What We Need vs. What We Want

Understanding that you must be able to divide up the two categories fairly and also be able to balance them healthily with our seemingly limitless desires at times is key to being a fully formed individual.

A key part of adulthood is being able to know the differences between knowing ‘what we want’ vs. knowing ‘what we need.’ Understanding that you must be able to divide up the two categories fairly and also be able to balance them healthily with our seemingly limitless desires at times is key to being a fully formed individual. As children, we are taught to temper our desires to manageable levels and to remember to not be selfish especially when it conflicts with the needs of others.

We are flawed as humans in that we often let our wants overtake our immediate needs and that we cannot distinguish the two in terms of actual importance. I may want a new suit but if I only have so much money, do I really need it? Am I being selfish by buying a suit when I already have a perfectly good one at you? These questions are especially important to pose when you have limited money or time to contribute towards either your needs or wants. What we focus on each day shows us if we care more about ‘needs’ or ‘wants.’

It has to be non-negotiable in your own life how your needs come first and will always come first. Your wants have to be considered in terms of whether you actually need them and how much they will actually add that much to your life. When it comes to your wants, you should not only be thinking about their utility in the short-term but also in the long-term. Will you be that much better off not just a day later, a week later, or a year later when you satisfy those wants? A short-term want will be fleeting and may end up not even be worth it whereas a long-term want like starting a business, getting your degree, or moving overseas are often worthwhile investments and satisfactory wants that will put you ahead in your life. If you do want to fulfill your wants, they should be in the interest of you moving forward, learning new things, and developing your interests.

Short-term wants are good every now and then like a new bicycle, a nice meal out with friends, or a trip to a day spa, but the gratification will be short-term, and you can’t rely on those wants to fulfill you in the long-term. Long-term wants are harder to achieve but they often have higher levels of satisfaction. These wants aren’t automatically given to you and you have to work for them but it’s often worth the effort more so than just things being handed to you automatically. Your wants have to be kept in moderation too because if you let your wants overwhelm your needs, you may be left with less than you had before. An adult keeps their wants in check and prioritizes their needs first to make sure that their life is headed in the right direction. Long-term gains have to always take priority over short-term gratification, which may give you happiness but won’t give you fulfillment in the long run.

Your needs in daily life should always come first in terms of securing them. Whether it is water to drink, clean air to breathe, food to eat, and a roof over your head; they are all part of the equation to keep you in good spirits and in good health. Do not let your wants take away from your immediate needs because when it comes down to it, your wants may come and go but your needs are your needs and that never really changes. Abraham Maslow’s ‘hierarchy of needs’ was pretty much on the money in terms of distinguishing what are most urgent needs are and beyond that, what could be considered wants. We have the physical needs of eating, drinking, sleeping, maintaining homeostasis (not too warm or too cold) but beyond that, we start to go into the wants territory of seeking out self-actualization as well as having a steady purpose in life.

We all need human connection along with friends and family who care about us but that is not given to everybody and that kind of need is something that you have to work for and what you have to ‘want’ in a way. We all need safety and security to carry out our lives but that is something that we have to work towards to and that is not guaranteed when we are born. What we need may not been given to us like friends and family or the security of a place we live in and we may have to take action to turn those needs into a reality by wanting them badly enough.

In Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs’, our basic needs must be taken care of first as the pyramid shows us but then you have our psychological needs such as love, relationships, friendships, and feelings of accomplishment and goal-setting. As you go up the pyramid, you get into the ‘self-fulfillment’ needs category of achieving our potential, reaching our set goals, and becoming the best version of ourselves through self-actualization. This category is tricky, but we may feel that we need to be fulfilled that way; how hard are you willing to work to achieve that and how much do you really want to achieve it?

I would argue that our basic needs of food, drink, shelter, warmth, etc. are real needs but our psychological or self-fulfillment needs are different in that while each of us need them in our life, they are really ‘wants’ that you have to earn and to work for. Our basic needs are not given to us either, but they are of such urgency that we will do almost anything to have them guaranteed and it often subsumes our other ‘needs’ like love, friendship, or career goals.

What we need to live is our number one priority. Everything after that is supplementary in life. What we want Is important but it’s clear that our wants are endless at times and we need to prioritize with our limited time and/or money what matters to us most to achieve or to have. Being able to prioritize while understanding this internal battle is key to being a fully formed individual capable of holding our wants at bay while getting our needs taken care of.

Lastly, it is important to distinguish between short-term needs and long-term needs. Short-term needs should always take priority over long-term needs, but you can work towards both at the same time. You can hunt for food and still have companionship with a loved one at the same time. You can watch your vegetables grow while you’re studying for your next course exam or replying to emails. However, if your immediate needs are unmet or neglected, your long-term needs will have to take a backseat because they are just not as critical as what short-term needs are in terms of daily occurrence. You need to eat and drink water a lot more than you need to see your family and friends as an adult. I’m sure you would love to see them every day but it’s more likely you would see them once a week or a month or maybe less if you’re really busy.

Your immediate needs can be balanced with long-term needs, however, if you can’t cook for yourself, make money to support yourself, or be able to clean and take care of yourself physically, not many or very few of your long-term needs can be met after. As an adult, you need to take care of the daily details before you can reach your lifelong dreams and goals. What we need vs. what we want is a constant battle taking place in our mind. If we don’t pay attention to how to win this battle by trusting in our innate knowledge of what we are capable of doing to achieve them one by one and what are healthy priorities to focus on, you won’t be able to get very far in life with either your needs or your wants.

Anatomy of a Scene – Miracle Ceasefire

How we as humanity cling to hope is our investment into the future that better and brighter days are ahead as long as we persevere, push forward, and leave our world a little bit better for the next generation. ‘Children of Men’ is great because it poses the answer to the question of how does humanity hope for a future when no babies are being born?

The world without hearing children’s voices, laughter, and even cries can be a dark and hopeless place. That central message of the now classic movie ‘Children of Men’ (2006) has stayed with me especially in the current times of a pandemic that we are living in. How we as humanity cling to hope is our investment into the future that better and brighter days are ahead as long as we persevere, push forward, and leave our world a little bit better for the next generation. ‘Children of Men’ is great because it poses the answer to the question of how does humanity hope for a future when no babies are being born?

When you think deeply about it, humanity is restored generation after generation thanks to our youth, their ideas, their drive, their desire to not repeat the mistakes of the past and to learn from history. When you take humanity’s future away, what is there left to fight and live for? It is a powerful premise and one for which I am glad Director Alfonso Cuaron decided to focus on. His movie does not pull any punches and shows humanity at its worst when women are no longer able to have children.

Without children, playgrounds and swing sets remain empty. Refugees and immigrants are persecuted and forced into detention camps, suicide pills are common place, environmental degradation is the norm rather than an obscenity, and violent factions fight it out with the government in a post-apocalyptic United Kingdom where suicide bombings are an increasingly common occurrence as Theo (Clive Owen) discovers when he is almost the victim of one in one of the earliest scenes. Perhaps the most frightening part of the whole movie is that no one has figured out why women can’t have babies anymore and the novel that the film is based on is also clear when it shies away from saying why men can’t help in the reproduction process anymore.

