According to the Center for American Progress, 58% of Republicans in Congress deny the existence of climate change or oppose action to cut greenhouse gas emissions. However, their voters are much smarter and believe the evidence of their own eyes, let alone the research of every respectable scientist concerned in the matter. 87% of Oklahoman and 84% of Texans, for instance, accept that climate change is occurring, and 76% in both states think the government should step in to limit greenhouse gas emissions produced by industry. 62% of all Americans favour action to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
This is good news. Climate change is a huge threat to all life on this planet, and it is contrary to common sense to claim that all the tons of gunk put into the atmosphere has no effect. Of course it has to have. And we cannot import fresh air from any other planet. Were Epicurus alive today he would be a firm advocate for (especially) tackling emissions from power plants. The latter will not change unless they are made to by society. Short term profit rules, and it shouldn’t.
The Pope has just criticized so-called “trickle-down” economics as having no basis either in theory or in practice. “A crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power”. Wonderful!
Trickle-down economics was always an excuse for supporting the rich against the less rich. If it worked at all it would be working now. You have a record gap between rich and poor and a tiny minority earning millions a year. There is absolutely no evidence of “trickle-down”, and no evidence that the Bush tax cuts did anything for the nation or for the economy either, except to encourage some billionaires to say “thank you” to one political party.
Epicureanism stands for moderation and equal opportunities for all citizens. Epicurus would have been appalled that specious theories that are contrary to experience and common sense are peddled to justify divisive policies. But he wouldn’t be surprised!
Thank you, your Holiness!
Lord Stern, professor at the London School of Economics, warns that the world could be heading for a major economic crisis as stock markets inflate an investment bubble in fossil fuels to the tune of trillions of dollars.
The so-called “carbon bubble” is the result of an over-valuation of oil, coal and gas reserves held by fossil fuel companies. According to the LSE/Carbon Tracker report, supported by HSBC, Citi, Standard & Poors and the International Energy Agency, at least two-thirds of these reserves will have to remain underground if the world is to meet existing internationally agreed 2 degrees C targets to avoid the threshold for “dangerous” climate change. If the agreements hold, these reserves will be in effect unburnable and so worthless – leading to massive market losses.
Stern said that far from reducing efforts to develop fossil fuels, the top 200 companies spent $674bn (£441bn) in 2012 to find and exploit even more new resources, a sum equivalent to 1% of global GDP, which could end up as “stranded” or valueless assets. Stern’s landmark 2006 report on the economic impact of climate change – commissioned by the then chancellor, Gordon Brown – concluded that spending 1% of GDP would pay for a transition to a clean and sustainable economy.
The world’s governments have agreed to restrict the global temperature rise to 2C, beyond which the impacts become severe and unpredictable. But Stern said the investors clearly did not believe action to curb climate change was going to be taken.
HSBC warned that 40-60% of the market capitalisation of oil and gas companies was at risk from the bubble, with the top 200 fossil fuel companies alone having a current value of $4tn, along with $1.5tn debt.
(Adapted from an article in The Guardian 4/19/2023)
Of course, few people really believe that world governments are really going to seriously reduce carbon emissions, so the stupid, short-sighted party will continue, propped up with cash from the oil and mining moguls. So will we fry or will have a catastrophic depression? Keep calm and enjoy the fruits of the garden, and remember that you cannot control the future.
“The consensus among climate scientists that climate change is being driven mainly by human activity is now 95%, according to a leaked draft report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. This is up from 90% in the previous – or fourth – IPCC assessment, which was released in 2007. The draft, which synthesises the results of thousands of peer-reviewed studies over the past six years, projects that seas will rise by between 29cm and 82cm by the end of the century, if greenhouse gas emissions continue to soar, and that temperatures will rise by a maximum of 4.5°C. At 2,200 pages, the report has 840 authors from 138 countries. However, most of the contributors are from Britain and the US. As well as including future projections, the report seeks to explain why global temperatures have risen more slowly since the 1990s, even though carbon emissions have accelerated. It says it has “medium confidence” that this is due to natural variations in the weather, and an increase in the amount of heat being absorbed by deep ocean currents”. (The Guardian).
