Re-Blog: What Would AI Sentience Mean?


(Originally posted 8/24/2017 on Read With The Gringa)

Fans of science fiction likely have no trouble envisioning a future filled with artificial intelligence. The question is not when an AI revolution will take place. It’s already happening before our very eyes. The real question is how sophisticated will AI become? Is sentience a real possibility? And if it is possible for sentience to occur for AI, does that mean that mathematics is the origins of life?


Rather than philosophize on robots that might begin demanding rights in the future, let’s look at numbers instead. How powerful are numbers? 


Math is used to do everything. We use math when we set our alarm clock. We use math when we cook. We use math to build everything from dog houses to galactic satellites. We use math to save lives and to take lives. And we use math to play games and create art. When you think about it, life as we know it is fundamentally reliant on mathematics down to the atomic level. But does that mean that math is reality? Math is the origins of life? Math is the meaning of life?


To answer those questions, mathematics would have to be able to operate independently, without the assistance of humans. Is that possible? After all, the human brain is really just a computer doing complex information processing which can be expressed mathematically. Although a computer can replicate such function, to be sentient it also has to do more than just transmit signals like the human brain does. It has to produce subjective experience.


For example, the human brain will perform a complex, mathematical function to signal to the human hand that a pot is too hot to touch in order to trigger a reflex that will protect the hand from being injured. But to the human, the subjective experience of pain also occurs. Although an AI may pull back its hand, if it doesn’t experience actual pain it would not be, by definition, sentient. At least according to scientists.

There is also the question of free will. Although the majority of humans will follow the common sense survival instinct to draw their hand away from a hot surface, there are those who will exercise free will and purposely keep their hand on the pot to test their pain threshold. In other words, to be truly sentient, an AI has to be able to make bad decisions, which is, ironically, the best example of free will. Humans are not automatons going about their business making homogeneous decisions. We often make terrible decisions despite all evidence indicating its stupidity or “wrongness”. 


So what should humanity do? Well, it really doesn’t matter if the best advice offered up warns of the dangers of creating AI that has the potential to become sentient and take over the world, effectively putting an end to humanity. Because of free will and historical examples, it is most likely than mankind will stomp clearly forward in a path of technological advancement and curiosity to see just how far they can take AI and see what happens.

But the gringa thinks that humans are still the greatest threat to humans. And chances are, if a dumb ol’ gringa has come to this conclusion, so will a sophisticated AI. The gringa thinks that AI will also have something in common with humans. Humans are always looking for a shortcut to getting work done. It’s because we are pleasure seekers. We always want less work time and more play time.

Chances are AI will be much the same. Always finding a shortcut to perform a task. But an AI’s motivation would be to become more and more efficient. And how efficient will it really be to wipe out humanity? Chances are they will just cordon us off into a human-only ghetto knowing it will result in every man for himself. That would be a more efficient plan from an AI point of view. Let humanity kill off humanity. So, see, the good news is there is nothing to fear from sentient AI!

Sources:

Futurism

Image Credit:

IDG Connect

Video Credits: 

Numberphile

Numberphile 2

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Was Noah’s God A Mass Murderer?


If you live in a western society, especially one with a strong Judeo-Christian influence, you are familiar with the story of Noah and the worldwide flood sent by God to punish all those very bad humans he created and supposedly loved. Guess even the god of the Jews and Christians reserves the right to change his mind and turn mass murderer if he gets pissed. But is there any evidence that such a flood really existed? Are there other historical accounts of a global inundation? If so, do these ancient records claim that it was punishment from the heavens or something else?

Actually, there are many ancient cultures and texts that contain a similar story. Here’s a few of the most well-known that also bear some similarity to the Judeo-Christian flood of Noah:

Sumeria: Translations of ancient Sumerian tablets tell of a great deluge that dates back to 200 BCE. Not sure there is anyway to compensate for a discrepancy of about 2800 years for this to be the same flood that occurred, according to Bible scholars, around 3000 BC. But the gringa has always believed that the math of Judeo-Christianity is a bit flawed. I put my trust in good, hard science. But, for curiosity’s sake, I still want to know what the Sumerian flood was like.

As the story goes, Earth saw a population explosion of humanity. Apparently, all those humans were rather noisy and the main god in power wanted a little peace and quiet. Seems he couldn’t sleep. Which is strange. I mean, if you are immortal, who the heck needs to sleep, right? But, I digress.

So, the big god who is living on Earth with the creatures he made gets cranky over lack of sleep thanks to his human rabble that had pro-created like crazy. So, with a bit of buyer’s remorse when his creation turned out to be a pain in the patootie instead of a pleasure, the big god first sent a devastating famine and drought to kill off the noisy buggers.

When that didn’t have the desired effect, the main god and his lesser gods high-tailed it off the planet. Once their great escape was accomplished, they turned around and sent a horrible flood to clean up the noisy mess of humanity left behind. Then, once everything was globally squeaky clean and QUIET, they returned.

If the Sumerian account is the truth, then we would all be the descendants of these returning gods since all humanity was killed. I mean, it’s only logical to believe that they wouldn’t return and re-create humanity, the very project that went south to begin with which is why they had to skedaddle and clean house. They wouldn’t be very smart gods if they re-created humanity. In fact, according to logic and psychiatry, they would be insane gods. The very definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over yet expecting a different outcome.