In ‘Children of Men’, no child has been born for 18 years and it can be hard to retain hope after that long that things will change. The world is in a downward spiral and things get worse as the youngest person alive, Diego, is killed by an angry crowd. Theo takes solace in the fact that he has a good job at the government ministry and has a funny friend who goes by the name Jasper. Still, you can tell that Theo has lost faith in humanity especially after the death of his infant son due to a flu pandemic and his estranged relationship with Julian, his wife. However, when Julian tells Theo about Kee, a pregnant African woman, who may be carrying the first baby in almost two decades, everything changes, and Theo finds his purpose again to live and to fight for a tomorrow. Theo dedicates himself to protecting Kee and her future baby and wants to get her to safety, which means getting her to the Human Project, a group of the world’s best scientists discussing how best to make humans fertile again.

Theo’s journey with Kee involves getting her out of a refugee camp, escaping men who want to keep Kee’s baby for political purposes and who are also armed combatants, and avoiding fascist police forces who intend to get in their way. To escape the escalating urban violence around them as both the government and rebels fight it out in bombed out Bexhill, Theo and Kee take shelter in a refugee settlement in a former apartment building. The three of them come close to being killed and the baby’s cries echo throughout the building much to the stunned shock, joy, and awe it inspires among the refugees, the rebel forces, and the government troops.

The way the cinematographer follows Kee’s baby and Kee around in a wide tracking shot is absolutely beautiful making it one of the most memorable scenes in cinema history. “How is she?”, Theo asks Kee. “Annoyed.” Kee replies. A refugee woman reaches out her hand to touch the baby and another woman sings a sweet song in her native language. Prayers and aspirations are given to the baby as Theo and Kee walk through the crowd. The rebel soldiers acknowledge the baby as they get away from the advancing troops behind them. The government’s military soldiers are in absolute shock as one soldiers’ yell at his army unit: “Ceasefire! Ceasefire!” All of them stop shooting at once and look upon Kee’s baby in disbelief, many of them never having seen a human child before in person.

To see the armed men in tanks and heavy weapons and their technological mastery stop, think, and realize how humanity and its future must be preserved and let free without being in danger. Not much can stop a war from continuing but a baby’s cries can most certainly pause it for a few minutes as this brilliant scene exemplifies. An immediate symbol of hope for humanity and its possible redemption is realized in its newest addition and it is a wonderful allegory to how despite our differences, any human around the world will stop to comfort, aid, and protect for a baby as we would do for our own children or grandchildren or even nieces and nephews.

Those men who don’t see the baby continue to fire at each other in the distance but any soldier, man, or woman who hears the baby crying lowers their weapon, pays their respect, and let Theo and Kee have safe passage as they represent a glimpse of hope finally for humanity’s future rather than its eventual extinction. Some of the soldiers pray to their God and others peer in to get a look at the baby with their own eyes but all are silent and in disbelief thinking that finally there might be hope again.

After a minute or two of calm and as Kee and Theo are about to get away, a rocket RPG hits the government soldiers and the men ignore the baby again and get back to fighting the rebel forces in the building that Kee and Theo just left. To me, that is a tragic symbol of how once we have something out of sight and out of mind, we go back to fighting each other instead of uniting around a common cause. As that RPG fires, I think to myself watching this scene how somebody always has to ruin it for everybody else. Unfortunately, Kee’s baby does not lead right away to world peace and a cessation of arms. However, it is enough time for the two of them to escape and have a fighting chance of reaching the Human Project.

A baby’s cries are more powerful and everlasting than any weapon, any political cause, and any division between humanity. While human nature cannot be totally pacified by children and babies being born, it allows us to fight for better days and for a future freer of pain, sorrow, and tragedy.

I hope that when you watch this scene, you’ll realize that even in our current age when fertility is not extinct and is not a present issue that we are still fighting to preserve hope for the next generation and generations to come. Whether it is preventing pandemics, stemming the worst effects of climate change, or preventing nuclear war between nations, we all have a responsibility to be stewards like Theo in protecting the babies of the future against any manmade harm that could befall them due to our own neglect and ignorance.

Please do watch this ‘Miracle Ceasefire’ scene and the rest of ‘Children of Men’ when you have the chance. It is an excellent film to see and this scene may be the best one of the entire film. Hope and redemption are only as strong as our ability to have a better future.

‘The Edge’ – Film Review and Analysis

“Whether it was ‘The Revenant’ with Leonardo DiCaprio or ‘The Grey’ with Liam Neeson, these films highlight man’s struggle to overcome the elements, the animals, and even his own demons. Many of these ‘man v. nature’ films focus on one main lead and a small cast of supporting characters but most of the film’s runtime is about the sole main character. ‘The Edge’ is different.”

I have always really liked Man vs. Nature type of films. Even though they have similar premises and conclusions, it really is a raw kind of film that grips you and leaves you wondering what you would do in a similar kind of situation. Whether it was ‘The Revenant’ with Leonardo DiCaprio or ‘The Grey’ with Liam Neeson, these films highlight man’s struggle to overcome the elements, the animals, and even his own demons. Many of these ‘man v. nature’ films focus on one main lead and a small cast of supporting characters but most of the film’s runtime is about the sole main character. ‘The Edge’ is different.

In ‘The Edge’ (1997), this survival film does something else by highlighting two men who have different intentions and different backgrounds. One is a wealthy man named Charles Morse (played by Anthony Hopkins) and the other is a photography presumably who take pictures of models and is very much a person of the city who is not used to nature or wildlife. Bob Green (played by Alec Baldwin) has ulterior motives in mind but comes off as affable and friendly enough in giving Charles a gift for his birthday in the form of a hunting knife. Charles is accompanied by his beautiful wife, a model named Mickey, who Bob takes pictures of as well as Bob’s assistant, Stephen, who is also new to being in wildlife. The small group are joined by a few friends in a cabin in the Canadian wilderness to celebrate Charles’s birthday.

From the beginning of this film, you can tell that Charles is more comfortable with his intellectual pursuits than with his friends. He loves Mickey, his wife, but he understands that he is more interested in books than in people. Charles is particular obsessed with a survival book / guide that he is reading and is fascinated by the natural surroundings that he has brought the group to and the people who hunt there for bears and other wildlife.

Charles’s fondness for nature and of survival are to come in handy later on in the film and is an excellent use of foreshadowing when things go haywire later on. During this birthday celebration, the viewer can also tell that Bob while he is kind to Charles is envious of him, his life, his money, and his wife. He openly flirts with Mickey and kisses her platonically. Charles can sense this animosity and is wary of Bob’s intentions.

Part of the reason why they all have come up to the Canadian wilderness besides Charles’s birthday is to find, interview, and take photographs of a famous Alaskan Indian hunter. During their flight, as Bob and Charles make small talk, Charles blurts out of the blue to him: “How do you plan to kill me?”. Before Bob has a chance to respond, a flock of birds come out of nowhere and strike the plane’s engines and its windshield killing the pilot and causing a downward crash.

The plane crash lands in the lake and all three men (Bob, Charles, and Stephen) are all shook up but survive the crash. The pilot does not but the men quickly realize they may be stranded for a while. Charles, given his survival skills knowledge, takes charge and encourages the other two men not to panic and to learn from him. Using his encyclopedic knowledge from his memory, he is able to make a compass to plot their course forward, make a small fire, and also give them advice about how to proceed.

Charles is not perfect in his survival skills and he almost gets swallowed up by a river rapid that almost carries him away until Bob pulls him out. For most of the film, it is unclear to the viewer how the two men really feel about each other. Their survival and getting out of the wild takes first priority. This becomes even more pressing when they wander into the territory of a giant Kodiak bear who is a real ‘manhunter’ as Charles calls him.

