OPEN DISCUSSION OCTOBER 2019

Oct 1, 2019

This thread has been created for discussion on themes relevant to Reason and Science for which there are not currently any dedicated threads.

Please note it is NOT for general chat, and that our Comment Policy applies as usual. There is a link to this at the foot of the page.

If you would like to refer back to previous open discussion threads, the three most recent ones can be accessed via the links below (but please continue any discussions from them here rather than on the original threads):

OPEN DISCUSSION JULY 2019

OPEN DISCUSSION AUGUST 2019

OPEN DISCUSSION SEPTEMBER 2019

 

169 comments on “OPEN DISCUSSION OCTOBER 2019

  • The October open discussion thread is now open.

    If you wish to continue any of the discussions from earlier Open Discussion threads, please do so here rather than there.

    Thank you.

    The mods Report abuse

  • Oct 1, 2019 at 2:56 pm
    38
    Chrystyna Zawinska says:

    How evolution could create sight, hearing, smell, touch, taste. How did evolution know that taste receptors were supposed to be on the tongue. How did she create the perfect eyes: they transmit light, they have no blemishes or other obstacles, they can focus?
    And how does a bee know that it must dust the flower. And from the flower fruits are formed.

    I have taken the liberty of moving your comment to the correct open discussion thread for the month of October.

     

    All of your questions are interesting. All of them have answers in science.

    What I’d like to know first is – what books, articles and documentaries have you consulted to discover the answers to the questions you posed above?

    Would you like to take those questions one at a time with us? We could start by suggesting some reading for you and then we could meet back here and discuss the ideas.

  • Hi, Chrystyna. Welcome.

     

    Just a few observations before digging into details (when I have more time).

    Taste receptors, for example, are not “supposed to be” anywhere. Nothing is designed to be specifically like we see it. Evolution changes things to improve reproductive fitness and that means simply better surviving to reproduce and create robust off spring and it will continue changing as the eco-system around it changes. In our evolutionary past, for instance as a much simpler animal like a sea squirt in the oceans, taste receptors (chemical detectors of different sorts) would have existed simply on a surface patch of skin and would have directly triggered a muscle to draw that passing current of water inwards to have the nutrients, so detected, filtered and absorbed.

    When you study evolution in animals we see good tricks like chemical detectors, light detectors, re-used in later adaptions. Some tricks, like eyes, are so good they get invented and evolved from scratch again and again.

    Eyes cannot be complicated to start because simple animals have only a cluster of neurons, nothing like our clever brain. All early animals in the shallows of the oceans needed were simple light dark detectors (ocelli, light sensitive patches of skin) to detect an overhead shadow and “know” to keep still, as it might be a predator able to detect the sound/vibration of its feeding. “Knowing” before brains meant those that happened to keep still with a shadow detected better survived and reproduced. But equally those too nervous and stopping feeding at the wrong kind of light level change (say brief  changes from animals too small to be a threat) would have survived less well because of the long periods of not feeding. Now such an animal that had a few extra neurons might be able to distinguish longer and shorter duration shadows and be able to optimise feeding in the occasional presence of threat, better survive and more prolifically reproduce. Eyes became more sophisticated in concert with more sophisticated brains and behaviours.

     

    Our eyes are far from perfect, though they are impressive. Other animals can see finer detail, smaller movements, different colours, lower light levels, even magnetic fields! Evolution gives us only what we needed in the recent past and then only just enough to reduce the evolutionary selection pressure below the level of other pressures. We could have all the animal kingdoms super powers but the energetic cost, the amount of energy we’d need to support these things especially in the power hungry brain need to apprehend all this extra sensory data, would keep us looking for food beyond the power of ecosystems to support, making us hugely more vulnerable to any downturn, or competition, or uptick in predation.

    What we excel at is not our senses but our use of those senses. Having the biggest brain in general purpose computing capacity, allows us to bind those coincident senses together and also model what we expect to sense and most efficiently detect the nature of threats, and by the same capacities plan how to be the most effectively threatening.

    Next time, co-evolution, symbiosis, parasitism, the predator/prey arms race. Or questions? Report abuse

  • How evolution could create sight, hearing, smell, touch, taste. How did evolution know that taste receptors were supposed to be on the tongue. How did she create the perfect eyes: they transmit light, they have no blemishes or other obstacles, they can focus?
    And how does a bee know that it must dust the flower. And from the flower fruits are formed.

    Evolution is a process. It doesn’t DO anything, it is something that happens over time.  There is no thought or planning behind it.  So Evolution doesn’t “know” anything, either.

    There are lots of different kinds of eyes and each kind is “perfect” for the use to which the organism puts it.  Flies have compound eyes and they see in entirely different ways than we do.  They need to be aware of different environmental happenings than humans do.  For one thing, no giant hands come out of the sky to swat humans, but that happens to flies all the time, so their compound eyes are far more sensitive to movement than our human eyes are, and the scope of their vision is much wider, nearly 360 degrees in fact.  They need to see behind themselves to be safe.  Tails, hands, tongues, branches, leaves, there are a lot of ways a fly can get smashed if it can’t see and react quickly enough to something that’s about to smoosh it.  So flies that could see and react to such dangers were more likely to survive and have more offspring to whom they pass on their traits than flies that can’t see or react quickly enough.  Over time, there are more flies born with the “new, improved” eye structures and the older form dies out.  But they can’t focus at all.

    Cats, whose eye structure is more like ours on the surface at least, are more sensitive to movement (in different ways from the flies hence a different eye structure is most efficient for them) because they need to hunt small prey.  When they can see and react to movements in the underbrush and grass as quickly as possible, they eat better.  That means they are more healthy, live longer, and successfully have and raise more progeny than other cats that can’t see movement and react to it as quickly.  Cats can see some colors but don’t see shades of red.  The colors they do see, doubtless look different to them than they do to us.  Many birds have a wider range of color vision than humans, hence the brightly colored plumage that is attractive to others of their species for purposes of finding a mate and judging the health of that mate.

    A sense of taste is held in common by nearly all animals, but there is great difference in the types of receptors (“taste buds”), what they sense, and even where they are located.  The animal with the most taste buds is the catfish, with over 100,000 taste buds that are located not only inside its mouth, but on its whiskers and all over its body.  These chemical receptors help the catfish to find food in the dense, dark, muddy waters where it lives.  These receptors do not react (“taste”) the same things we do – we would find most of a catfish’s diet disgusting.  But by being sensitive to various chemicals that the critters it is hunting release, a catfish can find food in an environment where its eyes are of little use.

    Cats have taste buds too, but they cannot taste sweet things.  Cats are obligate carnivores – they are “obliged” to eat meat.  There is no purpose – no evolutionary advantage – to being able to taste sweet things, as there is for humans.  If the ability to taste sweets arises in members of the feline species, it confers no advantage, so the trait gains no foothold in that species.  So it “dies out” every time it arises.  If you see your cat licking up ice cream, it is the fat in the ice cream they are tasting, not the sugar.  Since they are obligate carnivores, being able to taste and prefer the flavors of fats and meat is an adaptive trait that helps them find the right kinds of food for survival.

    Humans, on the other hand, have historically struggled mightily to find enough food, and particularly enough proteins for our relatively large brains, so the extra calories in honey and fruits helped early hominids to survive and fill out their caloric needs.  Hence “liking” sweets was an adaptive feature.  Hominids who developed the ability to taste sweet things and sought them out had an evolutionary advantage over hominids that did not.  Likewise, hominids that sought out and ate meat had an evolutionary advantage over hominids that did not because proteins are needed for the proper development and functioning of the larger brains we were gradually developing, especially during our increasingly extended childhoods.  And here is the evolutionary reason for THAT:

    Our brains became so large that our children had to be born long before their brains are fully developed, or their heads wouldn’t fit through their mother’s birth canal. Most other animals are born able to walk and communicate relatively rapidly.  Herd animals such as deer and horses have offspring that are up on their feet and moving around in minutes, so they can run away from predators who would be attracted by the smell of blood from the birth.  Predators such as felines may be born blind and it may be a few days to a few weeks before their eyes are open, because they are NOT subject to predation so there is no real evolutionary advantage to being up and on the go within minutes.

    But in early hominids, mothers that carried babies for longer periods risked not being able to get their big brained children with their larger heads out the birth canal, so mother and baby were at more risk for stillbirths and incomplete deliveries.  Whereas a hominid mother who birthed the offspring a little earlier, while the head was smaller, were less likely to experience problems during delivery, and so had an evolutionary advantage, were more likely to have more and more healthy offspring and to be in better shape and better able to care for her new offspring after birth.  So human children are born very small and long before their brains are fully developed.  The small size makes it easier both for birth and for the mother to be able to carry the baby off and away from danger.

    Another reason that eating meat – which early hominids only did rarely (and most primates today do also eat meat, though not the way humans do, though chimpanzees?  I think it is? have actually been observed hunting) is adaptive for a hominid such as ourselves is that there is a high concentration of salt in meat.  It was one way for us to supplement our diets with salt, as we moved around and not all parts of the globe have easy-to-get-at salt deposits.  So our hominid ancestors who ate more meat, in environments where salt was not readily available, were healthier than their compatriots that did not eat meat.  The ability to get salt from meat also meant that those hominids with that trait were able to inhabit areas that their non-meat eating compatriots could not survive – another ecological advantage.  Often being able to move out of an area and live elsewhere (not being tied to a shoreline or an area with accessible salt deposits) was the difference between survival and extinction, due to droughts or climate changes or catastrophes such as flooding or volcanic eruptions that might make an area uninhabitable for a long time.

    Bees and other pollinators (there are many, and they are not all bees – there are wasps, flies, and many other insects that act as pollinators, even some animals such as hummingbirds) developed AFTER plant life on earth developed flower-like structures.  This is a system that developed in tandem, plants evolved bigger, showier, and smellier flowers and similar structures to better attract pollinators, and pollinators that could better locate flowers (they are after the nectar in the flowers and the pollination happens more or less “by accident) survived and procreated better because they could find food more easily.  Plants that attracted more pollinators had more offspring, and pollinators that could more easily and more often find the plants that provide their food had more offspring.

    This process took millions of years before flowering plants became common because it takes time for a more complicated system like this that involves two or more species developing in tandem.  First the early flowerlike structure had to arise in a plant, then an insect needed to be nearby and stumble across that flower.  It most likely arose and fell many times before these changes began to spread and become self-supporting.

    There are lots of false starts and blind alleys in evolution, because it is NOT guided, it just happens.  Sometimes a feature arises in an organism that confers no advantage nor does it cause a disadvantage, and that feature may become ensconced in the genome anyway.  Nothing selects for it but nothing selects against it either but it sticks anyway.  Doesn’t help, but doesn’t harm.  Remember, evolution is just CHANGE.  It is not always change for the BETTER.  An organism can develop a trait that makes it HARDER to survive as well as easier, and actually probably more often than not, new traits have no effect at all and may or may not stick anyway.

    Not all plants need a pollinator because they evolved using OTHER methods of pollination and seed dispersal.  Some weeds develop burrs and stickers that make their seed stick to the coats of passing animals and their seed is disseminated that way. Corn is an example of a plant that relies on the wind to blow its pollen to other nearby plants to achieve pollination.  There is no one solution to any of these problems and thus many many different organisms have evolved in different ways, depending on the conditions of the environment.

    Sometimes a trait dies out because it is no longer adaptive.  There are species of moths that originally adapted to hide on the bark of trees, so they had dark mottled coloring.  Then humans started building homes in cities and using light colored stone, or paint, so moths in cities that lacked the pigment that made them dark suddenly had an evolutionary advantage – a light colored moth on a light colored background is harder to see, harder for predators to see, where the dark colored moth can be easily seen.  So pretty quickly in this case (because the moth reproductive cycle is pretty short for one thing), the dark colored moths died out and the light colored moths became the norm.

    Then humans started heating their homes with coal and charcoal and structures quickly became coated with dark soot.  Now the light colored moths were more easily seen, and the moth coloring reverted to dark, mottled colorings that made it easier for the moths to hide – the population reverted to its previous coloring.

    So a trait doesn’t have to be permanent once it is in a population, it can at any time (depending on environmental conditions) be lost, if it is no longer useful and especially if it becomes harmful.  If an organism cannot react quickly enough to changing conditions, that organism dies out.  Hence the mass extinctions that occur after worldwide disasters such as comet strikes and large volcanic eruptions.

    Pollen is a gamete, like sperm and eggs for humans, that needs to make its way to the ovaries of other plants (which is where the seeds are formed).  Here is a diagram of the reproductive structures for a typical flower:

    https://image.shutterstock.com/z/stock-vector-illustration-showing-the-parts-of-a-flower-141162013.jpg

    Plants may be self-fertile (eg they can pollinate themselves), cross-fertile (they must be pollinated by a different plant) or sometimes both.  Different ecological advantages are conferred by each strategy, and what is an advantage in one environment may be a disadvantage in another.  Again – no one solution for any problem in life and survival.

    In general, cross-fertilization confers many advantages over self-fertilization.  If a plant ONLY self-fertilizes, it cannot incorporate new genes into its offspring and therefore may miss out on adaptive traits developed in nearby plants of the same sort.  On the other hand, where vegetation is sparse and widely distributed (such as in a desert), depending on cross-fertilization may mean the plant sets no new seed at all in a given season if nobody happens by to fertilize the plant with pollen from a distant member of the same species.  So what is helpful in one case is harmful in another.

    Bees by and large are most helpful to plants that are dioecious (eg a given member of that species is either male and produces only pollen or female and produces only ova/seed) or monoecious (a flower on an individual plant produces both pollen and ova/seed) but that have developed traits that enforce cross rather than self fertilization.  One such strategy is to have the pollen and ova “ripen” at different times, so that when a bee or other pollinator alight on a flower with mature pollen, the ova on that particular flower are not yet “ripe” eg cannot receive that pollen.  The pollen that sticks to the bee’s legs while it roots around for nectar is then carried off to another plant and only if the bee alights on the flower of a plant of that species whose ova are “ripe” (eg able to receive pollen) will the pollen successfully enter and fertilize the ova/seed.  When the ova are ripe, the pollen is not, and vice versa.  So that most pollination will only occur between different plants.

    There are other ways to solve that problem as well, and some plants seem to do fine self-fertilizing, it just depends on the environment how much of an advantage a different trait may (or may not) confer.  Other plants don’t rely on fertilization at all, or not much, and spread by creating new bulbs or corms, or by sending out runners, so that all new plants created in that way are clones of the parent plant.  Some plants spread both by self-cloning AND setting seed.

    Nature is wonderful and varied, there’s always something surprising and different to be found.  But there is no guiding intelligence, all evolution arises out of interactions between the creature/plant and the environment.  The “environment” includes weather patterns, temperature ranges, other creatures and plants that survive in the area, the amount of light available (such as in a deep canyon or cave that gets little light vs a hilltop or plain with few trees where there is lots of light, and day length which varies depending on distance from the equator).  Predation is also a factor, and plants are “prey” for herbivores as one animal or insect may be prey to another.  Some plants even prey on insects and small mammals (such as the Venus Flytrap).

      Report abuse

  • Addendum to the encyclopedia I already wrote:  WHY FRUIT?

    Fruit is a carrier, a dissemination strategy, for seed, and enhances survivability by spreading the seed sometimes considerable distances from the parent plant.  Good for the child and parent both because such dissemination means the child plant doesn’t have to compete with the parent plant for the same resources.  Spreading out across greater distances means local occurrences such as a forest fire or flood are less likely to kill every member of a species.

    When an animal eats a fruit, it often ingests the seeds as well, and then “poops them out” much later and at some distance from the parent plant, in a perfect little plop of fertilizer to help establish a new seedling even better.  Some seeds have even developed thick coatings that allow the seed to better survive its trip through the gut, and even HAVE to pass through the gut of an animal to remove this coating.  Again, no planning here – it happens randomly and is more likely to persist if it is helpful to survival of the organism.  Fruit is adaptive for both the plant and the animal, since the fruit provides calories, vitamins, and minerals needed by the animal for its better survival.

    Fruits that are more nutritious for an organism enhance that organisms ability to survive and procreate, and the more an organism seeks a fruit out, the more often and more widely the seed of that plant will be disseminated.  Fruits that are not palatable don’t get eaten as often.  And there are some instances where NOT having its fruit eaten is more adaptive in certain situations, so there are plants that have developed unpalatable or even poisonous fruits.  Whatever helps is more likely to stick; whatever harms is more likely to disappear (or cause the extinction of a species).

    So not all seed distribution strategies are good for everyone concerned, and some are dangerous (poison) or annoying to an animal, such as burrs that are uncomfortable or even painful to the creature that gets stuck with one, but nevertheless helpful to the plant since an animal will do its best to rid itself of the seed (and then it can sprout and grow in the new location).  Not all strategies for survival are mutually helpful. Report abuse

  • I’ve sometimes wondered whether evolution by natural selection might be expressed in the broadest possible sense as the principle that complexity emerges be cause well-ordered systems are better at propagating themselves. But then, one might ask, why should this necessarily be the case? Surely the sheer robustness and explanatory power of the theory means that it is not merely tautological. I want to make it clear that I’m not presenting a version of the teleological argument that simply happens to be “one node removed;” rather I am hoping to contribute another layer of depth to the discussion. Report abuse

  • I found the post just before mine fascinating. I will try my best to paraphrase the idea being presented in it to check my understanding, but anyone please feel free to correct me if I am misinterpreting part or all of it. Is the idea essentially that a concatenation of mutations–some of which if isolated would be disadvantageous to the organism–can develop latently without harm to the organism until all the mutations together give the organism an evolutionary advantage? Sorry, by the way, the above sentence  was a much, much wordier way of saying the same thing as the aforementioned post, but hopefully the sentence is at least factually accurate. Report abuse

  • Dear Professor Dawkins,

    I was very interested to read about your interview by New Scientist, published in its issue of 21 September.

    In particular, I was interested by your statement that we need some kind of explanation for the fact that religion is such a ubiquitous phenomenon all over the world.

    I am writing in order to put forward a possible explanation.

    Although brought up as a Roman Catholic, I rejected this religion as a teenager and read physics at university, looking for a rational view of the universe.  Some years later, I studied the historical accounts of mystics, and contemporary accounts of near death experiences [NDEs] looking for a scientific or rational explanation for the religious experiences and practices which seemed to have caused so much damage to my family’s lives.  The answer which I found at that time might explain why religions persist in an otherwise largely rational age.

    As you know, the core religious experience [RE] consists of an ineffable experience in which everything is felt as being ‘one’; that the subject and the universe meld together.  Love, acceptance and compassion are felt to an extraordinary extent.  In one variation, the near death experience, the subject passes through a tunnel, which may be dark, to a bright light.  There may be people, or beings in the light.  The faces of the people may or may not be clearly visible but they are usually very welcoming.  Hands may reach out to the subject.  Some people are aware of a cord linking them to the body.  There is a barrier beyond which the subject understands that the transition will be irreversible.  For a minority of people, the experience may be hellish rather than blissful.

    These experiences are all compatible with memories of being in the womb and of the time of birth, as interpreted at that time by a child without language, clear concepts or any other experiences with which to compare them.  

    Religious experience and the core NDEs are neither hallucinations nor dreams but real memories of real events; of being in the womb and of being born into the light.  These memories are the most fundamental we have, and have huge, overwhelming, emotional impact for us.  Like being in love, they are utterly convincing.  Later, the child may be invited by religions to relive those memories and to impose false interpretations upon them, dependant upon the local religious culture.  

    These experiences are potentially available for all humans regardless of geography, historical era, race or culture.

    If we are capable of remembering our time in the womb or our birth, then why is it that so few of us do so under normal circumstances?  Accounts of the lives of mystics show that evolutionary forces would select strongly against these memories being available.  Mystics rarely have children.  Once people have experienced anything approaching ‘enlightenment,’ typically they spend the rest of their lives trying to recreate the experience, neglecting all other activities and responsibilities. 

    Why, then, do people have access to these memories when they are near to death or under other great stress?  Dr Sam Parnia, a critical care physician, gave the explanation to this when he wrote in his book The Lazarus Effect that, in his experience, amongst people who have come close to death, those who have NDEs tend to do better, medically, than people who do not experience them.  If this is generally the case, evolutionary forces would act in the opposite direction to unblock access to birth memories during extreme stress.  I expect that access to the birth memory limits stress and fear, preventing people from sinking into depression and giving up the will to live. Many NDEs convince their subjects that there is a purpose to their lives which they have yet to fulfil.

    Even people who have only experienced a muted version of RE will often devote considerable time and resources towards developing the experience and trying to understanding it. But the fact that religions are found throughout human culture suggests that this lesser type of experience is very widespread and that the psychological comfort and practical support systems which religion provides exceed its cost in evolutionary terms – as long as the chances of enlightenment remain vanishingly low.  One might speculate that a religion which produced enlightenment in its adherents quickly and reliably would rapidly vanish without trace. 

    The standard method of bringing about religious experience is to banish as far as possible all conscious thoughts and all sensory experience. There may be fasting, immobility, such as Zen sitting, or limited repetitive movements and a restricted, often dark, environment such as a cell or a cave. This, itself, can be seen as an attempt to return to the conditions in the womb.  In the absence of external stimuli, the brain is perhaps more likely to recall its previous experiences under such womb-like conditions – its very oldest memories. 

    In his book, Consciousness Beyond Life, Pim van Lommel, referred briefly to the idea that NDEs might be ante-natal memories but then dismissed it in a few lines on what I consider to be a false premise that the brain is believed to be insufficiently developed at birth to allow for birth to be remembered.  It seems clear that there is now considerable evidence that the foetus can learn while in the womb, and this strongly suggests the formation of memories. 

    “We now know that the unborn child is an aware, reacting human being who from the sixth month on (and perhaps even earlier) leads an active emotional life.  Along with this startling finding we have made these discoveries:

    The foetus can see, hear, experience, taste and, on a primitive level, even learn in utero (that is, in the uterus). Most importantly, he can feel – not with an adult’s sophistication, but feel nonetheless.
    A corollary to this discovery is that what a child feels and perceives begins shaping his attitudes and expectations about himself.  Whether he ultimately sees himself and, hence, acts as a happy or sad, aggressive or meek, secure or anxiety-ridden person depends, in part, on the messages he gets about himself in the womb.
    The chief source of those shaping messages is the child’s mother. This does not mean every fleeting worry, doubt or anxiety a woman has rebounds on her child.  What matters are deep persistent patterns of feeling.  Chronic anxiety or a wrenching ambivalence about motherhood can leave a deep scar on an unborn child’s personality.  On the other hand, such life-enhancing emotions as joy, elation and anticipation can contribute significantly to the emotional development of a healthy child.” 

    [Dr Thomas Verny & John Kelly The Secret Life of the Unborn Child, Foreword]  

    Emotions pass from mother to unborn child, most obviously when the mother is distressed.  More  typically these will be love and acceptance.  People remembering this find the love and acceptance overwhelming and impossible to describe adequately in words – at the time, the child had no words or clearly formed concepts.  The experience of consciousness in the womb forms the basis for the concept of eternity. 