The chances of getting any meaningful action is small, given the pecuniary interests involved. The oil and mining companies have a massive interest in the status quo. Epicureans should vote for any enlightened person with the power to knock sense into the short-sighted and do what they can to persuade the unpersuaded. But in the end we have to spend time in the Garden value our friends and keep our fingers crossed that some smart person finds an answer. Odds? About 500 to 1 against, but then what else can we do?
Rationalist campaigner Narendra Dabholkar, was assassinated recently for exposing the fraudulent practices of “miracle workers” in the state of Maharashtra. He had collected evidence showing how thousands of women are victims of “vicious” magic rituals, often at the behest of male relatives; in remote areas they’re even burnt as sacrifices. And he had shown that far from doing anything to stop such abuses, state ministers, keen to secure the votes of Hindu traditionalists, actively patronise the “saints” and magic men, sometimes resorting to black magic themselves to try to destroy rivals. Every case of exploitation that Dabholkar exposed turned out to involve some guru sponsored by a politician. The traditionalists felt threatened by the success of his campaign and the situation became critical when he seemed on the verge of gaining enough votes in the state parliament to ban such practices. Doubtless that’s why he was killed. (Kumar Ketkar, Tehelka, New Delhi)
Epicureanism stands for the rejection of superstition, miracles, and con-men.
Many Chinese people tend to seek the help of mysterious powers. and the rich and powerful are no exception. A snake-summoning mystic and “qigong master”, Wang Lin, has for years been duping famous entertainers and politicians into giving him money. Last week saw film star Jackie Chan and other celebrities weeping at news of the death of White Dragon King, another such mystic. Then there’s the craze for feng shui: it has got quite out of hand, as state officials tear down their offices to rebuild them according to the dictates of “experts”. In the 21st century they must learn that it’s not fake mystics who help you succeed, it’s exercising discipline and self-control. (Rong Xiaoqing, Global Times, Beijing)
Epicurus would say, were he still alive, that the above con-men and their silly superstitions should be sent packing. But then other superstitions, like virgin birth and turning wine into water, are candidates as well. In the time of Jesus there were apparently dozens of “messiahs” all claiming to have cured the sick and performed miracles. That was over 2000 years ago. We should have grown smarter and less gullible since then.
The UN World Population report for 2012 predicts that the world’s population, now 7.2billion will rise to 9.5 billion by 2025, and, by the end of this century, will reach 11 billion. By mid century Nigeria will have a bigger population than the United States. The biggest increases will be in Africa, India, Indonesia and Pakistan.
This report discredits those who deny that over-population is a threat to the planet, and even to mankind itself. “No problem”, we have been told for umpteen years, “the world population is levelling off and will soon start to decline”.
I have always thought that the emphasis on “life at any price” is immoral. Some God, that considers the number of souls to be more important than the quality of life! The fear is spreading that humans are heading for self-extinction. If this is so, the major religions will have had a heavy responsibility. Epicurus would have been in favour of family planning, for moderation in the growth of numbers, and for respect for our delicate and wonderful environment of which we are supposed to be the guardians. 99% of all creatures who have inhabited the Earth are now extinct. Are we next, the victims of our own stupidity?
“I believe in Spinoza’s god, who reveals himself in the lawful harmony of all that exists, not in a god who concerns himself in the fate and doings of mankind”. Albert Einstein
Einstein wondered at the intricate rationality of the universe. It persuaded him that “something” must have laid down the basic structure, physics and chemistry that is the basis of the billions of galaxies and stars (and maybe the multiple universes). Whether you call this force a prime mover or designer, “it” has avoided the detailed outcome, allowing evolution to make a host of mistakes and reach many dead ends, before life as we know it on our little planet reached its present, still unsatisfactory, state. Thus, I personally would not like to bet against a prime mover, but agree with both Einstein and Epicurus than such a force takes not the slightest interest in the inconsequential lives of human beings.
It is a fact that Epicurus did not question the existence of the gods. He just denied that they involved themselves in individual lives. Great minds think alike.
