Future Forgers: A Creative Commons LARP for Kids and Parents

Posted on 19th March 2018 by Ryan Somma in Creative Commons Works,Enlightenment Warrior
Tower of Board Games

CC-Licensed Artwork by Posthuman Studios:
“Neo-Porpoise Morph” by Jessada Sutthi
“Salamander Morph” by Silver Saaramael
“Infomorph Mercurial Investigator” by Daniel Clarke
“Flying Squid” by Joe Wilson
“Basic Pod” by James Mosingo
“Crasher Morph” by Jose Cabrera
“Menton Morph Brinker Genehacker” by Daniel Clarke

At this moment 7.5 billion human neocortexes are experiencing a world filled with technologies not even imagined just a century ago. Airplanes, roads, and the Internet make our world geographically smaller, but experientially larger. There are people living in space and circling the Earth every 90 minutes. There are hundreds of millions of people exploring virtual worlds on ome computers and game consoles. Advances in medicine and health education are extending our lifespans decades beyond that of our ancestors. The World Wide Web puts the sum total of all human knowledge at our fingertips.

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Celebrating 50 Years of Humanism in Star Trek

Posted on 19th January 2018 by Ryan Somma in Enlightenment Warrior

The following is the full-length version of a shorter commentary I wrote for The Humanist in 2016. The version at the link has the benefit of editorial oversight and fact-checking. This version is the messier director’s cut:

Optimism for the Future

Optimism for the Future

It feels like we live in a culture where movie and television studios are perpetually finding ways to make stories darker. It’s a pop culture where viewers tune in for their weekly dose of misery on The Walking Dead, depravity on Game of Thrones, and where even classic children’s heroes like Batman and Superman are portrayed as mass-murdering vigilantes in Dawn of Justice. Comic book and science fiction fans have even coined the term “grimdark” to describe this apparent one-upmanship of doom and gloom constantly barraging us.

In contrast, through five decades and across three generations the Star Trek universe has remained positive, philosophical, and moral. Star Trek portrays a society built on Enlightenment virtues and embodies what a humanist future might look like. With six television series totaling 716 episodes across 30 seasons, 70 million books in print, over 40 video games, a new television series in the works, and this summer marking its 13th feature film, Star Trek endures because there is nothing like it in American media: a positive vision of humanity’s future based on rationality, science, and human-improvability.

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Nicolas de Condorcet’s “Progress of the Human Mind”

Posted on 2nd November 2014 by Ryan Somma in Enlightenment Warrior,Mediaphilism
Marquis de Condorcet Quote

It frustrates me bitterly that the works of the Enlightenment are almost forgotten in America’s universities. Science classes ignore them because scientists must focus on the most current understanding of our world. Humanities classes ignore them because the Age of Enlightenment, with its rationality and empiricism, is seen as the oppressor of creative expression.

But we owe so much to this age, which abolished god-appointed kings, established the sciences that so dramatically improved our quality of life, and brought forth the rational radical ideas of equality and human rights. The Enlightenment is the foundation for humanism, and I think everyone should celebrate the myriad brilliant works of the revolutionary minds who contributed to it.

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Article on Gun Control Published in The Humanist

Posted on 25th February 2013 by Ryan Somma in Enlightenment Warrior
March/April Humanist
March/April Humanist

My article Never a Magic Bullet: The Personal and Public Dimensions of Gun Ownership and Gun Violence is appearing in the March/April edition of the Humanist. Much of the article is an appeal for rational, civil discourse on the subject, but I did have one dimension where I have a strong opinion. Not surprisingly, it has to do with scientific integrity:

In 1996, Congress stripped the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control of funding for research that “may be used to advocate or promote gun control.” In 2010 the NRA successfully lobbied to have restrictions placed on the ability of doctors to gather data about patient gun use into the Affordable Health Care for America Act. In 2012 the National Institutes of Health (NIH) was prohibited from spending money “to advocate or promote gun control.” Most egregiously, a 2011 bill signed into law by Florida Gov. Rick Scott made it illegal for doctors in the state to ask patients if they own guns, preventing even pediatricians from asking parents if their guns are stored safely away from children.

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Being Labeled for What I Don’t Believe Versus What I Do

Posted on 26th March 2012 by Ryan Somma in Enlightenment Warrior,Ionian Enchantment
The Reason Rally
The Reason Rally

I remember unexpectedly having that conversation with my mother in law while riding in the car recently:

“What do you mean Sagan isn’t going to be raised Christian?” she asked when we accidentally let slip that he wouldn’t be going to a Christian church.

“There’s lots of possible belief systems out there,” Vicky answered, “and we’re going to let him decide for himself.”

“When he’s old enough, he can read the Bible if he wants,” I said.

“Old enough?” Grandma asked.

“Ummm,” I hesitated and decided to just let it out, “Yeah. When he’s old enough to read stories about daughters getting their father drunk to have sex with him, a husband giving his wife to be raped by a mob and then chopping her up into pieces to mail to his allies, a prophet summoning bears to devour children for teasing him about his male-pattern baldness, fathers sacrificing their virgin daughters to god as thanks for victory in war, mothers entering contracts to eat one another’s’ sons, … You know, when he’s old enough to be exposed to those kinds of stories.”

