September 28, 2010

Learning from Experience

If you do what you did,
you will get what you got.

If you get what you got,
you will feel what you felt.

If you feel what you felt,
you will think what you thought.

If you think what you thought,
you will do what you did.

- Anonymous (provided by Peter, first couplet by Einstein)

September 23, 2010

Belief, Science, Survival

UPDATE, April 6, 2011
The following is my reply to a number of constructively critical comments made in response to my September 23, 2010 blog post "Belief, Science, Survival" (original post and comments are below) by my good friend and published author Craig M. White.  To understand the background behind what follows, you are invited to look at this brief post and the comments that follow by Craig, another friend, Kevin Graham, and me.

I have known Craig for many years, having worked with him in Washington and in Africa in the US Refugee Resettlement Program.  I have the greatest respect for Craig’s scholarship, and his views regarding human affairs and the “bigger questions” of Life.  Rather than reply as a comment to a string of Craig’s posts, I am making a new post so that Craig’s, Kevin’s and my views might be shared more widely and thereby bring more of you into the discussion.  The issues Craig and I are discussing – the nature of “truth” and evidence, responding to the complexities of our Universe and Life, the need or lack of need for a creator God – are not wasteful mental wheel-spinning.  They are questions that are at the core of each of our very being.  We all think about them quite often, fleetingly or in incomplete snatches.  Yet rarely do we have, find or take time to give them serious consideration or sort out exactly what it is we believe in or accept as truth.  Reading the original post, its comments and the following is an opportunity to do so.

There are no right or wrong answers to the questions we raise.  There is, however, one future ahead of Humankind.  The course we take to that future will depend on what we accept as truth and what actions we take as individuals, nations and as a species based on that truth.  It is likely that the world’s powerful and wealthy will lead us.  But we, each of us, now and into the future, can influence where Humankind ends up.  Join us in trying to influence what direction we shall take.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Thank you, Craig, for your kind and incisive comments on my blog post "Belief, Science, Survival."  I very much agree with you, comprehending and accepting scientific accounts of cosmological and evolutionary time and events is not easy.  Within the scientific truth regarding our Universe there are huge gaps in our knowledge, great possibility for error, and significant on-going scientific debate and revision.  One obviously must somehow address these and other shortcomings of science and secularism before committing to such a truth.  Rather than respond to each point in your comments, most of which I have already addressed or referred to in the writings of others elsewhere in my blog,1 let me address the major aspects of scientific knowledge you draw attention to and claim have serious shortcomings.  Shortcomings you believe make science no more convincing than the absolute truth of the Abrahamic religions, namely Christianity.

Our Universe is dynamic.  Genetic mutation, variation, agency and emergence as they have appeared in the Life of our biosphere add to the complexity of this dynamism.  As long as the Universe and Life remain in process, scientific knowledge about objects and processes must remain provisional.  As you know, this tentative truth is comprised of descriptions and explanations arrived at through observation, experiment and other methods that have produced a huge body of credible knowledge that continues to withstand repeated challenges.  Contrary to your assertion, that which is unknown to science (the gaps and subjects still being debated) does not detract from what is known and make it less credible.

Science does not claim to possess total, perfect, final or absolute truth about anything.  In fact, some of that which is currently unknown about our Universe and Earth and its Life is regarded by science as possible or probable postulates based on credible truths provisionally in hand.  Scientific truth, therefore, is a combination of the provisionally known, postulates about certain unknowns (the gaps, what existed before the Big Bang, etc.), and complete ignorance about all the rest.  Odd, you say, science admits that that which is completely unknown and having no postulates is part of its truth.  Yes.  This “rest” of the unknown has yet to undergo scientific investigation, testing and postulation.  Regarding the unknown, consequently, science does not default to inferences about a supernatural creator God who purportedly understands and controls all.  It prudently submits to scrutiny that which it knows for the time being, rationally postulates about the unknown based on what is known, and leaves the rest for later.  That a truth is incomplete does not make it false or necessarily unacceptable.

US Policy: A New, Much Improved US Approach to International Development & Assistance

Remarks by President Barack Obama at the UN Millennium Development Goals Summit
Redefining "Development":  "For too long, we’ve measured our efforts by the dollars we spent and the food and medicines that we delivered. But aid alone is not development. Development is helping nations to actually develop - moving from poverty to prosperity. And we need more than just aid to unleash that change. We need to harness all the tools at our disposal - from our diplomacy to our trade policies to our investment policies.