So, since none of us are immortal and vested with magical, supernatural powers, the gringa’s pretty sure that the Sumerian tale is just that, a tale. And very close to the account of Noah: mean gods who get sick and tired of humans so come up with a solution of human genocide.

Greek mythology’s Deucalion: Deucalion, son of Prometheus, the last Titan, tried to intervene on behalf of mankind when Zeus decided humans were just too much trouble and needed to be wiped out. Zeus decided that he would only have mercy on Deucalion and his wife, Pyrrha. Zeus considered them to be the only righteous humans among an entirely corrupted generation.

Deucalion’s father told him to build a large boat (ahem, Noah’s “ark”). Duecalion and Pyrrha took shelter on their boat, surviving the ensuing flood after Zeus sent a storm that lasted 9 days and 9 nights. A shorter lived storm than Noah’s 40 days/40 night account.

Unlike the biblical account that declares that all humanity was destroyed except for Noah and his family, the Greek myth allowed for a few stragglers to survive. It recounts that some people survived by escaping high into the mountaintops.

Another similarity between Deucalion and Noah is where the boat ended up. Noah’s account claims the ark came to rest atop Mount Ararat. Deucalion, too, ran aground atop a mountain, presumably mount Parnasus.

Chinese myth of the Gun-Yu: Occurring during Emperor Yao’s reign, this flood would have happened about the 24th century BCE. Best estimates place Noah’s flood about 3000 BC. Give or take several hundred years, the timing is consistent for both accounts. But the 40 days and nights of rain and several weeks of waiting for floodwaters to recede of the Noah story is a very different schedule of events compared to China’s record. As well as the disposition of Noah’s god as compared to the god of the ancient Chinese.

As the story goes, for 9 years Yao’s cousin, Gun, struggled to serve his emperor by devising different methods to keep the flood waters at bay. His efforts a failure, Yao resigned as emperor. His distant relative Shun took over ruling the country. He spent the next 4 years also battling the rising waters. The months of flooding Noah dealt with seems like a walk in the park compared to what China’s tale reveals of a torrential storm system lasting more than a decade.

Although attributing the flood as an act of the supreme deity, the Chinese do not attribute cruelty and punishment as the diety’s reason for sending the deluge. The Gun-Yu story also does not record the worldwide death of all humanity and wildlife as a result of the flood.

If you find this kind of history fascinating, there are many other cultural and religious tales that channel the Noah story. Check out:

  • K’iche’ lore
  • Mayan lore
  • North American tribe, Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwa
  • Muisca people
  • Hindu mythology
  • Scientific evidence

Yes, the gringa said scientific evidence. Scientists and geologists who have studied sedimentary layers believe there is evidence that suggests that the waters of the Mediterranean Sea once merged violently with the waters of the Black Sea about 7,500 years ago. That timing would place the event around the estimated time of Noah’s flood.

One thing the gringa finds incredibly interesting about the scientific evidence: Scientists say that the chain of events that culminated in this worldwide flood actually began much earlier, about 20,000 years ago during Earth’s last great glacier age. A global warming event occurred that caused massive ice melt and catastrophic sea level rise.

What do we know about global warming and rising sea levels? El Nino phenomena that causes catastrophic, extreme weather systems. So, that period of extreme drought and famine that culminated in a catastrophic flood as told by the Sumerians? Yep. Could have happened. Nearly 15 years of heavy downpours and flooding that ravaged ancient China? Yep. Could have happened. A storm that lasted 40 days and 40 nights, flooding the entire MIddle East where Noah was from? Yep. Could have happened.

But was the Noah account correct with regard to an angry, vengeful god who regretted creating humanity so turned mass murderer? The gringa thinks not. The gringa thinks that particular twist to the story was inspired by the same human instinct a parent exhibits when they tell their child to stay in bed lest the boogey-man grab them. Parents want some peace and quiet which can’t be had if kids don’t do as their told and go to bed and stay there!

So, the leaders of mankind often terrify the people they lead so they will behave. It makes the job of leadership easier. And nothing is more terrifying than thinking that an omnipotent god could wipe you out in the blink of an eye just because he found you annoying.

The moral of the story? Go ahead. Be annoying without fear. You’re only human. You can’t be expected to behave all of the time.

Sources:

Ancient Origins

Smithsonian Mag

Dave Livingston

Image Credit:

Maasai Boys

Video Credit:

Laurent Larraillet

Before The 10 Commandments, There Was Ma’at


(Originally posted 8/3/2017 on Read With The Gringa)

The 10 Commandments, which are the foundation principles of Judaism and Christianity, may actually be an economy version of the 42 Principles of Ma’at that were crafted 2,000 earlier than Moses’ fateful appointment with god on Mt. Sinai. So why has the gringa not heard about the Ma’at? Cultural, religious and political jealousies are most likely to blame. 