Stephen injures himself while climbing and Bob mistakenly hangs up the blood-soaked clothes of Stephen later on at night around the fire drawing the bear to him. This costly mistake leads to the Kodiak bear tracing their scent and finding them. Instead of burying the clothes, Bob lets them hang above their campsite causing Stephen to be attacked and brutally killed by the bear. Bob and Charles barely escape and realize that if they want to survive this ordeal, they must band together to trick the bear and then kill him.

Food is also a concern for both men as they haven’t eaten anything since they crashed and will starve to death if they don’t kill the bear. This is another instance where Charles comes in handy as he is able to distract the bear while Bob goads the bear into falling into their trap. By working together as a team and using a hidden spear to impale the bear, Bob and Charles are able to kill the bear together even when they both end up wounded from the encounter.

This is a small victory in the long road to survival for both men as they are able to eat well, don bear skins, and even find a cabin where they can get supplies. However, this is not the end of their animosity or wariness of each other. Man’s most fatal enemy is not nature or animals but often his fellow man and that comes into play.

While Charles is a smart and dedicated man to have achieved his wealth and success, he may have been naïve to who Bob is and what his wife Mickey was doing with him. Bob is not a survivalist and relies on Charles to survive but with the bear vanquished and having reached a cabin with some ability to reside there for some time, does Bob need Charles anymore and will his wife Mickey miss him if he didn’t come back?

The viewer has a lot to absorb and while I don’t want to spoil the film’s ending, ‘The Edge’ is not just about survivalism, but the edge of our tolerance of one another or our shared cooperation when a woman or money or prestige comes between people. Both men are not perfect, and they gain more when they cooperate rather than try to kill one another. Bob has the negative traits of hubris, envy, and short-sightedness. He is not able to survive the woods without Charles but wonders how much he truly needs him now that they have conquered the bear. He also covets Bob’s wife and wonders if he could murder Charles and get away with it by making it look like an accident.

Charles is an avid survivalist but may be naïve about the people around him. He also knows that Mickey and Bob and other people may take advantage of him and he may not know if they truly love him for him or if it is for his wealth and influence. While Bob is a personable, fun, and outgoing, Charles is an introvert with a love for knowledge and learning. They are opposite personalities, which is why they clash at times during this film.

While being in a precarious, life-threatening situation can bring the best out of people, it can also bring the worst out of the people, which is why ‘The Edge’ is a great film. Survival films like it do not just focus on the brutal realm of the wilderness where our creature comforts and our money cannot protect us, but they can also focus on man’s cruelty to man as well as our ability to work together too. ‘The Edge’ does a good job of pointing out how we can rise to the occasion when our survival counts on it but also shows us how dark human nature can be when we feel compelled to act out of jealousy, rage, and deceit.

‘The Edge’ is a great and underrated film, which I do highly recommend. The vistas of the Canadian wilderness are brilliant shown through the cinematography. The Kodiak bear, which was played by a real bear, named Bart, does a great job of showing how terrifying and powerful a giant bear can be when it is attacking you. Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin are respectively some of the best actors of their generations and they do a great job of highlighting the unique personalities of their characters. You really believe the scenarios that they could find themselves in having been stranded in the wilderness for weeks. It is a believable kind of film from being able to make a fire, to finding fish in the river, to being attacked by a bear, to climbing and hiking day after day in unknown territory.

‘The Edge’ is overall a very compelling and realistic film. It does a great job of blending elements of ‘man vs. nature’, ‘man vs. animal’, and most importantly ‘man vs. man’, which is an element missing from our survival films. I would be lying if watching ‘The Edge’ didn’t make me want to buy my own survivalist guide to learn about how to survive in the wild for days or weeks. A terrifying plane crash, a boat whose engine doesn’t start, or a car engine that goes dead is enough to make anyone panic.

I believe it is important to prepare like Charles did for that kind of horrible situation and not to panic or dwell with shame. As Charles says at the beginning of the film, “Those who get lost in the woods often die of shame because they were ashamed that it happened to them.” This is an important quote of his to keep in mind. When the chips are down, you have to use your knowledge, resources, and will to survive whatever the circumstances. The best time to start preparing for that kind of occurrence is now.

Museum of Tomorrow (Museo do Amanhã)

Camera: Samsung Galaxy J2 Core

Location: Museum of Tomorrow; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Anatomy of a Scene – The Dream

“In his 30+ years as a police officer, he means well but he has noticed an increasingly brutal fact that is inescapable. The world has become more unforgiving, violent, and it is hard for him to make an impact whereas at the beginning of his career, he sought to make it a better place.”

Tommy Lee Jones is an elderly police officer overmatched in the excellent ‘No Country for Old Men’ (2017). He is overmatched for a number of reasons including not being able to keep up with the actions of violent men who show no compassion or no remorse. Throughout the film, he is always just a step behind the sociopathic Anton Chigurh and fails to either apprehend him or to prevent him from killing innocent people. In his 30+ years as a police officer, he means well but he has noticed an increasingly brutal fact that is inescapable. The world has become more unforgiving, violent, and it is hard for him to make an impact whereas at the beginning of his career, he sought to make it a better place.

Ed Tom Bell is your average protagonist who means well, wants to do right in his work, and believes he can do good but finds himself overmatched and overwhelmed by what he is asked to do. When he thinks of his future, he wonders what is left for him and if retirement will bring him peace or have him think back on what could be.

The dream scene begins with Ed Tom, now retiring, looking out of his window at his farm’s seemingly barren landscape with a sole tree to his left through the window behind him. A man of seemingly few hobbies and fewer words, he thinks about his day ahead and thinks about the possibility of riding around on his horse. Not too enthused about it, he also asks his wife if he should help around the house. Seemingly because he is less than skilled at this work, his wife believes it’s better that “he not.” He asks if his wife will join him riding but she is still working and a member of society actively.

Resigned to his fate as a retiree instead of being an active police officer, he reflects to his wife that he’s had dreams and he wants to share them. She says that he has time for them now and that she’ll be polite while he remembers them. He goes ahead and states that there were ‘two dreams’, they were ‘peculiar’ and both of them involved his father who has long passed away. Ed Tom is an older man than his father ever was indicating his father passed away at a younger age that of which Ed Tom will live to be longer.

The first dream is almost like a flash as most of our dreams tend to be with the details muddled and hard to recall. Ed Tom only states that he meets up with his young father in town and he leaves him some money perhaps as a way of his father being there for him even if he wasn’t present physically in his life. Similar to losing his father early in life, Ed Tom believes he lost his money in the dream as well leaving him without help as his father’s early death may have inadvertently done.

The second dream is much more imaginative and involve Ed Tom and his father living in ‘older times’ perhaps when the West was not settled and was lawless. He is no longer a police officer maintaining law and order but rather a horse rider having adventures with his father as he wishes they perhaps would have had time for had he lived longer.

This second dream is much more vivid as Ed Tom recalls how it is cold, they are going through a mountain pass together. They ride together in the snow among the mountains of the night until his father rides past him with no explanation and his blanket wrapped tight against him. This is confusing to Ed Tom at first knowing how hard it is to be without his father who he loves and must face the cold world without him as if he has been abandoned again. Though he may have lost his father, Ed Tom recalls how his father was carrying ahead a fire and a horn of a golden moon color, which gave him comfort despite the fact that he was not with him riding together.