    At the antipodes of the mind, we are more or less completely free of language, outside the system of conceptual thought.  Consequently our perception of visionary objects possesses all the freshness, all the naked intensity, of experiences which have never been verbalized, never assimilated to lifeless abstractions.  Their colour (that hallmark of givenness) shines forth with a brilliance which seems to us praeternatural, because it is in fact entirely natural – entirely natural in the sense of being entirely unsophisticated by language or the scientific, philosophical and utilitarian notions, by means of which we ordinarily re-create the given world in our own drearily human image.”  [Huxley, Heaven and Hell  p 75]

    NDEs and REs are usually positive – as would be womb experiences – but where the mother feels fear, anguish and despair, these emotions will presumably also be transferred to the child – to a child who is too young and inexperienced to put these experiences into any sort of context and so is extraordinarily vulnerable.  According to Verny and Kelly, even a mother’s smoking habit can thrust a child into a chronic state of uncertainty and fear, as smoking lowers the oxygen content of the maternal blood passing across the placenta.  The minority of negative experiences is thus explained.

    “When the visionary experience is terrible and the world is transfigured for the worse, individualization is intensified and the negative visionary finds himself associated with a body that seems to grow progressively more dense, more tightly packed, until he finds himself at last reduced to being the agonized consciousness of an inspissated lump of matter, no bigger than a stone that can be held between the hands.” [Huxley, Heaven and Hell p 108]   

    This sounds to me very like a memory of a distressing time in the womb or birth canal.  There are many references in accounts of NDEs to hands/ pincers/ devils dragging the subject down and these may relate to the process of birth and perhaps the use of forceps.

    Similar distress can be experienced by people practising meditation or mindfulness.  An article in New Scientist [Panic, depression and stress: The case against meditation 13 May 2015] referred to  profoundly adverse effects (including twitching, trembling, panic, disorientation, hallucinations, terror, depression, mania and psychotic breakdown) resulting from meditation for 7% of people on meditation retreats according to David Shapiro of the University of California. 

    “Negative emotions – the fear which is the absence of confidence, the hatred, anger or malice which exclude love – are the guarantee that visionary experience, if and when it comes, shall be appalling.” [Huxley, Heaven and Hell p 109]  

    According to Verny and Kelly, the foetus is sensitive to light from the sixteenth week in utero and his heartbeat will fluctuate dramatically if a torchlight is shone on the mother’s stomach.  Although some light may reach the womb if the mother sunbathes, in most traditional cultures the child is unlikely to experience light until he reaches the birth canal.  This may well be perceived as a light at the end of a dark tunnel (or a tunnel with glistening sides), towards which the child is propelled.  Even where there is a caesarian section, the child will travel into the light, although the theatre lights will presumably be strong enough to illuminate the womb with a reddish light before birth. 

    Figures seen in the light into which the child first emerges on birth may well be endowed by the child with god-like or angelic significance.  These are the first beings whom the child has ever seen, even though he may have sensed the presence of ‘others’ for some months.  He has only 20/500 vision, according to Verny and Kelly, and cannot focus clearly on faces which are not close to his own.  These faces may then be remembered during a RE as unclear or shrouded in mist.

    The first experience of light may occasionally be that a reddish light may reach the womb.  I have read an account of a RE (although I have been unable recently to locate it) in which a man, while travelling in a taxi, experienced being bathed in a warm red light like flame, but which did not burn him and this sounds very much like light reaching the foetus in the womb.  Otherwise, the first experience of light will be in the birth canal.  RE subjects report the beauty and novelty of the colours they see and this may be a memory of being enraptured by their first perception of colour after being born.  Indeed every object seen may be endowed with heightened visual significance, just as perceived by a new-born.

    Many accounts of REs refer to seeing people, beings or objects which seem to shine from within.  A newborn infant knows nothing of the nature of light; of light sources, shadow and reflection.  Any object seen in light might well be assumed to be creating its own light until the baby eventually makes the necessary logical inferences, and this may well be some considerable time after birth.

    REs report floating and also physical constriction – I couldn’t turn my head – I couldn’t move my legs.  Floating would be a memory of being in the womb while physical constriction would be a memory of the birth canal.

    The cord which may link the person experiencing an NDE to the body may be a memory of the umbilical cord.

    Some people who have experienced NDEs have reported that they did not consider the needs of their loved ones at all during the experience – and were surprised or embarrassed to admit it to themselves on reflection afterwards.  This would be consistent with being completely immersed in memories from a time when those relationships did not yet exist.

    Huxley in The Doors of Perception (P19) quoted with approval the views of Dr C D Broad. 
     
    “The suggestion is that the function of the brain and nervous system and sense organs is in the main eliminative and not productive.  Each person is at each moment capable of remembering all that has ever happened to him and of perceiving everything that is happening everywhere in the universe.  The function of the brain and nervous system is to protect us from being overwhelmed and confused by this mass of largely useless and irrelevant knowledge, by shutting out most of what we should otherwise perceive or remember at any moment, and leaving only that very small and special selection which is likely to be practically useful.”  

    I would not go as far as to agree that we can perceive everything in the universe, but I strongly agree that the eliminative role of the brain is considerable.  To offer a very simple example, how is is that so many people with both good vision and the motor skills necessary to write by hand are unable to create an accurate drawing of what is in front of them unless the brain is eliminating most of what they see before it reaches their conscious minds?

    According to research on rats reported in New Scientist 3 December 2016 We may be able to tap into our memories from infancy, memory traces from our earliest years might stay in our brains, ready to be reactivated with the right trigger.  Most people have infantile amnesia which means that they cannot remember incidents from the first two or three years of their lives although a great deal of language and motor skills are obviously learned during that period. 

    Alesso Travaglia at New York University found that 17-day-old rats – equivalent to 2 to 3-year-old children – could learn to associate one side of a box with a shock, but the memory would be gone within a day. Older rats could hold onto these memories for several days.

    “However, the team discovered that the right reminder would prompt young rats’ lost memories to resurface. Once the pups had forgotten to associate one side of the box with a shock, Travaglia and his colleagues gave them another shock. “Suddenly they had the memory back,” says Travaglia. This suggests that the memory is still there, just not normally accessible.   “The study … shows that very early memories in mammals are not lost but stored as latent traces that can be recalled later,” Andrii Rudenko and Li-Huei Tsai of MIT wrote in a comment piece published in the journal Nature Neuroscience.  

    I have little difficulty accepting that some people, at least, can remember gestation, birth and early childhood because of my own earliest memories.  All that I can now remember were traumatic, such as the lancing of a painful boil when I was one year old or the chafing of a rubber nappy cover. There will certainly have also been positive early events, but I cannot recall them.  The earliest direct memory which I can date was of being in a cot placed in an alcove in the living room.  I can remember that I was able to sit up but not stand and that the room was decorated with what I would later understand to be Christmas decorations.  As I was born in June, I must have been six months old.  There was a crowd of people standing in the room talking and laughing.  I wanted to join in and started waving my arms at them, bouncing up and down and gurgling.  They all laughed, but I noticed that one of them laughed in a different way, from which I understood, with a shock, that she was to be feared. 

    My other early memory of note is of a recurring nightmare that I had up until the age of 2 or 3  years which, with hindsight, is probably an indirect memory of the moments immediately after I was born.  In the dream, I am lying on my front on a large flat expanse of white and the fact of perceiving distance across this whiteness terrifies me.  I remember my father sympathising with me after having been woken up by my crying and telling me that he, also, had had a recurring nightmare when he was my age, and that he had called his dream “Near and Far.”  I remember concluding at the time that it sounded like the same dream as mine.  I think that this dream was a memory of being placed on a bed or table immediately after birth, my eyes focussing on distance for the first time, and being disorientated and frightened.

    My conclusion is that religions are a ubiquitous phenomenon because ante-natal memories are potentially available to all people in all cultures throughout the world.  It is unfortunate that religions encourage false interpretations to be placed upon these experiences, but it does explain why adherents, acting in good faith, can be so utterly convinced that they are right, and why they cannot be convinced that their experiences are just imaginary.  Their experiences are real, but their interpretations are not.  

     
    I do not mean to criticise the scientific community when I suggest that scientists might react more constructively to religions by researching and acknowledging the existence of ante-natal memories  in order to explain them to the people who experience them instead of dismissing them as imaginary.
      Report abuse

  • I believe you said that evolution has allowed people near death to access ante-natal memories because people who experience them are more likely to see their condition improve. However, if these people don’t reproduce after having the experience, it would seem that evolution would not favor an adaptation that grants individuals near death access to ante-natal memories. Or, maybe, since people near death are unlikely to reproduce anyway, the adaptation is neutral and thus has been able to be passed down through so many generations. Report abuse

  • Most NDE accounts are obtained from people who have ‘died’ from injuries (including surgery, in the modern world) and often young enough to reproduce. People dying from old age are not generally resuscitated and questioned. Report abuse

  • Hi All. I’ve been gone for a while. This is directed at the Mods and/or any members with knowledge greater than mine in this area. I haven’t been here for a few months but upon my return, now, I see that the comment area is now hideously backlit…or front-lit. I see black text on a deep blue background making it almost impossible for me to read. Is this something in my settings? Surely someone else has had this issue… Report abuse

  • Evolution Knows Physics?

    The eardrum fluctuates under the influence of sound waves and transmits these vibrations to the auditory ossicles of the inner ear.

    Under the pressure of the air coming out of the lungs, the vocal cords converge, stretch and oscillate, causing the voice to appear. Report abuse

  • N Devon says:

    Most NDE accounts are obtained from people who have ‘died’ from injuries (including surgery, in the modern world) and often young enough to reproduce.

    There are various medical conditions which produce what is often described as “near death experiences”.

    https://www.quora.com/As-an-atheist-how-do-you-explain-the-classic-Life-after-death-experiences-in-which-the-person-was-later-revived/answer/Alan-Appleby-4

    The explanations are medical and scientific – so these should be given top consideration rather than any suggestions of credibility for delusional supernatural claims made by the brain-stressed patient or fanciful hangers-on pursuing their own agendas.

    Report abuse

  • Chrystyna,

    Evolution Knows Physics?

    Many words were written above to help you understand a bit about evolution but here you go writing a similarly obtuse statement once again.

    Try to understand that evolution is not a life form. It has no brain and is incapable of any sort of cognition. Evolution cannot “know” physics or anything else for that matter. Relativity cannot “know” the germ theory of disease. Thermodynamics cannot know the Krebs cycle. This makes no sense at all. Stop saying it.

    If you want to participate in discussion then do your own homework and start reading some elementary level science material or at least watch informative videos that are not infected with religious drivel. At least ask questions here that are not simplistic and utterly boring.

    Please up your game forthwith.

     

      Report abuse

  • By the way, since the subject of NDEs came up earlier, would there be anyone interested in discussing various theories in philosophy of mind? I hope this topic falls within the discussion guidelines. Report abuse

  • Evolution IS a product of physics. Yes physics. The drive to complexity and structure emerges from thermodynamics.

    Because our universe is in disequilibrium with huge energy flows from the thorium and uranium fission reactors at the planet’s core and the fusion reactors of every star including our sun, the general increase in chaos, in entropy as we physicists say, that this represents is partially reversed in the creation of little nuggets of order at the very heart of the right level of heat fluxes. Matter organises itself.

     

    Put a pan of water on a hob, set the heat just right and structure appears in the very convection flows of the water. Little hexagonal convection cells like a living crystal form, just big enough to form a sphere, nested in hexagonal arrays. These nuggets of order are of much lower entropy, non-chaotic and they form in effect to actually speed the heat flux itself. It speeds up the winding down of the universe.

     

    Life is exactly a higher level version of this, briefly creating order as the heat from the earth;s core and the heat from the sun pass through into an otherwise wasted oblivion. Evolution is the mechanism by which order is built by thermodynamics, by physics.

     

    Next question, Chrystyna? The evolution of eardrums from vibration sensors? The co-option of jaw bones into mechanical impedance transformers in the ear to improve acoustic coupling. The use of resonant hairs to pick out different frequencies? The application of positive feedback to those hair roots to greatly magnify sensitivity but plague me with tinnitus? The great string of animals at different stages in this development chain showing that different purposes are served for vibration/acoustic sensors depending on their needs? What?

      Report abuse

  • Chrystyna

     

    Here is a biologist talking about physics in the evolution of the mammalian ear and why if taking a physics top down view (teleologically designed to a purpose) some of the physics “choices” made look strange.

    The point is that there is lots of alternative physics that could have been stumbled into and selected by enhanced reproductive fitness, as at least a bit better.

     

    https://acousticstoday.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/The-Mammalian-Ear-Physics-and-the-Principles-of-Evolution.pdf Report abuse

  • 23
    maria melo says:

    Chrystyna ´s wonderings is  the “illusion of design”, she could enance her comphreension of such “illusion” by Reading, Watching the Blind Watchmaker, climbing Mount Improbable, or even to watch Professor Dawkins ´ documentaries and Christmas lectures.

    https://youtu.be/BV2XqYBVLU4

     

  • 25
    maria melo says:

    In particular, I was interested by your statement that we need some kind of explanation for the fact that religion is such a ubiquitous phenomenon all over the world.

    N Devon on comment 9

    I  would like to read your explanation (to see if its biased).

    You ´d need to have comparative knowledge  of all cultures (that ever existed, that´s impossible), you d need to define “religion” in first place.

    You d need to ask why is the use of cell phones , cars of even signs of trafic so “ubiquitous”?

    If as “religion” you are referring to a specific set of supernatural beliefs, why did the RCC established a court to abolish withcraft or heresy? (supernatural beliefs and even to prossecut scientists, why weren t them tolerant to “religious beliefs” of others?  

    In some interview to the Play Boy I think, Prof Dawkins referred to Jay´s Gould´s NOMA, once again, (Non Overlaping Magisteria), which he didn´t agree with, which would be in fact an intrommission into the operational concepts of social sciences and the important concept of “total social fact” (Neil de Grasse Tyson made a reprisal to scientists hiding behind NOMA, what would allow some reputed scientists to be physists and leaders of religious congregations, what was really the case that hapened in Portugal when a well reputed scientist  invoqued NOMA, just as an argument of authority of another reputed scientist Jay Gould).

    Non overlapping magisteria? Really?

      Report abuse

  • 26
    maria melo says:

    Than, there s another problem, Ethnology doesn t use comparative methods, it aims to understand a culture as it is, I m afraid.

    I m not going to study the “science” of amazonian tribes for instances and compare them to rocket science. Why are people so interested in “religion” and not in other cultural aspects? Report abuse

  • 28
    maria melo says:

    Anthropology found its Galileo in Rivers, its Newton in Mauss.
     
    — Claude Lévi-Strauss
     
    Referring to anthropologists W.H.R. Rivers and Marcel Mauss for revolutionizing theories of anthropology. In Structural Anthropology (1958), 159.
     

  • 31
    maria melo says:

    Although brought up as a Roman Catholic, I rejected this religion as a teenager and read physics at university, looking for a rational view of the universe.  Some years later, I studied the historical accounts of mystics, and contemporary accounts of near death experiences [NDEs] looking for a scientific or rational explanation for the religious experiences and practices which seemed to have caused so much damage to my family’s lives.  The answer which I found at that time might explain why religions persist in an otherwise largely rational age.

    N Devon on comment 9

    Hi N Devon,

    People become conditioned by the beliefs where she/he was brought up, if not having a balanced education, the person is even much more vulnerable, perhaps not you that had access to a scientific education and a balanced one so that the same beliefs didn´t affected or conditioned you in the same way.

     

     

    What is perhaps “universal” are cognitive stages, and there s one when we are vulnarable to magical thinking in an early age, as categorized by Piaget.

    https://www.britannica.com/science/magical-thinking

    Perhaps it affects people in distress (as a child that finds herself alone because parents were dead in war draws a parental figure and lays next to it, or the rupestre art that is thought to be magical, hunters depicted their prey not because they were drawing a biological description of animals, but because they thought of a causal connection between the drawing and their intention of hunting the prey, or other causes that triggers this superstious thinking. A dog, as I ve read from an ethologist may be supertious too, when the dog barks at the door its because  is making a superstitious causal connection, if  it barks, someone will appear next side of the door?)

     

     

      Report abuse

  • 33
    maria melo says:

    The baby begins to learn about the world by testing objects with mouth and sensing them, de-connecting the experience with herself/hiself and learning and in balanced way  des-centering . Learning is perhaps creating the right distance between the object of experience (the distance lactant/object), distance that becomes useful in scientific experimentation and rejecting what´s not objective.

    Religion, by the way in it s ethiological sense seems to be there for the opposite reason, it means re-connecting with oneself-or deity, curious isn´t it? (perhaps yoga is good for it, I know this because once I was interested in yoga in my teens). Report abuse

  • Religion doesn’t allow me to “connect with myself” in any way, shape or form. Try looking at how very human religion has been, and how it has brought to the surface the flaws of the human brain. Then it becomes apparent that it is a bunch of made up stories consisting of superstitious nonsense that was invented by primate mammals who thought the world was flat.

    Seriously, some Ockham’s razor, please. Report abuse

  • We all know that animals are more evolved than plants. We also know that there is no shortage of sunlight. Then why the power of photosynthesis was eliminated from animals by natural selection.  If all living beings can prepare his own food then there is no need to kill another living being either it is a plant or an animal. Also there is no need of food chain. Report abuse

  • 36
    maria melo says:

    Seriously, some Ockham’s razor, please.

     

    More, means drawing NOTHING.I m really short in my way of writing, have you noticed that?

    More would be saying NOTHING.

    Can you imagine that?

  • 37
    maria melo says:

    Then it becomes apparent that it is a bunch of made up stories consisting of superstitious nonsense that was invented by primate mammals who thought the world was flat.

    Than it was necessary that the right men that knew how to test the world around them in an objective way to aknowledge that the world was round,  I guess, because the other buch of humans couldn´t think of na objective way to test?

  • 39
    maria melo says:

    There Was a sociologist that categorized “scientists” of two types, one type: those Who Live as IF they are living in an ivory tower, so high that they look At Their human fellows not as equals, but almost as deities, looking from high, and the other type, interested to know about the second de type? Report abuse

  • BH UPADHYAYA

     

    Though I suspect you want to make some moral point, there are answers to your first question.

    First, photosynthesis is notoriously inefficient, typically less than 1% typically.

    Evolution exploits what is available. Moving around, being animate, an animal, frees you to exploit better sources and locations of energy. But it also requires very much more energy than plants need to do the moving.

    A hunter-gatherer may typically expend 100 Watts of power on average through the day, but he will be lucky to intercept as much energy in sunlight on his body at that rate especially in winter, Then at 1% conversion efficiency the energy shortfall if we only photosynthesised would be stark. Eating plants is a great way of getting concentrated solar energy into us. Eating other animals that ate plants concentrated the energy even more.

    Now we can make highly energetic food in entirely other ways. Mycoproteins don’t even need light and are very energy dense. Report abuse

  • 41
    maria melo says:

    The two characters, Prometheus on the first example (sacríficed himself for the love of humanity:

    Pearse English says: September
    Hi Maria, I certainly see the point you raise from the great Carl Sagan. He could be so right. It might take further evolution for the thoughts I have written to materialise or not. Yet when President John F. Kennedy said at the beginning of 1960 ‘s that he envisaged a man on the moon by the decades end he was even looked upon with scepticism by the scientific community at the time. Yet it came to pass. Who knows what our future as a species holds but we have the intelligence to create and make things happen on a monumental scale, when you see what we have done down the centuries from the pyramids to monster aircraft like the Airbus and space travel however much in its infancy. Discoveries can happen quickly yet take time for the seed to fully develop. I am now 60 and as a child would never have even dreamt of being able to own or use a computer! Being able here to share with you all, my some might say, inane thoughts would have to be seen to be believed. The computer developed with the help of  one of my heroes Alan Turing in and around WWII is now with the microchip common in more homes than not. That in just a few short decades. I recall seeing a news clip from the early 90’s I think of sending email by phone and computer by dial up. That was a tedious process yet 10 short years afterwards we couldn’t believe how fast and everyday it has become via broadband and now fiber optics.
    Being able to travel to say Australia from the UK in 24 hours today when only at the beginning of the 20th century took weeks by boat. I’m sure so many other examples exist. So yes maybe Carl Sagan is right and it will be a further evolution that might achieve the thoughts I have. But then given the enormous leaps that we born in the last 100 years have seen, who knows. The next generation will be the most educated that our species has produced given the opportunities to advance and their intellect might show and discover things unimaginable to us. Let us embrace our young, educate them, I’d argue without fees, as they are our future and let us behold their wondrous insight as we did the likes of our scientific heroes today. I am of an age when at 13 in school teachers scorned upon the Big Bang as impossible even. Now it is mainstream scientific fact. So evolution of ideas, thought and species can happen slowly but also quickly. And indeed Carl was a hero to me as are all our free thinking scientists. The future can be bright even with some unbelieving politicians in natural events being affected by us. I live in hope and hope the universe can continue to reveal itself to an intelligence that can interpret it and guide us in what it reveals. That might happen as Carl says slowly but might like John F. Kennedy’s wish and our unfeathered education of our young, maybe faster. Who knows, yet it is truly a wonderful journey and a journey none of us should despair of I feel.

     

    Faust, the second example (sold his soul to the devil and benefited from it):

    Religion doesn’t allow me to “connect with myself” in any way, shape or form. Try looking at how very human religion has been, and how it has brought to the surface the flaws of the human brain. Then it becomes apparent that it is a bunch of made up stories consisting of superstitious nonsense that was invented by primate mammals who thought the world was flat.
    Seriously, some Ockham’s razor, please.

    Comment 34 by Centauri, October

    https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0160791X84900198

     

     

     

     

     

  • 42
    maria melo says:

    Sorry Centauri, are you a careful learner, have you seen the post with the link for a vídeo I have posted here? What  Were the methological difficulties the anthropologist  referred to concerning The difficultiesf of a definition of religion, The holístic view of Anthropology? The concept of total social fact? Im making my  efforts tô teach, I m serious. Report abuse

  • Hello Stephen of Wimbledon [#19],

    I’ve already begun to perceive your attempts to inject some humor into the conversation. Now, about philosophy of mind, I was going to bring up a rather disturbing thought I had the other day. Many people are instinctively repelled by the idea that certain things they possess immediate access to–e.g., beliefs, desires, perceptions, etc.–constitute nothing. But, if the nature of “nothing” is unknowable, how can one rule out the possibility that the posits of folk psychology referenced above amount to nothing?

    Anyway, the thought I just expressed is probably unpersuasive and full of contradictions. Maybe someone will take the trouble to dismantle it and point out some of the inconsistencies embedded in it for me. Report abuse

  • 45
    maria melo says:

    What s philosophy of mind? I know cognitive Ethology studies The mind of animals, but not all the People think animals have minds, I Believe not only a dog hás a mind but that in some circumstances it can predict what I m going tô do next.
    Observe the observed observer Report abuse

  • In the Philosophy of mind debate, I am a physicalist, monist.

     

    Xanadu (or Justice) is real when it inhabits minds, which it does distinctively, with brain states like thus and so. It is merely latent as topological configurations on a surface or within a volume, a book say, and were there no minds to reflate it into existent brain states, it could not be said to currently exist. The topological configurations could though be said to exist.

     

    Mental stuff is actually physical stuff… which is the real wonder… Report abuse

  • 47
    maria melo says:

    Mental stuff is actually physical stuff… which is the real wonder…

    Pardon me my ignorance, but I don t see it otherwise either, if I get the point.

    When Antonio Damasio thought he could study emotions from  a scientific perspective his collegues thought it was impossible because emotions were subjective and there was no way of studing emotions from an objective scientific perspective, well, nothing could be more wrong, emotions can be  defined now as functions of an organ, as far as the heart pumps blood, some part of the brain “pumps emotions”, and the same kind of emotions are even the same across different species (as far as the heart of a frog, nevertheless different from an elephant, still is an organ that pumps blood. (Marc Bekoff´s description that made it clear for me once for all, in the  book “The Emotional Life of Animals”).

