Category Archives: Evolution, Science

To be decided

Nuclear Power: What’s Behind the Latest Propaganda Blitz?

Hardly a day goes by without somebody on social media sternly reminding me that we desperately need nuclear power in order to fight climate change. I’m always tempted to respond that I agree, but only if they happen to have a time machine — because, if you really wanted to fight climate change and stop runaway global warming with nukes you should have started building 20 years ago. We’re too late.

Of course, I don’t actually bother responding, since one cannot dissuade a true believer. And one can only stomach so many lectures about the incredible safety record of nuclear power. The safety argument comes to the fore, because so many people think atomic energy isn’t safe. They’re wrong, but the underlying argument is only so much theater.

Large numbers of people would like to stop fracking, and they have plenty of good reasons for it. Fracking causes earthquakes and contaminates groundwater. It wastes huge amounts of fresh water. Its continued use makes petroleum less expensive, which encourages the use of carbon-generating gasoline and diesel fuel.

It’s dangerous. Yet, despite all of the protests and no matter how many videos we see with people setting their tap water on fire, fracking continues.

The same goes for coal-fired power plants. Ditto for pipelines. Nobody wants coal burning in their backyards. So, naturally, we build them in poor areas. We run the pipelines through Native American burial grounds so as not to disturb nice, clean white people in the suburbs.

Nuclear Boondoggle in SC (ieee.org)

The myth that nuclear power’s decline in the US came about because of the fears of an irrational public continues to persist. However, if the “bewildered herd” had any real influence, fracking would certainly cease. And truth be told, the only reason coal is finally dying has everything to do with economics.

Two recent news stories will serve to demonstrate what’s really going on. First, I would direct your attention to these news items: “U.S. Nuclear Comeback Stalls as Two Reactors Are Abandoned” (NYT) and “A Dissenter’s Tale of South Carolina’s Nuclear Project Fiasco” (ENR). The short story is that the South Carolina nuclear project at Jenkinsville failed to make it to the halfway point of construction. This failure drove Westinghouse into bankruptcy. And finally, consumers had to pay for most of it, since in our country, profits are private and losses are public.

Here is the key point: read more »

I Like It Dumbed Down

So this is why the earth does not need lots of turtles to hold it up — it’s in a weightless state

This next one explains an awful lot! . . . . it turns out we are ultimately made up of vibrating nothingness . . .

How Science Began

I initially titled this post “Revealed Science”. In our world “revealed science” is an oxymoron. Science is a matter of active investigation, not passively receiving a revelation.

The Book of Enoch is an apocalypse (the word means “a revelation”) which contains a section describing the hero being taken up into the heavens by an angel to be shown the secrets of the universe. Bizarre as it first sounds, it is arguable that here we have a fascinating development in the history of science. But before we explain, let’s address what we mean by science. This post continues discussing From Adapa to Enoch by Seth Sanders, and on pages 136-37 he writes:

The new types of knowledge that emerged in Hellenistic Jewish culture . . . included

astronomical calculations of the movements of the heavenly bodies and length of the days,

sexagesimal (base-60) mathematics,

and physiognomic interpretation of the body.

https://www.slideserve.com/cassandra/religious-life-at-qumran

On the one hand, all of these modes of knowledge have at some point in modern European history been understood as natural science: astronomy and mathematics are of course still understood this way. But as late as the mid-nineteenth-century a form of physiognomy known as “phrenology” was still taken seriously by scholars across Europe. It seems intuitively correct to us to define mathematics and astronomy as exact science, but is it science to observe someone’s hair to predict their character and destiny, as the Qumran physiognomic text 4Q186 does? What is surprising is how clear the verdict of the history and philosophy of science is on this point: there is no objective, ahistorical way to define something as science or not.

The problem is not that no useful criteria for science are possible, but that historically, there have been so many of them. These criteria concern something immensely important to the people who proposed them — the nature of reliable knowledge of the world. . . . Rather than trying to place our texts into an anachronistic modem category, we must first find out how biblical and early Jewish writers themselves depicted systematic knowledge of this world. “Science,” then, will be used here as a system of exact knowledge of the physical world. This will let us investigate what counted as reliable knowledge of the physical world for the ancient Jewish writers of Enoch.

In Genesis it is written that God made the continents and the oceans, plant and animal life, and the sabbath day. He made them all the exact same way: by the power of his speech.