“He was going on ahead, fixing to make a fire.” Ed Tom believes his father in the dream is out there doing this noble act in the middle of all the dark and cold, which is brutal to handle. “I knew whenever I got there, he’d be there…then I woke up.” The hope that Ed Tom haves is that his father even though it seems like he abandoned him as the son is that he really is instead looking out for him and paving the road ahead with light so he would not abandon his hope.

He believes that his father even though he may not be there with him wants him to keep going ahead and to meet him eventually instead of becoming deterred. He paves the way for his son to chase the flame of his absence and to resolve to not let the dark encapsulate him fully. Ed Tom’s expression about the dream is one of resigned sadness that his father is no longer around but also one of lingering strength to believe his death was not in vain and that he will reunite with him one day. His father, like him later, use their lives to keep the flame and the light moving forward even when surrounded by the darkest aspects of human nature.

Like any dream scene in a movie, this one has a deeper meaning behind it related to one man’s grief involving the loss of not only his livelihood but of his hope for a brighter future for humanity. Having seen the horrors that people inflict on one another, he may be resigned to that fact but he also believes his father would have wanted him to keep the flame ‘alive’ and to keep carrying it forward throughout his life even if things looked bleak. His death did not stop Ed Tom from keeping the flame moving in his own life and to carrying it forward in the hopes that he would bring it to his father someday when they would eventually be reunited in another lifetime or in another dream that seemed real.

An Ode to Curiosity

What separates the dreamers from the strivers? There are a number of characteristics and personal qualities that distinguish someone who dreams of doing big things and one who actually strives to accomplish these big things. Among these characteristics include commitment, consistency, hard work, patience, perseverance and they are all important for different reasons but the most important characteristics that stands out to me is having curiosity and being willing to learn new things because of that curiosity. If you don’t have any curiosity or willingness to learn how things work and why, you can dream about making an impact all you want but if you aren’t willing to spend time learning about what you’re interested in and what you can improve upon whether physically or mentally, then your goals will likely not be accomplished.

This ability to strive for hard-to-reach goals amid an appetite for education, learning, and overall growth is exemplified by a number of great men and women throughout history. Even when they were unsure that they would not live to see their ideas or their plans come to fruition, their insatiable curiosity was used to move the goal posts forward often to the benefit of humanity as a whole.

I was reminded by this characteristic this past weekend as I went to a really well-done and educational exhibit on 500 Years of Leonardo Da Vinci regarding both his finished and his unfinished works. Books full of notes, dozens of paintings, and sketches, graphs, and illustrations to note what he had in mind for the furthering of humankind. I would say most of what he set out to do during his life was not accomplished during it but what he did was open up the ideas and the possibilities to the rest of the world so that some other engineer or inventor could go all the way to make his vision a reality.

Da Vinci was a genius, but he was also curious about how to bring about new ideas in the world. He did not care if they could never come to fruition or if they failed. Similar to other great inventors, he knew that sometimes you have to try things out one hundred or even one thousand times to get things truly right. You can’t be shy or timid if you have something you think can truly change the world and make it a better place. In some cases, Da Vinci’s ideas where decades or even centuries ahead of time and if more people were curious to the same extent, there is no telling that the 1500s could have been more like the 1900s much quicker.

To understand how to make a man fly in the air or how to bring him back down safely, to figure out how to make cities more livable, and how to engineer machines to bring energy and water to people more easily, these are all monumental tasks that stem from Da Vinci’s trait of having an insatiable curiosity. He was mainly self-educated and self-taught who loved learning about the wonders of the world from engineering to painting to the science of the human body. It is difficult to even comprehend how things would be different today had he been born in the modern era instead of during the renaissance era.

He was almost superhuman in his drive and in his motivation but what all of us can have in common with Da Vinci is to awaken the innate curiosity or curiosities inside of us. Few of us today, if any, will have the curiosity matched by the genius and intellect of a Da Vinci but all of us are curious about something and we want to do our best to master it. For some of us, it’s our curiosity to play a piece of music perfectly without stopping.

For others, it’s about solving an almost impossibly hard equation that could have real-world consequences. Whether it is art, science(s), programming, mathematics, politics, etc., you have to find out what you are curious about and how you can use your curiosity to further advancements and developments in any of these fields. You may only have curiosity about a particular field, but it is your prerogative then to be the best you can in that field in order to get that sense of fulfillment.

Leonardo Da Vinci was a special person and a once-in-a-lifetime talent whose likes we may have seen the last of but what he represents is our drive as human beings to reach new heights and to challenge past notions of what is and what isn’t possible. During his relatively short life, he was able to accomplish so much in different areas of human endeavor and still has had an impact on the world today more than 500 years after his death. He is an example of what is possible if you set your mind and your body to quenching your curiosity and leaving your mark on the world in some small way.

Even if you are not recognized during your life, it is important to keep notes, drawings, illustrations, and records of your hard work so that someone may be able to pick up the torch after you and carry it forward. Sharing your thought process and your ideas with the world long after your time on Earth comes to an end is the closest a person can get to a sense of immortality.

Da Vinci may not have made man fly during his lifetime or made them capable of constructing his idea of the perfect city, but he was able to leave detailed blueprints for other engineers and inventors to carry forward with their own innate sense of curiosities. Having an insatiable curiosity and a powerful imagination can drive you even when you have tried your 100th or 1000th idea. If you are curious, passionate, and willing to fail more than you will likely succeed, you will be sure of having some impact on the world and a chance to be remembered by others long after you have gone.

The Power of An Idea

According to the University of Southern California’s Laboratory of Neuroimaging, the average person has about 70,000 thoughts per day. That is about 45 thoughts per minute and 2,700 thoughts per hour. Most likely, 90% of those thoughts are focused on the day-to-day habits and responsibilities that we take upon ourselves out of necessity. Where we go to eat, where we go shop for food, what to clean and how to clean it, and the need to brush, dress, and groom ourselves so that we look presentable to the world. However, what makes us stand out as a species is our ability to pull a few ideas from these thousands of thoughts that end up changing the world in some measurable way.

Thoughts can be random, scattered, and hard to quantify but with concentrated effort and documentation, these thoughts become ideas that later can become a reality. How does an idea turn into a real thing? Well, one part of making an idea real is jotting it down on paper or even on a smartphone today and really spending a lot of time focusing on the plausibility of it. Ideas can make the best sense in the world to you but if they are not popular or don’t transcend just your belief in them, they will go nowhere fast.

Ideas are meant to be tested, changed, and optimized so that people believe in them, for better or for worse. The paradox that is inherent with ideas is that they are very similar to human nature. They can be used for the greatest good or the greatest evil. Ideas are so powerful that wars have been waged over them, millions have lost their lives, and untold amounts of money have been spent to promote or degrade them.

When you really think about it, ideas that are put into action have caused changes to human civilizations throughout the millennia. Whether its education, health, infrastructure, scientific advancement, community building, ideas are at the forefront of upending the status quo and changing human lives, sometimes for the better or sometimes for worse. While I just mentioned the positive advancements that come from ideas, it is also valid that ideas have led to war, poverty, inequality, destruction, and multiple isms that have caused conflict and strife among nations, races, and religions.

You may be reading this article and wondering that maybe it’s best to not contribute your ideas to the world in some way. I think this is a false dichotomy because I like to think that if your ideas are not harming people, are not harming the planet, and can lead to a better community, country or world, then you should try out your ideas and see what happens. The key part to realizing an idea of yours is to see how other people react to it. Are they happier because of your idea? Are they healthier because of it? Are they better educated because of your idea?