    Even if you don´t think emotions as “objective” stuff,
    well it seems emotions really are objective stuff. Report abuse

  • 49
    maria melo says:

    Dear Professor Dawkins,
    I was very interested to read about your interview by New Scientist, published in its issue of 21 September.
    In particular, I was interested by your statement that we need some kind of explanation for the fact that religion is such a ubiquitous phenomenon all over the world.
     

    N Devon, comment 9

    Dear N Devon, dear  Professor Dawkins (and others that share the same wonder: “religion” as an ubiquitous phenomenon all over the world), please consider Reading this critique, and perhaps finding yourself some other limitations of the “ubiquitous phenomenon”.

     

    Hope you enjoy the Reading as much as I do.

    http://www.anthrobase.com/Browse/home/hst/cache/bocomp.html

     

      Report abuse

  • 50
    maria melo says:

     

    I m looking to a new curricular unit and it´s Curriculum in my former Un. Institution and wish I could learn from it, I know the former lecturer, wish I could learn because religion was one of my interests actually (at the time I was a student there, there was no such curricular unit.
    We should be able to go back and choose what we want to study untill our 90´s)
     

    http://netpa.iscsp.ulisboa.pt/inscri/doc?stage=FichaUnidadeCurricular&_event=publicacaoFUC&anoLectivo=201920&codeDiscip=9448406&docIsAttachment=false&popup_mode=true

  • Hi maria.

    I know we are both fans of Damasio. I hold in very high regard his ideas about interior experience, about the importance of emotional engagement to make rational decisions meaningful, coherent and effective.

    Thanks also for the linked PDF on consciousness in animals. I have long accepted that the avian pallium may be the equivalent of a neo-cortex. Evolution “invented” eyes at least eight times and ears possibly twenty times, quite independently. I have no reason not to believe the same for the general purpose inferential engine of a neo-cortex extracting meta data from the senses and modelling likely future sensory data to be more intelligently and speedily engaged in its environment.

    We have only recently discovered quite how efficiently compact the neural wiring of birds is. The selection pressure for lightness and energy efficiency has driven the neural equivalent of Moore’s Law. Miniaturising neurons like miniaturising transistors on computer chips is continually virtuous increasing processing speed and dropping energy requirements until the limits of physics are reached. Birds can do more with seemingly less.

    My own studies (I am hoping for a return to University to do another degree) now strongly leverage ideas of neuro-constructivism. These analyse how neurons are put together before and after birth. How neural wiring is particularly dependent on everything in the neuron eco-system especially the flow of data presented. Born with uniquely undeveloped and premature brains we are wired (irretrievably) very substantially in cultures. Genes give us neuron types to choose from but neural plasticity and happenstance most often decides what actually gets linked up and what separated.

    One of the first neuro-constructivist books “How Emotions are Made” by Professor Lisa Feldman Barrett, actually argues that apart from primary physical emotional affects (fight or flight etc.) the rest of what gets described as emotions are astonishingly variable between cultures, precisely for neuro-constructivist reasons and that individuals can be astute, detailed observers of such emotion, or notably coarse-grained.

    I suspect this would sit well with Damasio and his intuitive division of visceral bodily emotions from the fine grained “feelings” arrived at through introspection. Barrett adds cultural wiring to actualise and fix some of these introspections. Report abuse

  • 52
    maria melo says:

    One of the first neuro-constructivist books “How Emotions are Made” by Professor Lisa Feldman Barrett, actually argues that apart from primary physical emotional affects (fight or flight etc.) the rest of what gets described as emotions are astonishingly variable between cultures, precisely for neuro-constructivist reasons and that individuals can be astute, detailed observers of such emotion, or notably coarse-grained.

    previous comment

    Thanks for your comment, I took some tips from it you and  watched a TED Talk “You Aren´t at the Mercy of your Emotions”.

    She referred to defeat as a chechenian cultural meaning  for  the  “stone” face of the chechenian terrorist boy.

    That´s kind of gross headlines in sensacionalist newspapers, one would have to make sense of all information and connect it, and not as something completly new, but something that can help to connect to our former knowledge.

    I doubt that we cannot read emotions in faces (you would just need to look at a chimpanzee s surprise face´for instance or other expressions to guess emotions are harwired and have a precise expression).

    But certainly you know more about it than me.

    I think Dr. Kim Bard  could link all the scientific new data and connect it and give some answers to my doubts, but not in such  gross headlines. I would like to know for instances about “universal” emotions in different cultural environments (philogenetic behaviour). Report abuse

  • Hi Phil Rimmer [46],

    Forgive my ignorance, but I was mystified by what you said about topological configurations. If this is possible, could you perhaps explain what the above phrase means to a layman? I also wanted to say that I think your post contains exactly the kind of esoteric hypothesis that any properly worthwhile discussion thread ought to explore. Report abuse

  • I doubt that we cannot read emotions in faces (you would just need to look at a chimpanzee s surprise face´for instance or other expressions to guess emotions are harwired and have a precise expression).

    And yet we may well get it wrong. You have to remember the arms race of being deceptive about about your state of mind to wrong foot your adversary/predator/competitor and their needing to coopt other factors to assess what you may actually be feeling and intending. Also that salesmen need to convince themselves before they can truly effectively sell to others.

    In Mindwise by Professor Nicholas Epley he shows how we understand the state of mind of others with only 20% reliability though we ourselves feel much more certain. Even long partnered couples only achieve 40%. Yet even this low score is enough to get socialising started.

    I think Professor Bard is a neuro-constructivist in the making.

    Her studies of social cognition suggest that humans and great apes share a large degree of plasticity, especially in early socio-emotional communicative abilities. 

    It is precisely the plasticity, of neural wiring contingently within a cultural flux, that can produce emotional divergence, most particularly between isolated cultures but also between the (genetically) cognitively diverse within a culture. And to repeat, those big visceral emotions like those underlying fight or flight, of fear and and anger, are not the issue hear, though aspects of their presentation and management may be culturally modulated. Report abuse

  • Hi Josiah.

     

    Thanks for the question.

    It does look a little highfalutin (pretentious). But I wanted a phrase that covered a lot of possibilities. At base it means a singular (joined up) structure having a particular shape. I chose it to stand for books or paintings or sculptures or models or binary code on a magnetic disc, or charge clustered on a chip. All these are ways that Xanadu can be stored and transferred between minds. But a reality for Xanadu, say, can only be said to exist when it exists in a mind for which it has meaning, one that has the cultural processes and knowledge to reconstruct it. Without such minds those topological configurations of the poem and its imagined place, lose their character. To alien minds they may be partially or entirely inaccessible.

    Xanadu, an imagined place, is a mental artefact. But it has a physical reality in the brain states of certain minds. Without those minds it loses (perhaps irretrievably) the most important aspect of its physical reality. Report abuse

  • Hello,

    I came here to see if I could comment on Mr Dawkins defining a religious belief as a delusion, to be honest, but got hooked on the open discussions threads. An alluring read. Thank you

    However, about that delusion though. Personally I think that most of those with a strong religious belief actually have no such. What they believe is simply some other person’s words. They believe what someone else told them about god. They believe a story of a stranger, or a relative/friend/book/etc. Nothing more.  Nothing religious about it really. Spellbound by a story-telling talent Who’s got his ‘belief’ from another story weaving talent, in most cases. Like someone told you, for example, that a particular internet provider was better than the others, and you believed that tell. It’s not religious.

    It’s probably not a mental disorder – a delusion, if I got the word’s meaning right – but a mere weakness of the mind. Or its laziness, or lack of training / education / habit of a critical comprehension.

    Not to mention that I myself believe in god. Or rather to put it more precisely that this world was created. And I am not delusional )  And thusly my belief is rational. Although it is possibly a conclusion rather than belief. I think the ‘evolution’ has taken no place, but all was created in stages, and the last phase of the creation – the world as it is now – has been in existence without evolutionary changes. So a Creator – yes, a God – no, and Religion – Non-religious, and not delusional, but persuasive or coercive

  • Hi Ujin007.

    Welcome. Please stay as long as you want and feel free to ask any questions.

    Thanks for your comments. They prompt a few questions from me.

    Are there any areas concerning the emergence of a universe, the emergence of life or its development through evolution that you find incredible?

    Do you generally trust experts?

    Do you think consensus among scientists represents a consensus among experts?

    Of course we’d like to give it a shot to change your minds on some things. Its a main reason we are here. Its exactly those potential problems you may have that exercise our minds so. Report abuse

  • Hi Ujin007 [57],

    I’m curious: what specifically is your objection to the theory of evolution by natural selection? I can’t blame you if you find it an implausible explanation for the emergence of life;  I certainly can’t get myself to believe it the same way I believe the hand in front of me is mine. Nonetheless, since we are merely highly intelligent organisms and not divine beings capable of contemplating the universe sub specie aeternitatis, we must be careful not to reject a theory on the ground that it appears to go against common sense. Or do you want to be sacrificed on the same altar as Thomas Nagel? Report abuse

  • 61
    maria melo says:

    This TEDX Talk is more my genre (type), I considered it more balanced, not sensionalist-

    If there s something wrong about our former knowledge, that´s not new (“we know by opposition to our former knowledge, we think now what we haven´t thought before” Gaston Bachelard, my free translation).

    But, by the way, I ve never heard of the idea that we cannot learn in an elderly age, as I ve said I had a Professor in his 70´s and he had the duty to still learn, as he said to his students. Sociology refers that socialization endures for our entire life. This Professor in his 70´s actually said that just in severe cases the cognitive structures (not fixed as Kant supposed, and contrary to Piaget) can be affected, I stress severe cases, perhaps  as the case of “the wolf boy”, psychiatry on the other hand maybe the responsive for this and other “myths”.

    I recognize this “myth” had become a cliché, in courts for instances.

    https://youtu.be/GgtLyYCpFsU

     

     

  • Ujin007  #57:  I too hope you will continue to share your thoughts with us.

    You say that you believe that “this world” (I assume you mean the cosmos, not simply the planet earth) was created and that everything therein was created in stages.  I wonder if you could explain the basis of that belief, can you point to any evidence to support it?
        
    I think a better case could be made that everything we see is here because of a natural process that does not require any supernatural intervention.  In my opinion, the necessity of a supreme being to explain the workings of the natural world began to unravel when, in 1543, Copernicus published his work demonstrating that the earth is not the center of the cosmos.  In the next century, Kepler discovered how it is that the planets move around the sun.  In the 1800s, Charles Darwin discovered how living things evolved into their present form.  Richard Dawkins has continued that work.  Physicists like Einstein, Steven Hawking. Victor Stenger, and Lawrence Krauss help us understand how matter came into being and arranged itself in the way we see today.  Does science explain everything?  No, but science continues to ask questions and search for answers, and the more scientists search, the answers they find are natural.
               
    I’d like to suggest a book that you might find interesting — Carl Sagan’s The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark.  Although I realized decades ago that I am an atheist, Sagan helped me articulate my disbelief and realize that there is rational basis for what I “knew” intuitively, i.e. that neither God nor Santa Claus are real.  There is a myriad of other authors who have written in the recent past to explain complex science in terms we can all understand.
             
    Again, stick around, test your ideas and force me and the others to test our ideas.

  • Interesting talk. Thank you for it. My French isn’t great but having just come back from the pub I seemed to understand it quite well.

    I believe we can continue to learn into old age. I am old and expect to go back to University to do an MSc.

    I think the mode of our learning changes as we age. I think modes like repair are facilitated, even when they involve new channels for existing capacities. BUT they are unlikely to involve new capacities. IF you have not experienced near coincident vision from two healthy eyes, developed on your visual cortex of the alternate left and right stripe of the of those two slightly different views then you will not develop the brain wiring in the layer immediately behind that creates the sensation of stereoscopic vision. Chronotopy is the gatekeeper for each type of neural, cultural configuring.  If you don’t have your squint fixed early enough your brain  will have forever lost the possibility of stereo vision.

    Pierre-Marie Lledo works with olfaction and the regeneneration of these very primitive (tiny and easily damaged) neurons. . I think these types of repair are to be expected. I think we have seen not only the wireless replacement of motor neurons with the paralysed but also (in a notable Russian athlete’s case) the coopting of sensory, afferent nerves to replace motor nerves damaged in a spinal injury. Repairing what once worked is very much a capacity we have.

    Old folk like me still learning seems to be similarly enabled. Once you have the ability to use general purpose capacities like  the cultural tools of language and logic and maths and still have a viable memory then new thinking (learning something) using those tools is enabled with very little extra effort. You will need to rehearse your new capacities regularly though.

      Report abuse

  • 64
    maria melo says:

    You can activate English  subtitles, I ve just shared because English subtitles are available.
    I m going to read the poem Xanadu, you were there commenting with a poetic inspiration it seems (I ve just read “Justice”).

      Report abuse

  • 65
    maria melo says:

    Uijin 007,

     

    Hi Uijin 007, 

    I think you are new here?

    Found your comment intriguinging,  if not intriguing original at least, but an ethnographer  would  write what you think about yourself and confess him/she (as part of their method).

    Imagine that some time ago an ethnographer has been to my work place, seat near us observing us, then  did the same in the Parliament, and he wrote exactlly what we and others told  about ourselves, the Parliament politicians interviewed thought they were living in some kind of jungle, how  funny sounded the ethnographic method. Report abuse

  • 66
    maria melo says:

    Some time ago, Let s say a year ago, not some time ago, I guess.

    I Was só Fortunate because I Was one of The few People that received an authographed book in a later visit because I showed interest in his work, that Was discussed on a TV debate too. Report abuse

  • 67
    maria melo says:

     

    Sat, not seat

    Hi Uijin 007, again,

     

    And right now, it s my turn on you, the community where you belong to certainly is not geographically or politically isolated (because you are commenting on the internet) from the rest of the world, but they seem to have  built an island to isolate themselves from the rest of humanity, how sad is that? when recentely I ve seen amazonian indians in an emotional discourse saying they were fighting to save Amazon, not only because it´s their homeland, but because they are fighting for the rest of us too (an healthy environment should be a human right too).

    How sad is that to hear from you that you seen to have made an island to isolate yourself from the rest of humanity?

    Aren t you prescribed with antibiotics when have a desease? (a scientific achievement)

    Some amazonian indians even go to a school of medicine to help their isolated fellows in the tribe, they maybe geographically isolated, but they know the meaning of humanity (in fact, Yanomani means “humans”, I guess).

    It is a fundamental right for a child to have a balanced education to help him/her to develop in a balanced way as a full human being, not to become hostil and isolated from the rest of humanity, it s History and achievements, including science, not that all people will become  scientists, nor historians, but so that they may choose whatever profession they want in future, know their origins and the real world around them, not a fairy tale garden.

     

    So, that´s my point, thanks for letting me know yours, because I really appreciated that you join us to comment.

     

      Report abuse

  • 69
    maria melo says:

    Beautiful poem by the way, from the internet souce actually

     

    Empire Jun 9
    Human
    I suppose
    In my sudden
    And terribly jarring realization
    That I am, in fact, human
    I was struck by how utterly terrifying
    Being human is
    And not just fear of mortality
    But the understanding
    Of what I am capable of
    And I’ve since learned
    That once perfection is no longer an option,
    Everything else becomes
    Horribly intriguing
    #human #perfection #

     

    Source https://hellopoetry.com/words/intriguing/ Report abuse

  • Hello All,

    Just joined tonight and tbh find the navigation of the site a little confusing. But that’s ok I’ll figure it out and look forward to sharing thoughts and ideas with you all going forward.

    Cheers,

    Ian Report abuse

  • Hi Josiah [#44],

    I apologise for my slow response, I’m not very bright.

     … about philosophy of mind … Many people are instinctively repelled by the idea that certain things they possess immediate access to–e.g., beliefs, desires, perceptions, etc.–constitute nothing.

    I’ll have to take your word for that.  I can’t say that I’ve actually come across anyone saying they are repelled by their own thought processes.

    I have seen plenty of circumstantial evidence that many people avoid thinking – they rarely say why and I have therefore formed an untested hypothesis; thinking causes some people actual physical pain and, perhaps, in some cases, a level of confusion that is the root of multiple psychoses resulting in distress.

    I further hypothesise that for a large minority, bordering perhaps on a small majority, this tactic of ‘think-avoidance’ has an instinctive root.  I call this group the Brain Exits Right Stage group because, when anything more complex than, for example, agreeing with the last person who said something they agree with is called for, their brains appear to exit stage right – I call them Brexiters, for short.

    Is being a Brexiter the same thing as thinking that thoughts are nothing?

    It is sometimes said that the only thing that computers actually do is turn electrical energy into heat.  A nice corollary to that, if your hypothesis is correct, would be that brains do something similar – turning chemical energy into heat, and nothing more.  This is certainly true for my proposed Brexiters.

    But can we really believe that?  Do we believe that our thoughts, that knowledge, are/is worthless – a nothing?

    Does my ability to spell have an effect on my ability to put bread on my table.  Does my dodgy grasp of grammar prevent me from communicating effectively.  Has my knowledge of how to use and care for a hatchet kept me and my companions warm on a cold winter’s night.  You do not know me personally, so I will add: Yes, these are mere rhetorical questions.

    I conclude, lacking any counter-evidence, that at least most of my thoughts have practical implications in the physical world beyond my brain, that my thoughts are as real as a hatchet.

    Now, to be clear, you chose some specific classes of thinking:

    Beliefs
    Desires
    Perceptions

    There are, I feel sure you will agree, many people who hold untrue beliefs.  Does that mean that their thinking is as nothing?  For example: You decide to leave a club, of which you have been a member for some years, telling the other members that you are leaving in order to set up shop in competition with them.  You believe that this should not upset the other club members in any way and that they will simply roll over and give you whatever you request as part of your parting agreement.  Is this belief sound.  Yet such beliefs are held by many, and such beliefs directly affect you and me.

    Beliefs are not always founded on facts or even, as above, logic.

    I conclude from this that beliefs are a form of thinking that have real consequences in our World – and can have negative effects where they are based on, say, fantasies.

    Desires are a natural part of what we are, we have lusts that drive us – first and foremost – and thinking that is not directly associated with satiation are usually reducible to long term planning for later sating.  Biology teaches us that there are lusts within us, and also beyond our conscious perception.  In society at large we also see hidden agenda, hidden desires, but they’re not necessarily beyond our perception, we just need to study to find  them.

    Facts will always find out the liar.  Parallel thinking will make hidden motivations less opaque.  But, in order to achieve such enlightenment we must, ourselves, have the motivation – we must desire truth and a real perception of the real World.  My Brexiters have the opposite problem, they are motivated to simply believe.  Many, indeed, give every appearance of desiring things that will harm them and their children.  The selfish gene is not all it’s cracked up to be, perhaps.

    Beliefs, of course, can support or undermine our desires and where our thinking is poor we will be manipulated by those with different beliefs and desires – including, but not limited to, getting screwed over.  I refer you to the excellent book *The Big Short* one real life example which spells out how the American poor and middle class were royally screwed, to the tune of many hundreds of billions of dollars, by the American rich.  Some foreigners got screwed too – but nobody cares about them.

    Desires then are a clear example of our minds shaping the World around us to satisfy our needs.  They are real.  They are not nothing.

    Perception is usually the word we use to describe the World as we see, hear, smell, taste and touch it.  What we perceive, in the immediate and now sense, is our brain’s interpretation of sense inputs.  Are our perceptions nothing or are they real?  Well, we wouldn’t live very long, and our species would go extinct pretty quickly if our brains and senses – together – weren’t at least giving us a very close approximation of reality.  In this sense our perceptions are very far from nothing.

    There is, of course, another meaning to perception; our intuitive understanding, our interpretation of facts.

    A Brexiter’s intuitive perception is a form of disability.  I have observed that their lack of the ability to think beyond their immediate sense-perception e.g. that if some people say the same things repeatedly and loudly (which they mistake for authoritatively) they must be true.  The beliefs that they form on that basis leave them open to flagrant fraud.  But they cannot break out of their straight-jacket thinking because of their fear of pain and/or severe distress if they have to face facts, change their beliefs, or admit that they trusted someone who has lied to them continuously (we’ve circled back to *The Big Short*).  It is very sad but, for many, there appears to be no cure.  The slightly rude term *dog whistle politics* is a natural fit for Brexiters.

    Intuitive perceptions, then, have real consequences in the real World.  It may be that, on occasion, these perceptions have positive consequences but, where they lack a factual basis – or are propagated by those who’s actions are not directed by the interests or welfare of anyone else – I observe that the consequences are routinely negative.

    To me, that makes beliefs, desires and perceptions real – and not nothing.

    Philosophically, we could take a tangent and consider the fact that the observable Universe is vast, mostly hostile to our very existence and shows no sign of caring if we thrive, or not.  Add to this the apparent futility of any one individual life in the above universe and we seem to be faced with a choice between nihilism, fantasies of escape from the brutal realities we see, or embracing the existential absurdity of life.

    In the context of absurdity, our thoughts, our beliefs, our perceptions and especially our desires are only for the here and now.  Their shelf life is the same, pretty much, as ours.  But that doesn’t make them any less real.

     … the nature of “nothing” is unknowable …

    Indeed so.

    I will go further: Nothing is a human concept that does not exist outside of human minds (as far as we know). It is useful only in helping us define things (the not nothings).  In the sense that our desires exist as real things, as hidden driving forces that shape the physical World, so too is nothing.  Unlike desires, or perceptions – and very like beliefs – nothing is a useful thinking tool that may, or may not, have a real counterpart.  A nothing has never been observed, and the smart bet is therefore that nothing is, literally, nothing.

    Can we conclude from this the we’re capable of thoughts that are nothing?  Well, it’s certainly true of nothings themselves.  How about falsehoods?  My take on that is that, as above, falsehoods that are believed, or which are perceived to be desirable, are frequently misused by the unscrupulous to screw the Brexiters of this World.  Nothing thinking is in a set of one – but not thinking is common, and dangerous.

     … how can one rule out the possibility that the posits of folk psychology .. amount to nothing?

    By objective inquiry.

    And, if any folk psychology is thus shown to be founded in objective truth, we will add it to our store of knowledge.  But not before.

    Peace.

    Disclaimer: Any similarities between my hypothesis that many people cannot think, or are afraid to think, or find thinking physically painful, or distressing and British people who think the gigantic cost to them, their children and their grandchildren – but not the rich – of leaving the most successful international club for peace, prosperity and progress ever conceived and created is a good deal … are purely coincidental.  They should, nevertheless, be taken seriously.  I’ll see you all, I hope, on the 19th. Report abuse

  • https://www.peoples-vote.uk/march_for_final_say

    I’ll be there, Stephen.

     

    That most don’t like to think is possibly the result of one of the most primitive drivers for life that screw us over even today. Conserving energy.

    Brains are use it or lose it because they are expensive to run. When calories were tight our brains only worked on what we now know as heuristics. This is simple Bayesian neural conditioning creating good enough automatic responses with the least circuitry. In the last ten thousand years particularly, however, calories became increasingly reliable in supply and (for the richer few at least) culture created thinking tools to better discern reality. Sufficient leisure and food lets us grow spectacularly with the cultural thinking tools of language and logic, accumulated knowledge and its application.

    But cultures can let us down as well as build us up. We can get by on heuristics alone in the complex self-running machine of competent enough societies. That old habit of energy saving runs very deep. Brains, under used, really do lose it. And like every domesticated animal, our shrinking neural autonomy, puts us in the hands of those who would keep us on that path.