On May 23rd Pope Francis reached out to atheists with a sentence that concluded, “Just do good, and we’ll find a meeting point.”
Atheists, he said, should be seen as good people if they do good, and he urged people of all religions — or no religion — to work together. He told the story of a Catholic who asked a priest if even atheists had been redeemed by Jesus. “Even them, everyone,” the pope answered, according to Vatican Radio. “We all have the duty to do good”.
In reaching out to atheists and non-believers Francis appears to be be very different from the former pope. This is a healthy sign, especially now that he is tackling the multiple sets of corrupt Vatican practices that Benedict chose to ignore.
But the leopard still has most of the old spots and has a long way to go (women’s rights and unmarried priests being but two examples). Epicureans can confidently ignore the whole ramshackle business for agood many years to come. Concentrate on rationality, friendship, love and consideration for others, do good and try to abolish fear. You will then be happier than most devotees of the pope.
The mind of the bigot is like the pupil of the eye; the more light you pour upon it, the more it will contract.” — Oliver Wendell-Holmes, quoted in the San Diego Union-Tribune
Our Milky Way galaxy is home to at least 100 billion alien planets, and possibly many more, a new study suggests.
Lead author Jonathan Swift, of Caltech in Pasadena and his colleagues arrived at their estimate after studying a five-planet system called Kepler-32, which lies about 915 light-years from Earth. The five worlds were detected by NASA’s Kepler Space telescope which flags the tiny brightness dips caused when exoplanets cross their star’s face from the instrument’s perspective.
If you are interested in the technical details and how they arrived at a figure of 100 billion read this months issue of The Astrophysical Journal. This is not the place to expand on the matter, only to draw your attention to this probable massive number of planets in our own galaxy alone, many of whom are the right distance away from their suns to have water and possibly some form of life.
From an Epicurean point of view it all points to the littleness of humans and their concerns and the insignificance of our planet. The idea that we are the supreme beings specially created by god is patently absurd. Our lives are frequently nasty, brutish and short and it is time we exercised some humility in the face of emerging knowledge of the universe. Epicurus would enjoin us to stop petty squabbling, make an effort to be tolerant, civilised and considerate of those less fortunate than ourselves. He would tell us to concentrate on our own versions of the Epicurean garden, enjoy life and friendships, try to abandon fear and stop worrying about “success”.
P.S ……..and his words fell upon stony ground!
25% of British adults say they have “experienced a ghost” – up from 19% in 2003, and 7% in the 1950s. (The Sunday Times, London).
This is not at all surprising. On a planet where human beings believe in virgin births and finding inscribed tablets, supposedly from God, in a pile on top of a mountain, seeing a ghost is pretty harmless. Indeed, I myself heard a ghost walking up the stairs in the dead of night when I was eight years old (my Dad told me it was the wind affecting our 15 th Century cottage). The capacity to set aside objective reason and espouse the unlikely is a charming side of human nature – until control freaks start maiming, torturing, burning and killing you because you don’t believe in their fairy tales.
Epicureans believe in reason and the evidence of their own eyes. They have fun being entirely rational (joke).
The modish cause of today’s chattering classes, says Brendan O’Neill, is overpopulation. They thrill to hear how a world of seven billion people is imposing an “unbearable strain on nature’s limited larder”. They rush to the London theatre where an Oxford don has been giving “a lecture dolled up as a drama” on the “perfect storm of resource depletion and pollution” that lies ahead. Some subscribe to the Optimum Population Trust’s website that allows “well-off Westerners” to offset their carbon emissions by helping prevent more births “in less fortunate countries”. But the agonising is misplaced. The “population panic merchants” make just the same mistake as Thomas Malthus, the great 19th century doomsayer, who failed utterly to foresee the huge boost in output brought about by the Industrial Revolution. The Earth’s population has trebled over the past century, yet in the same period the real price of rice, corn and wheat has fallen, thanks to advances in agricultural science. So away with this needless “Malthusian miserabilism”: have faith in human ingenuity. (Brendan O’Neill, The Spectator, Aug 2012, in an article about over-population).