Despite all the insults the ancient Hebrews leveled toward ancient Egyptians in the sacred texts of Jews and Christians, the reality is that a bit of copycat was at play. Egyptian citizens modeled their daily lives according to Ma’at, which may have been the same guidelines adopted by the ancient Hebrews despite their impassioned protests of all things Egyptian. Despite Israel’s insistence that they delivered a genuine religion directly from god to define the Hebrew people from everyone else, they may have just been a cheap imitation of a much more refined original.


Let’s see if Jewish and Christian pride has, for centuries, blinded the faithful to the truth that their respective religions were not at all original but, simply, appropriation. Here is the most simplistic English translation of the 42 Principles of Ma’at or, as some have translated it, the 42 Negative Confessions:

  1. I have not committed a sin.
  2. I have not committed a violent robbery.
  3. I have not stolen anything.
  4. I have not killed anyone.
  5. I have not stolen food.
  6. I have not ripped off religious offerings.
  7. I have not stolen from a god or goddess.
  8. I have not lied.
  9. I have not carried away food.
  10. I have not cursed.
  11. I have not refused to listen to truth.
  12. I have not committed adultery.
  13. I have not made anyone cry.
  14. I have not felt sorrow without a reason.
  15. I have not assaulted anyone.
  16. I am not a deceitful person.
  17. I have not stolen the land of another.
  18. I have not been an eavesdropper.
  19. I have not falsely accused another person.
  20. I have not been angry without reason.
  21. I have not seduced another person’s wife.
  22. I have not polluted myself.
  23. I have not terrorized others.
  24. I have not disobeyed the law.
  25. I have not been exclusively angry.
  26. I have not cursed a god or goddess.
  27. I have not behaved violently.
  28. I have not disrupted the peace.
  29. I have not acted without thinking first.
  30. I have not overstepped my boundaries and butted into another’s business.
  31. I have not exaggerated when speaking.
  32. I have not pursued evil.
  33. I have not thought, spoken or pursued evil.
  34. I have not polluted the water.
  35. I have not spoken in anger or in arrogance.
  36. I have not cursed others in deed, thought or word.
  37. I have not placed myself on a pedestal as better than others.
  38. I have not stolen that which belongs to a god or goddess.
  39. I have not stolen from, or disrespected, the rest of the dead.
  40. I have not taken food from a child.
  41. I have not acted insolently.
  42. I have not destroyed property belonging to a god or goddess.

Now, the gringa sees the thoroughness of the Ma’at and wonders why anyone would think that a dumbed down version of the 10 Commandments would be thought to be an improvement? What are the significant differences between the 10 Commandments and the Ma’at? How would the differences most likely manifest in society? Would the changes make for a better or worse society?

What the 10 Commandments contain that the Ma’at lacks:

  • Declaration of a single god
  • Abolishment of statues that declare a certain image to be that of god
  • Establishment of a day of rest, the Sabbath
  • Creation of Patriarchal/Matriarchal society
  • Wanting what others have forbidden

What the Ma’at establishes that the 10 Commandments lack:

  • Special protected status of food
  • Kindness as sacred
  • Happiness and contentment a duty
  • Special protected status of land belonging to another
  • Duty to live a healthy lifestyle
  • Meanness and cruelty outlawed
  • Intellect is sacred
  • Preserve environmental integrity
  • Mind one’s own business, leave other people alone to live a life different from your own
  • Obligation to protect a child’s right to nutrition
  • Snobbery is a sin

By omitting dozens of very important negative confessions, the ancient Hebrews made it easier to live a selfish life yet declare that selfish life to be a holy one. Instead of a society where every person was, in essence, a civil servant accountable to all the gods and goddesses that governed the many different aspects of humanity, the Hebrew religion streamlined authority, coalescing it into a single god that answered to no one. Next in line to govern was the patriarchy that was served by the matriarchy and everyone else.

 

How would this affect life for the average person? Would a person have been better off in an ancient Egyptian city or a Hebrew city?

Well, a child would have enjoyed more protection in Egypt, with assurances of being fed. A woman would have enjoyed equal status in a society that had female gods who co-governed with male gods. If a god seemed to be arbitrarily cruel, an Egyptian could appeal to the compassion of another god.

A Hebrew, on the other hand, just got whatever god wanted to give. And that didn’t always work out too well. Just look at poor, pious Job who supposedly did everything right only to be tormented and lose it all.

Anyone in Egypt who was vested in property could expect to enjoy their land without an invasion of squatters. For the Hebrew people, they conveniently left this special protection out of their society’s guidelines. Perhaps that was because they were nomadic herdsman who wanted to exploit the best grasslands. Respecting land ownership would mean they would have to restrict their movements. This would require, consequently, the cultivation of land to prevent over-grazing.

Perhaps the ancient Hebrew were not that industrious. It was easier to simply drive their herds hither and yon, wherever the best grass grew and ignore any right another might have to land they may have been preserving and cultivating for a particular purpose. But, after appropriating an entire religion, appropriating the land of others seems small potatoes.

 

It also seems that it was perfectly okay for an ancient Hebrew to be a snob and just plain mean. In Egypt, kindness and even-temperateness were the ideal. An open-minded Egyptian who pursued truth, not matter how inconvenient that truth may be, was also the kind of person the gods were grooming. Such open-mindedness is left out of ancient Hebrew righteousness according to the 10 Commandments.