The Ultimate Goal of Development:  Offering Pathways Out of Poverty:  "Second, we are changing how we view the ultimate goal of development. Our focus on assistance has saved lives in the short term, but it hasn’t always improved those societies over the long term. Consider the millions of people who have relied on food assistance for decades. That’s not development, that’s dependence, and it’s a cycle we need to break. Instead of just managing poverty, we have to offer nations and peoples a path out of poverty.  ...  But the purpose of development - what’s needed most right now - is creating the conditions where assistance is no longer needed. So we will seek partners who want to build their own capacity to provide for their people. We will seek development that is sustainable."

Emphasize Broad-based Economic Growth:  "This brings me to a third pillar of our new approach. To unleash transformational change, we’re putting a new emphasis on the most powerful force the world has ever known for eradicating poverty and creating opportunity."  ...  "(T)here are certain ingredients upon which sustainable growth and lasting development depends:  encouraging entrepreneurship; investing in infrastructure; expanding trade; welcoming investment; accountability in government; and investing in the health and education, and the rights of women."

Governments Can't Do It Alone:  "Finally, let me say this. No one nation can do everything everywhere and still do it well. To meet our goals, we must be more selective and focus our efforts where we have the best partners and where we can have the greatest impact. And just as this work cannot be done by any one government, it can’t be the work of governments alone. In fact, foundations and private sector and NGOs are making historic commitments that have redefined what’s possible."

September 21, 2010

But what exactly is a "bit" of integrated consciousness?

Sizing Up Consciousness by Bits
This approach to consciousness seems promising.  I'm a bit skeptical, though, how a theory of consciouness can be modeled on how bits of information in computers and cellphones work when it was consciousness itself that developed those technological models.

Someone please step in and clear my fog of ignorance on this.  Perhaps it is explained in Tononi's twenty-seven page scientific journal article Consciousness as Integrated Information: A Provisional Manifesto cited in the link article, above.

September 20, 2010

Superstition, Religion and Science

The Origin of Superstition, Magical Thinking, and Paranormal Beliefs
"...the majority of people accept as a given that an unseen world of paranormal powers exists, and all that remains is for us to discover the details of its workings."  ...  "Over 40% of Americans, for example, believe in devils, ghosts, and spiritual healing."  Why?

According to the authors of the link article, the "core knowledge", understandings of the physical, biological and mental world children acquire without learning, become combined and fused in some adults in such a way such that s/he believes the physical, biological and mental are causally connected.  For example, that the mind can control the physical world.  By extension such persons believe that mental content has the same abilities as physical and animate objects.

September 16, 2010

Why So Many Americans Hate Liberals, Science and Reason – Two Book Reviews

Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free, by Charles P. Pierce, 2009, New York: Anchor Books, 307 pages
Veteran journalist Charles Pierce explains how the glorification of ignorance in modern America came about and how it is sustained through what he calls the “Three Great Premises of Idiot America:  1) Any theory is valid if it sells books, soaks up ratings, or otherwise moves units; 2) Fact is that which enough people believe.  Truth is determined by how fervently they believe it; and, 3) Anything can be true if someone says it loudly enough." Pierce also points to the American public’s high regard for “The Gut” where “if something feels right, it must be treated with the same respect given something that actually is right.”  Pierce begins each segment of his book by contrasting events in recent American history that encourage and exploit ignorance with the thoughts of James Madison (1751-1836), fourth President and one of the Founding Fathers of the US, on how an enlightened democracy could survive by protecting itself from threatening ideas and movements from within.  These events include the establishment of the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky (2007) that claims Noah had two of every animal, including all the dinosaurs (very young ones), on the ark ; Ignatius Donnelly, the “Prince of Cranks”, who re-found Atlantis in 1882; the tobacco industry’s assault on the credibility of science; TV and radio talk shows and their anti-elitist distrust of expertise; religion’s recent incursions into politics; the false controversy of “intelligent design” vs. evolutionary science, including the textbook fiasco in Dover, PA (2005); Terri Schiavo; global warming; the pre-emptive war in Iraq, “Idiot America’s purest product”; the rise of the Republican party-led “movement conservatism” from Goldwater (1964) to Reagan (1981-89) and ultimately to George W. Bush (2000-08) (A 2007 Gallup poll showed that 68 percent of Republicans surveyed did not believe in evolution at all.); the Iran-Contra affair; Sarah Palin; and more.  For Pierce “the problem is not that America has dumbed itself down, as many people believe.  It’s that America’s gotten all of itself out of order, selling off what ought never to be rendered a product, exchanging (rather than mistaking) fact for fiction, and faith for reason, and believing itself shrewd to have made a good bargain with itself.”  A well-written book on how political ambition, religious zeal and paranoia, and bald-faced capitalism have turned many of the minds of the American public against reason.