A comment like this from the highly politicized Spectator is to be expected. The agenda of the extreme Right is to lull the peasants into a false sense of security so that the funders and friends of the rich can continue spending and consuming, consuming and spending, gobbling up the world’s resources and exacerbating the gulf between rich and poor unimpeded.
The evidence to man’s contribution to global warming is now so overwhelming that only people people directly funded by oil and similar corporations with deep pockets continue with climate skepticism. But global climate change is only one of the threats to the world. Simple lack of water resources is another serious problem, even in California, but particularly on previously desert fringes and countries like Bangladesh. Even London is threatened . The world situation is totally different to the era of Malthus. Has Mr. O’Neill not heard about the drought in the Midwest, a warning sign that what we previously could rely on is no longer reliable? Every year there are further signs of threats to food supply . There is a raft to similar threats one could add. Ingenuity might help somewhat, but the the practical people, the ingenious people at organizations like the OECD are talking about giant glass self-contained bubbles, like giant covered stadiums, in which life will go on as usual. Sorry, they will be for the privileged. And the rest? Well, the poor don’t vote.
Epicureans are realists.
I finished Redondi’s book on Galileo, possibly the worst written book I have ever encountered. So, for those who are interested, I will try to sum it up in accessible English, and preferably in one paragraph. That will relieve you all from having to read it.
The trouble started in Rome with Galileo’s book ” The Assayer”, published in 1623 . The book was a huge success and enlightened people from the Pope downwards hailed Galileo as a genius. However, the Jesuits and the followers of the old thinking were secretly appalled at Galileo’s support of atomism, although this was only a small part of the book. Transubstantiation had been debated for centuries, and the Jesuits thought that the matter had been settled at the Council of Trent. Galileo’s positive references to atomism once again threatened the teaching on the subject of the Eucharist. Were the bread and wine the body and blood of Christ or were simply they an arrangement of atoms, like water or a cabbage? A secret charge of heresy was made against Galileo. At that moment Galileo was protected by Pope and the establishment, and the charge was suppressed. But later the political situation changed with Protestant successes in the Thirty Years War and the relative power shift in the Vatican towards Spain. The Jesuits then struck. But they wanted to avoid further debate about the eucharist at all costs, so they concentrated on Galileo’s views on the matter of the Earth moving round the sun. It was a no-brainer. Every sensible person could see with their own eyes that the sun went round the Earth. It was thus easy to obtain public support for the heresy charge, which finally silenced the Century’s greatest scientist, and could be said to have effectively ended his life. The subtle attack on the eucharist had been beaten back.
In his Assayer of 1623, Galileo explained his notion of the difference between the qualities, mostly found by touch, that are inherent in bodies (weight, roughness, smoothness, etc.) and those that are in the mind of the observer (taste, color, etc.)–in other words, the difference between what we call primary and secondary qualities. In this discussion he referred to bodies that “continually dissolve into minute particles”, and stated his opinion that “for exciting in us tastes, odors, and sounds there are required in external bodies anything but sizes, shapes, numbers, and slow or fast movements.” An anonymous cleric filed a report with the Inquisition in which he claimed the first citation to show that Galileo was an atomist and the second to be in conflict with the Council of Trent’s pronunciations on the Eucharist. The report did not lead to any action against Galileo. (from Greenblatt’s The Swerve)
The proposition is that the Inquisition needed to squelch the idea that objects that can be smelt or tasted are merely atoms, because this would give the faithful the idea that the Host was not, after all, the body and blood of Jesus but a rather ordinary arrangements of atoms. It was safer, in the campaign against Galileo, to focus on his views about the Earth circling the Sun, for the man in the street could see with his own eyes that that was a preposterous idea – couldn’t you see the Sum going round the Earth every day of your life?
I am about the read Redondi’s “Galileo: Heretic”. This book, very controversial, explores the above idea, that is, that Galileo’s enemies deliberately focused on the one thing that ordinary people could understand and would sympathize with the church.