      Report abuse

  • 74
    maria melo says:

    … about philosophy of mind … Many people are instinctively repelled by the idea that certain things they possess immediate access to–e.g., beliefs, desires, perceptions, etc.–constitute nothing.

    Our thoughts are not “things” as a table or a chair.

    Language  is a “superstructure”, Umberto Eco would compare it to a hive: when bees construct hives, they do not begin by consctucting from the basis,  but from the above (a methaphor), Plato would think, and even be very annoyed by people that don t speak of “things” (chair, table etc.)

     

    By oppostion to economy, based on  real stuff, our ideas and creativity  is built from  upon.

    Economy is seen as an “infrastructures”, and politics and ideas as a “superstructure”.

     

    Marx would say, it is the material that determines our ideas by opposition to Hegelian idealism. For instances political ideologies may determine economy (political ideas are  superstructures, contrasting economy, the basis).

    Which one determines the other?

     

    Language however constitutes “nothing” when I signal you and you don´t get my signal. even so, perhaps its something rather than nothing. As a linguist how more discourse I analyse how more I  relate ideas and can draw a system of values.

     

    Gaston Bachelard would say that we need to take the consequences of  “dreaming awake”, or go further with abstraction to “reach something”, even if a dream.

    More Occam´s razor, please? (because I m talking too much?)

    Just to be funny: Skinner would say that people use language as their second skin, so they are really attched to it.

      Report abuse

  • 76
    maria melo says:

    Metaphor, not  methaphor, I don t have enough time to correct all and write it directly in “real time” counting the seconds. Report abuse

  • Hi Phil [#73],

    I agree.  The fact is that even those of us who recognise the need to apply thinking, research and scepticism often struggle to create the ‘space’ – to apply our attention – to understanding the World as it really is.

    I am reminded of Richard Dawkins’ oft-repeated position on moral behaviour which he usually fashions along these lines: Yes, we are driven by lusts but, just as surely, it is incumbent on us all to apply those gifts with which we are endowed – such as intelligence – to not only soften the impact of our seeking to slake those thirsts, but even to deny ourselves where the greater good will be served.  Richard is much better at summarising, and he is usually talking in context when he explores these thoughts, and I don’t think he would ever put it exactly like that.  This is clearly one of his founding moral precepts though, and it most often comes up when he discusses vegetarianism.

    In the context of thinking in more general terms it is, surely, incumbent on us all to struggle against our natural indolence (in an almost identical way to making sure we apply our intelligence to our moral choices – as Richard urges us to do) and to apply ourselves to understanding the World as it really is, if we want to live in a better World.  Yet that is clearly what many millions of people fail to do.

    Energy is part of the equation, and so too is time.  Any species that evolves to value time, and how it is spent, will tend to have an advantage in almost all environments.  Time spent thinking is therefore at a premium.  Recognising the potential return on investment when spending attention (energy and time) is a tricky skill to acquire and I very much doubt that any Earth species has it as an instinct – including us.

    I’m not so sure I can follow you down the same road on culture.  As a social species (like most mammals) we build social hierarchies.  There is an immediate trade-off to be had with a hierarchy – and anyone who has had to manage other people will recognise what I mean immediately: You get to outsource difficult decisions.  The most common symptom is in the modern phrase: “That’s not in my pay grade”.

    Outsourcing decisions, of course, makes it more difficult to break out of our natural, evolved, attention-saving instincts.

    In the last ten thousand years particularly …

    In the most recent evolutionary eye-blink …

    … calories became increasingly reliable in supply …

    … there has been some indirect evolutionary pressure which we would hope would mitigate some of the less advantageous phenotypes in human behaviour …

    … and (for the richer few at least)

    A bit negative there Phil – 6 billion and counting?

    Sufficient leisure and food lets us grow spectacularly with the cultural thinking tools of language and logic, accumulated knowledge and its application

    Yes, but it hasn’t been long enough, or universal enough, throughout that history, to move our entire species to express free enquiry, scepticism and a desire to research from facts to understanding as a universal phenotype.  Sad but true.

    Here again I feel Richard is right: Every individual human needs to learn that scepticism and thinking are healthy and interesting – and that outsourcing decision making only works some of the time.  Indeed, within the context of culture, outsourcing our thinking is increasingly looking like a very bad deal.  When he urges us to apply our empathy and intelligence to moral decisions his entreaty is predicated on the basis of an audience that understands and values these things.  Yet it seems to me that such an understanding is only accessible through a good education – an education that is increasingly only offered to an elite.

    The recent surge in support for populist, authoritarian, politicians is a case in point.  Lacking the education and the adult, democratic, support they require to overcome their instinctive desire to outsource decisions and then to pat themselves on the back for saving their attention.  They do this in what, to them, appears a clear headed and rational way.  They simply lack the tools, the basic intellectual understanding, that they have, in effect, stabbed themselves in the back because the culture of mass media is almost tailor made to exploit a poorly educated public on exactly that basis.  To their credit many suspect, the fake news trope is the Establishment’s defence – the ‘here be dragons’ warning on the outdated Community Maps that many people hold in their heads is enough to turn them away.  They fail to explore, or are easily misled because they never learned to weigh evidence.

    There is much variation in the human species.  We need to be alive to the fact that many of our contemporaries will have a genetic make-up that is untouched by the recent, above detailed, evolutionary blip.  We should also not judge; many of our contemporaries lack the necessary education to live in a modern democracy driven by information.  And anyone over 25 reading this: You too are part of the problem if you have failed to support education as the most important thing to be funded by your government.

    … cultures can let us down as well as build us up

    No argument here.

    We can get by on heuristics alone in the complex self-running machine of competent enough societies

    “In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
    A stately pleasure-dome decree … ”

    Dreams are so nice, aren’t they they though?

    That old habit of energy saving runs very deep. Brains, under used, really do lose it. And like every domesticated animal, our shrinking neural autonomy, puts us in the hands of those who would keep us on that path.

    We have come to the same end of the road – though we have taken different paths.

    I’ll see you on the streets, on the 19th.

    Peace. Report abuse

  • 79
    maria melo says:

    I d like to comment on brexiteers and those  like Richard Dawkins that still points out economy´s reasons to remain, but don´t get me wrong because you would not trust the voice of a foreigner (as far as I recall recently an american economist gave his view that Portugal would bennefit more from leaving , hear comments that some countries should even leave against their will, an usual tv commenter wouldn t trust the american economist).

    Richard Dawkins still points out economical reasons to remain, but that´s kind of “rude” because UE is much more than that, and it is really one of those human institutions that was constructed (and still is) upon ideas and ideals.

    Economists will face the challenge and economy will adapt sooner or later whether UK remains or leaves.

     

    I m glad that someone here reminded that UE is a “great institution”, that is to be really more polite and less “rude”.

    I’m not so sure I can follow you down the same road on culture.  As a social species (like most mammals) we build social hierarchies.  There is an immediate trade-off to be had with a hierarchy – and anyone who has had to manage other people will recognise what I mean immediately: You get to outsource difficult decisions.  The most common symptom is in the modern phrase: “That’s not in my pay grade”.

     

    I like to read E. O. Wilson interviews as far  as I have the opportunity I read them.

    As you may know  an eusocial species is rare amongst mammals (two species,  us and naked-mole rats), it s more common within insects, and actually I m glad in a primate mammal, because we have a sense of equity, and I doubt we base our society on  greed and blind hierarchies like ants, without any sense of equity and justice, and the creativity of a primate.

     

      Report abuse

  • 81
    maria melo says:

    I know the person who I must “obey” has formation for leadership, so that they cal others to participate and give their best, not to distress. Some are great in these jobs, some are weak, and some don´t care at all.

  • As you may have heard, Richard has made it known that his mother sadly died today at the age of almost 103. I am very sorry for your loss Richard, and I hope that the fact that your mother had such a long and eventful life will be a great comfort to you.

    I have asked the moderators if they intend to set up a page where we can post our condolences. They have said that they are looking into this, but in the meantime they see no problem with us posting messages on this Open Discussion thread.

    I note that the first person to express his condolences on Richard’s Twitter account seems to have been Ray Comfort. Unfortunately, he then went on to say that he hoped that Richard would “think about the wonderful claims of the gospel”. No thanks Ray, nobody here will be needing anything like that. Please just go away and eat a banana or something. Report abuse

  • The answer to Laurie.

    Links from the beginning of the off-topic to the end of it:

    https://www.richarddawkins.net/2019/05/book-club/#comment-237494

    https://www.richarddawkins.net/2019/05/book-club/#comment-237507

     

    So I suppose, the real discussion on freedoms should be – Where should we set those legal limits?

    It is where Muslims say (and I also used to say) that no one should say or write something critical about Islam because it harms their persons. It really does, and that is the problem that critical remarks about a man who lived in the 7th century can make people so extremely angry. They are ready to kill and kill for that. They wish for other people to die or be beaten severely. I know it. I wished all the worst for Ayyan Hirsi Ali, for example. So that’s really a problem.

     

    Can you elaborate on this question? I’m not sure what you had in mind

    Well… I mean total freedom to do what you like if it doesn’t harm other people. Without any limits set by religion. And feminism – what about it? Is it really good for a woman to live in the West?

     

    He couldn’t make a move without imitating everything about the Prophet like a robot

    Such men are rarely met here. They try to fulfil the basic requirements and nothing more. Maybe they just aren’t that obsessed  But yes, there are people who want to simplify funerals, and weddings, and to remove all those awkward traditions we’ve got here. But what is worse – traditions which will be anyway lost in the future, or an ideology which is anti-humanistic in its nature?

     

    And while they’re at it, they also need to rewrite the permission in the Koran for beating wives

    Of course! And all the discrimination of women. But I doubt that such great reforms are ever possible. A few steps because it’s what the modern times are waiting for, but no more. Christianity exists for many centuries but if you listen to those orthodox clerics in Russia, you won’t have a nice impression. They would come back in the past if they had permission. And if they have… this country won’t have any progress at all.

  • P. S.

    As for discrepancy in the case when Muslims exalt the prophet and at the same time insist that he was just a man, I’m sure they even don’t understand what you mean. It is common that believers who think quite logically in any other case, lose all their logic when it comes to religion. Just like a loving man/woman who refuses to see his/her sweetheart’s flaws. Report abuse

  • Milva

    Where should we set those legal limits?
    It is where Muslims say (and I also used to say) that no one should say or write something critical about Islam because it harms their persons.

    This is a big difference between a secular government and a theocracy. In a theocracy, it is an old sacred text that is the final authority on limits of the law. By old I mean a thousand years old or more. An Islamic state bases its laws on the revealed poetry of a book that is more than one thousand years old. Here’s the problem; our ideas of right and wrong, good and bad, valuable and not valuable have changed so much in that thousand years! Why in the world would we want to be forced to live with ideas that we now consider to be cruel, oppressive and rigidly unchangeable?! This brings misery on many people of that society.

    In countries where religions have a lot of power then citizens have very little – except for the religious leaders and dictators who work together to grab financial resources and all types of power for themselves. This is a recipe for corruption.

    What the Democratic West is aiming at, ever so imperfectly, is to construct a system of law that eliminates outdated religious domination and influence and instead bases its limits on common ethics that are more flexible and can be adapted to accommodate our society’s newer, better, kinder way of deciding right from wrong.

    Granted, we still do have corruption but I do believe it’s much less than in dictatorships and theocracies. The democratic process can appear to be chaotic (watching the British Parliament in action makes me anxious!) and it has been said that it is a slow cumbersome process compared to a dictator issuing edits in the moment but I’m hoping that a slow considered approach to the law of the land will result in a more stable, long term climb to a fair, safe society that meets the needs of the most citizens it possibly can. Our secular democracies are being tested these days.

    And feminism – what about it? Is it really good for a woman to live in the West?

    This is the definition of feminism from the Website Wikipedia:

    Feminism is a range of social movementspolitical movements, and ideologies that share a common goal: to define, establish, and achieve the political, economic, personal, and social equality of the sexes.[a][2][3][4][5] Feminism incorporates the position that societies prioritize the male point of view, and that women are treated unfairly within those societies.[6] Efforts to change that include fighting gender stereotypes and seeking to establish educational and professional opportunities for women that are equal to those for men.

    I do recommend that you do some independent reading on the topic, Milva, because the topic is much too huge to write about in an internet comment! You will immediately find that feminism is an ideology that has many branches, goals and beliefs and has always been a source of volatile disagreement. This has been presented as a criticism of the movement but I don’t see it that way. Our disagreements have produced a variety of subgroups that have concentrated on many different goals resulting in so many positive changes for women in this society.

    It’s interesting to notice that feminism is divided into “waves” that have to do with blocks of time and the goals of those feminists of that particular wave. When you discuss feminism with other women you might be interested to know which “wave” they consider themselves to be members of because this could give you hints of what that woman considers to be an important goal and what she considers to be a distraction. I identify with second wave feminism because I was a child in the 60s and a teen in the 70s and really came of age reading the books of those feminist leaders of that time.

    In my reading of feminist books in those days, there was a strong criticism of religion and its attempts to control women and especially to control our sexual behavior and everything around our control of our own reproduction. The discussion of these issues had an important influence on me and I went even further in my criticism of religion in general. In the end, I found nothing left worth keeping and accepted the reality that I was what’s known as an atheist. When I accepted this truth it had the effect of freeing me from conflicting negative ideas that were controlling and upsetting me. I now can’t figure out why any woman wants to live like that.

    I will say that when you read more about Feminism you will not agree with many things. It’s perfectly fine. Take what you can from it and leave the rest aside. I will also say that I’ve lived in a country where religion has a lot of power and I find that the lives of women there was very restricted based on the Koran and I would never trade places with those women based on the freedom that I have here in the US. It’s important that women around the world learn about how others live. How else can we discuss important issues and then demand changes? Like you said previously, the internet is an important freedom for us and will drive all sorts of changes around the world.

    I have to run now but I’d like to discuss more specific differences in the lives of women around the world based on the religion that happens to be dominant in different locations, if you like.

     

  • Yay on shooting down the deal–it was way too rushed.

    Still, I am wondering if a second referendum is even feasible at this point. Can anyone help me out here?

    BTW, Laurie, my ‘like’ button isn’t working, but I’m right there with you! Report abuse

  • I think a second referendum is an outside possibility, lessened by some frustrating reporting from the BBC etc. The organisers estimated 700,000. Others estimated between 150,000 and 450,000. The BBC reported tens of thousands.

    To my view it was bigger than the any of the others I’ve been in which suggests at least 250,000. I think it could be twice that. Stephen will chime in I hope with his assessment.

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-50108531

    This has a fly past the length of the march, but I ducked out into side roads where there where great streams of protesters EU flags and yellow Bollocks to Brexit stickers trying to reduce the crush walking parallel to the march.

    So many of the plackards had great reasons to be fearful. There are so many reasons why this destruction of 50 years work on the continent and 200 years of work in uniting the kingdom will be deleterious for all, including most ordinary Brexiteers, including the rest of the planet, all except its authors.

    It was a fantastic, stirring march. Good constructive folk abound. But I’m off to the pub and I’m feeling I’m being railroaded into making a few men richer still.

  • I’m not sure where this came from, but on the issue of “is it really good for women to live in the West” – thanks anyway, but I’ll stick with living in the West.  It is certainly good for THIS woman.  In any other area of the world, I’d likely be severely punished or even killed long ago for being who I am.  Most likely I would have had all independence beaten and/or threatened out of me.  I couldn’t be who I am anywhere other than the West.  I’ve been threatened by men not-from-the-West in this country as it is.  Not all men who are not-from-the-west, and once in awhile similar threats come from USian men as well.  But I’m way safer here and have had more opportunities to grow into myself as I wish to be here than I ever could have anywhere not-in-the-west that I know of.

  • Pye Wacket

    I identify with everything you said. One strange measure of this that makes me chuckle is the ratio of non-American men who have said straight to my face that they hate American women to American men who say straight to my face that they hate American women. It’s high  non : low US. Ha. I’ll wear that as a badge of honor, thank you!

    Yes there have been a few American men who say they hate American women and will only date “respectful” foreigners. Interpret as you will. Report abuse

  • 95
    maria melo says:

    Hi Phil,

     

    I m following.
    This is a situation all created by British politicians and it s an unfair situation for Britons. Is this perhaps fault of a constitutional Law or at least specif laws for political functioning that don t trigger caos in social life?

    Could it be that popular opinion could vote about war declaration, international treatises that require a long term political commitment, would it be correct that populat vote could speak  in every matter so that it would be almost an anarchy (repeating itself with a second referendum).

    It seems to me  unfair and an abuse of Democracy that they think they are in charge of blindly obey the popular vote, that´s not fair.

    And if with a second referendum you d have the same result, or the opposite situation would happen, Brexiteers would call for a third referedum?

    International treatises matter as EU is a project that requires political commitement for a “long historical” period, it was a long term project and What I´ve heard from British politicians was that they were good while it was only based on Economy, really?That´s not having any commitment at all, it´s being desrespectful for Britons (as for the other EU members).

    They should be ashamed for triggering a caotic situation that causes such conflict in social life (but it seems they are not).

     

     

     

  • Why in the world would we want to be forced to live with ideas that we now consider to be cruel, oppressive and rigidly unchangeable?!

    Unfortunately, the mind of a religious person is different from the mind of any atheist or agnostic and they simply don’t understand it. What can make them think in other ways? Methods may be not like each other, but what I’m sure of is that all the civilized world mustn’t give in. Believers consider any respect to their culture as weakness. Though I doubt that the right to stone people to death can be called “culture”.

    As for feminism – yes, I put the question in a wrong way. I know that there are three “waves”, and I began to read about feminism a year ago. By the way, it’s what led me out of Islam. Before I read it I had thought that women are less intellectual in common, they are weak and must obey to men. Also I didn’t know that there were so many activist movements in history and there were much more female scientists than I imagined. You know it made all my world upside down and in a time I realized that I couldn’t wear hijab any more. But I still was Muslim. “Apostasy” happened later 🙂

    I now can’t figure out why any woman wants to live like that

    It is all complicated. I myself was born in the patriarchal culture and I didn’t think about any gender equality. Also I found an idea, a community, and so on. Report abuse

  • Hi maria.

    Direct democracy, through the use of referendums and the like risks a “Tyranny of the Masses”, where a minority may be simply oppressed or unworkable policy is implemented. We mostly have a Representative Democracy supported by a huge Civil Service, which has served us very well until now. The civil service, proud of its neutrality, is a moderating body of great expertise looking at the practicalities, economic, social and legal of policy and its possible integration with existing policy. This is why our democracy is a representative democracy. Our representatives stand as presenting our (local regional and national) wishes to be judged in the political balance of all such wishes, with economic, social and legal practicalities judged by the county’s best and neutral experts and implemented in final assessment by parliament. All of which is audited by (in some places) independent media and, when needed, an independent judiciary.

     

    The crucial flaws here for the UK in this whole Brexit fiasco is the lack of sufficient engagement with voters wishes and offer of alternative policy. The collapse of the left’s (Labour’s) leadership in this matter has been disastrous. Their focus on merely responding to xenophobic reactions of poor UK workers by doing their xenophobic bidding has been the specific issue. This has seen the alignment of the uber right kleptocratic authors of Brexit with their very victims, the poor who have lost out to an ungoverned globalisation exporting their jobs without suitable recompense.

    The Left in the UK are too often dogma ridden in their identification of problems and solutions. Too many of them feared the EU as an “old boys” club of industrialists working against the interests of the worker. In fact the EU has turned out to be politically more often to the left of the UK and did more to protect workers rights, lift standards and promote new sustainable industries and new jobs. Key Labour Party leadership has been left behind here and that has fuelled a passivity in engaging with their disgruntled and xenophobic poor.

    What they should have done (and still need to do) is promote effective solutions to their condition. Not accept the fact that Eastern Europeans are “stealing their jobs” but outline how they will deal better with kleptocrats to redirect investment to the regions, put safeguards into to the exporting of jobs. Immigration (partial and permanent) has only benefited our economy and any local problems could have been addressed given a compassionate and pro-active left of centre government.

    The Left’s lack of leadership and craven pursuit of support at any cost is simple cowardice.

    The disastrous deflation of our centre ground (Liberal Democrats), forever cleverer and more nuanced, is the result of newspapers unwilling to tell anything other than simple bipolar stories. Pragmatic in policy making, they have been much better in their insight into the harms to groups. They did however nearly completely commit suicide by their craven moral collapse in partnership with the Conservatives, again in support of seeking power at any price.

    The last referendum was intended to be indicative to a representative democracy. It could not be binding because clear policy was not on display. The last three years has been prodigiously educational for us all. Another indicative referendum, with knowledge and a clear policy choice should be taken. It should still be indicative only. If it is ignored, though, and without any new or alternative policy or occurrences (like changed EU policy on migration to keep the EU from fragmenting)  any subsequent general election will deliver the voters’ wishes. Report abuse

  • Hi Phil

    As usual, an insightful post–thanks!

    My question about the feasibility of a second referendum is based on hearing (somewhere) that even if Brexit was reversed by a more favorable second referendum, the damage has been done and the UK’s position in the EU would be on a completely different level. Based on your understanding of the entire issue, is that true? Report abuse

  • Hi Vicki,

    May I answer your question pending Phil’s reply?

    Provided the UK revokes its notification of its intention to leave the EU (“revokes Article 50”, for short) before actually leaving, legally and technically everything about our membership will remain as it was before. So: our rebate and all our various opt-outs would be unaffected.

    If we do actually leave, though, and then change our minds afterwards and try to rejoin, there’s no way the EU would allow us to do so on the terms we have now, since they are considerably more beneficial than those enjoyed by other members of a similar size.

    And of course, in one very important respect, nothing will ever be the same again in any case. We used to have a reputation among our European partners for pragmatism, moderation, competence and decency (even if we were sometimes also seen to be a pain in the butt). After the horrors of the last 3+ years, the rise of overt ethnic nationalism and xenophobia, of attempts to bully and threaten and cheat rather than to negotiate in a civilised fashion, of sustained lies from our government, of government-by-charlatanism, of a government-led attack on our very democracy in the form of unlawfully proroguing parliament and lying to the monarch, even of government threats to break and frustrate the law – we simply cannot expect anyone to view us with the same respect or trust as before, or to be as willing to bend over backwards to accommodate future demands. The UK has shown itself to be entirely unfit for partnership, for co-operation, or even just for the 21st century. A wholly unreliable and untrustworthy partner of any kind.

    Can I just add that I so appreciate the interest and concern of you and other US-based users here. Thank you. I know you have your own headaches right now, and are similarly battling to salvage any rationality, honesty, decency and responsibility in your politics. So solidarity right back to you. In so many ways, Trump and Brexit are two cheeks of the same arse. Report abuse

  • 101
    maria melo says:

    Hi Phil,

     

    Yesterday I ve been watching a whole debate in your Parliament (they look like kids saying yeahhhhh to everything, the PM has the floor and others support him OR NOT, but in a very short discourse it seems, too short indeed, it was the first time I ve decided to follow a whole debate). So I ve heard the word Federalism several times (50, 60?), but EU in in fact a Confederation, not a Federation, so I seriously doubt about what your PM is able to know what he was saying, a strategic excuse for British people forgive him for his disatrous  policies? (embeded in nationalist pride by the way). I know that´s true that  Merkel´s Economy minister-I think, was conveying for such policies that it would be the EU that would approve each countries´s Government budgets, but I believe that was an excuse of your PM, perhaps EU hurted British nationalist pride with some arrogance. (I felt the same here, in RDF when I ve complained about the plans of Merkel´s Minister, but even here, someone agreed).