For the Jewish people immersed in such literature the weekly sabbath day was therefore as much a fact of the created universe as the sun and moon above and the grass and soil below. There was no fundamental distinction between the world of nature and the world of ritual. Similarly, there were two types of animals, clean and unclean, from creation, as was clear from the story of Noah. The distinction was not cultural; animals were created according to two kinds by “nature”; they were as innately, by creation, clean and unclean as plants were either healthy or poisonous, edible or inedible.

What caused it all to come into existence was the voice of God.

In such a world there could be no distinction between the natural and the supernatural.

The Rochberg reference is online but the Lloyd one is not; however, an earlier article by Lloyd on the same topic is available at http://www.jstor.org/stable/41649942

As in Mesopotamia, [in China] cosmos and state were intimately, even indissolubly, linked. Indeed in China, as Sivin has shown, state, cosmos and body all exhibit the same interacting processes. What we might take to be microcosm-macrocosm analogies were no mere analogies: heaven and earth, the state and the human body all exhibit the same reciprocal processes and form part of a single whole, where the ruler has a crucial role as responsible for mediating between heaven and earth and ensuring the harmony between them.

(Lloyd, 2008, p.84)

And if it is divine command that set an undivided ritual-material world in order, then “supernatural” may not be a coherent category for describing God in Priestly literature either. The notion of the physical world implied here is orderly yet without a discrete realm of nature separate from either culture or from the supernatural. This concept has been shown to exist in several ancient scientific cultures, from Mesopotamia (Rochberg 2014) to China (Lloyd 2012).

 When I originally titled this post “Revealed Science” I also subtitled it “When Enoch Introduced Babylonian Astronomy to Moses)”. That post will be next.

Five Myths About Consciousness

H/T Patricia Churchland: In the The Washington Post Christof Koch writes Five Myths About Consciousness

  • Myth No. 1 — Humans have a unique brain.

You probably know the latest understanding on that one.

  • Myth No. 2 — Science will never understand consciousness.

Never say never.

  • Myth No. 3 — Dreams contain hidden clues about our secret desires.

I’ve caught up on the “facts” about dreams. Was I one of the last to do so?

  • Myth No. 4 — We are susceptible to subliminal messages.

I hadn’t caught up with that one. That was interesting, and reassuring. It also explained why I haven’t heard anything about subliminal messages for decades.

  • Myth No. 5 — Near-death ‘visions’ are evidence of life after death.

I’m suspect most readers are aware of the science behind those “visions”.

 

 

Evolution and missing links; fundamentalist discovers the real world; Muhammad; Detering and Trump

From Rosa Rubicondior

Three-toed Skink Is an Evolutionary Intermediate

Which came first the lizard or the egg? – The University of Sydney

Today from the the reptile world, we have a very nice example of evolution in progress, or at least in a state of dynamic equilibrium between two characteristics, each of which could be advantageous in different circumstances.

This example is an Australian skink which appears to be so finely balanced between egg-laying (oviparous) and live-young bearing (viviparous), that one individual has been observed doing both in the same pregnancy. Several weeks after laying a batch of three eggs, an individual three-toed skink, Saiphos equalis, was seen to give birth to a live young. . . .

From Julia Bainbridge on Salon.com

Life after fundamentalist Christianity: One former believer’s struggle to find clarity and himself

. . . . “Even though I still had my small bubble around me, we were what Christian artists would call playing crossover venues,” he told “The Lonely Hour.” “We were out there playing bars and meeting people all over the country that my parents warned me about or that the church cursed. I’m becoming friends with them and I’m having these beautiful, wonderful experiences with them. So I started to question my religion: Is this what they were worried about? Like, just normal people? That definitely started to challenge my long-held beliefs even further.” . . . .

Reading James’ story made me wish I had never given up music lessons so I, too, could have been in a band and learned lessons far sooner than I did. There’s also a link to the audio interview with James.

Just an image here. Go to the post on the “untold story” or John Loftus’s site for the video.

From Debunking Christianity

Was Mohammad Real?

“We can’t be certain how the Arabs became Muslim”, says researcher Tom Holland. Fascinating! Was Mohammad (“the Praised One”) originally Jesus? Was Islam originally a non-trinitarian Christian sect that rejected the need for an atonement on the cross? The evidence from coins don’t lie. People do. This is extremely interesting and new to me. Makes sense. The first video is by the Atheistic Republic, who got me thinking. The others back it up.