Epicurus believed that everything is made up of invisible particles that are in constant motion, clashing with one another, coalescing, falling apart and decaying. These particles , or atoms, are indestructible and immortal. The forms they coalesce into are temporary, but the constituent parts are eternal.
This idea became increasingly accepted from the 17th century onwards. However, Epicurus and the poet Lucretius may have laid the foundations of what became modern science, but their actual scientific knowledge was necessarily rudimentary.
Nowadays scientists refer to the Wave Structure of Matter. This posits that matter in the universe moves in waves in a constant two-way communication of knowledge. Every wave center particle is vibrating and communicating with all other matter in the universe, with continual feedback occurring.
Now I would call this a refinement of what Epicurus and Lucretius were describing, based upon three centuries of modern science. Pretty smart of the old philosopher, I reckon.
Are there any professional scientists out there who can elaborate on this?
There was no single moment of creation, but a gradual evolution, with many false starts and dead ends. Various tools were added to help species survive. Eyes are a good example. But survival is not a foregone conclusion. Many species have been and gone, and maybe we are in self-destruct mode ourselves owing to selfishness, greed and the passion for power. When we are history other species will take our place. The bonobos?
Epicurus taught that there was no intelligent design. The particles that make up the universe, you, me, the animals and the trees, have not been put together by an unseen hand, but are made up of myriads of atoms that over eons of time have coalesced or broken apart by accident. That we have stars and planets is the result of chance and experimentation over lengths of time hard to imagine by human beings.
Every year that goes by shows that nature can be explained by science, not the tales invented centuries ago by primitive man. Soon we will have, in all likelihood, an answer to the issue of the Higgs Boson and take another step towards understanding the universe. That is, if we want to understand it!
Immanuel Kant taught that enlightenment was a process, not a state, namely the process of thinking for oneself, and therefore living autonomously without submitting yourself to group-think and conformity with all those around you.
Enlightenment is manâ€™s emergence from his self-imposed immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use oneâ€™s understanding without guidance from anotherâ€¦..Sapere Aude! (dare to know)….. Have courage to use your own understanding, that is the motto of the enlightenment.
In 1983, 50 corporations controlled the vast majority of all news media in the U.S. At the time, Ben Bagdikian was called “alarmist” for pointing this out in his book, The Media Monopoly. In his 4th edition, published in 1992, he wrote “in the U.S., fewer than two dozen of these extraordinary creatures own and operate 90% of the mass media” — controlling almost all of America’s newspapers, magazines, TV and radio stations, books, records, movies, videos, wire services and photo agencies. He predicted then that eventually this number would fall to about half a dozen companies. This was greeted with skepticism at the time. When the 6th edition of The Media Monopoly was published in 2000, the number had fallen to six. Since then, there have been more mergers and the scope has expanded to include new media like the Internet market. More than one in four Internet users in the U.S. now log in with AOL Time-Warner, the world’s largest media corporation.
In 2004, Bagdikian’s revised and expanded book, The New Media Monopoly, shows that only 5 huge corporations — Time Warner, Disney, Murdoch’s News Corporation, Bertelsmann of Germany, and Viacom (formerly CBS) — now control most of the media industry in the U.S. General Electric’s NBC is a close sixth.
(Source: Media Reform Information Center) http://www.corporations.org/media/)
Another triumph of liberty over the common man! BPA is found in a host of plastics, including baby bottles and food containers, that have been linked by one hundred independent published studies to adverse health effects. BPA can mimic estrogen and miniscule amounts introduced to fetuses or infants can , according to scientist Frederick vom Saal, change cell structures and lead to serious health problems in later life.
Notwithstanding this, the Food and Drug Administration has ignored the independent science and has relied on only two studies paid for by the American Plastics Council, declaring BPA safe and hilariously denying with straight faces that that they are not biased towards the plastics industry.
This is yet another instance where the Bush Administration would prefer to damage the health of children rather than upset their paymasters by regulating companies like Dow Chemical and BASF. Fortunately Rep. John Dingell is on the case and has demanded the records from the Weinberg Group, implicated in employing the scientists-for -hire to defend the manufactures, such as the makers of such health products as Agent Orange and other delights.