    There are dumb politicians, that´s why to be a politician must be pretty much as living in some kind of jungle, but written Laws are there, even a EU Constitution (where German deputees wanted to include the word God by the way as they mention it in their main Law-I ve heard, not because I know German), and your PM should leave his nationalist pride aside and think of British people.

    I guess to be a politician mustn t be na easy task, but to leave an open road to wolves and  coyotes will be worse for every European country. Report abuse

  • Milva

    What can make them think in other ways? Methods may be not like each other, but what I’m sure of is that all the civilized world mustn’t give in.

    Well! If only you and I could figure out the answer to that question then the world will be on its way to being a better place.

    On a personal level, when I’m in discussion with a devoutly religious person I try to remain emotionally neutral and respond with simple rebuttals that don’t insult the person. While I concede that they have the right to practice their religion in a free democracy, there are limitations on that practice and they must also grant me the right to NOT practice religion as my choice. I will also present what I base my worldview on; humanism and ethics and hopefully I’ll be able to present a few topics where I believe that ethics and humanist values provide a superior way to analyze problems and issues in the present day and then contrast that analysis with ancient sacred texts which always come off as draconian and completely out of touch with modern life.

    On a society level, it’s more critical than on a personal level. It’s much more daunting to battle fundamentalists who are trying to oppress an entire country or region of women and force us into domestic and reproductive slavery, bock us from education and financial security.  Men suffer greatly too, of course. I’ve seen insiders demonstrate unbelievable bravery. I’ve also seen them flee for the free West. I always hope for help for these people from outside secular countries and groups. It takes a lot of guts to stand against fundamentalist fanatics with guns.

    Though I doubt that the right to stone people to death can be called “culture”.

    If stoning offenders is part of their system of criminal justice then it IS part of their culture! Sharia law is the justice system of an Islamic state as presented in the Koran. Religion is part of culture. Justice systems are part of culture. It’s not a culture that I want to live in, that’s all.

    I began to read about feminism a year ago. By the way, it’s what led me out of Islam.

    Yes! Me too! It’s so interesting! Report abuse

  • 103
    maria melo says:

    Hi Phil,

    I m curious about it; was there any political discourse when 40 years ago British people voted 67% for EEC integration? I m looking for any information to compare and read.

     

    What was the question put in the referendum back then (what was the question made in 2016 referendum, so that it allows acts contrary to social order, did people vote to be able to offend foreigners, can their vote be worth just because they are British?)

     

    “(…)  Na Grã-Bretanha, com as suas características únicas, foi feita uma lei, materialmente constitucional, aquando da adesão às Comunidades.”

     

    google translation

    “(…) In Britain, with its unique characteristics, a materially constitutional law was made upon accession to the Communities.”

     

     
    Source:https://www.icjp.pt/sites/default/files/media/821-1350.pdf

    That´s what I, ll look for, read, and search for more useful information.

     

  • but I’d like to discuss more specific differences in the lives of women around the world based on the religion that happens to be dominant in different locations, if you like

    Well I can say here life is based mainly on some mix of traditions and religion together with Russian laws. Our restrictions are not so severe. We don`t wear hijab if we don`t want it, and we can learn and work. But it is still a patriarchal culture, and a girl can`t live or travel alone, she has sex only after her marriage, she is under control. Girls must be nice and quiet otherwise no one will want to marry them. But of course it cannot be compared to the horrors we often hear about.

    If stoning offenders is part of their system of criminal justice then it IS part of their culture

    I mean it doesn`t deserve to be called culture. But of course it is called in this way. And I know that even the kindest of Muslims wouldn`t object if there was Sharia law. Just because their brains work differently! As a former Muslim I know well what they think and what they dream about. They always are like foreigners in this world you know, and the other world is better. Report abuse

  • From your comment #86

    It is common that believers who think quite logically in any other case, lose all their logic when it comes to religion. Just like a loving man/woman who refuses to see his/her sweetheart’s flaws.

    and From #103

    They always are like foreigners in this world you know, and the other world is better.

    Both of these comments go far to explain the mind of the devout believer. Report abuse

  • Hi Vicki

     if Brexit was reversed by a more favorable second referendum, the damage has been done and the UK’s position in the EU would be on a completely different level.

    I actually expect an improvement. If we, from internal politics, nearly fomented a possible progressive fragmentation of the EU, what we had to say about the EU better protecting against this, might be listened to with considerable attention. Being able to at least soothe poorer folk about the threats to their jobs of the European aspect of globalisation would be handy. Offering some movement to the middle classes about any democratic deficit of European instituions would be good. Something gestural on migration might not go amiss either. We might become the lesson needed for all other countries to think again. Were we more proactive in making a more viable EU we might find much support.

    Leaving and coming back would be very much on a reduced status basis. Wanting to come back is the limit of what we would get to teach others, unlike fighting to stay.

    I don’t believe countries are really perceived as if they are persons, though they are sometimes characterised that way. We are Leviathan, a political assemblage of groups. Sometimes some part of the body politic gets ill. But it is a fallacy of compositions to think the whole is in thrall to the illness of the part. Report abuse

  • Trump/Brexit/Erdogan/Duda/Bolsonaro/populism/fascism

    are entirely a single ailment. The inattention to the needs of too many of the voting masses have created a delicious point of leverage for the kleptocrats who, insufficiently opposed, created the problem in the first place. Those on the centre and the left have dismally failed through indolence and a greed of their own, to inoculate the many desperate against the narratives of the kleptoes.

    I am so angry at the left, so disappointed at the centre, for being concerned about being in power to the exclusion of joined up policy.

    For me the motor of the UK has been its middling class, perhaps from the time of Shakespeare. That blend of sufficient food and leisure to be concerned outside the home makes for Marx and William Morris. It was the UK’s hugely expanded middling class with enough to eat and time to spare that were on the streets on Saturday. Kindness breeds kindness.

     

      Report abuse

  • 108
    maria melo says:

    the UK’s position in the EU would be on a completely different level.

    That s the same, no more, no less, the choice is up solely to UK, this was the offer made by EU. (yesterday it seems that  Uk´s PM and others that joined him were offended by EU deal offers).

    Merkel´s Minister wont last too longer (at his age), actual disastrous politicians won t be the same for the next years to come, despite all the damage caused to their own people seem to me actually centred on themselves.

     

  • Apologies for the late response to post #8:

    Oct 3, 2019 at 10:45 am
    8
    Josiah says:

    I found the post just before mine fascinating. I will try my best to paraphrase the idea being presented in it to check my understanding, but anyone please feel free to correct me if I am misinterpreting part or all of it. Is the idea essentially that a concatenation of mutations–some of which if isolated would be disadvantageous to the organism–can develop latently without harm to the organism until all the mutations together give the organism an evolutionary advantage? Sorry, by the way, the above sentence  was a much, much wordier way of saying the same thing as the aforementioned post, but hopefully the sentence is at least factually accurate

    I think that is so, more or less.  Perhaps more exactly, the idea is that “symbiotic” (or nearly so) relationships are less likely to occur over the short term.  A lot of things have to happen in concert for a relationship such as that between pollinators and the development of showy flowers.  Most likely there were already strategies of fertilization that relied on outside participants even before flowering plants took over the world, I’m not that well educated about Jurassic fauna LOL!  But basically, the more complicated a system has to be to work, the less likely it is to persist.  Such a system may have to repeatedly occur until it “sticks”, and it will only “stick” if it confers enough of a reproductive/survival benefit (or, at the very least, does not negatively affect reproduction/survival).

    SO if a plant develops the ability to flower LOCALLY, it may not persist to spread if there is some disaster or the pollinators it relies out die out, or the flowers the pollinators die out. They all need to spread and survive for the system to persist. That takes time.

    It took about 25 million years for flowering plants as we know them today to become the dominant plant strategy on Earth.  We cannot know – given the difficulty of finding recognizable plant structures after millions of years – how many times flower or flower-like structures appeared over the course of plant evolution before that, but by the Early Cretaceous, there were enough of them around to be findable in the fossil record. Report abuse

  • “SO if a plant develops the ability to flower LOCALLY, it may not persist to spread if there is some disaster or the pollinators it relies ON die out, or the flowers the pollinators NEED die out. They all need to spread and survive for the system to persist. That takes time.”

    LOL!  The edit timer timed out just as I tried to correct that. Report abuse

  • Both of these comments go far to explain the mind of the devout believer

    Yes. So if you have questions about Muslims and their ways of thinking and doing in the land I live, you can ask me.

    The interesting thing about us is that our parents lived in the USSR where atheism was reigning. Of course they had their own ideology, but anyway, the influence of religion was quite weak. So my parents weren’t glad when I became too religious.

    It’s curious that people identifying themselves as Muslims are against some Islamic rules. Curious but it often can be seen. Truly, there must be much more atheists and agnostics than we think. Report abuse

  • It’s so hard living with so many opinions and this and that’s and what ifs and maybes and listen to me and don’t listen to him.

    so much in life is about debate, democracy, popularity or majority consensus.

    looking at these arguments about brexit… and the arguments about whether we should abandon god, or accept rational peer consensual science…

    why can’t we all accept the pure discipline of logic and math and the certainty based on observable proof.

    mostly, I think, we believe in anything, not because of our inner consciousness… but because of our collective consciousness… and the immediate influence of a newspaper, of our mother’s demands, our teachers test questions, or from our friends insistence.

    or by the loudest person

    we are such herd animals. It’s hard to evangelise the individual over the group. Report abuse

  • Hi Paul. Welcome.

    Good questions.

     

    We only have culture because we are herd animals with language and plastic brains when young. Most of our ideas, i.e. attitudes, values, aesthetics etc. are pretty much fixed by the time we reach puberty, if not before.

    These are emotional judgement calls, but also the very heart of our culture, when taken on the average. Phineas Gage famously lost his emotional capacities after a severe brain injury working on the US railroad. Whilst leaving his rational capacities fully intact he started to make increasing bad decisions. The conjecture by later psychologists was that being logical still requires those emotional (and cultural) aspects, values in other words, to be rational about.

    Reason and reasoning developed not to make more rational decisions but to persuade others and co-opt their help.

    “The Enigma of Reason” Dan Sperber and H. Mercier

    We have to work with the material we are given and we must be sure not to lose our humanity in seeking Mr.Spock levels of rationalism.

    A way forward is to address the the cultural inputs to children before anything else. Educational input introducing  rational analysis of data and logical thinking and the satisfactory-ness of living with a degree of uncertainty is probably the way to better change the course of the oil tanker of culture.

      Report abuse

  • 114
    maria melo says:

    It’s so hard living with so many opinions and this and that’s and what ifs and maybes and listen to me and don’t listen to him.
    so much in life is about debate, democracy, popularity or majority consensus.

    (Paul, on comment 112)

    That´s Politics, our relation with others, each one with a different mind, and the art of it would be that we could live peacefully and still have our own ideas, passions and feelings.

     

     

    Don t you think?

     

     

  • 115
    maria melo says:

    We only have culture because we are herd animals with language and plastic brains when young. Most of our ideas, i.e. attitudes, values, aesthetics etc. are pretty much fixed by the time we reach puberty, if not before.

     

    Phil, on comment 113

     

    I m quite surprised, and your two statments seem contradictory.

    Our cognitive structures are not fixed in a Piagetian view as they are in Kant´s view, and Neurology can explore a new field “Neuroconstructivism” (you mention a lot), the  Piagetian view seems the reason why “Neuroconstructivism” exists?

     

    Most of our ideas, i.e. attitudes, values, aesthetics etc. are pretty much fixed by the time we reach puberty, if not before.

    How could it be if our neurological development goes till adulthood (20´s) and if teens face such a great neurological change?

     

    I ve begin reading the new book of Damasio, there he discusses culture and the mind, I m glad he does.

     

    But I feel terrible about Brexit, and cannot think on another subject than “Brexit”.

     

     

    (that s a more fixed view professed by psychiatrists some generations ago, not anymore I guess).

     

     

    One thing that occurs to my mind often is how I wish I coud teach nmy professor to make him change his mind (I guess he s not in thisworld anymore but as na inteligente man he would accept if he someones taught him).

  • 116
    maria melo says:

    One thing that occurs to my mind often is how I wish I coud teach my professor to make him change his mind (I guess he s not in this world anymore but as an intelligent man he would have accepted a new view if someone taught him).

  • Hi, maria.

    Several important things about the sculpting of our brain….

    Neural pruning begins at 18 months after the wild growth of neural cross connections of white matter, hooking every brain module up to just about every other. Our brains are never so complex as at this time.

    By two years of age the pruning process is at a peak, snipping away unused connections more rapidly than at any other time.

    Chronotopy governs the progression of the brain sculpting process, forming some neural structures that more clearly become substrates for later others. This would appear to follow along to some evolutionary development of more sophisticated meta-sensing/inferring from more primary sense data. Stereoscopic vision is only created in the visual cortex once two close enough but spatially offset views have been mapped suitably onto the visual cortex.

    The rate of sculpting falls exponentially being fierce when youngest and being mostly (but not entirely complete by puberty), Most mental skills are in place by then. Puberty doesn’t delivery a new burst of pruning so much as throw an on-switch. Hormones add new purpose to the near finished machine. Individuation is the new driver justifying all the new capabilities.

     

    Pruning is on an exponential decline, with still (just) detectable activity at 25 years of age. This is in the last evolved brain region of the pre-frontal cortex.

     

     

      Report abuse

  • 118
    maria melo says:

    Hi Phil,

     

     

    I trust your information, so, even keep it carefully.

    Never asked if you are a neurologist and I guess you didnt said.

     

    (I m thinking of transcripting a funny example I ll take from a book, about how someone would like to integrate simoultaneously two opposite “presumptions of Knowledge”).

     

    I was reading about Britain´s History in ECC, EU. Politicians, as Margaret Tatcher and David Cameron, and I think the most of your politicians always thought  of “Economy first”, except perhaps Winston Churchill.

    It seems that the Historical motives that triggered the anger was the same than Margareth Tatcher´s posture, the compensation for UK´s budget- the same posture in Margaret Tatcher and David Cameron.

     

    National pride has always been  a problem too.

    I truly feel sorry for the British people if they leave EU, but  would like  to see more integration if they remain, but it s obvious there s a strong integration of British people, otherwise we would never see so many people in the streets, it´s obvious that policies are to politicians, but still they think above all in Economy).

     

     

  • I have just got “The Strange Order of Things” by Damasio, maria.

    I’m really excited about starting it. What he has to say about homeostasis I believe is a profound insight into how a purpose of life can be encountered by evolutionary processes and form a transferable algorithm of quite general application.

    I’m no neurologist…yet, though I have been fascinated by neuroscience since encountering Professor Richard Gregory and his work at Bristol University in 1970. I went on to do physics. I have two books I want to complete which are a mix of neuroscience, genetics, and cultural evolution, but I really need a degree more convincing than a physics degree to sell it, so my plan is to do a masters in neuro-constructivism. I’ve done much of the work already, so we’ll see if I can juggle my jobs sufficiently to do it.

    Brexit leaves me in tears. Its trivialising vision fails to see so many, many virtues diminished or lost by it. Report abuse

  • It’s true that pruning eventually stops and that it is most active during childhood.

    That does NOT means people cannot change their views or ideas.  I changed from being anti-abortion to pro-choice, and from being a Republican to being a Democrat (well socialist, really, but there is no viable socialist party in this country).

    The reasons that people tend NOT to change much in adulthood is due to environment, mostly having to do with peer pressure and inertia.  Unless something happens to shake someone out of their comfortable world view, most people just coast.  It’s not because they CANNOT change, they can.  Full grown adults who have had some types of permanent brain damage do, in fact, often regain at least some of the lost functions when the brain “retrains” itself so that another undamaged portion of the brain takes up at least part of the slack.  Not all types of brain damage can be compensated for in this way, but it is now becoming part of rehab after brain damage to actively assist this natural process.

    People get busy and they get tired.  Most people live a hard scrabble existence in adulthood, and its getting scrabblier all the time.  I often think that most of my well-educated peers have NO IDEA what life is like for people who didn’t have our opportunities.  My dad was born in a tar paper shack in the middle of the winter of 1919.  He almost died of typhoid fever when he was 7 years old because the water supply in the shanty town where they lived was polluted by human waste.

    My parents lived through the depression.  My dad was older when he married so I’ve often contemplated how different my upbringing was from most of my same age peers – I canned, turned the back yard into a garden (half for veggies, the other half was fruit trees and two colossal and ancient grape vines on an arbor).  I used to top jars of jelly with paraffin, a practice that most people my age wouldn’t ever have seen as it was a hangover from at least a generation past.

    The middle class is rapidly disappearing.  Poverty is on the rise.  People without the advantages of the vast majority of people on sites like this have a really really hard row to hoe.  It’s no surprise that they have little or no energy left for navel-gazing.  And a lot of “high income” households ALSO don’t have time for contemplation, because they’re spending so much time money grubbing, with a lot less reason behind it than someone struggling to make the rent and keep food on the table.  Every time I come across some yuppie or whatever they call them these days whinging on about how they can’t make it on their $350k+ salaries, I want to slap some sense into them.  I’m sorry, but a $7 latte every day, and going out to spend $50 on lunch five days a week, are not necessities of life.  Sheesh!

    At any rate it isn’t that people CAN’T change, they just don’t have the time to sit around and think about anything in any great depth, when the baby is crying and you can’t figure out why and your hours just got cut at the local big box store. Plus most folks live in echo chambers, with friends who agree with their worldview already, so it takes even more thought and energy to break free of the herd. That includes wealthy repubilcans, btw, its not a poverty issue. Church friends, work friends, there’s a lot of peer pressure to overcome and a lot to lose if you do. I still remember my grandmother telling me how terrified she was that her church might find out she was pro-choice. She was terrified of ostracization, and at 70+, who could blame her?

    Never blame on biology what is adequately explained by environment. Report abuse

  • 121
    maria melo says:

    Brexit leaves me in tears. Its trivialising vision fails to see so many, many virtues diminished or lost by it.

    Phil Rimmer

     

    The Euro News Channel, I think, interviewed some EU deputees on “Brexit”, as the reporter mentions, some were careful on their comments but some told what they think about it: Boris Johnson is not to be trusted, one said. They were following and all seemed quite revolted.

    I ve searched also for Politics commenters  found available, one  refers the anarchy on the air (so I m not so wrong).

    Michael Sandels  refers  a lack of a political elite in UK.

     

    I really appreciate a comment full of Historical description like Pye Wacket´s previous comment and I ve never considered this point of view, as I m considering now.

     

     

  • Pye Wacket.

    I would finesse your point…

    Never blame on genes what can be adequately explained by early neural pruning in a cultural flux.

    Also.

    As Dennett has it, freedom evolves. We create opportunities for choice in our actions by having an increasing range of good alternatives.

    Now, more than ever before, we can be encultured to greater later life adaptability by early introduction to broad language and the cultural thinking tool of logic and rationality, finding routes to better weigh conflicting choices before applying our emotional evaluation.

    The pruned brain is a cultural artefact. It could prove to have a more open architecture or more closed. Report abuse

  • Sorry, Phil, that is not finesse, it is just wrong.  Pruning really only affects (in a very minor way, there are much more complicated things at work here) how easy it is to learn new things, not how easy it is or is not to change your mind on an issue.

    Your example of early brainwashing into a belief system is, in fact, actually an example of ENVIRONMENTAL influence.  Pruning of neurons is MUCH MUCH more general that that.

    I do have a background in neurology and psychology.  I was working on my doctorate in clinical psych when I became disabled just short of attaining my degree – I had ONE class to go (in statistics).  And given my strong math background (I had two full years of stats in college), I didn’t really miss anything by not taking a class that I had actually already taken at the master’s level on top of my undergrad math.

    So in short, when you are older, it will take you longer to learn something new like playing the cello or learning a second (or third or fourth etc) language than if you took the same activity up at the age of 5 or 10.  And that isn’t really due to pruning per se, its a lot more complicated than that. Neural pruning is about discarding little used or unused connections. Doesn’t keep you from learning new things (it does affect how memory is organized).

    But neuronal pruning has nothing at all to do with changing your mind about something as an adult, no matter how deeply ingrained your belief system was at an earlier age. Early indoctrination into a belief system does not cripple your brain, though it may cripple your ability to look at things outside the lens of that belief system which is ENVIRONMENTAL and not because your brain was damaged by stupid ideas. Report abuse

  • I think I was unintentionally dismissive in my last post.  What I mean to say, more clearly I hope, is that thinking critically is a skill that you can learn.  If you didn’t learn it as a child you can still learn it as an adult.  Whatever direction your neuronal pruning took in your child-early adult-hood, it doesn’t much affect the stability of one’s belief systems.

    Think about it this way – if neuronal pruning and the lack of ability to do that as an adult really DID shore up belief systems, Stockholm Syndrome would not be a Thing. Report abuse

  • 125
    maria melo says:

    To the attention of the Mods,

     

    One comment I have made to pay tribute to a politician, Tony Blair, as an exeption of a politician against “Brexit” is missing (it was a link to some news).

     

     

  • Hi Maria

    It wasn’t really a comment, though, was it? Just a link to an article in Portuguese. Our Comment Policy does say all contributions should be in English, and while we sometimes turn a blind eye when the comment stands on its own even without the link, when the information content totally depends on the foreign language text, that’s pushing it too far. Feel free to summarize the argument in English if you wish, or to find an English language article that makes the same case.

    The mods Report abuse

  • Moderator  #126 (re Maria Melo’s post at #125)

    Would it be too much to ask of the Moderators to leave a note when they have deleted someone’s comment? It has always struck me, simply in terms of basic manners, to be rather arrogant and disrespectful to delete someone’s comment without leaving any indication of having done so, let alone for what reason. This has been done all too often by the Moderators and is a real disincentive to participating in this forum. Maria Melo, for example, should not have been left wondering where her comment was, nor should she have had to ask about it and only then get an explanation.

    If the Moderators judge that a comment should be deleted, let them do so; but let them not forget to give an example of the courtesy and respect that they require of participants in accordance with the comment policy. Let them leave a note saying what they have done and why. Report abuse

  • To be fair, Cairsley, some users in the past have objected to us making a public statement in those circumstances, as it can feel a bit hostile and/or humiliating – which we do understand. The simple fact is that no one likes having their comments removed, so there really isn’t a way of doing it that will suit everyone (or, indeed, anyone).

    Besides, there is only ever one reason for a comment being deleted, and that is that it doesn’t comply with our Comment Policy. And there’s a link to that at the foot of every page, and it’s no longer the enormously long document it used to be*, so a quick scan of that should normally be enough to answer the question. Though it also includes our email address if anyone has queries about a moderating decision, and we’ll always be happy to explain privately. And very occasionally, if the reason for a moderator intervention isn’t obvious from the Comment Policy, we will ourselves send the user a private email to explain. But in reality, it’s actually quite rare for us to remove a comment, because the vast majority of posts are fully compliant. The spam filter is something else again, and there’s nothing we can do about that, other than to retrieve wrongly spammed comments next time we come online.

    *In the interests of full disclosure, though, having just checked the CP again, we have to admit that the rule about only posting in English had been accidentally omitted at the last update. So apologies for that, but we’ve added it back in again now.

    The mods Report abuse

  • https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/coralewis/americas-largest-police-union-endorses-donald-trump

    Does anybody else find this as terrifying (concerning is far to gentle a word) as I do?  Given the general levels of thuggery allowed in our police forces all across the US anyway, and their intransigence on issues of accountability, I foresee a nascent police state.  I hope to high heaven Trump has a stroke as soon as possible.  You know, one of those strokes that changes your personality so it turns him nice. Report abuse

  • Pye

    Does anybody else find this as terrifying (concerning is far to gentle a word) as I do?