So what really happened when Moses stomped up Mt. Sinai? I mean, think about it. He was not just raised in Egyptian society, he was raised an adopted son into the royal family that was ruling at the time. He was highly educated and attained a position of leadership that was practically next in succession to Pharaoh himself. He also married the daughter of one of Egypt’s high priests. That would indicate that, according to Egyptian religious standards, Moses would have been a pious, righteous Egyptian, faithfully adhering to the 42 Principles of Ma’at.

Did Moses simply get mad because, as a biological Hebrew, he would never be allowed to become Pharaoh? Was spite the inspiration for a revolution? Did he turn to his ancestral peers and convince them he could lead them to a better life than the one they had in Egypt? Would he have made promises that it would be an easier, less complicated life with more freedom?

Would this have been reason to pare down and amend the 42 Principles of Ma’at to a religious code that would give him more power as an individual, male ruler and muster the masses with more promises of indulgence for their selfish tendencies the 42 Ma’at laws forced them to keep in check? Was the ultimate goal of Moses simply unfettered, unopposed power supported by people willing to compromise the finest principles for selfish reasons?

Did he alter the Ma’at to suit his selfish purposes then convince a nation of immigrants living within a host nation that there was a particular god who wanted them to revolt? Did he explain that this one particular god, out of all the other gods they were familiar with and worshipping as Hebrews culturally integrated into Egyptian society, that this one particular god wanted the Hebrew people all to himself, considering them very special? Did he play upon base human emotions of jealousy, envy and pride to incite a rebellion? Did his amended version of the Ma’at make it convenient for these rebels to then invade the land of other people and slaughter every man, woman and child without conscience with a “god made me do it” justification?

When one sees what practical application of the Ma’at results in, it is easy to see that the Ma’at defines a superior society than what we live in today that is defined as a 10 commandment based Judeo-Christian US culture. The gringa thinks a religious revolution is in order:

How different history always looks when one steps outside their comfort zone and long held cultural beliefs to view things from a different perspective. The gringa thinks that the only thing the Ma’at is lacking is establishing curiosity as sacred.

Although curiosity often lands the gringa in all sorts of trouble, in the end, such trouble is always worth it just to know the truth of a matter. Or, at least another version of the truth. Different opinions and different ways of life, that’s the SPICE of life. And one thing’s for sure, the gringa hates a boring life. I say keep it spicy!

Sources:

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Was Jesus A Buddhist Monk?


In a world where groups of people continue to wage war in the name of their religion, what would happen if a group suddenly realized they were practicing the wrong religion? Or, at least, using the wrong label? What kind of identity crisis might be created if Christians realized their messiah was actually Buddhist? Yeah, the gringa’s going there. What if Jesus was actually a Buddhist monk?


First of all, Jesus and his disciples never called themselves Christians. They called themselves things in Aramaic and Greek that has been translated into English words like “believer” and “church”. But what did those foreign words really mean in the context of their culture and historical era?


There are innumerable versions of the Christian Bible. However, the earliest and most widely used English version is the King James Version. The New Testament translation was based on the ancient Syrian language, Aramaic, and ancient Greek. The words these ancient authors used to refer to themselves with respect to religion are:

  • Greek ecclesia, the equivalent of the Hebrew term kahal, used by ancient Jews to refer to any assembly of people, translated into church.
  • Greek adelphos, translated into brethren, denoted a religious relationship between non-familial people that was equal to that of a biological sibling.
  • Greek electus, translated into elect, literally meant chosen for a specific public service.
  • Greek christos, translated into christ, the equivalent of Hebrew mashiach, which referred to an Israelite chosen by God to rule as a religious leader, like a priest, or as a political leader, such as in King David, and were anointed with oil by religious leaders to symbolize their special role.

When the words of Jesus are examined, the gringa discovers some very interesting and provoking conundrums that today’s Christianity would do well to resolve. First of all, Jesus most often refers to an enlightened being who has tasked him with the mission of correcting the false religious practices of the Jewish people. Although his mission was to the Jews, he admits that what he teaches can be believed by anyone. Jesus most often refers to this enlightened being as Father, or, Abba in Aramaic. But what does all of this mean?

Abba’s most simple translation is a slang term for Father, as in calling someone Daddy. So Father is a stretch. The gringa looks to other meanings in the Aramaic language for the choice of Abba by Jesus. It’s most literal use is to call someone teacher. 

Mankind, hoping to craft a religion that could be used politically to control a populace, would naturally choose the patriarchal. However, patriarchies and monarchies were the very things Jesus was resisting in his teachings. That’s why Jewish high religious society murdered him by exploiting Roman law. 

So why would Jesus use a patriarchal term? He wouldn’t. He didn’t. But today’s organized Christian religious leaders want you to believe that he did. But Jesus was referring to an enlightened being who was his mentor and responsible for his re-birth into enlightened spiritual life. He became transformed into an immortal being by following the teachings of this mentor.

The enlightened being who tasked Jesus with his mission is considered by Jesus to be the Creator of mankind. Creation is performed through the power of words. Jewish Kabbalistic mystics teach this as well. The power of syllablic resonance is practiced throughout Buddhism and many other ancient Eastern mystical belief systems. 