Loftus refers to Tom Holland’s exploration of the question of Muhammad’s historicity, something I have done here, too — See

Come on, John. Keep up.

From René Salm’s Mythicist Papers

Rene Salm is continuing to augment a database of Hermann Detering’s legacy:

This is the first of several posts that will review Dr. Detering’s life and scholarship according to the available material on- and offline. It is carried out from afar and in an admittedly impromptu manner. I invite readers to add data, links, or corrections—simply send me an email with the information and I will consider adding it to the CV. The Wikipedia article (German here) is a good place to begin, and Detering’s own brief VITA in German is on his website here.

These posts are deceptively short. However, they are dense with links that offer the interested reader avenues to explore a good deal of material.

If possible, I would like to add a personal impression of Dr. Detering’s character, work, and family life. Any reader who knew Hermann personally, and for some length of time, is invited to email me his/her impressions which I will review and certainly consider uploading.

Oh no, from Salon.com, some frightening news!

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar team up with Rand Paul to praise Trump for Syria withdrawal

Won’t Trump see their support as enough reason to change his mind and go back into Syria in force?!! Why can’t they just stay quiet and make him think they oppose him on everything?

Scholarly Consensus: Some Questions Are More Important Than Others

A few years ago, I was visiting a customer site in Denver, Colorado. Early one morning, while sitting in a cold conference room, I overheard a conversation about a guy who had recently quit. Apparently, he was the lone subject matter expert on an important project.

A: I hope he documented what he was doing. 

B: He’s pretty good about it.

A: You know what they say . . .

B: “In case you get hit by a bus”?

A: Heh-heh. Yeah.

C: We had a guy just this past year who got hit by a bus. Literally, hit by a bus.

B: He died?

C: Yeah. 

A: Oh, man.

C: You know how they tell you to look both ways, especially to the right, when you’re in India?

B: So he stepped out and didn’t see it.

C: Yeah.

B: Damn.

Double-Decker Bus

I can remember being warned about looking in the correct direction back in the military. When we sent people TDY to England, we reminded them to look both ways. If you grew up in a country where people drive on the right, you instinctively check to the left just before you step off the curb. It’s the opposite for people who grew up in left-side countries. In the split second you spend looking in the wrong direction, a vehicle can suddenly come around the corner and kill you.

This story reminds us that some decisions have more consequence than others, and some problems require an immediate decision. If you’re deciding on the color of the curtains in your living room, you may regret your choice, but it probably won’t kill you. You might even delay your choice to the point where you never get around to changing the draperies before you sell the house.

On the other hand, some questions are more pressing. Even not making a decision is still a decision. When I think of life-or-death decisions that demand a choice, I can’t help but recall the series Danger UXB. Imagine the stress of needing to make the right decision as the seconds tick away. Which wire? How does this work? Can I stop it?

I would argue that global climate disruption has become that kind of problem. Unfortunately, it stands at the convergence of science, politics, sociology, and religion. Something needs to be done immediately, the wrong choices will be deadly, and not deciding what to do about it is in itself a decision.

Some problems demand an immediate response. However, other questions — e.g.: Did Jesus exist as a historical figure? Did Josiah suppress the original Israelite pantheon, which included a mother goddess? Did the Jews of the Second Temple period ever conceive of a dying, suffering, sacrificial messiah? — do not.

A Vridar reader, Gary, commented recently: read more »

So this is why so many bosses are jerks, and other depressing thoughts for the day

From The bad news on human nature, in 10 findings from psychology by Christian Jarrett

A few excerpts:

We favour ineffective leaders with psychopathic traits. The American personality psychologist Dan McAdams recently concluded that the US President Donald Trump’s overt aggression and insults have a ‘primal appeal’, and that his ‘incendiary Tweets’ are like the ‘charging displays’ of an alpha male chimp, ‘designed to intimidate’. If McAdams’s assessment is true, it would fit into a wider pattern – the finding that psychopathic traits are more common than average among leaders. Take the survey of financial leaders in New York that found they scored highly on psychopathic traits but lower than average in emotional intelligence. A meta-analysis published this summer concluded that there is indeed a modest but significant link between higher trait psychopathy and gaining leadership positions, which is important since psychopathy also correlates with poorer leadership.