The democratically supported ban on handguns in the District of Columbia is being challenged in the Supreme Court today. In addition to the ban DC requires rifles and shotguns kept in private homes to be unloaded or to have a trigger lock. You would think that to be entirely reasonable.
I can’t imagine why I am concerned. Provided I have a loaded revolver on me at all times I can shoot myself out of any difficulty. Others do it in Idaho and such places. We must stop being wimps. If some innocent gets hurt it’s o.k as long as the Second Amendment is upheld. I’m sure it will be very jolly and make people outside the District very happy. I’ll be thrilled to walk around the streets at night. Will any member of the NRA reading this like to join me? (no, of course not!). I am posting this under science and rationality, because lifting the ban seems so utterly rational and helpful in the context of 2008. Perhaps we should re-institute hanging for stealing a sheep. After all, that also was current law back in the 18th Century.
60% of D.C residents strongly support the existing law and 16% somewhat support it. Only 15% strongly oppose it, and yet the democratic wishes of the people of the District are in all likelihood to be ignored by a minority who seem to be casually unconcerned about further gun deaths, accidental or deliberate. Politicians in the nation’s capital will be especially delighted to know that potential assassins and terrorists are roaming the streets armed to the teeth.
As a small aside, I was for a while in the army on active service. In my capacity as a junior officer I did extensive target practice both with a revolver and a sten gun. We also to did informal practice shooting at vultures from about twenty yards or so . The bullets ruffled a few feathers but we never hurt a single vulture. In a firefight we were collectively even more inaccurate. This might reflect on our competence and training, but the reality is that under pressure and in fear it is very difficult to hit even a stationary target with a handgun. It’s o.k in a film studio, but seldom in real life. Ask an honest soldier in Iraq. Do these gunnies have a clue when they want us to defend ourselves in the street? It is juvenile.
Epicurus would laugh if he didn’t first cry. But then, like myself, he wasn’t born in the United States, so would find the fixation on guns incomprehensible.
" Brazil is set to produce most of its biodiesel from soya beans, which have virtually no advantage over conventional fuels in terms of overall greenhouse gas emissions, let alone the millions of hectares of tropical forest that have been cleared for large-scale soya plantations. Automatically classifying biofuels as renewable energy regardless of how they are produced is dangerous. We cannot afford to address climate change while creating another environmental problem, deforestation – itself the source of 80% of carbon emissions in Brazil. The world must promote only those biofuels which offer the greatest environmental benefit, such as sustainably produced forest and wood products in temperate countries, and sugar-based bioethanol in tropical ones.
A mandatory eco-certification scheme for biofuels must be established, applying to all biofuels regardless of where they are produced. This system must be based on environmental and social criteria, and be easy to apply and flexible enough to meet local conditions.
Lula says that through investment in ethanol and biodiesel, Brazil is determined to "plant the oil of the future". But for biofuels to play a key role in a new carbon-free energy future, policy makers – both in the North and South – must ensure that biofuels are produced in an environmentally and socially friendly way. In Portuguese we have an expression which sums this up: Biocombustíveis sim, mas não de qualquer jeito! This means: yes to development but not to any development, yes to biofuels but not to any biofuels!" *
Is it a stretch to say that Epicurus was the first environmentalist? He wouldn’t have recognized the label, but his philosophy fits environmentalism like a glove. He would have applauded the phrase "biofuels, but not any biofuels."
* Giulio Volpi is coordinator of the WWF’s climate change programme for Latin America and the Caribbean email@example.com
Recent findings from a poll of 52 environmental experts and 36 climate researchers, who were asked to rank regions at greatest risk of climate change:
One year from now: Indian summer monsoon is destabilized and erratic. Could flip chaotically, with floods one year and drought the next.
10 years from now: Arctic ice melts (high risk – may already be in irreversible decline,)
West African monsoon collapses
50% chance that Greenland ice may be melting unstopably.
50 years from now: Boreal forest and Amazon rain forest both die.