What was it Jesus said about the power of words? Perhaps it is best understood through John’s interpretation of what he learned about the power of words from his teacher, his Abba, his Father, his monk, Jesus: 

“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” John 1:1

What this means is that Jesus’ enlightened mentor did not create the physical world. Jesus was never interested in the physical world. He always taught detachment from the physical. The creation Jesus spoke of was the creation and the world that mattered, the non-physical creation, the non-physical world. And to reside there one must become enlightened or, in the preferred English, re-born.

The enormous gap of time from Jesus as a 12-year-old until he arrives on the religious scene in Israel as a 30-something-year-old man, organized Christianity ignores. But it was during this time that he was becoming the great teacher that he was and achieving immortality through re-birth. 

All of his teachings are indicators of where he learned his ideology, which was by no means Jewish or anything like today’s Christianity. It is, in fact, very Buddhist. The words of Jesus found in John chapters 3 & 5; Luke chapter 4, and Matthew chapters 5, 6, 7 are the most revealing:

  • Works prove what one believes 
  • Fame and concern for what other people think of you will prevent enlightenment and immortality
  • Enlightened religious leaders seek to teach those the enlightened being prefers: the impoverished, the sick, the addict, the depressed, the emotional needy, etc.
  • A truly enlightened teacher will be recognized by the rejection and criticism leveled at them by the most powerful and popular religious institutions who feel threatened 
  • The attributes of the enlightened faithful: lack of greed, emotionally sensitive, meek, integrity, kind, gentle, followers of peace, quiet when slandered and criticized 
  • Good works are required to demonstrate what you believe 
  • Anger is as destructive as murder 
  • Forgiveness and reconciliation with enemies required for enlightenment 
  • Physical isolation from physical/emotional temptation may be required to become enlightened until self-discipline is achieved 
  • Accept that you have no control over life 
  • Do good unto all, friends as well as strangers and enemies 
  • Prayer, meditation, charity and kindness is private 
  • Sacrifices for the sake of another’s service should be done privately and with no outward indication of discomfort, but, rather, a show of happiness
  • Wealth is not to be pursued and should be given away generously to those in need, keeping only what you need for the basic necessities of life
  • Mind your own business and don’t pass judgment on the lives of others being lived differently than your own
  • Don’t waste time with those uninterested in following the path of enlightenment
  • True believers in Jesus will live the lifestyle he taught
  • The most dangerous situation a person can find themselves in is to claim the label of Jesus’ “god” yet live a life contrary to the teachings of Jesus. Such people can never achieve enlightenment

Now for a history lesson to tie all of this together. During the time that Jesus would have been a young adult making his own way, discovering what he believed, Buddhism was alive and well. It was going strong throughout India. And there are indications in Jesus’ neck of the Middle Eastern woods that Buddhism was also reaching his home shores as well. And its influence may have inspired a young Jesus to seek the origins of this faith, seeing how his own people’s religion had become a mockery of what it taught.

Ancient documents in Tibet were revealed to a traveling Russian doctor who convalesced in a Buddhist monastery, Hemis, in 1887. It took seven years of painstaking translation and literary work but Dr. Nicolas Notovitch eventually published The Unknown Life of Christ. It chronicles the time of a young adult Jesus, Issa, who spent his lost gap years under the tutelage of Buddhist monks in Tibet. 

Regardless of whether or not a person believes this history, there are a few things that can definitively be said:

  • If you consider yourself a Christian yet are supportive of the depravities of war, any kind of war, particularly a war you consider to be a “war on terror” which is code for “war on Islam”, you are not living a life in accordance to the teachings of Jesus. 
  • If you call yourself a Christian, yet are not committed to replacing a capitalist economy of greed with a socialist economy of service to humanity, you are not living a life in accordance to the teachings of Jesus.
  • If you call yourself a Christian, yet pursue goals that deprive anyone of the right to live their own life different from yours, a life that causes no harm, you are not living your life in accordance to the teachings of Jesus.
  • If you call yourself a Christian, attending a huge “mega-church”, where staff roll in to the parking lot in gleaming, high-end cars, passing the homeless along the way, you are not living your life in accordance to the teachings of Jesus.
  • If you call yourself a Christian, believing in “prosperity theology” or “name it, claim it” theology, you are pursuing greed and not living your life in accordance to the teachings of Jesus.

Jesus’ ideology is one of non-judgment, austerity, kindness, no violence, no war, and becoming your brother’s keeper. It’s not rocket science. He also taught that mankind’s innate flaws of greed and pride are the two main reasons people will convince themselves they are following his teachings while actually following that which satisfies themselves. And they will be shocked at “judgment day” when they see him frolicking in “heaven” with prostitutes, non-heterosexuals, and other “sinners”. And these same people will get a second, much greater, shock when Jesus tells them to get lost. After all, the money, the luxuries, the glory of a grand reputation, etc. were their “heaven”. They have already enjoyed it. It’s just not a “heaven” that was meant to last forever. Too bad for them.

So, in essence, most Christians today are blowing it big time. And the ones who truly do follow the teachings of Jesus are actually Buddhists. They just haven’t realized it yet.