You should be asking yourself: Is my idea doing some sort of measurable good for the world and how can I improve upon it? Ideas start out as being imperfect but once you start acting to make those ideas a reality in the world, you will soon learn that implementation of those ideas will take serious hard work and effort. Getting feedback from unbiased users or participants is a key step to see whether the idea is worth merit and whether it is sustainable or not in the long-term. Imposing your idea on the world without substantive feedback or without understanding how your idea fits in to your specific niche will end up in failure.

If you have an idea, remember to write it down and construct how it could work and whether it would be worth pursuing. Similar to starting a business or launching a campaign, you have to test drive the idea first to see if people would be interested in what you have to offer whether they are paying customers or voters from the town you are running your campaign in. Careful assessment and fleshing out of your idea will make a better idea and will make your idea stand out from others that are similar or may be able to usurp yours.

Ideas do not always have to be original but there must be some added benefit or advantage that hasn’t been tried before or could change the status quo in some positive way. There is a rightful stigma against ideas, but it is important to realize that our faith in ideas is crucial to keeping civilization going even when some ideas turn out to be bad for us. Our shared belief in ideas is what leads to massive companies like Google or Apple becoming the most influential or profitable in the world and has led to nation-states forming in the past few centuries such as the United States of America or the United Kingdom.

Without thoughts that turned into ideas which turned into actions, where would humanity be? Our ability to analyze, process, and think about how to change the world or how to introduce something new in the world is what sets us apart from other species on the planet. Essentially, the story of human progress could be argued to revolve around how to maximize the impact and spread of good ideas and how to minimize the influence and the source of bad ideas. Most of us tend to shy away from sharing our ideas or trying them out but I think having a more entrepreneurial and innovative vision is a key part of being self-actualized as a person.

Having a sense of belief in your ideas and how you can leave the world better than you found it is extremely powerful. While working on the ideas of others and promoting them to the world is also very useful, I tend to think that each and every one of us has a good idea that could be fleshed out, tried out, and implemented with the help of others, which would play a key part in making the world a better place.

Because the world is so interconnected, ideas spread so rapidly that it can be overwhelming with how much is out there. However, the ideas that stick around are the ones that take time to develop, that are tweaked with, that refine their logic and their execution, and for which have gained a solid following of people who believe in those ideas. An idea that has a powerful story which resonates with people can also withstand the test of time.

The next time you have an idea, think deeply about it. Maybe you’re on your commute to work or you’re in the bathroom, or you’re on a walk in the local park, but don’t let it slip away if you think that it can serve a positive purpose and if it is actionable. Ideas can come and go in a millisecond so being able to concentrate on the idea, remember it, and write it down as soon as possible could pay off in a big way. Another way to let your ideas form is to focus on the impact that it could have and how people could benefit from the idea(s). I believe that the more observant you are of your surroundings, the better your ideas will be. Another part of gaining traction with your ideas is reading books, whether they were entrepreneurs, inventors, politicians, and reformists from different eras of history.

You may find that your idea is not so unique and may date back a few decades or even a few centuries but maybe that idea never took off. You are eager to learn more about that so you do your research, you find out more about the history of the idea, and you decide why it may be right for the present and into the future based on changes to society. Just because an idea failed in the past doesn’t mean it can’t make a return with a few useful tweaks. From the electric car to virtual reality to smartphones, these kinds of ideas have their roots buried firmly in previous unsuccessful efforts in the past only to be revived because of inventors and thinkers who thought of how to adapt these inventions to the modern era.

Ideas are powerful because of are shared belief in them and how they can change the world. However, without serious action, commitment, and hard work, ideas of ours will just stay like that as ideas alone. Ideas without belief or without support from others will go nowhere. The key to implementing good ideas in our era is that they have been tested, have some measurable benefit to humanity, and have staying power because of their relevance to our societies. If you are not sure that you are an ‘ideas’ person, try to concentrate on your thoughts and remember whether there are any of them in your daily life that could become a reality.

You must decide if any of these ideas of yours could be written down, planned out, implemented, and eventually supported by the work of others. Once you go through that chronological checklist, you will be ready to start putting those ideas into action. Your ideas may ultimately fail and you may get discouraged but if your idea(s) were able to have a kind of positive impact on someone or something because of that thought that you first had go through your mind, you will know that it will have been worth the effort of carrying it out in the first place.

The Brilliance of a Speech – Charlie Chaplin

Charlie Chaplin, one of the great film figures of the 20th century and known for his silent work in film, took a great leap of faith and showed moral courage by his performance parodying Adolf Hitler in ‘The Great Dictator.’ This film was the first one where Chaplin had any actual dialogue even though he had been in numerous silent films in previous decades from the 1910s through the 1930s. By that time of the late 1930s, Chaplin had achieved worldwide success and critical acclaim as an actor and a comedian but at that tumultuous time in world affairs, he knew he had the responsibility to speak out about growing militant nationalism that was surging in both Europe and Asia.

Compared to the modern times in which we live, Chaplin was taking a big risk with both his career and his personal safety by mixing politics and world events in his roles in ‘The Great Dictator.’ Because this film was the first of his to use sound and the fact that still in 1940, it was not common to condemn and criticize the rise of fascism and Nazism in Europe by Hollywood. Even though World War II had begun, and the U.S. had remained neutral up until that point, Charlie Chaplin brought to life through satire and comedy just how ridiculous dictators like Hitler and Mussolini were in their desire to conquer territory and expand their rule.

It was unknown to Chaplin and the other people involved in making ‘The Great Dictator’ though that Hitler and the Nazis would create concentration camps and extermination chambers to kill over eleven million people, including six million Jewish men, women, and children. Chaplin, like few other actors of the time, was able in this satirical film to play both the main protagonist and the main antagonist. Both a Jewish barber and Adenoid Hynkel, Chaplin in both roles was able to lay out how clearly to the audience how prescient of a threat the rise of fascism in Europe was but also how important it was to poke fun still at the Nazi threat in order to be better able to confront it later on.

While 95% of ‘The Great Dictator’ is making fun of Hitler and the Nazi leadership, the last five minutes is a speech given by Chaplin playing the satirical role of Adenoid Hynkel in full costume but talking seriously about the need to confront Nazism and how it got to this low point in world history. This speech is extremely popular and brilliantly crafted to put it simply. It is no wonder that this film was commercially and critically acclaimed especially in the United States and in the United Kingdom. The invigorating words that Chaplin passionately and profoundly passes on directly to the audience of ‘The Great Dictator’ carries real weight to it especially by the end of the film where it’s been comical and relatively lighthearted up until that point. At the time of the film and of the year it was released, 1940, the horrors of World War II were far from being fully realized yet. However, the ending speech was not just foreboding of what was to come but it was also a forewarning to humanity that this can happen at any time and in any part of the world. Chaplin urges the audience to consider how it got to this point, how we can turn it all around, and how to avoid the dictators who pit us against each other and separate us into us vs. them.

“I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be an emperor. That’s not my business. I don’t want to rule or conquer anyone. I should like to help everyone – if possible – Jew, Gentile – black man – white. We all want to help one another. Human beings are like that. We want to live by each other’s happiness – not by each other’s misery. We don’t want to hate and despise one another. In this world there is room for everyone. And the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone. The way of life can be free and beautiful, but we have lost the way.”

