The Unavoidable Ignorance of Dr. Etumbe & I

I began to see a therapist last November. I’ll call her Dr. Rilka. She has a PhD in psychology from a US university as well as having begun her career as a medical doctor in one of the breakaway former Soviet republics. On my second visit to see her I broke the nervous tension I was feeling by making the rather stupid joke, “You should be called Doctor Doctor Rilka, or perhaps Dr. Rilka squared.” She must have heard that joke more than a few times before, it did not appear to strike her as particularly witty.

My life felt like it was falling apart. My career was destabilized and uncertain, my marriage was unraveling, one child was already out the door, and a much beloved dog had died. If I had a guitar and a pick up truck I’d have had all the ingredients I needed for a great country music song.

Leaving the relative security of NASA for life as a consultant was a mixed blessing. I could make more money and work fewer hours, but each of these new hours seemed to contain three of the old ones. Government work is generally comfortable work. You are expected to go only as fast as you have gone in the past, when not under the pressure of near term deadlines. Now I am hired onto projects because they are months overdue and millions over budget, and I am made to pay the price in my blood for the sins of other peoples’ prior poor decisions. It can feel like a contract job with the devil. I had not imagined myself ever able to command the hourly rate I do now, but neither had I imagined I could lose my love of my profession, software engineering. The passion I once felt for it gave me this profound sense that every day I went in to work making a free choice to be a software engineer, that if I suddenly found myself with millions in the bank, the projects I might choose to work on might change but the work I chose to do would remain the same. My vocation was my avocation was my hobby was my life. Just a year later here I am at 5:45 am in a neighborhood diner, with two hours to kill before a conference call with a team on the East coast, writing about my life to escape living my life.

How and why I left NASA didn’t help. I left because the lie involved in staying at NASA had become untenable. If they had technology such as the faster than light quantum teleportation radio I knew they did, if their reins had been held in formative years by Nazi hands, if they were secretly modifying their simulation software to hide undisclosed physical laws, if they were intentionally adding noise to signals received from beyond our galaxy, if they were… the list is simply too long… How could I remain at NASA now fully comprehending this?

A friend once told me a story about his Peace Corps days. Philippe was stationed in Botswana, helping them build some rural medical facilities. One of the first people he met there was a medical doctor named Dr. Etumbe, who acted as a liaison between the government health ministry and the Peace Corps. Within the first year my friend and his team had set up several clinics and Dr. Etumbe was tasked with putting together the staff for them. My friend who had briefly worked as a research assistant at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) contacted a former boss there and was able to arrange for Dr. Etumbe and some of his team to go to NIH for an upcoming workshop on the treatment of Sub-Saharan African diseases. Dr. Etumbe was described by my friend as being one of the most wonderfully earnest of men, so passionate in helping his people, so willing to do whatever it took, routinely making six hour round trips on horrifically primitive roads to tend to gravely ill patients who showed up prematurely at my friend’s Peace Corps clinic sites while they were still under construction. Dr. Etumbe and his team were eager to learn what the staff and lecturers at NIH had to teach them. My friend happened to be in the capital, Gaborone, getting supplies on the day the team was setting off for the US and Philippe drove them all to the airport in his truck. At the gate they all embraced and Dr. Etumbe said, “Thank you, Mr. Ladd, for arranging this. You have helped more people than you know.” Three weeks later my friend received word that Dr. Etumbe had just returned to Gaborone and promptly killed himself. The very next day my friend received a letter from the late Dr. Etumbe, written shortly after he arrived in Washington, DC and began the NIH workshop. The letter was short, a fairly formal letter repeating the appreciation he and the other doctors and nurses who made the journey felt for what my friend had arranged. The last lines were less formal and said, “We are seeing drugs and equipment that could save hundreds of thousands in Botswana. I feel heavy with the burden of my past ignorance, a debt to those who have been dying. I do not know how to be the doctor I was, and I hope I will not have to be.” My friend was sent for more supplies to the capital a few days later and though he missed the funeral he was able to talk with Dr. Etumbe’s brother. The brother related that Dr. Etumbe had returned somewhat changed. His resolute optimism was clouded by a new found and undeserved guilt. He was persevering, though, with the hopes that he could do better now that he knew better. He had met with several ministers to secure the new drugs and equipment he now realized they needed. He talked with and provided reports to the ministers involved, making it clear that they could easily save 25,000 more people a year at an expense of only $1 million USD per year ($40 USD/life saved). The ministers thanked him, and he left greatly encouraged that he would soon be able to apply all that he had learned. But the morning after his last meeting he received their answer, “Thank you for your information. Our medical advisers have reviewed your report and testimony thoroughly and they believe our existing medical solutions are sufficient.” Late that same night Dr. Etumbe was called by a friend in a neighboring town whose daughter was very sick with a hemorrhagic fever he had seen all too often, one of the very ones his recent workshop had taught him how to better treat, had he been provided the medicines and equipment he needed. He stayed with the girl and her father, his friend, all through the night. She passed in the morning. Dr. Etumbe shot himself shortly after returning home.

