.

Our first reaction to these “new” facts may be just shouting:  “Hey You All, wake up! Don’t believe that mass media, with all those reports on catastrophes, terrorism, wars, and economic crises, are telling you the truth! Our world and our living conditions is better than ever!” And, yes, we may actually be telling the truth; we know that practically all media distorts reality heavily. In order to gain an audience, they show far more negative news (such as murders) than we can actually experience in our own life. Recent articles are describing how the media creates a  “social reality” or  “social perception of reality,” sometimes quite far from the actual events, the frequency of actual events, or the actual effect of real events to our life. So, yes, people can actually wake up and fear less as the world is a better place than currently perceived.  The article also explains why we can’t perceive these positive developments.

The false negative perception may also affect our thinking regarding the meaning of life. If we believe that the world is going in the wrong direction, we start worrying about our future and start thinking about whether the whole suffering is worth the effort… Now, however, we know that we are going in just the right direction. Just a little further and we may find ourselves in an Earthy paradise! Yee!

Unfortunately, it is not so simple (as usual…).  First of all, we must check the sources, the reliability and relevance of the data presented, then we can think about what other living conditions can be examined, of which evolutions are not so encouraging. But the two most significant reasons are as follows:

  • Some of our current most difficult problems are direct consequences of the above past successes. Vaccination, a decline of child mortality, and poverty (larger consumption per capita) have directly led to the current large population increase and extensive usage of natural resources. Therefore, our success is indirectly leading to major environmental problems. No cross no crown. Nothing is for free.
  • Past performance is no guarantee of future results. It is essential to understand WHY these past developments have happened. If the factors behind the progress are not sustainable, if it would reverse, or if the positive effects of these factors are declining (the law of diminishing returns), then we may find ourselves in deep trouble in the future.

So, based on these data and their careful analysis, we can say,  yes, we can have a solid hope for the future. But then again, we should avoid arrogant confidence at any cost; we should keep our powder dry.