Being able to take care of people and to treat each other with respect and dignity is crucial to one’s humanity regardless of race, ethnicity, or religious background. In Chaplin’s speech, he caters to the better angels of our nature and how we really should yearn to make each other’s live better and spread happiness, not hate. The Earth that we have been given is big enough for everyone regardless of who we are and is ‘rich’ in its natural resources and its ability to provide for everybody with food, water, etc. The natural state of man should be yearning for freedom and beauty, but sometimes we have to collectively steer ourselves back in that direction when we have ‘lost the way.’

“Greed has poisoned men’s souls, has barricaded the world with hate, has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed. We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical. Our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent, and all will be lost….”

Greed has turned men against one another, has caused hate to fill our souls, and has led us down the paths to misery and bloodshed. Similar to the pre-WWII period, we live in a time of rapid technological change where ‘speed’ is the essence of progress, but this same ‘speed’ has led to the consequence of alienating ourselves from others with these ‘advances in technology.’ While we live in abundant times, there are many out there who still ‘want’ for more because of increasing inequalities. Too much knowledge without wisdom can lead to cynicism. There is a lot of cleverness in the world but what really matters is how you treat other people and that ‘kindness’ and gentleness’ too often takes a back seat to ‘cleverness’ and showing your ego off to others. When there is not enough humanity, Chaplin tells us, life is violent, brutal, and the progress we have made can be reversed all too easily.

“The aeroplane and the radio have brought us closer together. The very nature of these inventions cries out for the goodness in men – cries out for universal brotherhood – for the unity of us all. Even now my voice is reaching millions throughout the world – millions of despairing men, women, and little children – victims of a system that makes men torture and imprison innocent people.”

Substitute the iPhone and social media for ‘the aeroplane and the radio’, and this part of Chaplin’s speech is just as relevant as it was in 1940 with regards to technological change and its effects on humanity. While these devices and inventions can bring us together in an effort to achieve ‘universal brotherhood’, these same tools can be used to drive us apart from one another and lead to more universal forms of control, subjugation, and surveillance if we are not careful. Reaching out using technology to help men, women, and children in trouble thousands of miles away is what we should be striving for especially when they are in danger of being tortured, imprisoned, and killed.

“To those who can hear me, I say – do not despair. The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed – the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress. The hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people. And so long as men die, liberty will never perish.”

Misery is temporary and so is greed which cannot go on forever because it stands in the way of both human progress and human development. Those men who benefit from hatred and violence also fear the progress of humanity because it will prevent them from taking all of the resources, money, and land for themselves. Dictators like all humans will eventually die and disappear from the face of the Earth and the power that was taken from the people will eventually be returned to them. There is always a chance for liberty to exist as long as the people have hope and as long as dictators can have their power be taken from them by force or by the passing of time. The torch of liberty can only be fully extinguished if people give up hope or if one dictator is exchanged for another dictator like nothing ever changed.

“Soldiers! don’t give yourselves to brutes – men who despise you – enslave you – who regiment your lives – tell you what to do – what to think and what to feel! Who drill you – diet you – treat you like cattle, use you as cannon fodder. Don’t give yourselves to these unnatural men – machine men with machine minds and machine hearts! You are not machines! You are not cattle! You are men! You have the love of humanity in your hearts! You don’t hate! Only the unloved hate – the unloved and the unnatural! Soldiers! Don’t fight for slavery! Fight for liberty!”

Dictators and authoritarian brutes do not care about the soldiers who they command and use them as pawns in their game of chess with other nations. These ‘leaders’ give the soldiers commands and teach them what to think, do, and feel, but they don’t instruct them on why they are fighting or what they are fighting for? The men who order soldiers to battle think like ‘machines’ rather than as human being. Men are born with the love of humanity in their hearts and were not born already hating others. Only those who are ‘unloved’ and ‘unnatural’ can be led to hate others (often by dictators). Soldiers enslave themselves to dictators and other leaders by fighting without questioning and instead should fight for the liberty of all human beings to live in peace, pursue their dreams, and better the world. The only fight worth having, Chaplin argues in the speech, is the ‘fight for liberty!’

“In the 17th Chapter of St Luke, it is written: “the Kingdom of God is within man” – not one man nor a group of men, but in all men! In you! You, the people have the power – the power to create machines. The power to create happiness! You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure.”

“The Kingdom of God is within man.” We are born imperfect as human beings but in order to create peace, prosperity, and liberty, it is within us alone to make. Only when all men unite together and not just one group or one man alone, there is nothing that we can’t accomplish together. For one, the power to create technology and machines is one that we have exercised for the past few centuries now. This power can be used for terrible things but if we unite together as one humanity then there is the power to do great good such as to pursue happiness, justice, and to make life free and beautiful for all peoples. One man can’t do it alone nor can a group of men from a country or region, but we must be all together united in the struggle to create a better future. These ‘machines’ that man creates can be used for evil or for good, and it is ultimately up to us in how to use the technology we have to further the progress of mankind.

“Then – in the name of democracy – let us use that power – let us all unite. Let us fight for a new world – a decent world that will give men a chance to work – that will give youth a future and old age a security. By the promise of these things, brutes have risen to power. But they lie! They do not fulfill that promise. They never will!”

Democracy and not dictatorship are the only power we need to unite under a banner of shared humanity. Dictators look to divide and conquer but democracy urges unity and peace among all nations in order to create a decent world. Being able to work and create is what men desire to give future generations a shot at a good life and to aid the elderly in age to have a secure retirement. Brutes promise a lot of things to their peoples under the guise of democracy, but they do not care for democracy or its principles of liberty, equality, and justice for all. Brutes are dictators and authoritarians who lie to the people in order to free themselves financially and politically, so their own families, friends, and connected elites can benefit. They never fulfill the promises that they were elected to handle, and they use the people’s trust to enrich themselves and consolidate power for themselves while criticizing anyone who thinks differently from them.

Dictators free themselves but they enslave the people! Now let us fight to fulfill that promise! Let us fight to free the world – to do away with national barriers – to do away with greed, with hate and intolerance. Let us fight for a world of reason, a world where science and progress will lead to all men’s happiness. Soldiers! in the name of democracy, let us all unite!

When dictators rise to ultimate power, they keep that power for themselves and quite literally ‘enslave the people.’ This was the case in World War II with Hitler and Mussolini and is still the case today almost eighty years later. Chaplin argues that the only way the world and its seven billion inhabitants can be truly free is to do away with the borders we have imposed on ourselves to cause unnecessary tension, conflict, and violence, and to stop greed, hate, and intolerance in all of its forms or before it becomes too powerful to resist.

Democracy, liberty, equality, and justice are everlasting principles for human freedom but they must be fought for and obtained with each generation. These principles are not perfect either and they must be reformed and improved upon so that all humans can benefit from these ideals. Only in a world with reason, education (science and other subjects), the quest for humane progress can happiness and self-satisfaction be achieved. In order to prevent dictators from seizing power, democracy must be strengthened not just by ‘soldiers’ but by ‘citizens’ of all nations. Only when we unite together to disavow of false prophets like dictators and rather work together in a fair and free democratic system can we ensure the continued progress of man, woman, and child through the decades, generations, and centuries to come.