    Oh yes. Definitely. From where I’m sitting on the other side of the Atlantic from you, the US already looks like a nascent police state, to be honest. I totally agree when you talk about police “thuggery”. Hardly a week seems to go by without some new incident of police somewhere in the US shooting a perfectly innocent citizen, all too often even a perfectly innocent, unarmed citizen who has already been immobilised in some way. Or beating them up for literally no apparent reason beyond “being outdoors while black” – though, as we saw recently, “being at home while black” is enough to do it too.

    I’m not suggesting for one moment that UK police are perfect, or entirely free of rogue elements or racists, but at least they don’t seem to operate on a hair trigger much of the time. Their use of arms is extremely tightly controlled, and they’re all trained to prioritise talk-down techniques over force. Even when there’s someone holed up with a gun, through patience and diplomacy and bridge-building and a care to avoid escalation, the police can normally manage to get them to surrender without anyone else getting hurt. In the States it seems to be a matter of shoot first, think after. Awful.

    As for how anyone at all can support Trump, it’s beyond me. I’ve read the various ‘explanations’ that have been offered and on some level I can understand them, but then I look again at the man, his thuggishness, his bullying, his racism, his sexism, his ignorance, his through-the-roof narcissism, his complete lack of dignity or gravitas or intelligence, his overt corruption, his authoritarianism, his attacks on the US constitution, every single thing he does or says … and it stumps me all over again how *anyone*, from any background at all, can look at him and see someone who’s even remotely fit to be President.

    I am pinning all my hopes on a Democrat win next year. Another 4 years of Trump just doesn’t bear thinking about. Report abuse

  • Honestly, over here it seems to be “shoot first, think NEVER”.

    There is a lunatic out there offering “police training” courses that encourage an us-vs-them attitude (where “us” is cops and “them” is everybody else) called “Warrior Training”.  This guy teaches that cops should always be on high alert because absolutely everybody who isn’t a cop is a potential criminal and will interfere at best and try to kill them at worst.  It is “shoot don’t think”.

    Lots of police forces find this causes a lot of problems (unsurprisingly) and several have tried to pass regulations against its use.  But belligerent aggressive cops – which are the majority – have taken to taking it “on their own dime” – actually more often than not paid for by private funding from authoritarian groups.  Municipalities that have tried to regulate against its use even on “private time” have been sued for abrogation of the cops’ civil rights, so even where they are TRYING to encourage conflict resolution over goose-stepping authoritarian attacks on our own citizenry, they are largely hamstrung in such efforts.

    Also no police force in the country keeps records on police malfeasance or disciplinary actions.  Police unions mandate that such records be regularly and frequently destroyed, so that even responsibly administered departments have no way to track cops who routinely cause trouble.  Where such records do exist, when court-mandated to be turned over to anyone outside the police force for any reason, they are routinely destroyed instead without consequence.

    The stuff we know about is the bare tip of the iceberg.  I’m a 62 year old little old lady who mostly looks white to anyone who isn’t a dyed in the wool racist and I have been intimidated and disrespected by cops.  I had one come to the door because my neighbors thought I might be dead (I often don’t set foot out of the house for weeks at a time, this time it went over 6 weeks since anyone had seen me and apparently I was in the bathroom or asleep when a neighbor knocked to check on me during that time).  So – no reason for him to think I am a criminal yet he was disrespectful and nasty to me when I opened the door.  I actually happened to be walking past the door when he knocked so I opened it IMMEDIATELY so its not like he got pissed off standing there waiting for me.

    Frankly I’m afraid of the police, and I am particularly fearful of their interactions with my son, who is obviously a brown (unlike me, only real bigots spot my brown-ness) and looks Middle Eastern to boot.  He gets stopped several times a year by traffic cops who have clearly profiled him.  There has NEVER been a reason to be pulled over except DWB – driving while brown.  He has never had a speeding ticket or any other traffic infraction, not even a parking ticket.  No lights out, no failure to use turn signal, nothing.  Just stopping him to make sure he’s not named Mohammed or Ali.  He is a professor at a large Tejas university.  He dresses neatly and conventionally – not suit and tie but conventionally acceptable dress and hair nonetheless. (He got rid of his cute little beard because that seemed to inflame TSA even more than his brown skin, he got searched THREE TIMES in 5 minutes at an airport once, twice by the same guy)

    Yet he still gets stopped for nothing all the time.

    They terrify me.  You don’t have to be brown, or poor, to be afraid of the police here these days, and if you ARE brown and/or poor, it’s way scarier than it used to be in the relatively recent past.  It was getting progressively less scary until Trump.  Now the terror factor is exploding. Report abuse

  • Hey mods – is there a way that you could leave a note on someones profile telling them when a posting has actually been deleted and why?  I’ve had several just disappear when I first joined up.  I mean never get posted at all. They were apparently lost or inadvertently deleted because they have never showed up where I had posted them, even after I asked about it. This happened after I’d made just a couple of posts that had links in them, it blocked all posts and there was no notification of what was going on.  Maybe a message that does not persist on the boards, but lets us know when a post has been set aside for moderation, and if the moderation fails for some reason when a mod has the time to look at it, a short private message on our profile to let us know?

    This isn’t a heavily used forum so hopefully that wouldn’t be too burdensome on the mods? Report abuse

  • So far as we can recall, you haven’t had any comments deleted by us, Pye.

    The site has a spam filter that sets aside any comments it ‘thinks’ could be spam, pending moderator approval. You have had several comments caught up in that, usually because they contained links OR because you’d posted a large number of comments within a short space of time. In all cases, we retrieved and approved them.

    If you ever have any queries about the moderation, you will find our email address in the Comment Policy, which can be found at the foot of each page of the site.

    The mods Report abuse

  • Moderator  #128

    Thank you for the reply explaining the conflicting considerations with which you have to work where a comment is deemed to merit deletion. I would suggest that, any affront to the feelings of a commenter notwithstanding, it would be much more helpful of the Moderators, on deleting a comment, to leave a brief note saying nothing more than, say: “Comment by N… deleted in accordance with Comment Policy. Please contact Moderators privately for further explanation.” If that is too much for the sensitivities of a commenter, then you would be quite justified to reply to him or her, “Diddums.” Or, if you want your inner civil servant or inner mandarin to shine, your reply could be, “Your comment is noted.” Report abuse

  • Cairsley (and everyone)

    Ok. We do need to be able to use our discretion, but your suggestion in #134 would be appropriate in most circumstances and we’re happy to adopt it when it is. So thank you for that constructive contribution.

    Just a couple of things so people know where we’re coming from.

    Firstly, while of course the moderation has to work for users too, we can’t let it become moderation-by-public-vote or moderation-by-pile-on. There’s more to this moderation malarky than meets the eye, and we do need to balance a number of factors, including the right of the Foundation to set and insist on a certain standard for interactions on the site. And we need to be able to do our job without spending the next 2 days dealing with the fall-out on the website. We make no claims to infallibility, and of course we can get things wrong sometimes. But we do always act in good faith, and actually, the thinking we apply is quite transparent, as it’s set out in the Comment Policy. So that’s always a good place to start if anyone has had a comment moderated and isn’t sure why.

    Secondly, some aspects of this discussion about the moderation make it sound as if we were forever removing users’ comments. This is definitively not the case. It is actually quite rare for us to do so, and many weeks can go by without there being any need to. Even when we do, it’s often because it was pure spam, having somehow got past the spam detector. But most users do clearly comply with the Comment Policy and post in an appropriate way, and we greatly appreciate that: it’s what makes constructive and intelligent discussion possible.

    In fact, Cairsley, we can’t think of a single time one of your comments has been removed by us? We don’t keep records, so you may recall an instance that we’ve forgotten, but the reality is that your commenting style is actually pretty exemplary, so there’s certainly no need for you to feel deterred from posting, as you suggested in one of your comments above.

    As we keep saying, the site does have a sensitive spam detector, which does quite often put comments aside pending moderator approval. That is something that happens entirely automatically, and we have no control over it whatsoever. All we can do – and it is the first thing we do, whenever we come online – is check the comments it has put aside and approve them (assuming they comply with the Comment Policy). There isn’t a mod online at all times, but we do check in many times every day. So if anyone posts a comment that doesn’t appear (or that appears briefly and then vanishes – that sometimes happens too), your best bet is to assume it’s the spam detector being over-enthusiastic, and simply wait a while, to give us chance to deal with it. Trying to repost the comment just compounds the problem, as that, too, can be an indicator of spam, so the detector just doubles down and is more likely to treat your next few comments as spam too.

    There are no hard and fast rules, but the following all increase the chances of a comment triggering the spam detector:
    – links;
    – posting a lot of comments one after the other, within a short space of time;
    – editing a comment that contains a link.

    We can normally get to ‘spammed’ comments within an hour or two, but if a whole day has gone by without a comment appearing, feel free to email us (the address is given in the Comment Policy). It is definitely better to email us in this situation than to post a comment on the site, as a comment that has disappeared altogether would suggest a technical error that we (or more likely, the website manager) would need to work with you to resolve.

    We think that’s everything for now, so again, thank you for the constructive suggestion. Can we draw a line under this subject and move on now, please? As ever, users are always welcome to contact us by email if you have any further queries or comments.

    And finally: We would just like to thank all of you who contribute so interestingly to the discussions here. We learn a lot from you too and everyone at the Foundation genuinely appreciates the time and care you put into your posts.

    The mods Report abuse

  • Moderators  #135

    I appreciate the thought you have given to the little matter of comments deleted without notice, and I am sure others here do so too. My concern is only about comments being deleted without any indication of how or why and has nothing to do with how the Moderators apply policy and guidelines to each case. It is good to see that the Moderators, whose work here is much appreciated in keeping the forum conducive to open discussions, accept in principle, and I hope in practice, that the deletion of someone’s comment requires, at least for courtesy’s sake, that a brief note of the fact be left in its place. This does not concern how Moderators’ decisions are made — any such adjudicative role is always difficult, and, as you noted, no-one is infallible. Infallibility and perfection, however, are not sought here, and even the wisest disagree among themselves. But, yes, we do have the Comment Policy, and, where that needs to be interpreted for a particular case, we have the Moderators, may they live long and prosper. Report abuse

  • Yes, we understood the point you were making, Cairsley.

    We were simply adding some points of our own that we would like users to understand, in particular: that in most cases there is no problem with posting a notification when a comment has been removed – but we would like everyone to be aware that they should not take that as a cue to start an argument about the decision. If the user in question is unclear about the reason, they’re welcome to get in touch by email, but we won’t be entering into debates about it on the site, for the reasons we’ve outlined above.

    And with that, let’s bring this subject to a close and go back to other topics. Any further communication on the subject by email only, please. Thank you!

    The mods Report abuse

  • I am not sure if I may ask this question here, I hope I’m not violating any rule.

    Here, this one is for professor Dawkins himself if possible, related to 2 interrelated topics: Group Selection and Extended Phenotype. As I’m crawling through Dawkins vs Wilson debate, I can’t stop a very important question to invade my mind, which can’t really be asked as one unit, so I will need to ask a few:

    Did professor Dawkins, forget that he is British?

    Does he feel he could have become a different human, if born in Syria, as a Syrian. And why?

    Let me clarify even more. My dog, is a Shiba Inu. The fact that she lives with me, means that she’s merely under the laws of natural selection. She is fed, neutered, food falls from the sky down to her bowl. She’s seen by a vet, and I influence her socialization process. Important question here: Do *I* have an extended phenotypical effect on her genes?  Did England has an extended phenotypical effect Richard Dawkins’ genes?

    Can a human being, be perceived outside the framework of a nation, can a human being claim not being affected genetically by the nation in which she born?

    Thank you very much

    Charles G. Couturier Report abuse

  • Hi Pye Wacket

    Sorry for not catching this earlier.

    Pruning really only affects (in a very minor way, there are much more complicated things at work here) how easy it is to learn new things, not how easy it is or is not to change your mind on an issue.

    Not sure where to begin with all this, but, this seems not a representation of what I am actually saying. I don’t know when you were doing neurology/psychology, but some of the new material I am talking about is really emergent in the last ten to fifteen years.

    Here’s a little bit of background from 2009.

    The overproduction of synapses is followed by a pruning back of the unused and overabundance of synapses. Until the stage of synaptogenesis, the stages of brain development are largely gene driven. However, once the brain reaches the point where synapses are eliminated, the balance shifts the process of pruning is largely experience driven

    I’ll link the paper in the following post.

    For a brain “environment” is essentially culture. Culture governs the flux, the nature, quality and quantity, of experience.

    From my own long, long experience I  know I can still learn. That is why I am going back to university rather than subsiding into senility. Culture has created wonderful thinking tools to which I was acclimated (horrid word) and habituated when very young. Whilst I cannot absorb new kinds of thinking tools, try as I might, my old ones work as well or better than ever from accumulating experience.

    It is very much a learned habit to consider you might well be wrong. Not useful in some cultures, very useful in others. Particularly useful if it has put you into permanent learning mode. Taught early that you are the author of your own desserts, that misfortune, say, is always your own doing, this will be wired in and overlaid and overlaid until it becomes an intractable burden. Grown ups are increasingly folk of habit, both good and bad.

     

    This fixing following on from an early (and reliable!) imprinting is why we can have culture at all.

    The new ways of understanding neural development is neuro-constructivism. Apart from my university text books on the topic some of the first publications for general consumption are starting to appear. Professor Lisa Feldman Barrett uses it to account for how our experience and expression of emotions is hugely variable and surprisingly non-congruent between cultures. Much of our emotional-life experience is cultural.

    2 links follow separately (to avoid putting this into moderation). Report abuse

  • Hi Charles  #138

    Do *I* have an extended phenotypical effect on her genes?

    No. That would be a Lamarckian evolutionary mode.  Giraffes did not acquire long necks from generations of stretching. Phenotypes (extended or otherwise) and their genotype are only unidirectional in causal effect. Genes are not affected by culture…directly. But there are arguments for “co-evolution” of genes and culture (though cultural evolution has yet to achieve a reliable scientific model). Genes affecting the phenotype may affect in turn the selective pressure on genes, reinforcing or further adapting them. Report abuse

  • Charles G. Couturier says:

    Group Selection and Extended Phenotype. As I’m crawling through Dawkins vs Wilson debate,

    I think it is clear in modern evolutionary biology, that kin-selection is a working mechanism, and group selection is a discarded hypothesis which lacks a credible mechanism.

    Did professor Dawkins, forget that he is British?

    Does he feel he could have become a different human, if born in Syria, as a Syrian. And why?

    ♣ ♦ ♥ ♣ ♦ ♥ – – – – – ♣ ♦ ♥ ♣ ♦ ♥ – – – – – ♣ ♦ ♥ ♣ ♦ ♥ – – – – – ♣ ♦ ♥ ♣ ♦ ♥

    Richard Dawkins is from a British family, but born in  the British colonial empire.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Dawkins#Early_life

    Dawkins was born in Nairobi, then in British Kenya, on 26 March 1941.[25] He is the son of Jean Mary Vyvyan (née Ladner; 1916–2019)[26][27] and Clinton John Dawkins (1915–2010), an agricultural civil servant in the British Colonial Service in Nyasaland (present-day Malawi), of an Oxfordshire landed gentry family.

    I think your question is very speculative in view of his history. Report abuse

  • Hi Phil Rimmer,

    In response to your many comments on the People’s Vote March and Brexit in general.

    I agree that reporting, even supposedly non-partisan reporting, was mealy-mouthed at best.  The march was one of the biggest ever seen in London, and the reporting didn’t reflect that.

    Nor did reporting of the march reflect that it is a symptom of a fact: That the British people have changed their minds about Brexit, and that those who oppose Brexit have also woken up to the dangers of referenda, partisan media without a direct responsibility to the people and a relaxed attitude to the ways in which British politics has been pressurised to move to the right for more than half a century.

    The Government chose the perfect day to demonstrate how out of touch the political class really are – with only one side of the central argument represented outside Parliament, and those running the agenda inside Parliament pushing the other side.

    Does anyone remember the truly ridiculous Jarrow-style march on Parliament organised by Brexit politicians?  It never numbered more than about 200 people and fizzled out in a pathetic failure.  There is no counter-culture, as the right-wing media proclaim.  There is only sense, and nonsense.

    Unlike you I am not disappointed with the left over Brexit.  I was disillusioned by the left long before this.  But now is not the time for recriminations, or even analysis.

    You yourself pointed out that the current Labour leaders are turning their backs on their traditional working class voters when they prevaricate over Brexit.

    As far as I can see this problem, and due to their current numbers of parliamentary seats it’s a problem for all of us, Labour is being divided by the following.

    On the one hand there is the well studied indicator that supporting Brexit to the end will lose many traditional votes.  On the other hand, other studies show that most of those who voted for Brexit are working class and previously rare voters.

    The obvious outcome, if there was a general election tomorrow is that traditional, reliable, Labour voters would be switched off and the disaffected working class would vote Tory.

    Boris’s strategy is clearly based on exactly this premise.  If he keeps the faith the non-British media will also not call up a new super-right party to split the vote.

    Meanwhile Jezzer flip-flops between wanting to convert those casual voters into a new Labour cohort and keeping the one he’s got.  He says little, but given his political upbringing, this indecision may also be driven by the idea that conflict and a new widespread poverty will give left wing politics a fillip.  Gee, thanks Jeremy.

    The Government has been slow to exploit Labour’s problem, but they’re pushing the Brexit Election idea for all it’s worth now.

    Prevarication has left Labour with one shot – a second referendum, followed by a general election.  Anything else could actually sink the Labour Party for good.

    Boris has inherited the problems of a Brexit Party that threatens to split the Tory vote for a long period to come (or eclipse the Conservative Party completely) an EU that is bored and frustrated and an electorate that is increasingly partisan in a new era of faith-politics on the right.  Okay, not Boris, he’s our Trump.  The strategy being pursued by those pulling Boris’s strings

    Me? Well, the Brexit debacle has done something that nothing else in politics has ever done before – I‘ve  joined a political party.  The Liberals are the fastest growing party in a Britain right now, and they have been for quite a long time.  They’re still a bit too effete for me sometimes, but they’ve always understood Brexit and they’ve always understood that Britons are losing our ability to self-determine our own future.

    The Liberals are also the only party which is vocal about the very real concerns voiced by the consensus of economists: If your not rich, British, and Brexit happens – you’re about to get a lot poorer.  That makes them, currently, the only party that explicitly supports British working people.

    For that they not only get my vote – they get my energy and time too.

    Peace. Report abuse

  • Hail, fellow Liberal Democrat.

    Non-cynical, non-selective, non-dogmatic, constructive compassion.

    I’ll say much more after a few days of intense work pressure, Thanks for your excellent thoughts, Stephen. Report abuse

  • Stephen of Wimbledon, #144

    The Liberals are also the only party which is vocal about the very real concerns voiced by the consensus of economists: If your not rich, British, and Brexit happens – you’re about to get a lot poorer.  That makes them, currently, the only party that explicitly supports British working people.

    I think you mean the only UK-wide party. The SNP has been every bit as vocal and as clear on the subject (and not just in connection with Scotland, either). And, though both smaller, Plaid Cymru and the (UK-wide) Greens have too.

    I can quite see why the LDs might seem the obvious choice for a Remainer based in England, though. Just a little reminder that the UK (currently!) consists of more than just England! Report abuse

  • Hi Marco [#146],

    I gratefully accept your rebuke!  You are, of course, 100% correct.

    I am, at my core, British, and therefore naturally suspicious of other nationalisms in my own country.

    The SNP have indeed made some sensible comments and suggestions and it isn’t fair to exclude them from the Brexit debate as purely self-interested.

    My britishness stems partly from being welsh on the paternal side, and it is for this reason that I am frequently dismayed by Tony Blair’s nationalistic offspring.  To me, being British is about the same things as the EU debate – just in miniature.

    Either we want to be stronger together, or we want to be subject to politicians who’s motivation comes from the pay packet.  Either we want to move the World, or we’re happy to just scurry along behind some local bigwig, lording it over us and as subject as we are to the winds of outrageous fortune (the whims of the new super-rich, globalised, aristocracy more like).

    Yes, we’ll commiserate with each other over our powerlessness when things don’t work out and we’ll shake our collective fist at the rest of the World when it fails to meet our expectations or treat us with the respect that the mere fact of our ‘independence’ clearly deserves.

    Nationalist politics says: Ignore globalisation, it can’t touch us if we keep the faith… Nationalism is small thinking for small people, with small ambitions and small minds.

    I did consider joining the Green Party (I have friends who have pointed out their excellent anti-Brexit credentials too), but this is a situation where we need immediate political heft, not a wish list.

    While we’re on the subject: Bojo and Trump, great diversions from the World’s greatest challenge and immediate emergency aren’t they?  As Trevor Noah has pointed out: You get up each morning knowing you’ll be both entertained, and scared witless, by the extraordinarily moronic, and ignorant, stupidity of the new political class.  Yes, a great diversion … and nationalism is the one tool in their toolbox they really know how to use …

    Peace. Report abuse

  • Hi Phil [#145],

    Liberal Democrat = Non-cynical, non-selective, non-dogmatic, constructive compassion?

    That’s my ambition – and, yes, that means I would like to see that in a political party too.  I’m not sure what non-selective means, mind you.

    Do I think the Liberal Democrats live up to this ideal?  Tough question, but, no.  They get closer to being non-dogmatic than the nationalist politicians (so that’s every elected politician  in Northern Ireland for starters) and Labour, and the far right, but they have some problems of their own: Try not to look at Liberal Democrats talking about political correctness, for example.

    For a long time (like [COUGH!] 30 years … ish) this is exactly the kind of question that prevented me from joining a political party.  I was also, partly, put off by the situation surrounding being in the military and a political party at the same time – in my youth.  It’s possible to do both, but it’s hard for all sorts of reasons that have nothing to do with rules or laws.  Thing is: Habits formed in youth are difficult to break.

    Older certainly, and with a minor modicum of additional wisdom I hope, I have come to realise that dogmatism doesn’t actually rule in politics – it’s just that the politicians (and their media collaborators) make it look that way because it plays to exactly what I discussed in Comments #71 & #78.  At least that’s true within the political sphere of elected politicians – who, to succeed, must learn the art of horse-trading.

    I feel the need to add: It also feeds into another, possibly-rooted-in-evolutionary-psychology, factor: the Strong Leader Paradox.  It is something of a mystery to me – someone who has always longed to take on the World, who has always found it wanting – that anyone would go beyond the simple-minded, and clearly risky, tactic of outsourcing their decisions to a hierarchy and then go further … and support a leader simply because they are … … ‘The Leader’.

    And yet … there is in both the Bojo and the Trump (and other international Clown Fan Clubs – why can no one spot this, even their names give the game away!) a very clear and deep vein of evidence that significant numbers of the those who practise ‘think-avoidance’™ are also slaves to the idea that a Strong Leader is an essential characteristic of a, ‘strong‘, ‘independent‘ (season with racism, misogyny, xenophobia, faith-based-politics, difference-phobias until comfortable that you can live without change – OR – with more ‘independence’) … State.

    Dogmatism is, meanwhile, frequently promoted by partisan media as simplification.  No, it really isn’t, it’s a way to infantilize the electorate and, by extension, the politicians that rely on those votes.  It’s nearest neighbour, in the pantheon of logical fallacies (as far as I understand logic), is the false dichotomy – which, purely coincidentally (sic), almost always accompanies exactly those over-simplifications in the press – and other mass media in the UK and US should not feel comfortable at this point.

