Why I Walked Away From The Word “Cyborg.”

In my first book, Rebuilt, I used the word “cyborg” 157 times. Rebuilt was about going completely deaf and having a computer (that is, a cochlear implant) installed in my head to make my auditory nerve transmit sound signals to my brain. The book was about what it was like to lose a part of one’s body and have it replaced with silicon circuitry. It came out in 2005, and did well; one reviewer called Rebuilt “the first cyborg memoir.”

What Kind of Religion Is There for Nonbelievers?

Nonbelievers have often denied that any meaning can be found in the universe’s existence. They say there is no reason for the universe, or us: we just happened to show up. In The First Three Minutes the physicist Steven Weinberg wrote, “The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless” (154). In Wonderful Life, the paleontologist Steven Jay Gould wrote that “we are only an afterthought, a kind of cosmic accident, just one bauble on the Christmas tree of evolution” (44).

But I think nonbelievers can do better. Much, much better, in fact. There is a way for nonbelievers to see transcendent meaning and purpose in the cosmos, and in human life.

Is the Brain Just a Giant Switching Machine?

I’m posting my response to an interesting question posed by Silas Busch, a student at Bard College who attended a lecture I gave at Bard in January 2013. Mr. Busch gave me permission to post our exchange. Both emails are slightly edited for conciseness.

Dear Michael,

How To Play Video Games Peacefully

Now that I’m 48, I’m less interested in adrenaline and macho fantasies of power and destruction. My focus has changed. What I now most enjoy about games like Half-Life 2 is that they are spectacularly beautiful and immersive. They are fully rendered, photorealistic worlds in which you can walk around and peer in all directions, enjoying the way water is rendered in flowing brooks and the play of sunlight off of rock and wood. When you turn on a flashlight, shadows move in exactly the way you would expect. The game’s physics are eerily real: there’s one point where you have to pile cinderblocks on a seesaw ramp to get it to tilt up so you can reach a ledge. The ramp teeters back and forth exactly the way a real one would. It is so much fun just to walk around looking at things.

Can science shed light on “Proof of Heaven”?

I’ve always been interested in phenomena at the borders of what we know, where there’s some evidence but not enough to be truly convincing, such as UFOs and near death experiences. These are the kinds of things that, if found to be objectively real, would completely upend our perspective on the universe.

I always like having my perspective completely upended. So I keep a weather eye on such things, hoping someday for better evidence.

How To End Gun Violence

Gun enthusiasts frequently argue that only armed ordinary citizens could stop mass murderers. “Why didn’t the teacher have a gun?” they ask. No one’s seemed to offer a cogent response to that argument, apart from pointing out the difficulty of shooting only the assailant in a room full of panicking people. That’s a good response, but it’s not quite enough. Here’s a better one….Read more.

Do Super-Earths Trap the Civilizations On Them?

We already found seven super-Earths in habitable zones. It may not be long before we find one that has a gravity like ours and a tolerable orbital velocity…Read more.

Do Super-Earths Have Too Much Gravity For Us?

It’s amazingly easy to imagine a super-Earth with a comfortable gravity. If a planet had eight Earth masses and 2.83 times the radius, its surface gravity would be exactly 1g. Read more…

A Status-Quo Election, But Much Cause For Hope.

Although Obama won the 2012 election by a large Electoral College margin, the popular vote was close, 50% to 48%, and the makeup of Congress has changed very little. Numerically, there has been little real change. It has been a status-quo election.

That said, some of the worst Tea Party fanatics have been voted out, including Richard Mourdock, Todd Akin, and Joe Walsh. Allan West appears to have lost, and Bachmann held on by only 1%, whereas she won by 13% in 2010. And some strong progressive Democrats have won, including Sherrod Brown, Tammy Baldwin, Tammy Duckworth, and Elizabeth Warren. At least we now have a somewhat better Congress, and we no longer have to fear that the Supreme Court will become even more stacked with right-wing judicial activists. Yesterday was a good day for progressive hopes. Read more…

The Revolution We Can’t Imagine

The future isn’t going to be about making existing human abilities better. It’s going to be about enabling people to do new things – things we can barely imagine now. Read more…