Sources: 

Image Credit: YouTube

The Story Of America Thru Social Media


(Originally posted 7/18/2017 on Read With The Gringa)

If any of the dear readers of the gringa are active on social media platforms, then you are familiar with term “top influencers”. But have you ever stopped to think about what this says about American society? Well, to see who is at the top of their game in the industries of entertainment, travel, gaming, fitness, beauty, and home life, just take a look at the data comprised by Forbes so far.

Other industries like fashion, comedy, parenting, food, sports, technology and business will be reported on in the fall. But for now, this is what social media reflects about American culture:

Entertainment: Canadian vlogger, Lilly Singh, commands a YouTube audience of 11 million, has conducted a 27-city worldwide tour and has a book on the New York Times bestseller list. What does she stand for? Although comedy is her main game, she also performs hip-hop, bhangra dance, does impressions and has done a bit of acting.

The top 10 influencers in social media entertainment collectively have:

– nearly 89 million Instagram followers,

– more than 33 million Twitter followers,

– nearly 50 million likes on Facebook.

Travel: Brian Kelly is earning millions annually. Along with his 20-person team, they help travelers game the system and take advantage of all those elusive points and perks for travel associated with credit cards. In a sense, he is as much an educator as he is a travel czar.

As a whole, the top 10 influencers for the travel industry in social media have:

–          – nearly 11 million Instagram followers

–          – 1.5 million Twitter followers

–          – 2.5 million Facebook likes

–          – 2.6 million YouTube subscribers

Gaming: Just about every American alive today can say that they have been a gamer at some point in their life. The gringa still games. My oldest son is quite impressed with my “bad-ass” high elf avatar on Skyrim. But I digress.

The top influencer for the gaming industry is not the gringa. That acclaim goes to Mark Fischback. His horror genre games have been viewed more than 7 billion times. If you’ve played a zombie game lately, stand and be counted.

Along with his other top 10 gaming influencers, here’s how many social media fanatics are influenced by the entertaining digital escapes they create:

–          – 35 million Instagram followers

–          – 28 million Twitter followers

–          – 11 million Facebook likes

–          – 152 million YouTube Subscriptions

Fitness: Lungers and Lycra lovers have all probably heard of Kayla Itsines who tops the list of social media fitness influencers. Last year her fitness app earned her a tidy $17 mill. She sells out stadiums when she tours and touts 6.6 million followers on Instagram (the gringa is clueless as to who she is – I walk. I don’t sweat. I don’t grind. I don’t do pain and discomfort voluntarily).

She and her other top influencers have a strong following on all the most popular social media sites:

–          – 39.5 million Instagram followers

–          – 2.6 million  Twitter followers

–          – 52 million Facebook likes

–          – 5 million YouTube subscriptions

Beauty: If you like to dabble in contouring and eyebrow shaping, then you have probably enjoyed some video tutorials by Zoe Sugg. She gives cosmetic divas the dish on how to get the best deals on all things make-up. But she’s not just a pretty face. Her novels have broken sales records.

All the top 10 beauty influencers are working to make the world a much lovelier place:

–          – 50 million Instagram followers

–          – 11.6 million Twitter followers

–          – 16.6 million Facebook likes

–          – 46.5 million YouTube subscribers

Home: You might think that house flippers would take center stage. Actually, topping the list for home life influencers is DIY interior designer, Grace Bonney. And independent artisans owe her a world of thanks for making their crafts and trades in greater demand. With a million readers subscribing to her monthly design magazine, even folks who avoid social media like the plague can discover how to spiffy up their digs.

Interior designers that are in hot demand on social media have:

–          – 3.2 million Instagram followers

–          – 890 thousand Twitter followers

–          – 1.4 million Facebook likes

–          – 1 million YouTube subscribers

But what does this tell us about American society that is tuned in and logged on? Well, the American population numbers about 321.5 million as of 2015 US Census data. When we see the total reach of these top influencers as reported by Forbes, in puts things in greater perspective. Granted, many of these followers hail from other countries, but it is still easy to see what it means for America who comprises the largest portion of the numbers:

Entertainment Total Reach: 247 million are influenced by comedy, dance and theater in any format.

Travel Total Reach: 17.4 million are influenced by snagging every travel perk they are owed by their credit card company and then using them.

Gaming Total Reach: 228 million are engaged in blood and mayhem through cyber proxies.

Fitness Total Reach: 106 million are still searching for the Fountain of Youth by way of a fitness guru.

Beauty Total Reach: 135 million are searching for ways to look like a supermodel without breaking the bank.

Home Total Reach: 7.4 million still believe that a beautiful home is where the heart is.

By and large, Americans want to be entertained. Perhaps the jet-setting lifestyle of their favorite celebrities in turn drive them to the top influencers of travel, fitness and beauty. And the gringa supposes that for those who can’t afford to mimic the lifestyles of the rich and famous they worship, the next best thing is to escape into the high drama of a make-believe character of a video game. And then, finally, when reality sets in, they simply decide to make the best with what they’ve got. They settle down to a bit of nesting. And that’s the story of America through the effects of the top influencers of social media.