    Tail wagging the dog, anyone .. ?

    The thing is, this third party (apologies to non-UK people who may not have the luxury of a third party with a real chance of winning the next election and don’t label you as someone that the Secret Police should watch closely (or even a second party – like Russia, for example) is currently making waves by being less dogmatic – and not dogma-free.

    But, in the current political climate, I don’t want to be that guy who’s grandchildren ask: “What did you do about Brexit Grandad?” and have to admit that I could have done more to ensure that they were not the British Generation Indebted to the World, and living in a fragment of a country that once had the power to change the World for the better.

    p.s. Sorry about the irreversible climate change killing billions – we were diverted at the time (!).

    Peace. Report abuse

  • Stephen of Wimbledon, #147
     
    Wanting Scotland to remain in the UK is a perfectly legitimate position to take: it’s just not one I share. I do strongly think you are wrong, though, in dismissing the SNP (and with it, presumably, the Scottish independence movement as a whole) as nationalistic, and inward-looking, and “small-minded”. In fact, I know you to be wrong about that. 
     
    I grant you that the founders of the SNP, back in the day, made a rod for our backs when they called it the Scottish National Party. It makes it too easy to dismiss the independence movement as nationalism, with all the horrors that word conjures up (for me too). It creates an excuse not to engage with the case for independence, to treat it as an inherently illegitimate goal.
     
    But there is nothing inherently illegitimate about a country wanting to govern itself, in line with its own needs, values, self-image and aspirations, rather than being governed by a neighbouring country that doesn’t share any of those things. It’s actually the norm. Countries being independent is normal.
     
    Opponents to independence use the word “nationalism” as if there were only one form of it: the ugly ethnic nationalism that puts nationality and heritage and ethnic origin front and centre, that tends to be inherently right wing, that is hostile to immigrants, suspicious of the rest of the world, and that feels superior to those who don’t share those ethnic roots. As if supporting Scottish independence were the moral equivalent of voting for Farage, or Marine Le Pen, or Viktor Orban, or Trump. 
     
    That is so very far from being the mood in the SNP or the wider independence movement that it would be comical if it weren’t so outrageous. And I can tell you this: if I detected anything remotely of that kind in it, I would have nothing whatsoever to do with it.
     
    Happily, though, the reality could not be more different. Your description of nationalism fits the UK far better than it does Scotland. The growth in support for Scottish independence over the last 3 years is in large measure a rejection of the British nationalism that is currently in the driving seat of UK politics; a rejection of the English Exceptionalism that forms the basis of Brexit; a rejection of the idea of turning our backs on the EU and kidding ourselves that our rightful position is ruling the waves; a rejection of the idea of living in a perpetual 1945; and a rejection of the UK’s refusal to work in equal partnership with other countries. And it is a rejection, too, of the hostile environment: to immigrants, to the disabled, to those on benefits. It is a rejection of the Tory approach to public services, a rejection of the whole neoliberal project. 
     
    There is simply no equivalent of those things in the SNP or wider Scottish independence movement. On the contrary: alongside the rejection of those Britnat positions, there is a growing realisation that, given the attitudes and aspirations and values shared by a majority of people in Scotland, there is the potential to build a much healthier, fairer, more compassionate country, one that has more in common with Scandinavia than with Singapore.

    It’s a cheap trick to suggest that wanting to leave the UK is the moral equivalent of wanting to leave the EU. There is nothing in the Scottish independence movement that rejects the idea of partnership per se. It is entirely down to the policies of the UK government that we are now in the position where we have to choose between two mutually exclusive unions. Nor do the types of union offered by the EU and the UK respectively have much in common either. You only have to look at the solidarity shown by the EU to one of its smaller members, Ireland, and contrast that with the UK government’s utterly dismissive attitude to Scotland’s concerns over the last three years to see that one is a union of respected partners and equals and one is not. Not only that, but the two unions are also on mutually contradictory paths. One emphasising greater partnership and co-operation and seeking to create an environment in which economic prosperity can flourish while also taking a responsible stance towards workers’ and human rights, and the environment; and the other rejecting all that in favour of a headlong flight to a US Tea Party-style future, a low-tax, low-protection “Singapore on Thames” and neoliberal corporate paradise. It is bizarre, Stephen, to suggest any kind of equivalence between the two, or that it is inconsistent to embrace the one while rejecting the other.
     
    Further, I would challenge you to show me any other political party in the UK that has been anything like as consistently and overtly pro-immigration as the supposedly “nationalistic” SNP. Any other party leader who has been at such pains to assure migrants that they are welcome, and valued, and wanted, and that “this is your home”. Or to consider whether the messages sent out to EU citizens by the UK government have been half as welcoming or helpful as this one from Nicola Sturgeon yesterday (though this was just the latest of many, in her case).   
     
    And finally, you might be interested in this recent TED talk given by Nicola Sturgeon, called “Why governments should prioritise well-being”. It emerged as a result of an international initiative set up last year by the (supposedly inward-looking, partnership-rejecting) SNP Scottish government; and I think if you listen to it, you’ll agree that the ideas are hardly unambitious or small-minded either. 
     
    One thing I have been strongly reminded of by your comment, Stephen, is that day-to-day Scottish politics is almost wholly absent from UK news coverage. So I can’t blame you for not being aware of some of the really ambitious, forward-looking, positive work that’s being done up here, or of the many ways in which Scotland is already moving in a different direction from the rUK, or of the very many ways in which it does not remotely resemble your description of “nationalism”, or of its vision for a different future for itself, or of the impressive moral leadership that has been shown by the Scottish government in emphasising Scotland’s open, welcoming culture; or even just of how different it feels as a country. I would just urge you and others outside Scotland to remember that too, before you dismiss the case for independence, much less dismiss it as somehow morally repugnant.

  • Hello there.  Having read “The God Delusion” looking for the best possible argument against God, I was somewhat disappointed.

    The arguments seem to revolve around the claim that if things evolved, they could not also have been designed, which I think is a remarkable assertion, and pure assumption.  I would have thought the ability to adapt to the changing environment could be considered a design feature of the highest order, something we have yet to really achieve in our own software / hardware products, not to mention the sheer balance and sustainability of the natural world, which we have also yet to emulate.

    Secondly in the book it is argued that if the universe’s existence by chance was highly improbable, that makes God’s existence as its creator even less probable, yet I believe elsewhere in the book two options were given, either creation by God or by unintended natural processes.  If there are only two options and one is stated as being “highly improbable”, does that not thereby render the only remaining option “highly probable” as an inescapable result of the application of logic?

    When one admits the universe’s existence is “highly improbable”, this can only be as the result of “chance” or un-designed elements.  If God exists with the power and intent to create an emerging universe just as it is, one must conclude its existence is no longer a matter of chance, but is a certainty.

    Also in the book, belief in God is described as a “tempting delusion”, which sounds a lot like an attempt to explain away the fact that it may be “tempting” to believe only because it actually fits with the evidence of the complexity of life and the laws of science and nature.

    I’m interested in hearing the very best atheist arguments in a rational and reasoned atmosphere without being attacked for questioning certain assumptions many atheists hold that appear on the surface at least, to be only beliefs.  I don’t have a problem with anyone being an atheist, but before joining them I’d like to get to the bottom of exactly why they believe the things they do.  I am not religious, but so far believe that God is a rational concept, and I have yet to see an argument that changes my mind or is not based on beliefs and assumptions as “faith based” as any in religion, so for me its a fascinating subject as to why people believe the things they do. Are we looking for the truth in an open manner, or merely defending a priori held positions at opposite extremes?

    Regards, Report abuse

  • Hi Kevin, and welcome.

    I would have thought the ability to adapt to the changing environment could be considered a design feature of the highest order

    I just wanted to pick up on this bit because it seems to be based on a misunderstanding.

    Evolution by natural selection doesn’t require any ability to adapt whatsoever. The organism doesn’t have to “do” anything at all, other than reproduce.

    To put it ultra-simply, the adaptations happen all by themselves, by default, simply by virtue of the fact that organisms with survival-favouring genetic mutations will be more likely to survive long enough to reproduce and pass on those helpful mutations to lots of offspring. Organisms without the survival-favouring genetic mutations will be less likely to do so. So over very long periods of time, the survival-favouring mutation will automatically become more common among a population, simply by virtue of the fact that organisms have to be alive in order to reproduce. The ones that got killed off through lack of the helpful mutation stopped passing their genes to the next generation. No skill on the part of the organisms themselves required whatsoever. Just time. In the same way as a river carving a valley through rock doesn’t require any skill (or plan either) on the part of either the water or the rock. Report abuse

  • Kevin Decker # 150:  you wrote:  “I’m interested in hearing the very best atheist arguments in a rational and reasoned atmosphere without being attacked for questioning certain assumptions many atheists hold that appear on the surface at least, to be only beliefs.”  Here are a couple of reading suggestions I hope you find helpful.

    Maybe you’ve already done so, but if not you may find some books by physicists such as Lawrence Krauss or Victor Stenger, to be helpful.  If you go to the Book Club section—at the top of the page, hit community, then hit discussion, and then book club — in #34 I shared my impressions of Stenger’s book: God: The failed Hypothesis, How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist.  In #93 I wrote about his book God and the Folly of Faith: The Incompatibility of Science and Religion.  Dr Stegner wrote others as well, and I hope to read them soon. Dr. Krauss has written some excellent books, among which are A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing, and The Greatest Story Ever Told – So Far: Why Are We Here.  Another author I would recommend is Professor Jerry Coyne, a biologist at the University of Chicago.  Oh, Carl Sagan’s The Demon Haunted World, is a must read.  These books just scratch the surface of this subject, but I hope this helps a little bit.

     
    I think your inquiry is very important. We know that organized religion means less and less to people, but I find that many of my acquaintances simply think that while they don’t subscribe to the doctrines of a church, they hesitate to identify as atheists. I think people need to know that they can rationally discard belief in some sort of supernatural higher power, just as they have discarded membership in an organized religion.  Report abuse

  • Hi Kevin [#150],

    Glad to hear you got so much out of The God Delusion.

    The arguments seem to revolve around the claim that if things evolved, they could not also have been designed …

    That is indeed one way of looking at the evidence.

    … which I think is a remarkable assertion, and pure assumption

    Well, that’s one way to misinterpret The God Delusion that we’ve never heard before (tip: not really).  The whole point of the modern synthesis (the three-pointed hat of our modern understanding of biology) is that all three points – including Darwin’s evolution via natural selection – are strongly supported by evidence.

    In other words your asserting an assertion where assertion, unsupported, does not exist.  Sorry, that probably didn’t help.

    I would have thought the ability to adapt to the changing environment could be considered a design feature of the highest order …

    I see, and at what point did we look at most animals, plants, insects, fungi, arachnids, fish, viri, (etc. etc.) and didn’t conclude that they have the flexibility to live in environments other than those from which we extracted them?

    The point is not that individual living things have adaptability, it’s that: Outside their range of individual adaptability a species will be challenged to survive if the environment available to them changes enough.  Evolution does not act on individuals, it acts on species (big groups of like organisms that do not have the ability to change their environment(s) by direct action).

    …the  ability to adapt to the changing environment [is] something we have yet to really achieve in our own software / hardware products

    I see, and that’s important because … ?

    … in [The God Delusion] it is argued that if the universe’s existence by chance was highly improbable [concluding that] … either creation [is] by God or by unintended natural processes

    Forgive me Kevin, it’s been a long time since I last read The God Delusion, and I simply don’t remember that argument.

    Please consider this: The Universe (and I’m restricting myself here to what is known and observable) is vast.  I mean, you might think it’s a long way to get to the nearest movie theatre, particularly if you have to walk.  But compared to going from here to the edge of the Universe that’s peanuts – and I mean the two scales are so different that one becomes an invisible dot on the other in any scale that has to actually fit inside your (or my) visible range.

    There are approximately 20,000,000,000 stars like our Sun in our local Milky Way galaxy.

    Approximately 22% of the above ‘Suns’ have exoplantets capable of supporting life.

    Our Milky Way galaxy is a small part of the Laniakea Supercluster, which contains, approximately, 100,000 galaxies – suggesting 440,000,000,000,000‬ planets capable of supporting life.

    At this point the true scale becomes impossible to imagine, and I can imagine quite a lot.

    Let’s go with the current (many would say conservative) estimate of approximately 10 million super clusters in the Universe: that’s 4.4e+21 potentially life-supporting planets.  Okay, I just looked up some numbers using Google, but, please, feel free to try and come up with some numbers that are much smaller than that – it will make no difference.

    The thing here is you’re discussing probabilities.  According to my math there’s life on Earth and that means the probability of life is 1 in 4.4e+21 – minimum.  But of course it’s more interesting than that: If life occurred once, what’s to prevent it occurring 4.4e+21 times?

    Please note that I’m not aware of the answers, I’m just spit-balling here.  I need you to instruct me on where I’m going wrong.  My premise is simple: In a Universe that is vast (as above) even improbable things must happen, and they must happen often.  It makes no difference that we are incredulous, or skeptical, about improbable things happening.  If we’re discussing probabilities of the kind your presenting, in a Universe that is – inescapably – orders of magnitude larger than those probabilities, then they will happen, somewhere, at some time, inescapably.

    If there are only two options and one is stated as being “highly improbable”, does that not thereby render the only remaining option “highly probable” as an inescapable result of the application of logic?

    I can merely label one of my two cans of milk from my cows as ‘milk’.  Does this not, thereby, render the only remaining can ‘double cream’?  Clearly ‘double cream’ is, here, the inescapable result of the application of logic.

    … the Universe’s existence is “highly improbable”, this can only be as the result of “chance” or un-designed elements.

    Clearly this is flat wrong, and I very much doubt it came from The God Delusion.  We live in the Universe, ergo, to the extent that we can be sure of our existence (I think, therefore I am) we can say the the Universe’s existence has a probability of 1.  It is therefore not improbable.

    If God exists …

    Yeess … Unlike the Universe we have no evidence for a god or gods. Unless, Kevin, you’re about to be the first … !!! ?

    Just for the moment, I’m sure you’ll be understanding, we’ll set the probability of God at zero, pending, naturally, your excellent evidence.

    . .. [a god with] with the power and intent to create an emerging universe just as it is

    Your setting yourself up here Kevin.  My advice is keep it simple, a god is a god is a god.  A god with specific superpowers is much harder to prove – like proving a real life Spidee.

    Also in the book, belief in God is described as a “tempting delusion”, which sounds a lot like an attempt to explain away the fact that it may be “tempting” to believe only because it actually fits with the evidence of the complexity of life and the laws of science and nature.

    So close Kevin, and yet so far.  In this case I understand that the temptation referred to is the temptation to turn away from truth, and embrace nasty deception or falsehood.

    Please explain, because I just know I’m merely one among millions on this point: How does your god belief fit with the evidence of the complexity of life and the laws of science and nature?

    I’m interested in hearing the very best atheist arguments in a rational and reasoned atmosphere …

    Jolly good show.  I, in addition, am ready to hear the very best theist arguments in a rational and reasoned atmosphere.

    … without being attacked for questioning certain assumptions many atheists hold that appear on the surface at least, to be only beliefs.

    Good for you again, Kevin, I too would prefer a socially responsible, polite and respectful discussion.  It would make a nice change, wouldn’t it?  Let’s just stick to the facts and keep personalities out of it.  Okay, maybe we’ll need just a smidgen of philosophy too.

    Of course we’re talking about beliefs, and that means nothing that is an idea is above criticism.  If you come here you have to be prepared to here questions about your deepest, your most treasured, beliefs.  Please just remember: It’s nothing personal 🙂

    I am not religious, but so far believe that God is a rational concept

    We all have our cross to bear (geddit?).

    … for me its a fascinating subject as to why people believe the things they do

    Me too, and for that reason I can’t wait: Come on Kevin what are your beliefs and – just as importantly – why are they your beliefs?

    Are we looking for the truth in an open manner … ?

    I certainly hope so.  Only time and experience will ell.

    Peace. Report abuse

  • Kevin Dekker says:
    I am not religious, but so far believe that God is a rational concept,

    The problem is, that thousands of followers of thousands of conflicting religions, all claim that believing in THEIR god(s) is a rational belief, despite the lack of any evidence being around to support the existence of such entities,  anywhere except in their own imaginations.
    The truth is that theists hide their god-delusions behind a lack of clearly defined properties, and try to shift the onus of proof on to critics – while hiding gods in obscure places where they are thought to be inaccessible to investigations and examination.

    Vague deist semantic word-salad, is also too incoherent and ill-defined to refute, but that adds nothing to its credibility with the objective rational observer.
    The obvious “evidence” is the lack of any evidence for the existence of particular gods, the vast number of conflicting descriptions of both a diversity of gods past and present, and from the conflicting views of believers who claim to be followers of the same god.

    Once theists define their gods and attribute actions to them in the material world, these become readily refutable by science.
    Science debunks supernatural claims of material interventions, and regularly provides naturalistic explanations for events where incredulity or ignorance have caused some people to claim magic is real – with god-did-it offered as a credible explanation.

    and I have yet to see an argument that changes my mind or is not based on beliefs and assumptions as “faith based” as any in religion, so for me its a fascinating subject as to why people believe the things they do.

    When we look at actual evidence (or the lack of it), and apply reasoning, certain features become clear.

    Most of the past and present religions of the world have defined gods- other than their own, as not existing. That means that there has been a majority view that any one particular god does not exist.
    Objective observations confirm that no god from an isolated time or geographical location, has ever manifested itself elsewhere on the planet!
    There were no Inca gods in ancient Greece, and no Roman gods or Abrahamic gods in the pre-Colombian Americas.
    We can therefore reasonably conclude, that these gods were delusions indoctrinated into the brains of the inhabitants of those local cultures.

    So looking over the evidence:
    A god is a delusion in an individual brain, {which may be a version memetically transmitted to it by indoctrination}, which then projects itself in grandiose manner, on to the material universe, for the purpose of impressing and controlling its human host.
    It is not a physical entity which has any input into the material universe, apart from any activities the human host(s) are manipulated into performing.
    Consequently any physical input into the universe by each god-delusion, is restricted to the small area within the influence of the host, on a small patch of one planet.
    Most such god-delusions are strongly and aggressively self-replicating, self aggrandising, and self-propagating, as a top requirement for their human hosts.
    Many are also very defensive of their hosts perception of their existence and ruthless against any rival god-delusions which might replace them.
    The mentally contorted fallacious arguments theists will produce to hide the illusory nature of their god-delusion from themselves, can be quite pitiful!
    However the damage caused by human hosts motivated by god-delusions threatened with exposure, is real!
    The most widespread god-delusion programmes, are those which direct their human hosts’ energies, into replicating or defending their “gods”. The fundamentalist forms, often contain a blocking programme, as part of a defence mechanism against evidence which would cause the believer to doubt the status of their god-delusion.
    In the Abrahamic religions we see the first 3 commandments are prioritising promoting gods and dogmas ahead of human welfare.
    Historically we see religious wars and connivance with brutal regimes, in the interests of promoting particular god-delusions along side commercial exploitation of conquered or subservient populations.
    The god-delusion image and its activities, are INTERNALLY projected on to the believer’s world view, like a cinema image projected on to a screen. Generally the credit for most, or all, favourable events, is attributed to the god-delusion.
    The versions of the the “films”, are very variable, and often the plots conflict with those of other rival religion’s “films”, but the basic projection mechanism is the same.
    Indeed the memetically replicated sequels often significantly branch away from earlier versions, as new features or requirements are evolved and added, – hence the diversity of sects, cults, and denominations.
    On the scale of the Universe, we cannot even see the CLUSTER OF GALAXIES containing the Milky Way!

    It is a classic example of delusional aggrandisement for a delusion programme in a believer’s head, to claim to have created the universe and be currently running it!

    “My big god is bigger than your little god”, only sounds plausible only  to those imprinted and indoctrinated with a particular god-delusion programming in their brains.

    God-did-it, as an answer to big questions, is purely the well known fallacy of god-of-gaps gapology!

    https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/God_of_the_gaps

    The usually accompanying fallacy is the theist claim, that if some feature of science is unclear or unknown, god-did-it-by-mysterious-magic, can become a default position, in place of an honest admission that “we (or I), do not know the answer (yet)!

    I think these rational arguments may be better than some you have previously encountered.

  • I love the debate on the value of religion. One thing I have a tough time reconciling is the position we atheists take on the freedom for one to make a personal determination, and our ‘live and let live’ attitude. At some point, it seems that attitude always butts up against actions taken by theists on the national stage, and the potential harm caused by those actions.

    I rather suspect at some point, we atheists are going to be forced to take a stronger stance against religion. How could it be otherwise? Report abuse

  • Hi Marco [#149, Part 1],

    “I grant you that the founders of the SNP, back in the day, made a rod for our backs when they called it the Scottish National Party. It makes it too easy to dismiss the independence movement as nationalism …”

    If we were discussing one word I might agree with you.  The thing is an awful lot of water – political posturing, proposing, proselytizing – has flown under the bridge since the founding.  Perhaps I’m being overly partisan(?) but it seems to me that the SNP have been pretty clear and awfully partisan too.

    “… with all the horrors that word [nationalism] conjures up (for me too). It creates an excuse not to engage with the case for independence, to treat it as an inherently illegitimate goal”

    I wouldn’t go that far.  Here I am engaging.

    “But there is nothing inherently illegitimate about a country wanting to govern itself, in line with its own needs, values, self-image and aspirations, rather than being governed by a neighbouring country that doesn’t share any of those things”

    There’s a Gish Gallop going on here.  We’ve started by switching away from nationalism as if we’ve disposed of it, not so.

    At the heart of nationalism we find the weakest forms of identity politics – we happen to live near each other therefore we’re in an extended familial relationship.  The peoples of Norway, Northern Ireland, Cumbria and Northumbria live closer to some people living in Scotland than other people living in Scotland do.  Read Robert Burns to a Northumbrian by all means, it’s written in his/her language.

    Then we have identity-by-political-division-through-history.  I’m sorry, I just can’t get excited about a line on a cliff drawn by a bunch of Italian tourists over a thousand years ago – and which was then summarily ignored by the Britons they left behind for some centuries.

    Then we have identity-by-shared-culture.  Thank goodness for Queen Victoria and her revival movement, eh.  In my lifetime I know of no significantly identifiable difference between, say, Cornwall-Britain and Scotland-Britain, or Normandy-France and Scotland-Britain – except that the people living outside Scotland seem to be more attuned to the inevitable motions of history.  And as for cultural differences between Scotland and the rest of Britain … now where did I leave that microscope …

    Which leads us to identity-through-shared-experience.  Many who live in Scotland prefer to simply deny they played any part in Britain’s last half millennium.  The fact remains that Scots played a central role and, in doing so, played a central role in global art, science, politics and commerce – and they did it as British people.  It is sometimes still possible, I’m sorry to say, to hear leading Britons who happened to have been born in England described as English, while a Scot will be labelled as British only – but things are improving.

    Then there is identity-by-sports-team.  Rah rah.  On a more serious note – a godsend for propagandists, win or lose

    In my lifetime I’ve seen an increased understanding from the rest of Britain regarding the needs of those living in Scotland – although the poor support given by Conservative governments during the winding up of British heavy industries fell far short of ideal there are many in Northern Ireland, Wales and North East England with similar tales to tell.  Silicon Glen was a British Government initiative.

    As above, British people clearly share values.  Indeed you and I, Marco, frequently agree – because we come with the same culturally and historically informed values.