Another one of the ten says we are moral hypocrites. I know that’s true. I’m one myself. I like to think I’m a vegetarian for ethical reasons but I continue to eat fish.

This one is so depressing. I have spent most of my adult life believing in the power of education, only to learn it probably only has an effect on those who want to be better anyway.

We are blinkered and dogmatic. If people were rational and open-minded, then the straightforward way to correct someone’s false beliefs would be to present them with some relevant facts. However a classic study from 1979 showed the futility of this approach – participants who believed strongly for or against the death penalty completely ignored facts that undermined their position, actually doubling-down on their initial view. This seems co occur in part because we see opposing facts as undermining our sense of identity. It doesn’t help that many of us are overconfident about how much we understand things and that, when we believe our opinions are superior to others, this deters us from seeking out further relevant knowledge.

And do be careful not to tread on any ants from now on because they have feelings too, you know …. Bee-brained (Are insects ‘philosophical zombies’ with no inner life? Close attention to their behaviours and moods suggests otherwise).

And if you thought things really are getting worse it’s not simply concept creep either. The world really is going the way of the tediously saintly young. So says Matt Ridley whose books I once found happily enlightening.

That’s enough wallowing in misery for one weekend.

 

Can one prove a negative?

R.G. Price argues that you can: Is it really impossible to “prove a negative”?

I think you can, too. Anyone who is innocent of a crime they are standing trial for sure as hell wants a negative proved, too.

The scientific sin of a ‘just-so story’

In his enormously popular but scientifically questionable bestseller The Naked Ape, the writer Desmond Morris suggested that lipstick was an attempt to make women’s facial lips resemble the engorged sexually aroused genital ones. It might be a superficially attractive argument, but upon the slightest degree of scrutiny it vanishes in the haze, for there is just no evidence for this to be true. If it were true, we would expect to see selection for lipstick wearing, and higher reproductive success in women who wear lipstick. It also doesn’t account for the changes in styles and colours of lipstick, or the fact that most women haven’t worn lipstick for the vast majority of human history, yet still somehow managed to give birth to a healthy cohort of progeny. It is an example of the scientific sin of a ‘just-so story’ – speculation that sounds appealing, but cannot be tested or is devoid of evidence.

Rutherford, Adam. 2018. The Book of Humans: The Story of How We Became Us. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. p. 83

Amazing that this is possible – recovery of ancient music

H/T The Conversation via Ancient Origins

The Foreseeable End of Organized Human Life – while Nero performs

No doubt many of you have seen or read this interview so I add a link to it here for latecomers. It pretty well sums up the most critical moment in the past few thousand years of human history.

Concept Creep

When I hear of how Russia “attacked” the USA in the 2016 elections, and when I hear of verbal abuse being labeled a form of “violence”, and when I think a purple dot is blue because fewer blue dots have been appearing lately, then I think of “concept creep”. And then I recall how many of those of us leaving cults or other extreme fundamentalist churches were said to be experiencing the same disorder as returning soldiers with war experiences, “post traumatic stress disorder”.

From The Conversation: When Your Brain Never Runs Out of Problems….

Concepts that refer to the negative aspects of human experience and behavior have expanded their meanings so that they now encompass a much broader range of phenomena than before. This expansion takes “horizontal” and “vertical” forms: concepts extend outward to capture qualitatively new phenomena and downward to capture quantitatively less extreme phenomena. The concepts of abuse, bullying, trauma, mental disorder, addiction, and prejudice are examined to illustrate these historical changes. In each case, the concept’s boundary has stretched and its meaning has dilated. A variety of explanations for this pattern of “concept creep” are considered and its implications are explored. I contend that the expansion primarily reflects an ever-increasing sensitivity to harm, reflecting a liberal moral agenda. Its implications are ambivalent, however. Although conceptual change is inevitable and often well motivated, concept creep runs the risk of pathologizing everyday experience and encouraging a sense of virtuous but impotent victimhood.

Why do some social problems seem so intractable? In a series of experiments, we show that people often respond to decreases in the prevalence of a stimulus by expanding their concept of it. When blue dots became rare, participants began to see purple dots as blue; when threatening faces became rare, participants began to see neutral faces as threatening; and when unethical requests became rare, participants began to see innocuous requests as unethical. This “prevalence-induced concept change” occurred even when participants were forewarned about it and even when they were instructed and paid to resist it. Social problems may seem intractable in part because reductions in their prevalence lead people to see more of them.