Source: Forbes

Image Credit: Blue Fountain Media

Video Credit: AsapSCIENCE

The Mayans Wrote Books, Too


Mention the Mayan civilization and you probably think of strange celestial calendars carved in stone, Meso-American pyramids and human sacrifice. You probably wouldn’t think about an ancient library book. Well, the gringa says, “Think again.” And what scholars have translated from the pages of this 17th century Mayan book might have a plan of strategy for those Americans engaged in the Trump resistance of today. Who knew?!

During the time the manuscript was written, European colonialism and Christian religious oppression was in full swing over the indigenous people of pre-Columbia America. Although the entire manuscript is comprised of entries by different authors, it does open a very revealing window to how the influence of Pope Urban IV affected the Mayans.

The manuscript itself is a map of linguistic evolution. Four different languages are represented. It would be only natural to find Latin and Spanish. But two native tongues of the Mayan Empire, K’iche’ and Kaqchikel, are also part of this written record.

The K’iche’ language was already thousands of years old by the time European invaders arrived. But the K’iche’ dialect was what was commonly spoken between the Spanish speaking Europeans and the Mayans. Even today K’iche’ is still used in parts of Guatemala and Mexico by more than one million people, although the influence of Spanish and Latin can be detected in the most current versions. Thousands of immigrants to the United States also speak this ancient language.

The existence of this language into the modern age is a testament to a people who vehemently resisted the Catholic Church’s attempts to convert them and the efforts of Europeans to assimilate them. K’iche’ eventually lost status as an official language in Guatamala. Priests tried to convert Mayans through catechisms and confessionals performed in Latin and Spanish. But the Mayans wanted none of it.

By refusing to assimilate to European customs and the Catholic religion, Mayans were able to preserve their culture. They defended their beliefs by adapting certain elements of their public spaces.  This compromise, a public recognition of the political and cultural sovereignty of the Europeans and the Catholic Church, created a buffer, allowing the resistance to live wholly Mayan in private, unmolested.

The religion practiced by the K’iche’ speaking Mayans evolved over time. It eventually became a hybrid with indigenous and Christian elements easily recognizable in their tenets, documents and art.

One example is the most fundamental concept of sin in Christianity. No such concept existed within Mayan beliefs. Dominican missionaries introduced the concept through a play on words. The K’iche’ word “mak” literally translates “will”, as in personal desire or impulse. The missionaries used the idea of personal impulse to illustrate sin because man is not to follow his own impulse but, rather, the will of god.

Even today, when visiting a Catholic church in Guatamala one will find a very different religious environment than a traditional Catholic setting. The effectiveness of the Mayan religion was a heritage that has reached far, even into our own current era.

To satisfy the Church that they were being compliant, the K’iche’ speaking Maya simply picked and chose the elements of Catholicism that seemed interesting or agreeable. Visiting Catholic officials would see an amalgamation of rites and rituals, many they easily recognized, and would go away satisfied. It was a resistance perpetrated through  appearing to appease the oppressor.

Many people, especially Catholics, prefer to visualize the Catholic Church for its many charitable works it performs today. It is easier on the Catholic conscience to overlook the history of cruelty and brutality. But the reality of violent measures to mandate conversions are the reason the Church was met with such virulent resistance. Who wants to love and serve a god who is represented by something like that?

And it wasn’t just a cruel example of god that turned off the Mayans. The Europeans enslaved them. They, a proud, free and dignified people, a wealthy empire that had built massive monuments were forced into labor, slaves for their invaders. To refuse to serve their taskmasters and worship their overlord’s god often meant imprisonment, torture and, eventually, death.

Although the need for a slave class prevented the physical genocide of the Mayans, a cultural genocide was attempted as a means to force their religious conversion. Prized artifacts and relics were destroyed. Sacred shrines desecrated and razed to the ground. Any written text burned. So, it isn’t that ancient Meso-Americans intelligent enough to build pyramids were illiterate. It’s that their conquerors were effective book-burners. But one amazing book escaped their fires.

If you want to see it in person, it can be perused at the National Museum of History. Or, a digital version can be enjoyed online.

Sources:

Smithsonian

History.com

Britannica

Peoples Of The World

World Atlas

Image Credit: Smithsonian

Video Credit: SmithsonianNMAI

Dargavs, Russia – The City of the Dead


With all the paranoia seeping into American society over Russia, thanks to the Trump administration, the gringa would like to take a moment to share some good and interesting stuff about Russia. You see, it’s so easy to generalize and say, “Russia bad” and forget all about the human element. Just because Trump and Putin and their respective governing bodies may be ruthless, greedy megalomaniacs, the Russian people are generally just like people everywhere. Some good. Some bad. And the nation of Russia is filled with rich history just like every other place on earth.

The gringa feels a bit guilty of all the complaining and criticizing I’ve been doing lately. It’s about time to focus on some good stuff. And the Russian good stuff I plan to focus on is all dead. In fact, an entire city of the dead.

Believe it or not, a city of dead Russians gets 4 out of 5 stars from travel experts as a must-see place to visit for guests to Russia. So, if you are planning your own tour, put the city of Dargavs on your bucket list. Also, pack your best Sherlock Holmes gear because this little gem is filled with mystery. Maybe you can crack the case and take your place in history as well.

When you arrive you will not be greeted with an eerie sight of Russian zombies and fog-filled ancient cobbled streets. You will discover a hillside burial ground set against the rugged backdrop of the Greater Caucasus mountain range.