Though the cost of my ignorance was not measured in human lives, I remember that story now with a new understanding, a sharper and more personal and selfish sadness. How do I continue to try in my own way to improve the world and advance my science when I now discover that there is a secret science with secret laws and secret tools that have already well exceeded anything my colleagues and I could ever achieve? The impotence is profound, overwhelming, and I can hardly blame Dr. Etumbe his choice.

I did not want to act on the logic I saw in his choice. I needed help, another perspective, a new and achievable and purposeful goal. I reached out, first to my wife, and ultimately to Dr. Rilka.

Life is not getting easier, but it is getting better, and that’s enough.

John

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8 Responses to The Unavoidable Ignorance of Dr. Etumbe & I

  1. macproguy says:

    You mentioned in the beginning of the article about the question that you asked yourself ” if they were secretly modifying their simulation software to hide undisclosed physical laws”.
    Is this just pure speculation? or is there more basis for this question?
    Jack

    • Jack

      Depends on the definition of speculation. One of the incidents I’m talking about is the one with my boss and The Feynman Constant. Of the other two incidents one was a coworker’s experience and the other was mine.

      I’m never entirely sure what to make of other people’s experiences, how likely their claims are to be objectively true. To some degree I’m never sure how much faith to put in my own experiences. I have friends and relatives who’ve seen what they believe to be UFOs, ghosts, and angels. They are all good, solid, wonderful and otherwise sane individuals upon whose testimony I would normally entrust my life or my children’s lives. I have no reason to doubt their extraordinary claims other than the fact that the claims are extraordinary.

      I’ll get into the the case which involved me at a later date, no doubt. It was a weird one, but I’m a little embarrassed to talk about it before I can present it in the proper way. I truly don’t know what to make of it, and I’m actually more dubious of my own story than the others. There is the bizarre possibility that it was some sort of elaborate joke being played on me, the purpose of it and the mechanism by which it was done I couldn’t imagine, since no one ever turned up to reveal the joke or otherwise seem to find any delight in my gullibility.

      I was put on an early project related to developing code for an autonomous rover. DARPA had been involved in similar projects so we were taking some of what they had made available and using it for our purposes. I will leave it at saying that the intelligence being demonstrated by the modules I had been supplied seemed to defy the level of AI sophistication I knew about at the time from graduate school, and appeared impossible given the resources available to the system.

      AI sophistication is partly about the software you run, but mostly about the amount of physical resources you run it on. Our problem reproducing general human-level AI has more to do with the vast physical memory and computational power needed to reproduce a human brain’s capacity as it is with our incomplete understanding of every nuance of how the brain works. In this case I knew the physical resources available, and this behavior was not congruent with those limitations. And the behavior was so generalized that it was not merely an example of rudimentary task-specific pre-programmed pseudo-intelligence. At any rate, as you can tell this begins to border on sci-fi, or a “Punked” episode less the celebrity guest, so I need to be careful with how I present it otherwise it and I will be dismissed, ridiculed, etc.