    It is true to say that many people in Scotland have adjusted their self-image in recent years.  How much of that, I wonder, is due to the rather obviously high levels of propaganda?  This is my biggest concern after the downsides of nationalism: Hubris is a wonderful feeling, but it is not based on the facts of life.  It’s also too much like pride – the Ancient Greeks were certainly convinced that it comes before a fall.  More on this I a moment.

    “Countries being independent is normal”

    Is it though: You and I convince ourselves that we are free citizens of the World with a say in it’s direction, and the ability to steer our own lives, but we don’t get it all our own way.  We may have rights but those rights are continuously threatened.  We also make commitments to our friends and neighbours, and we have wider social responsibilities that limit our freedoms.

    So too with countries.  Even the largest and strongest countries join clubs with other countries.  After some discussion they then realise that it would be an advantage to develop the club’s rules and allow the club’s committees to take on some of the member’s rights and responsibilities – in order to smooth the paths of co-operation, to avoid conflict and to improve the lives of the citizens in all members states – leading to a more stable, peaceful, world.

    Britain struggles with the long history of violent integration – but other countries with quite as much baggage thrive: Canada, the United States, Germany.  We are increasingly seeing these expressions of country club.  It often seems to me that when people deplore that some European politicians are planning a European Super-State they’re saying they don’t want Europe to be like Britain – why not?

    It all depends on what you mean by independent.  If your definition of independence springs from nationalism, then many people will be on their guard.

    Also, the SNP never seems to discuss who would gain from their nationalist agenda.  They spin a great tale of ’freedom’ to Scots, sure, but who would win bigger?  International capital prefers small countries trying to go it alone – they get to dictate the rules.  As Britain we were, just barely, able to contain the financial meltdown of 2007-2008.  You want to live in a smaller country, and play in that pool?  Ask Iceland and they’ll tell you just how horrendously bad that can turn out.

    My point is that there are downsides to independence (for those who believe themselves more independent, and those they snub) – however you define it – and that goes for Scotland and Brexit.  Indeed, on this point these political movements are identical – and the twin relationship extends into how the leading political parties keep schtum about them (unless they’re caught out, in which case spin and outright fibs are the order of the day).

    “Opponents to independence use the word “nationalism” as if there were only one form of it: the ugly ethnic nationalism that puts nationality and heritage and ethnic origin front and centre …”

    For good reason, surely.

    “… that tends to be inherently right wing, that is hostile to immigrants, suspicious of the rest of the world, and that feels superior to those who don’t share those ethnic roots”

    You appear to be discussing the SNP?

    “As if supporting Scottish independence were the moral equivalent of voting for Farage, or Marine Le Pen, or Viktor Orban, or Trump”

    If you’re going to make my argument for me I may as well give up 😊

    To be continued.

  • Hi Marco [#149, Part 2],

    “Happily, though, the reality could not be more different. Your description of nationalism fits the UK far better than it does Scotland”

    You’re asking us to believe that Scotland is as pure as the driven snow.  You do realise that notions of ethnic, racial and/or regional purity are a diagnostic feature of fascism – yes?

    What about the recent open letter signed by 80 people who are leaders in their chosen fields to the Scottish Government saying exactly the opposite?

    Also, was it Lonely Planet who described Scots as being racist against the English?

    To be clear: The SNP has a pretty good record on trying to combat racism.

    Scotland is a part of the UK.  There are therefore racists in Scotland by your own argument (and if memory serves there was even a book published on Scottish racism last year – I didn’t read it) and, statistically, some of them must be in the SNP.

    There is an obvious overlap between nationalism and racism – they both rely on the emotional tug of us versus them.  Equating racism with Scottish nationalism would be a false equivalence, I can grant you that much.  And yet, the SNP and its friends need to be constantly on their guard because both are ways of thinking that rely on a difference being described between those who belong and those who don’t – on the basis of that difference.  In addition, as I have stated above, the difference being described between Scots and their fellow Brits is infinitesimally small.  Beware, there is a danger here, notions of difference could be flipped into racism very easily.

    “The growth in support for Scottish independence over the last 3 years is in large measure a rejection of the British nationalism that is currently in the driving seat of UK politics”

    Brexit has opened a can of worms – but the SNP has been in existence for far longer.  Sorry, I just can’t agree.  Do I think that Brexit is being used by propagandists in Scotland in order to drive a wedge between Scots and their fellow Brits – absolutely!  Do I think that left-leaning Scots have long deplored the British Empire, while ignoring the central roles played by many Scots – the Glasgow slave trade anyone? – yes.  Do I think that these things equate to a recent sharpening of Scottish scruples – no.  Do I think that the 20C ambivalence and strong left politics of Scotland are ripe for misinformation and misdirection – yes.

    Case not made.

    “… a rejection of the English Exceptionalism that forms the basis of Brexit”

    You’ll have to teach me about that – I don’t remember seeing any.  In any case, if it happened, there would be plenty of people like me who would argue that it simply doesn’t stand up under scrutiny.  No such argument has passed by me …

    “… a rejection of the idea of turning our backs on the EU and kidding ourselves that our rightful position is ruling the waves; a rejection of the idea of living in a perpetual 1945; and a rejection of the UK’s refusal to work in equal partnership with other countries. And it is a rejection, too, of the hostile environment: to immigrants, to the disabled, to those on benefits. It is a rejection of the Tory approach to public services”

    is not a uniquely Scottish position – it’s shared, by and large, by all the British people who reject Brexit (and some aspects even by left leaning citizens who do back Brexit).  Your discussing a UK political movement – not a purely Scottish one.  You may be repeatedly told that it’s uniquely Scotch, but that is simply not true.  Which means if you are acting on it as if it where uniquely Scotch you’re unknowingly dancing to someone else’s tune under false pretences – and there is a significant probability that you’re a dupe.

    “… a rejection of the whole neoliberal project”

    I have literally no idea what that means.

    “… there is a growing realisation that, given the attitudes and aspirations and values shared by a majority of people in Scotland, there is the potential to build a much healthier, fairer, more compassionate country, one that has more in common with Scandinavia than with Singapore”

    I’m going to skip this bit as I would only end up repeating myself.

    “It’s a cheap trick to suggest that wanting to leave the UK is the moral equivalent of wanting to leave the EU”

    It’s a cheap trick to simply deny morally equivalent political movements that, on their face, are identical in motivation, execution and substance.

    “There is nothing in the Scottish independence movement that rejects the idea of partnership per se”

    Scottish independence, as demonstrated, is a case study in politics that rejects the idea of partnership per se.

    “It is entirely down to the policies of the UK government that we are now in the position where we have to choose between two mutually exclusive unions”

    Agreed.

    “Nor do the types of union offered by the EU and the UK respectively have much in common either.  You only have to look at the solidarity shown by the EU to one of its smaller members, Ireland, and contrast that with the UK government’s utterly dismissive attitude to Scotland’s concerns over the last three years to see that one is a union of respected partners and equals and one is not”

    Oh, please, spare us the synthetic outrage.  The British Government has shown all anti-brexit people the same dismissive attitude – there is no special treatment of Scotland here.

    So it’s official then – the SNP is now embracing the right wing, and religious, tactic of: If you argue against us you must be anti-Us and that means we’re victims of your hate?  I admit it, I was strongly tempted to add a childish, in your face, response there – it seemed to be in context.  I resisted.  I don’t feel better for it.

    Victimisation is a nice easy thing to sell, especially alongside identity politics, I’ll grant you that.

    It does my heart good to see the SNP falling into line behind the Tories, and adopting faith-based politics.

    “Not only that, but the two unions are also on mutually contradictory paths. One emphasising greater partnership and co-operation and seeking to create an environment in which economic prosperity can flourish while also taking a responsible stance towards workers’ and human rights, and the environment; and the other rejecting all that in favour of a headlong flight to a US Tea Party-style future, a low-tax, low-protection ’Singapore on Thames’ …”

    Surely: Singapore on Leith?

    “It is bizarre, Stephen, to suggest any kind of equivalence between the two, or that it is inconsistent to embrace the one while rejecting the other”

    I understand that you like repeated messages Marco – no doubt they feel more authoritative that way.

    I continue to refuse to repeat myself.

    “Further, I would challenge you to show me any other political party in the UK that has been anything like as consistently and overtly pro-immigration as the supposedly “nationalistic” SNP”

    I’ve spent a considerable part of my weekend on this already.  I’ll just concede.  You know, they tell me that Stalin had some bad points.  The wooden plough was in widespread us in Russia when Stalin came to power – they had all gone by the time he died.

    “And finally, you might be interested in this recent TED talk given by Nicola Sturgeon, called Why governments should prioritise well-being”

    I will, just not right now as my Wife is complaining that I’m not considering her well-being.  David Cameron (note the Scottish name!) was also a big fan of government’s focussing on their citizen’s well-being.

    “One thing I have been strongly reminded of by your comment, Stephen, is that day-to-day Scottish politics is almost wholly absent from UK news coverage [etc.]”

    I understand that you’re trapped in a media bubble and it’s hard to break out and consider your situation objectively.  I have met Scots who have come south, and who deplore the navel-gazing so ubiquitous in today’s media in Scotland – one was actually quite angry.

    Just call me sceptical.

    Peace. Report abuse

  • I’m shocked, Stephen. That is a truly disgraceful reply, and unworthy of you to boot. Imagine spending so long on two enormous replies, only to fill them with such a complete and utter misrepresentation of the case you are supposedly arguing against!

    To anyone who’s interested in what the SNP/indy movement actually stand for, rather than simply being determined to cling to some spectre conjured up out of their darkest imaginings (so not you, obviously, Stephen), there’s no shortage of source material online.

    There’s the SNP website: http://www.snp.org
    There’s Nicola Sturgeon’s open letter to EU citizens in Scotland: https://www.snp.org/first-ministers-open-letter-to-eu-citizens-in-scotland/
    There’s the record of what the SNP has done in government in Scotland:  https://www.snp.org/record/
    There’s the SNP’s immigration policy: https://www.snp.org/policies/pb-what-is-the-snp-s-policy-on-immigration/
    And leading SNP politicians tweet regularly: @NicolaSturgeon, obviously, but also @IanBlackfordMP, @AlynSmith, @drewhendrysnp, @joannaccherry and many others, so it’s not difficult to get a feel for their values. But hey, perhaps they’re all just lying, eh? You know what evil nationalists are like.

    The independence movement is not just the SNP, though.

    Those notoriously nasty nationalists the Scottish Greens are also passionately pro-independence: https://greens.scot/blog/the-greens-commitment-to-campaigning-for-independence-could-not-be-clearer

    And away from party politics there are other groups actively working towards independence and formulating their own vision for the kind of country it could be: https://commonweal.scot/big-ideas

    While it is of course possible to disagree on the question of whether Scotland should be an independent country, it would take a very great determination simply to smear the movement rather than acknowledge the reality of it for anyone to actually engage with it and come away with the idea that it had anything remotely in common with the ethnic nationalist horrors promoted by Le Pen https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-france-election-fn-manifesto-factbox/frances-le-pen-sets-out-presidential-election-manifesto-idUKKBN15J00B or Viktor Orban https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/sep/06/viktor-orban-trumpets-far-right-procreation-anti-immigration-policy & co. What a disgraceful slur, Stephen.

    As for the allegedly non-existent differences between Scottish and English voter values, you only have to look at general election results. The Tories haven’t won the popular vote in Scotland since 1955. We get Tory governments because England keeps voting for them. I don’t even need to mention the Brexit referendum. The majority of Scottish voters – whether they support independence or not – vote for policies we end up not getting, and against policies we end up having imposed upon us. I would remind you that Scotland is a country. Not a city, not a region. A country. And a country that was promised a union of equals the day before the independence referendum of 2014, but has since been consistently sidelined and ignored.

    I understand that you’re trapped in a media bubble and it’s hard to break out and consider your situation objectively. 

     And patronising to boot. What a revelation this conversation has turned out to be, Stephen.

    It’s one thing to discuss with someone who disagrees – and I fully accept there is a legitimate debate to be had about Scottish independence; but there’s no point engaging with someone who’s just indulging in smears. So I shall probably leave it there, albeit with a distinctly nasty taste in my mouth.

  • Hi Vicki [#157],

    I love the debate on the value of religion.

    It takes all sorts to make a world.

    One thing I have a tough time reconciling is the position we atheists take on the freedom for one to make a personal determination, and our ‘live and let live’ attitude

    If I may make so bold, I think your scratching the surface there.  Isn’t it more like: We recognise the imperative, and the human right, to freedom of conscience?

    At some point, it seems that attitude always butts up against actions taken by theists on the national stage, and the potential harm caused by those actions.

    Yes, the most recent trend in religious-special-pleading-in-the-political-sphere has been to confound their opposition by deliberately compounding religious freedom (code for: pushing the envelope on freedom of conscience) with a special status for religious antagonism (please don’t say racism, sexism, homophobia, special status for the aristocracy, political campaigning without paying our dues, etc. etc.).

    The religious who are pushing religious freedom are, basically, moving the goalposts from freedom of thought and speech to freedom to act like a dick, and trying to say “Nothing to see here, this is business as usual, move on, move on … “.  Of course, if you object to religious freedom you must be a hateful person who rejects freedom of conscience – COMMIE!

    But despite the usual (religious take refuge by taking offence and crying about being oppressed because they can’t break the law or refuse a gay black person work) nonsense it is transparent hokum.

    Yes, we have to fight another battle but that is in the nature of politics – in politics the argument is never over.

    I rather suspect at some point, we atheists are going to be forced to take a stronger stance against religion. How could it be otherwise?

    If we really believe in trying to preserve human rights we have to defend them, every day.

    The idea that some things were settled after WWII has been strongly opposed since the 1980s by a newly revitalised class of people keen to preserve their elevated positions in society and to put an end to social mobility – apart from the truly exceptional.  In other words;there is an increasingly clear emergence of a new class system.

    Organised religions, as they always have, are gravitating towards supporting the new aristocracy.  They are trying to employ the tactics they have employed for at least 10,000 years: Suppression of the poor, sowing division (nationalism hurrah!) promotion of the exalted positions of the rich as desirable and praiseworthy and supporters of the Oligarchy and its power.

    We need to act now, not later.

    No, no, stop looking around for some organisation to confront and deny these new power-grabbers.  It’s up to YOU – you have to act.  So do I.  So does every sane, thinking, person.

    Peace. Report abuse

  • As usual the standard responses from atheists (I’m assuming)(Stephen from Wimbledon?)

    1.  There is no evidence for God.  The evidence is all around us and is what we are discussing.  If you start with the pre-conceived position there is no God, you will convince yourself there is another explanation and then accept it uncritically.  Life and the universe is the evidence, and to claim we understand the ultimate origins of either is not an assertion I’m prepared to accept without strong supporting evidence.  Lest I am misunderstood, what I have argued is that God is a rational concept, I have not argued that God is proven, and you need to be clear on that.

    2.  The usual citing of many religions (by another respondent) as an argument against there being any form of God .  I’ve thought about this a lot and I realize if I asked a thousand people what they thought about New York city I’d get 1000 different answers.  This doesn’t mean New York doesn’t exist, it just means its a big place with many different facets, and people are diverse and will have different perspectives.  How much more would this apply if there was a God?  (Stephen from Wimbledon cites some big numbers with regard to the universe so he’ll realize if the same but more applies to God, the variety is quite normal) . That’s why the variety of religious thought doesn’t bother me one bit.

    What I really have to question is the assumption that life did or even could have started by itself as a purely random process.  I’ve done the maths and the creation of even a simple pattern by an average human mind which would take it less than 5 minutes, if left to unguided but entirely natural processes, would take many trillions upon trillions of times the life of the universe to achieve, but at least its possible.  Reverse engineering this, if we have spent the last 70 odd years with some of the smartest humans investigating life and its origins and they are still largely a mystery, then what chance is there it started by unguided means?  However once someone shows that it was at least possible in such a manner, we will be at least qualified then to say whether it was probable, which we aren’t at the moment.  Until that is done, there is no rational reason save close minded dogmatism to insist that intelligent orchestration isn’t an option worth considering.

    In “The God Delusion” Richard Dawkins makes the statement that Einstein’s God is “something we can all trivially subscribe to”.  What is Einstein’s God?  Nothing less than the “illimitable spirit” and “superior mind” that wrote the library of the laws of science.  On this at least I can fully agree with him, even though the concept sounds suspiciously like the God of religion, and in that case we are right back at square one. Report abuse

  • Kevin Dekker says:

    Life and the universe is the evidence, and to claim we understand the ultimate origins of either is not an assertion I’m prepared to accept without strong supporting evidence.

    The universe existed for billions of years before the formation of the Solar System and the Earth. Circular thinking from indoctrinated preconceptions is only evidence of uncritical acceptance of those preconceptions.

    The usual citing of many religions (by another respondent) as an argument against there being any form of God .

    If you want to make a case why any particular god should be considered more credible than all the others, please present that evidence.

    Likewise if the is any evidence which would challenge the evidence of multiple conflicting descriptions of god-delusion images identifying the geographical distribution of god-delusions.

    Lest I am misunderstood, what I have argued is that God is a rational concept, I have not argued that God is proven, and you need to be clear on that.

    Without evidence based starting points, “rational concepts” are at best self-consistent “castles in the air” without foundation.

    I’ve done the maths and the creation of even a simple pattern by an average human mind which would take it less than 5 minutes, if left to unguided but entirely natural processes, would take many trillions upon trillions of times the life of the universe to achieve, but at least its possible.

    You don’t say which features of Earth’s evolution or biological evolution you have included in your formula!

    if left to unguided but entirely natural processes,

    You appear to mistakenly think that the combination evolution and natural selection is an unguided random process!

    This would invalidate any calculations you make, due to failing to include the progressive selection of generations of successful adaptations in the formula.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marine_microorganism#Overview

     

    The microorganism in the oceans include viruses, prokaryotes (Bacteria and Archaea), and protists.
    Bacteria and viruses are the most abundant, with a teaspoon (~5 mL) of seawater containing between about 1 million to 5 million bacteria, and 5 and 50 million viruses.

    Perhaps you could also explain how you calculated the probabilities of  the numbers, and number of generations involved in the 3 million years of evolution of single celled organisms   in  Earth’s oceans,  before complex organisms arose in the  Ediacaran period and Cambrian explosion.

    Also as you say you wish to present a rational case, perhaps you could actually rationally address the issues I raised with you in my previous comment.

    (Reasoning is of course a process of deduction and induction, and not merely a badge which can be stick on to unsupported personal opinions as a self-awarded badge of “authority”!)

    I’ve done the maths and the creation of even a simple pattern by an average human mind which would take it less than 5 minutes, if left to unguided but entirely natural processes, would take many trillions upon trillions of times the life of the universe to achieve

    Err no!  according to the fossil record, it took rather less than 600 million years for Cephalochordates to evolve into mammals and humans with brains.  The neuroscientists have provided more recent details of living brains and their evolutionary ancestry.

    You really should use some properly researched  scientific sources for your information.

      Report abuse

  • Kevin Decker # 162. You say that the evidence for a god is all around us.  I must disagree with that premise. What is all around us is the natural world.  From the dawn of humanity, people have sought an answer to the question why anything exists, and particularly why do humans exist.  Because primitive humans could not explain things any other way, they concluded that there must be some invisible power that created the heavens and the earth, and all things visible and invisible. How else can you explain the rising and setting of the sun, the seasons of the year, the tides, eclipses of the sun and the moon, &c,&c.  However, we know today that there are rational scientific explanations for the vast majority of the puzzles that baffled ancient humans, and not a single solution requires the intervention of an invisible being.  There are still puzzles to be solved but today it is more rational than not to expect natural solutions.  

    Don’t you find it strange that all concepts of god originated in the prescientific age?  If there were a creator who took some special notice of human beings — appearing, giving laws, demanding sacrifice and obedience, to name a few, don’t you think such a god would have told people the truth about why the sun rises, and that the earth revolves around the sun, and why the planets maintain their orbits?  No, all these mysteries were discovered by people such as Copernicus, Kepler, Charles Darwin, Edwin Hubble, Albert Einstein and others. Where is god in these scientific explanations?  Je n’avais pas besoin de cette hypothèse-là (I had no need of that hypothesis), said Pierre-Simon Laplace.  I anticipate a reply that god did not explain complex scientific principles to primitive people because they were not sufficiently advance to understand such concepts, but don’t you think the Greeks — people such as Pythagorus, Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle might have been able to grasp a few things?  Instead they discovered much about the natural world sans any divine revelation.   

    So, I respectfully ask you:  to what specific evidence can you point that will suggest a god, the god of Abraham or otherwise?  

     
    Again, thank you for sparking this exchange.  It make me, if not all of us, think and re-think our ideas. Report abuse

  • Kevin Dekker (#162 et al.);

    All right then, lets play it your way.

    Assume that there is a god. How would that work? Where does god’s influence begin and/or end? How does god (a supernatural entity; by definition, outside nature) interact and control things (including us) that are inside nature? Does it tweak inter-quark forces, or work on grand scales, manipulating space-time? Did god just start the ball rolling and then go “hands off”, or does it continue to meddle?

    These are questions you need to be able to answer, if you think that there is a god. They are not for atheists (in the usual “prove god doesn’t exist” manner typical of the religious) to figure out for you. Report abuse

  • I am perplexed by some prominent creationists and intel designers when they make this distinction between “historical science” and “experiential science”. I always thought science is science.

    Their claim is that since we were not there, back in time, we can’t deduct or infer what happened, because we can’t  test it in the lab. Is this a legitimate argument. We convict people to prison every day with evidence collected at a crime scene. We don’t say it is impossible to determine guilt because we were not there the night before when the gun was fired.

    One more issue for me is radioactive dating. The creationists claim it’s problematic. Contamination etc. Any merit to their arguments? Report abuse

  • Michael 99 #166:  I think the issues you raise identify precisely why it is so difficult to “argue” with creationists.  They want to cling to mythology as a substitute for science.  Or worse yet, they pervert science.  Its mind boggling, to say the least.  They want to fly in jet planes, drive automobiles with electronic safety devices, make calls on their cell phones, use the internet, flip a switch to turn on electric lights – in other words use all the practical conveniences that modern science has provided us with, but they want to teach their children that science is bad, and all they need to know is that in the beginning a god created the heavens and the earth.  So many of the purveyors of the dribble you point to, are outright con men who rob their followers blind, and it’s sad indeed that there are so many gullible people.
     
    I wish we all had the opportunity to pursue academic careers in all branches of science, but we are so fortunate that people like Carl Sagan, Richard Dawkins, Steven Hawking, Lawrence Krauss, Victor Stenger, to name a few, have written books that explains the science in terms that everyone with an ounce of curiosity can understand.

    I’ll leave it someone else to speak to your question about radioactive dating, but I would be more than a little confident that if the likes of Ken Ham or Wendy Wright question it, they are spewing unadulterated bunk. Report abuse

  • Michael 99 says:

    One more issue for me is radioactive dating. The creationists claim it’s problematic. Contamination etc. Any merit to their arguments?

    Nope it’s all concocted nonsense expressing incredulity, ignorance, and the wilfully dishonest quote-mining of reputable scientists, along with  false assertions.

    The arguments from the followers usually take the form: Some poser waving some sort of false authority, or scientific credentials said, “there was no evidence” and the gullibility parrot, then goes around repeating this “blind them with science trope”, despite thousands of peer-reviewed studies containing mountains of evidence which they are too uneducated to read or understand.

      Report abuse

Leave a Reply

View our comment policy.