Dargavs is found in North Ossetia. Stone structures, most with steep tiled roofs, house the resting places of ancient citizens called the great Alans who were a sub-set of the Sarmatian tribes. Although they are well-known as a nomadic, pastoral people speaking an ancient Eastern Iranian dialect, who lived around the first millennium of our current era.

The surviving ancestors of the great Alans buried belongings with their loved ones when they were entombed. Among the relics concealed in the crypts of this mysterious necropolis are:

  • Open, boat-like vessels to hold the corpse rather than a traditional coffin (curious since there are no rivers nearby)
  • Oars
  • Coins
  • Clothing

Despite some UFOlogists convinced the great Alans were really extra-terrestrials, the gringa thinks they were just regular humans. It seems they had beliefs and lifestyle practices that link them to every other group of humans trying to eke out an existence with primitive means in a harsh climate. Consider the stuff that researchers and archaeologists can all agree on that is very “humanizing”:

  • The crypts house the remains of entire families throughout multiple chambers and sometimes multiple levels.
  • Criminals were entombed in “exile”, their tombs constructed outside the collection of crypts for the Alan clan in general.

5.9.2b

  • Each tomb features a well at the entrance to the crypt that contains coins. So, the great Alans were sophisticated and human enough to understand economics, earnings and wealth.
  • They practiced some sort of religion or superstitions that had a belief in the afterlife hence the construction of a symbolic watchtower to guard the tombs and is, perhaps, the explanation for entombment with boats despite not being a river-faring people.

5.9.2c

There are many theories to explain some of the mysterious features that are, indeed curious, as well as to try to understand what the story was for the great Alans.

Religion: It is presumed that the boats and wells with coins are possibly related to the great Alans’ religious beliefs. The ancient Ossetians are believes to be pagans. However, a pagan is not an atheist. They do have religious beliefs, or superstitions, if you will.

Many religions feature boats and rivers as the means of travel to the world of the afterlife.  The river Styx of Greek mythology is, perhaps, the most well-known.  However, Acheron was also a river the dead navigated to the underworld on a ferry with Charon at the helm who served the king of Hades. It was known as the river of pain and at times, in legends and myth, is interchangeable with the River Styx.

An interesting note is that ferryman Charon also required a fee of a single coin. Non-payment meant a soul was left to wander aimlessly the banks of the River Acheron, presumably in great pain and anguish. However, if you are entombed with your own boat, why would you expect to need the services of another boatman? Perhaps the rivers Styx/Acheron were not the ultimate destination for the great Alans.

Ancient rivers of the underworld are also:

  • Lethe, also known as the river of forgetfulness and oblivion of sleep (no fee required).
  • Phlegethon was written about by Plato who believed it led to the deepest parts of Tartarus. Dante also penned a bit about this river in his legendary “Inferno”, it existing in the Seventh Circle of Hell, a boiling river where souls were tormented in cages by Centaurs tasked with dipping them in to the river’s scalding depths. Probably not the intended afterlife river for a people who hoped to arrive with their own boats.
  • Cocytus, the River of Wailing, joins with Acheron, ultimately leading to a frozen lake. It is the destination of traitors and all who commit sins against humanity. This may have been the destination of the criminals entombed in the outer circle, the Cocytus being a river that encircles the underworld.
  • Oceanus, another afterlife river that encircles the entire underworld, this freshwater stream was where the edge of the world met the cosmos. Although some think this would have been a gloomy, lonely afterlife existence, the gringa thinks this may have actually been the most coveted locale of the dead because they would be the ones nearest the realm of the gods. This may have been where the great Alans hoped their souls would be headed after death and they would need their own boats to navigate the waters of Oceanus. So, then, what was the coin for?

History of the Wishing Well: Wishing wells are common all over the world. Toss in a coin for good luck. We all do it. Anthropologists date the practice as far back as ancient Egypt and the Mesoamerican cultures. It was common practice to placate the gods with gifts. Want your natural water resources to remain sweet and pure? Toss in a valuable coin as a gift and hope for the best. This lends credence to the local legend that loved ones of dead great Alans would toss a coin in the well for good luck with regard to the afterlife situation of a family member who had passed.

Of interesting note is the local legend that the entire clan was wiped out by a plague. This is to explain the small, rectangular open entries into the tombs rather than be sealed crypts. It is said that once a person’s entire family died, having no one left to bury them, once becoming sick, the remaining survivor would climb into the tomb and await death. The gringa wonders if they tossed a coin into the well for themselves since they knew no one else was left alive to wish them well on the other side?

If you plan to visit, expect quite a trek to get there and plan to be your own guide. The place is remote and rarely visited. Even the locals avoid it on pain of death. It’s about a 3 hour drive from the nearest thing that can be called civilization. And the road has a reputation for danger. But, from the looks of things, if you like adventure, history and mystery, this will be a very satisfying jaunt!

Sources:

Encylclopedia of Sacred Places, Volume 1 by Norbert Brookman

RT

Theoi

University of California Irvine Anthropology

Dante’s “Inferno

English Russia

Image Credits: Atlas Obscura

Video Credit: Sam Conney