Deer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from America’s Class War, by Joe Bageant, 2007, New York: Crown Publishers, 273 pages
From the back cover:  Deer Hunting with Jesus is web columnist Joe Bageant’s report on what he learned when he moved back to his hometown of Winchester, Virginia, which – like countless American small towns – is fast becoming the bedrock of a permanent underclass.  By turns brutal, tender, incendiary, and seriously funny, this book is a call to arms for fellow progressives with little real understanding of ‘the great beery, NASCAR-loving, church-going, gun-owning America that has never set foot in a Starbucks.’”  The single most important contribution this book makes is its explanation of how America became as it is described in Idiot America.  That is, through the exploitation of the working class by ruling class conservative Republicans in their pursuit of power at any cost – allying themselves with religion; attacking science and the educated as out of touch with the common man; and putting the blame for the decline of the American middle class on liberal Democrats.  How can a class of increasingly impoverished people, poor under-educated whites in particular, come to support and elect those whose policies and actions are the very cause of their increasing poverty?  Give the Republicans credit – they are good at what they do.  Why do most of the working poor in the country distrust liberals, Democrats and the educated?  Why don’t educated liberal Democrats involve and identify themselves more with the problems and concerns of the working poor?  Bageant answers these questions and more.

September 8, 2010

Dancing for Darwinian "Fitness"

Scientists say good dancing may be a sign of male health

This is perhaps why young men are more likely to get on the dance floor than older ones.  I remember hosting parties and dancing on our rooftop in Tanzania in the '80s until the sun came up.  Now, one slow dance while attending a wedding is about all the foolishness I'm willing to engage in.  : )

The Case for God by Karen Armstrong- A Book Review

The Case for God (2009) by Karen Armstrong - A Review
The above link was unconvincing but a refreshing push to the center, especially within the US religion vs. science context. However, the Abrahamic principle underlying all subsequent assertions remains the same: "He" exists. This question also remains: What will you accept as a basis for belief and action - reason and evidence, or faith? Both sides ask each other, How COULD you ever accept something as true based solely on evidence/faith? One side, however, says: Show me, I'll change my mind. The other sees no need for or can happily ignore evidence. My concern is where one worldview or the other, evidence or faith-based, leads us in our relations with each other in society, in international relations, and in our relationship to the biosphere. The perspective adopted by our leaders will determine our chances of peace, survival or extinction.


Timbuktu - Saving Africa's Precious Written Heritage
Read the British and American travel advisories then take a trip to Timbuktu. Mali and its people are wonderful. There's a great B&B in Sevare near Mopti, Mac's Refuge, a great place to stay enroute to Timbuktu and Dogon country -

Africa's Forever Wars

Africa's Forever Wars
Here is a good attempt by the NY Times E. Africa Bureau Chief to explain the current state of rebel warfare in Africa. Regrettably, the author omits the primary cause for the violence and suffering - crushing, debilitating, mind-numbing poverty. His inclusion of Kenya's 2008 violence as an example of non-ideological bandr...ity misses the real cause - raw, greedy politics, not bush level banditry. Also, his view of Somalia as having a "deeply ingrained culture of war profiteering", though true as a recent development, misses the more important fact that Somalis, with their clan-based society and pastoral ecology, are and have never been a "fit" for the Western concept of a nation-state that the Europeans imposed on Africa in the 1800s. Otherwise there is much of value in this article as long as it is remembered that banditry has a root cause, poverty, not some implied false notion of greed, insanity or moral failings of Africa's peoples.

September 7, 2010

Africa Day

The History of Africa Day

China and Africa

Are China's initatives in Africa good for Africans? For the US?
More and more poor countries are choosing to accept China's assistance over the "strings attached" assistance of the West. "...China has shown countries from Africa to Asia to South America that robust economic growth can be achieved and sustained under the controlling hand of the state. In place of the aid structure ...known as the Washington Consensus, which imposes onerous, free-market conditions on emerging countries in exchange for assistance, a Chinese alternative has emerged that provides generous debt relief, infrastructure investment and other assistance with fewer demands. The Beijing Consensus, as Halper calls it, diminishes the monetary and ideological suasion of the West that has long guided international development."