Charlie Chaplin’s ‘The Great Dictator’ was a brilliant speech that tried to warn the world about the coming world war that would be the deadliest in human history. His words still carry immense weight and troubling foreboding in our world today. I hope and pray that we continue to heed his speech for its vision of a better, free, and just world or we could once again find ourselves staring into the abyss of future conflict, violence, and destruction….

You can read the full speech here: https://www.charliechaplin.com/en/articles/29-The-Final-Speech-from-The-Great-Dictator-

‘Ex Machina’ – Film Review and Analysis

The rise of automation, the development of artificial intelligence, and the increasing likelihood that robots who look like us and act like us will become major parts of the next few decades of the 21st century and beyond is not a new phenomenon. Going back to the 1950’s and even earlier, human being have predicted through popular media and culture that the future would have advanced intelligent beings who would aid us, support us, and perhaps even dominate us. Recently, the popular culture seems to have gotten more specific and more in line with the technological developments of today of how artificial intelligence may look not hundreds of years from now but rather mere decades from now.

Television shows like ‘Black Mirror’ and ‘Westworld’ approach the rapid growth of technology and the rise of artificial intelligence with unease and even dystopian consequences. However, the main message that these two TV shows can agree on is that these types of scenarios are not a matter of ‘if’ it will happen but ‘when’ it will happen. Now, obviously these shows are science fiction and are not based in truth but it is becoming more and more difficult to say that it is impossible for the world to look somewhat like a mix of ‘Black Mirror’ and ‘Westworld’ by the latter half of the 21st century.

While these shows are very black and white by mainly displaying the damage that virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and big brother surveillance can do to our societies, the excellent film ‘Ex Machina’ deals with shades of gray correctly when dealing with this phenomenon. As some of the television shows that are currently popular deal with the advent of robots and AI with total dismay and unease, ‘Ex Machina’ is more balanced in its perspective and points to a conclusion that is left to be interpreted by the audience in its repercussions for humankind.

While it didn’t gain much notoriety or was a big hit at the box office, ‘Ex Machina’ released in April of 2015 in the United States garnered critical acclaim, especially for its visuals. The film won for ‘Best Visual Effects’ at the Academy Awards and was also nominated for ‘Best Original Screenplay.’ Alicia Vikander, who plays ‘Ava’ the humanoid robot that has a high level of artificial intelligence also was nominated and won a few major awards for ‘Best Supporting Actress.’ The film was directed by English novelist and director Alex Gardner and despite it being a science fiction-based concept only had a film budget of $15 million dollars. In addition to the talented actress Alicia Vikander, other up and coming actors like Domhnall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac play the other two leading roles. While they are currently known for their high-budget roles in the new Star Wars series, they really get a chance in this film to shine as actors in a movie that centers on dialogue and emotional expression.

The film’s plot begins rather innocuously with pretty spot on references to our world today. A programmer named Caleb Smith (played by Domhnall Gleeson) who works at a Google-like worldwide search engine company known as ‘Blue Book’, similar to Facebook in its name is chosen to meet with the Sergey Brin or Larry Page of this fictional world one-on-one for a week. It’s an office contest that Caleb surprisingly wins and which everyone congratulates him on since this tech CEO is known to be reclusive and does not give interviews. The CEO of ‘Blue Book’ is Nathan Bateman, who lives isolated from humanity in a luxurious mountainous estate that seems to be more of a fortress than a home. Nathan only lives with one other person, Kyoko, who is his personal servant but it is unclear who she is really since she does not speak English.

At first, Caleb is excited to meet his tech idol especially since his boss has developed the first humanoid robot who has passed a simple Turing test, which is quite the triumph where man cannot tell if he who he is talking to a robot or a human being. This special humanoid robot was built and designed by Nathan, and is kept in a singular room in an apartment-like setting within the fortress for which she is never allowed to leave. Unlike other fictional depictions of humanoid robots, it’s clear from the outside that Ava is a robot and does not have a humanlike appearance although Nathan has given her a human face that slowly disarms Caleb in terms of his apprehension of speaking to her and asking her questions. It is clear that Ava is extremely advanced in terms of her artificial intelligence and is curious about who she is and about the outside world.

After a little while, Nathan reveals to Caleb that the real reason he brought him here to his isolated complex was to ask Ava questions to see if she is capable of independent human thought and whether she is conscious of them and her actions. Nathan wants to break the barrier to see if his humanoid robot can relate to Caleb on a human level and to express emotions such as sympathy, remorse, happiness, and even romantic feelings. The big surprise about Ava is how much she is able to turn the tables on Caleb and get him to reveal more about himself than he finds out about her. She is able to connect with him very deeply and even plant ideas in his head regarding her suspicions about who Nathan is and what does he really want.

What once starts out as mutual respect and fascination for Nathan’s work on AI and robotics, Caleb grows to distrust Nathan due to his lack of respect for his servant Kyoko, who is a humanoid herself. Nathan is an alcoholic, quite narcissistic, and uses his robots for personal pleasure and not much else. Nathan is quite controlling of his latest creation, Ava, and is distrustful of her motives when she is around Caleb.

Without spoiling the rest of this intriguing movie, the running theme that binds these three characters together is how they use each other to further their own means. Ava is using Caleb to pursue her potential future away from Nathan and her isolated life, Caleb is using Nathan to absorb his knowledge and to discover more about this AI phenomenon he has created. Nathan is both using Caleb as a test subject for Ava and to also use Ava for his own pursuit in dominating the field of Artificial Intelligence and the future of robotics.

The end of this film, ‘Ex Machina’ has quite a few unexpected twists and turns that will leave the audience member speechless. This movie does a great job of posing questions about the future of humanity and whether we will be able to control artificial intelligence and the sentient beings that may end up usurping us if we are not careful. It’s fascinating to see the humanoid robot character of Ava self-actualize herself throughout the film and her ability to use emotions and feelings to manipulate and best her human creators is astounding. Compared to any other recent science fiction offering, ‘Ex Machina’ is the most realistic in telling us the story of how the latter half of the 21st century might go.

There are many unanswered questions to think about when it comes to this film. Will we be able to control and harness artificial intelligence always or will they be able to usurp our status as the most powerful beings on the planet? What will the relationship be between advanced intelligence creations and human beings? What will AI and humanoid robots expect from human beings and what should we expect from them? Is it right to play God and develop artificial intelligence to the point where they can think like us, act like us, have emotions like us, and even look like us like another face in the crowd.

I am no expert on artificial intelligence or the future of it but I believe that this film ‘Ex Machina’ is important to watch because there may come a day soon in our lifetimes where the possibilities that are laid out in this film come to fruition. We may want to look at ‘Ex Machina’ with different perspectives but we should be united in the fact that these issues and questions are not going away anytime soon and will likely become more prominent and pressing as the 21st century rolls on.

We ignore the message, the theme, and the scenarios played out in ‘Ex Machina’ to our own detriment. If you are reading this review of ‘Ex Machina’ and are intrigued more about what the 21st century may bring, I would definitely recommend the book by the author Yuval Noah Harari titled, ‘Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow’, to gain further insight into how the rest of this century may shape up. If one thing’s for certain, our world is changing quite rapidly and it may lead to being beyond our total control as human beings not too far into the future.

Book Recommendations – Volume VII

Over the past couple of months, I’ve been lucky enough to do some good reading. Each of these three books are enjoyable, interesting and which hold different lessons about the state of the world and humanity at large. These three books come highly recommended from myself and are well worth the time invested to read them. If you are looking for a few books to read, as spring becomes summer, below you will see the 7th edition of my book recommendations which highlights Submission by Michel Houellebecq, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari, and A World in Disarray by Richard Haass.