“Ha. Ha,” Grandma chuckled. “Yeah. I see what you mean.”

It’s so strange that in a world where humans can see to the edge of the Universe, live to a century through modern medicine, access unimaginable volumes of information online, and fly all over the world that I am still put in the awkward position from time to time of having to explain to someone that I don’t believe in any of the mythical invisible entities known as “gods.” It’s also awkward because I don’t walk around all day thinking about the fact that I don’t think about such deities. I don’t identify as a non-theist any more than I identify as a non-Mr. Snuffleupagusist. I identify as a Scientist a person who focuses on our shared empirical understanding of the natural world revealed through experimentation and inductive reasoning.

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The Scientific Joy of Being Wrong

Posted on 19th March 2012 by Ryan Somma in Enlightenment Warrior

Esther Dyson Patch

Esther Dyson Patch
Always Make New Mistakes
Credit: Gisela Giardino

From time to time I find myself deeply fascinated with the Golden Ratio and its relation to the Fibbonacci set. I even bought a cross-section of a nautilus shell to proudly display in my cabinet of curiosities because they grow along the golden ratio. Then this article clearly illustrated that nautilus shells grow in a logarithmic spiral. Now I’m even prouder of my nautilus cross-section because it tells a story of just how wrong I was about a beautiful hypothesis.

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GMO Foods and the Promise a Second Green Revolution

Posted on 5th December 2011 by Ryan Somma in Enlightenment Warrior
Maize tassel with anthers emerging
Maize tassel with anthers emerging
Credit: CIMMYT

In 1968, Dr. Paul Ehrlich predicted a population explosion on planet Earth would result in mass starvation in his book The Population Bomb. While millions die each year of starvation, Dr. Ehrlich’s dire predictions did not come true. Many critics of environmentalism often cite Ehrlich’s failed predictions to attack anyone who raises concerns about environmental sustainability, but most of them gloss over the reason why Ehrlich was wrong which was his failure to account for human innovation. Ehrlich completely failed to factor in the work of Norman Borlaug and the Green Revolution, which saved over a billion people from starvation with irrigation infrastructure, hybridized seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides.

Last month, the Earth’s population hit seven billion, raising questions once more about sustainability as millions are threatened with starvation in Africa, conflicts arise over water, and major fish stocks collapse. We are pushing the limits of what the Green Revolution’s science has granted us as far as a sustainable global population. We need a second scientific revolution to increase the global food supply, and our best hope for that revolution is in Genetically Modified (GM) Foods.

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The 2011 National Book Festival on the Washington DC Mall

Posted on 30th September 2011 by Ryan Somma in Enlightenment Warrior
Book Festival Poster
Book Festival Poster

I cannot live without books.” ~ Thomas Jefferson

I had the great joy of attending this year’s National Book Festival on the Washington DC Mall. With over 100 authors in attendance, CSPAN’s BookTv.org covering the event, PBS Kids, Scholastic, and the greatest library on Earth providing educational materials, this was a fun activity for kids and adults, all celebrating the most important cultural invention in human history: the written word.

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Science Fiction Versus Fantasy – Uncensored

Posted on 26th September 2011 by Ryan Somma in Enlightenment Warrior,Geeking Out

This is the uncensored version of my Science Fiction VS Fantasy piece I wrote for the Science Creative Quarterly several years ago. I’ve also written much more extensively on this topic in the past. This is the abbreviated version with 10% more snark:


Fanboy: Hey gang! Did you read The Sword of Shanara? The characters traveled hundreds of miles described in excruciating detail for hundreds of pages, until they reached the ultimate battle between good and evil! Cool huh?

Scientist: Whatever. The characters in Red Planet traveled 48 million miles to Mars, while those in 2001 traveled 369 million miles to Jupiter. Characters in Asimov’s Foundation books travel millions of light-years all over the Milky Way galaxy in routine manner. Isn’t it amazing what people can accomplish when they don’t have to walk everywhere? Thank a scientist for your planes, trains, automobiles, and spaceflight whydontcha.

Fanboy: Yeah, but did you see in The Lord of the Rings when Gandalf fought the Balrog all the way down a really deep hole and then all the way back up to the top of a mountain peak!?!?

Scientist: Big whoop. The adventurers in The Core traveled to the very center of the Earth, fighting technological, natural, and human hazards all the way down and all the way back up to the Earth’s crust again. Characters in Fantastic Voyage and Innerspace fought their way all through the human body in microscopic form.

Fanboy: Ooookay… But did you see all those maps having to do with the Wheel of Time books? It’s a huge continent! Pretty epic, huh?

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9/11 by the Numbers

Posted on 12th September 2011 by Ryan Somma in Enlightenment Warrior

[It is] easy for us to provoke and bait this administration. All that we have to do is to send two mujahidin to the furthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written al-Qaeda, in order to make the generals race there and cause America to suffer human, economic, and political losses … This is in addition to our having experience in using guerrilla warfare and the war of attrition to fight tyrannical superpowers, as we, alongside the mujahidin, bled Russia for 10 years, until it went bankrupt and was forced to withdraw in defeat.

             ~ Osama Bin Laden (2004 Video)

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