  • Levari, David E., Daniel T. Gilbert, Timothy D. Wilson, Beau Sievers, David M. Amodio, and Thalia Wheatley. 2018. “Prevalence-Induced Concept Change in Human Judgment.” Science 360 (6396): 1465–67. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.aap8731.

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And they told me that God made wings so they worked perfectly the first time

Well that’s what I was taught by the creationist men of God when I was part of their world. Wings had to work perfectly the first time or what use were they? So went the rhetorical question and we were all shook our heads in disbelief at how foolish people of the world were for thinking otherwise.

But a couple of nights ago I could not resist following the build up to watching David Attenborough’s new program, The Empire of the Ants. The catch line that intrigued me was the promise to show how some ants had learned to cooperate with others who were not genetically related to them. (Others, true to expected form, fought unrelated groups to the death for territorial control.) The whole program was absolutely fascinating (as most of Attenborough’s docos are) but one episode in particular thoroughly amused me. . . .

Queen ants about to fly away to establish a new colony are heavy with fat reserves and swollen ovaries and have sprouted wings just for the new occasion — their maiden flight to mate then start a new colony. They climb to the top of a plant to get some height for a take-off, but often times they make complete fools of themselves trying to make respectable use of their wings. We are shown footage of queen ants starting lift off but quickly tilting backwards or sideways and falling back down to the ground. Why didn’t God give them wings (and the instinctual know-how using them) that worked and got their heavier bodies up and away the first time?

Gracelessly tipping abdomen over antenna after getting air-born for about one second.

It’s not as if they would need the wings afterwards. Once they had found their new space they had no need for the wings anymore and naturally wanted to get rid of the encumbrances. Again amusing footage showing the poor things struggling to dislodge their “back-packs” with nothing but legs! God lacked the forethought to arrange at least two of those six legs for that purpose. Those queens were obviously struggling with even more difficulty than a child trying to figure out how to dry its back after a bath.

Out! Damned wings!

Sex and Death

Well I just had to laugh (I even saw the photographs) . . .

I first heard of the custom when living in Singapore. Strippers hired to perform before an image of the deceased as part of the ceremonies pending the actual cremation. I thought the idea was to give the deceased one last good time. Maybe it’s hard to grasp if we’re not familiar with the Chinese custom in crowded Singapore of setting up a marquee or special area for the coffin of the deceased on the property of the apartments where he or she lived, or nearby, with friends and relatives coming to visit over the days prior to the cremation ceremony. Candles, decorations of models of the things the deceased loved in life (paper cars, boats, money…), other religious paraphernalia all around, and lots of chairs and water bottles for the visitors. There would always be someone there to maintain the vigil, even through the night.

And some (by no means all — unless I was protected by the locals from ever finding out) of these spaces, I learned, even arranged for a private striptease dancer to perform before the picture of a male deceased.

And all of that was before the last day when crowds would assemble, with musicians and dancers, to drive the coffin off in a specially decorated truck leading a street procession to the place of cremation. What a send off.

Well, today I was reminded of all of the above with the following news:

China cracks down on funeral strippers hired to entertain mourners, attract larger crowds

Hired to attract crowds! Now that was different from the Singapore custom, that’s for certain. If I can ever remember where I filed it I will dig out the Singapore newspaper photo of the Chinese dancer there definitely facing and performing for the deceased. But in China the image is definitely indicative of a more general entertainment:

Now that’s definitely not what Singapore Chinese modesty was all about. Unless, as I said, I was protected because I was considered to be just another foreigner who would not understand.

What piqued my more serious interest in the story this time, however, was the suggestion that the ceremony might be traced back to “fertility worship”. One last ditch effort to ensure the deceased would still be able to, well… I’m not quite sure what. Anthropologists would be able to explain it, no doubt.

And given the eclectic interests of Vridar, I am further reminded of the Gospel of John. See Novelistic plot and motifs in the Gospel of John where I look at an article by Jo-Ann Brant discussing the way that gospel plays with the idea of a marriage anticipated by Jesus really being his death.

It all seems rather appropriate, I supposed, given that what made death possible (as opposed to evolving like ever dividing cells that go on forever and never die) was sex. Perhaps the story of Adam and Eve and their Fall is all about the way cell death evolved to remove and discard the less good bits from the mix.