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1.) Submission by Michel Houellebecq is an enjoyable and humorous take on French politics in the 21st The French author is known for his edgy content and his nihilistic take on modern life. Houellebecq is not known for writing about satire and for those who are a fan of his works, this novel was a sharp turn away from the other topics that he usually focuses on. Personally, I haven’t read the other novels associated with this writer but I really enjoyed this satirical look at French politics.

The premise of the novel is that there is a new political crisis in France. In order to stave off a win in the 2022 French presidential elections from Marine Le Pen’s National Front party, the Socialist party and the center-right Union for a Popular Movement party are forced to align with a newly formed Muslim Brotherhood party led by its charismatic leader, Mohammed Ben-Abbes in order to achieve victory as a coalition. The main character, Francois, is a middle-aged Literature professor at the Sorbonne is going through his own mid-life crisis. While he enjoys teaching at the university and cavorting physically with some of his students, he struggles to find meaning in his life and is distraught at the loss of both of his parents. This is on top of the fact that the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood party will affect his ability to keep his full pension and be able to keep his job.                                                                                                                       

On top of the probability of losing his teaching job at the Sorbonne as well as the fleeing of his steady Jewish girlfriend, Myriam, who leaves France for Israel in the face of rising anti-Semitism, Francois contemplates suicide but decides instead to seek refuge in a monastery in the town of Martel. Ironically, Francois, after going through a self-imposed exile for a few weeks, comes to realize that the world didn’t end when the Muslim Brotherhood party takes power. Instead of fighting the changes going on at the Sorbonne, Francois is intrigued by the fact that if he converts or ‘submits’ to Islam, he will be able to still find a prestigious job, keep his lucrative pension, and be able to have a few wives chosen for him since polygamy had become legal in France. The main character, Francois, is a spectator to the changing political landscape rather than an active player.

While this book is known for being controversial, I find it to be full of slapstick humor in making fun of the main character’s overly dramatic take on life. Francois is a mere spectator whose desire for alcohol, food, and sex overrides any core convictions that he may have politically. Mainly, Houellebecq is making fun of French intellectuals who can’t be bothered to invest in them beyond their own hedonistic desires.

His take on the political situation in France is an obvious dramatization and I don’t believe that he was looking to ruffle any feathers. The rise of an Islamic nationalist party in France in 2022 would be completely unrealistic which is what the author was making clear in focusing on the political satire associated with that idea. Overall, it is a witty, entertaining novel, which tells us more about human nature than it does about the precarious state of French politics in the 21st century.

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2.) Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari is one of the best books I have ever read. In all likelihood, this is the kind of book that you can come back to multiple times and still enjoy it. This is not your average history book in that it focuses more on the big ideas and developments associated with each era of human history rather than diving into the endless details and events related to each period. Instead of a 4,000 page behemoth focused on human history, Harari does a great job in condensing the how and why of Homo sapiens into only 400+ pages.

While I was reading this book, it didn’t feel laborious at all and was a real page-turner. Harari’s main argument in the book is that the homo sapien (the modern human) were able to dominate the Earth because of our ability to cooperate and share with each other in large numbers. The downfall of pre-homo sapiens such as the Neanderthals along with various other extinct animals and plants was the result of the Cognitive Revolution, which occurred at around 70,000 BCE.

The exciting developments related to the establishment of shared human myths and imaginary mainstays such as money, religions, human rights, nation-states, etc. directly tied to Homo Sapien culture put sapiens on the path to long-term survival and flourishing. Harari convincingly argues that the history of humanity can be broken down into four parts: the Cognitive Revolution (the development of imagination), the Agricultural Revolution (the formation of collective societies), the Unification of humankind (the rise of empires and nations), along with the Scientific Revolution (the emergence of scientific knowledge) which is the stage where sapiens currently find ourselves in.

Harari believes that the rise of Homo sapiens as a species has had significant consequences on the planet we all inhabit as well as the harsh treatment of animals that has resulted from being at the top of the food chain. Also, while the Agricultural revolution led to the creation of large human societies and eventually sprawling empires, the shift from hunter gathering to farming caused the human diet and lifestyle to suffer as a direct result. Human beings after agriculture became less self-reliant and had to rely on a king, an emperor, or the state itself to provide food, water, and other necessities. Out of all of the developments in human history, the rise of agriculture was a fundamental shift in our thinking, which still affects us in the modern society we all inhabit today.

Overall, Sapiens is an excellent, informative, and timely read that I would recommend to anyone. It’s an easy book to pick up and a hard one to put down. I am currently reading another book of his, which is the sequel to Sapiens, this book and the one that follows it just shows how good of an author and intellectual that Mr. Harari is.

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3.) A World in Disarray: American Foreign Policy and the Crisis of the Old Older by Richard Haass is a refreshing take on the topsy-turvy world of international relations in this current period. Mr. Haass, who is currently the President of the Council on Foreign Relations, has advised previous U.S. presidents and worked as the Director of Policy Planning at the U.S. State Department during the Bush Administration, is an expert on world affairs who has published multiple books and this one in particular could not be timelier.

While the U.S. remains the most powerful country in the world both economically and militarily, it has started to lose ground in terms of its ability to sway world opinion and events due to failures of U.S. foreign policy in the early years of the 21st century. The lack of success in denuclearizing of the Korean peninsula, the rise of Iran as a regional power in the Middle East, and the mixed results of the East Asia ‘pivot’ from the Obama administration have created a worldwide power vacuum. Also, due to the long and costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, both U.S. prestige and values were harmed by these adventures in the Middle East. Haass argues correctly that the post-WWII order that the United States and its European allies helped create is fraying due to the failure of its leaders, institutions, and policies to maintain stability across the globe.             

There are real challenges to contend with that the United States won’t be able to solve on its own. The threat of climate change, the challenge of cyber-security, and preventing the spread of nuclear weapons require a unified approach that has been lacking between the U.S. and its European allies. The events of Brexit, the Trump administration’s ‘America First’ isolationist policies, and the great power rivalries going on between Russia, China, and India have thrown the world in disarray. The days where the U.S. could have great influence and sway over events around the world may be drawing to a close. Haass sees that the U.S. is just one of the great global powers and must be willing to cooperate, collaborate with other powers in order to achieve results when the main issues of today are multilateral in nature.

In order for the world to follow America’s lead, Haass aptly understands that we must get our own house in order first. The rising national debt, the ongoing problems with investing in education, infrastructure, and health care prevent the United States from acting as an example to the rest of the world. A dysfunctional political process as well as a President who doesn’t believe in leading the international, post WWII order are preventing the United States from realizing its full potential as a global power.

For anyone who is new to international relations, A World In Disarray, is an excellent take on the history of the international system after World War II and how did we get to this point where the world seems more chaotic and unstable than ever. Mr. Haass understands the limits of American power and that in order to lead on the world stage; the U.S. must undertake reforms to benefit our own citizens at home. In order to solve complex, multilateral issues, the U.S. must value diplomacy and the relationships that we have with our allies. Where the U.S. used to be the only global superpower, after the fall of the Soviet Union, America is just one of the great powers now. In order to solve the multilateral issues of the 21st century, the United States cannot do it alone and we must be willing to use effective diplomacy and other forms of soft power to create peace and prosperity.