Always thought it an impossible requirement to expect poor countries to first become democratic THEN become economically sound and secure, as the US insists they should. If a poor man/woman can’t go to the factory or farm because there are... no jobs and the country is insecure, he/she is certainly not going to invest in democracy first. Democracy is a luxury more and more poor countries can do without (for the time being let’s hope) in their striving for economic and material improvement. China is showing them a new way upward and out of poverty....

Diamonds are forever?

In Botswana, diamonds aren't always a girl's best friend.
♫ The French were bred to die for love
They delight in fighting duels
But I prefer a man who lives
And gives expensive jewels
A kiss on the hand may be quite continental
But diamonds are a girl's best friend…. ♫

Report says diamond mining company's rights trump those of San regarding an ancient Kalahari Desert water source....

Americans, Britons and Canadians - Common Language but Very Different Worldviews

Americans are Creationists: Britons and Canadians Side with Evolution
New Angus Reid Three-Country (Canada, UK, US) Public Opinion Poll On the Origin of Humans: "In the United States, almost half of respondents (47%) believe that God created human beings in their present form within the last 10,000 years, while one-third (35%) think human beings evolved from less advanced life forms over... millions of years." See full PDF report with detailed tables and methodology:

US Policy: US Ambassador's Fund for Cultural Preservation

U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation Celebrates 10th Year, Supports Projects at 12 World Heritage Sites
Great program. See links at this site for the Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, Culture Heritage Center that administers this fund. Tax dollars well-spent overseas to preserve Earth's diverse and rich cultural heritage, and reduce pillage and illegal trafficking in cultural artifacts.

Is there really a "God gene"?

Faith-Boosting Genes: A Search for the Genetic Basis of Spirituality

The other day I heard someone proclaim that science had proven there is a God gene. Science has not done this. The author of this article says the book The God Gene by Dean Hamer would have been better entitled: "A Gene That Accounts for Less Than One Percent of the Variance Found in Scores on Psychological Questionnaires Designed to Measure a Factor Called Self-Transcendence, Which Can Signify Everything from Belonging to the Green Party to Believing in ESP, According to One Unpublished, Unreplicated Study."

The Evolution of the God Gene, The New York Times, Week in Review, by Nicholas Wade, November 14, 2009

Was Darwin wrong?

Was he?
How much simple anatomy and physiology and how many fossils can one ignore?  What should we make of the ten finger and toe arrangement we share with monkeys and apes, for example, and all the very old fossils that have been discovered that look like us and sometimes like a mix of human and ape?  There is much, much more evidence:  Why Evolution is True (2009) by Jerry A. Coyne

Journalist and Political Scientist: Environmentalists Are Lost in the Wilderness

The Environmental Movement in Retreat?
What!? This is good. Conservative columnist George Will cites Walter Russell Mead, Yale political scientist to show that environmentalists have gone from skepticism of government and science to being in bed with same therefore portraying tree-huggers as a confused wrong headed lot. Both ignore the fact that the environmental movement fought government and science most often during conservative Republican regimes in the US, leaderships that promoted science and technology to subdue (exploit) the environment for profit while showing almost no concern for environmental degradation. It should not be surprising that environmentalists now align themselves with science and government particularly when the current liberal, progressive regime is trying to move the economy forward with greater concern for the well-being of the environment. Will and Mead are content to merely point at the current environmental movement as foolish lacking credibility flip-floppers. It is not surprising, and far from laughable, that science and its findings regarding climate change and environmental degradation, and a government determined to move the economy forward in an environmentally responsible way are allies of the environmental movement. It wouldn't make sense for them to be otherwise.

Does creationist film discredit Darwin and his work?

Darwin: The Voyage that Shook the World (2009) - Film Review

Is scientific knowledge as good or better than religion as a basis for values and morals?

The New Science of Morality - Concensus Statement
The New Science of Morality - Part 1
The New Science of Morality - Part 2
The late Harvard biologist Stephen Jay Gould concluded that science and religion are "non-overlapping magisteria" (NOMA). The gist being science has its sphere - the evidence of matter, space, time, biology and religion has it's - meaning and morals. Science concerns itself with the empirical or observable realm, religion with the world of ultimate meaning and moral value, says Gould. But there are many who believe that ultimate meaning and moral values that are not grounded in observation, evidence and testing should not be used as a basis for human behavior, to include national governance and international relations. These links explore the possibility of a belief system where values and morals are based on scientific evidence, not faith-based revelation.