      But, speculation? Not pure speculation, surely. Is there an option for impure speculation?

      John

  2. Nathan says:

    Well as the old saying goes “What doesnt kill you only makes you stronger” I can only imagine what it would be like to have your world view changed so much, if thats the right way to put it and if its really the case, as i can only take your word for what u say. I have been following your post with great interest and have to admit you tell a very convincing story and im simply blown away by some of the information you seem to be revealing, infact the more i think about your latest post the more i cant help but think how can this possibly be the case and even worse how could they possibly get away with it and why the withholding of all this secret information and technology? (Im commenting about paragraph 5). These days i dont really know what to make of everything the more i read about things the more i seem to the think how mad the world has gone. Too many lies, conspiracys, half truths and not to mention the wars and false flags ops and goodness knows what. Wheres it all going i wonder? what are we to do? Grin and bear it i guess. Anyways thanks for the latest post and best good to hear your life getting better. Its what u make of it afterall.. Peace 🙂

  3. Gabo says:

    I am sorry to hear of bad times John, but I’m glad that things are getting better. Your stories are important, as important as the cause Dr. Etumbe fought for. Yet, i think you have the means of succeeding. keep telling your stories, and we will listen.

    If you have the means keep giving these dam Nazis hell,

    you are not alone.

  4. Kalai says:

    Yes John, please keep on telling your stories.
    I have read a lot now about most stuff that doesn’t come out in the news. The truth can drive a person insane. How do we educate people on these science and technological breakthroughs when they’ve been brainwashed with the crap they teach in schools? Sigh. What future is in store for us all? Can a few of us make a difference? Can we eradicate poverty, corruption and greed with this knowledge? Out of all my friends, not even one has taken the time to ponder or entertain all the infinite possibilities out there. I ask God, why me, why do i have to be the one to believe? I am still waiting for His answer.
    Sorry for the rant. I love your blog. You write it from a very humbling point of view, also you struggle to understand the reason for your knowledge.
    You are not alone.

  5. David says:

    John, it is hard on the mind when old belief systems begins to break down and the ego will resist this of course but it is only healthy. Find comfort in the mystery of life and existence 🙂

  6. macproguy says:

    Oh okay so part of that first part was from the Feynman constant, why I asked was because it hasn’t been updated yet but thats alright cause your stories are always fascinating to read and think about.

    On that topic of AI programming & the spirit stuff, could the advancements in quantum mechanics, as they have conquered the entanglement portion, why not quantum computing? That would allow for orders of magnitude more computational power as well as bordering artificial neural networks.

    Its amazing when you get little tidbits into technology that makes the current modern day stuff look like old pentium 3s.

    • Yes, I’m afraid I’ve not been able to put as much time into writing as I would like, so that story and a few others are not finished. I just started on a new work project and have been needing to put in overtime, and as part of restoring harmony to my marriage I’ve been very reasonably required to keep my priorities straight, and keep my wife and kids at the top (and when work bleeds over into personal time I need to make that back up to them). At the end of the day, as selfish as it may sound, I’d rather have the love of my life and the love of my children than the role of whistle blower. We’ve developed all this marvelous technology, and there’s all this marvelous technology left to discover and reveal, but is all of that really making us happier as humans? Sometimes I think we’re just chasing our tails, looking externally for something we need internally. I wish we could just pursue technology until we discover immortality and then that’s it, put the technology away and just focus on the more difficult art of loving and being loved. Anyway, sorry for the aside.

      I had certainly thought about the quantum computing angle, but unlike with Spirit, I had access to this hardware, every piece of it (so far as I knew). And it all looked ridiculously conventional. I suppose it’s possible a super advanced quantum computing technology could be disguised to look like conventional technolgoy but that feels like a stretch. If I allow it could have been a prank, then that necessitates someone remotely interacting with it and causing the behavior I was observing, and if that’s the case then you could wonder if the remote intelligence was artificial or human, but if I allow that I will just assume it was human per Occam’s Razor.

      John

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