US Policy: The Overseas Plans of Our Diplomats and Soldiers - Transparency in Government

National Security, Interagency Collaboration, and Lessons from SOUTHCOM and AFRICOM
It's always good to stay informed, as best we can, on what our diplomats and soldiers are trying to do to and with other countries, on our behalf and with our best interests in mind. This is a link providing a window into what the State Department wants us to know about its relationship with the Department of Defense.

"There are all kinds of devices invented for the protection and preservation of countries: defensive barriers, forts, trenches, and the like... But prudent minds have as a natural gift one safeguard which is the common possession of all, and this applies especially to the dealings of democracies. What is this safeguard? Skepticism. This you must preserve. This you must retain. If you can keep this, you need fear no harm."
                                                                                            - Demosthenes

Show Them the Money!

Is America's Middle Class Rapidly Shrinking? - The Numbers
"The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer at a staggering rate. ... What has developed is a situation where the people at the top are doing quite well, while most Americans are finding it increasingly difficult to make it. ... Sixty-six percent of the income growth between 2001 and 2007 went to the top 1% of all Americans." I thought all ships, including the middle class, were supposed to rise with the tide under unregulated free-market economic policies. Oh, I forgot. Alan Greenspan, Fed Chair from 1987-2006, said in 2008 that he was wrong about that. WHAT!!! Shouldn't we prosecute him or at least make him pay back the total salary he was paid, $3.8 million?

Half of Americans Believe Humans Originated on Earth in their Present Form No More than 10,000 Years Ago

Britons, Canadians and Americans on Earth and Human Origins
New Angus Reid Three-Country (Canada, UK, US) Public Opinion Poll On the Origin of Humans: "In the United States, almost half of respondents (47%) believe that God created human beings in their present form within the last 10,000 years, while one-third (35%) think human beings evolved from less advanced life forms over... millions of years." See full PDF report with detailed tables and methodology:

US Policy: Re-Writing the "Four Bs" of US Foreign Policy?

US Department of State - Conference on Sub-Saharan Africa
A new, very encouraging approach at the Department of State:

"We must ask people throughout Africa about their priorities, their perceptions, their interests, and their concerns. We need to listen to their responses and then engage them in ways that are relevant to them. This is a new way of understanding what global le...adership means and requires...."
                               - Judith A. McHale. Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs

Sure is different from the long-standing, rachet up as necessary "Four Bs" of our foreign policy for exerting the will of the US upon the world: BS, Bully, Bribe, then Bomb. I hope State means it (you never really know) and that this new approach lasts.

Bad Approach to Science Education in the US?

If scientists want to educate the public, they should start by listening
This link says the American public evaluates scientific knowledge using political, economic and religious “sieves.” Article’s recommendation? The defenders of science should “work closely with social scientists and specialists in public opinion to determine how to defuse controversies by addressing their fundamental causes.” Not a good approach.

Science already works tirelessly addressing the fundamental causes of social controversies related to its knowledge – through evidence-based education and factual debate. That people choose to evaluate and believe or not believe scientific knowledge based on their politics, economics and religion is a problem of our society’s core beliefs and values.
In fact, political and economic ideology, power driven agendas, and faith-based vs. evidence-based belief systems are precisely what have, for thousands of years, placed and held the world on the polluted, war-ridden path to self-destruction it is on. Science can solve this problem. Politics, economics and religion should be informed by and held to the evidentiary standards of science.

Time is running out for finding and following new science-based ethical AND spiritual standards for our behavior. But, what about the atheism of Stalinism and Naziism? Read Sam Harris

Jim's Blog Site


This is an open forum blog that focuses on topics in anthropology, science, spirituality, religion, philosophy and African studies, in their broadest sense, past, present and future. Your own or others' reviews of books and articles on topics in these areas from any source are also welcome for discussion.

The purpose of the blog is to promote thought, question everything, and increase and improve knowledge. Agreement with my views and those of others on the blog is helpful when the thinking is good. Support for or silence in response to muddled, half-baked or just plain wrong thinking helps lead to muddled, half-baked or wrong knowledge. Disagreement is expected and welcome - it will not be punished, and certainly not ridiculed.

Civil dialog/discussion with anyone on topics in these areas is welcome, as is a sense of humor. Though a thoughful blog, it is not necessarily "academic" or "intellectual." So please post in any manner that best expresses your views.  If you want to invite your friends to join in, please do.  You may post anonymously or with a pen name, if you wish.

In Friendship and Peace,


Archive for "Being Human"