100 years from now: El Nino strengthens with profound effects on weather from Americas and Africa.
Atlantic current collapses, threatening West European climate
Global temperatures will have increased by 4%
300 years from now: West Antarctic ice sheet collapses
Epicurus would be appalled at the profligacy of the human race.
“The flow of immigrants into the US has reduced the US white population from 90% to 70% in 40 years, and will push it below 50% by 2050.”
Quoted by Eric Kaufman reviewing â€œGodâ€™s Continent: Christianity, Islam, and Europeâ€™s Religious Crisis, by Philip Jenkins*
My little grandson has religion every day at assembly, before school starts. “Mummy”, he said to his mother, “do you know , there are actually people in the world who don’t believe in God?” It’s o.k. He will hear nothing negative from me. I will only tell him to use his mind and think for himself. He will get a good and a real education in any case. The outcome is for him.
“Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.” *
If being an Epicurean means anything it must mean thinking for yourself . I live in a city where there is one readable newspaper. One goes to dinner parties and one hears the issues and the views of the journalists on that paper often being regurgitated without critical analysis. The concentration (deliberate concentration) of the media is a challenge to democracy . In some towns and cities in the US all one can access is the paper, the TV stations, the radio stations and crude talk show hosts representing one line of political thinking (if thinking is the word).
Epicureans should enjoy their Gardens, but should not be idle in them. They should think for themselves and be suspicious of consensus. People everywhere tend to boast of their individualism. The reality is that they are, as a generality, hugely conformist and frightened of being apart from the pack. Where I live it is a bit of a joke.
*Oscar Wilde, quoted in The Scotsman.
“Liberals and conservatives not only have different views of the world – their brains process information differently,” reports The Week (September 28th, 2007). In a scientific study New York psychologist David Amodio, reporting in Scientific American, showed in brain scans that liberals showed more activity in the anterior cingulated cortex, an area of the brain which allows people to break habits of thought and be flexible, altering views according to evidence. Conservatives, on the other hand, have styles of thought that are more structured and persistent and block out irrelevant or “distracting” information. They have more difficulty changing an established mode of thought. This does not mean either group is smarter than the other, David Amodio is careful to say! It is all a matter of the brain you are born with.
Epicureans, it has been shown by a quick check of the brain of the writer, are never hidebound by habit of thought, always ready to accept new evidence and are always ready to be adaptive and fair. I always knew it, I hear you cry!
Epicureanism, like agnosticism and atheism in modern times, appealed to that minority of people who preferred rationality to beliefs in divine intervention and everlasting life. But Epicureanism also appealed to those who claimed to believe in God. Epicureanism was to be the avowed philosophy of Thomas Jefferson, who must have found Epicureanism compatible with the Deism popular in his day, and which also placed God outside of human affairs. Jefferson was to describe Epicureanism as the most rational philosophical system of the ancients. And his Epicureanism was to find expression in his contribution to the American Declaration of Independence, in its phrase "pursuit of happiness."
The first Christ Church tutor to be re-elected upon marriage was Richard Shute, a layman and philosopher….Much of Shute’s teaching was done through "private conversations between teacher and pupil’, that is, the individual tutorials which became the norm in Oxford by the turn of the twentieth century…..Lavishing time on his pupils, Shute tried to get them to think. ‘He riddled through one’s seeming knowledge’, one of them recalled, challenging misconceptions in what could be an unsettling process. Many, though, were infected by his enthusiasm for the pursuit of truth, and his commitment to the belief ‘that it is the solemn duty which man owes to himself, as a rational being, to try to be clear-headed.’
An aspiring Epicurean should at all times ask himself "Does this seem right? Do I really believe that? Am I simply being a lazy conformist?" He should be prepared to worry through a point and argue his case, thinking things out for himself. The herd instinct in man is powerful and should be resisted.
The quotation above comes from Christ Church Oxford – -a Portrait of the House, 2007
God himself must be irreducibly complex. Who created him?
“……..-there are plenty of radical new ideas for a future in which sunlight is turned straight into the forms of energy we need. Here are just three of my favourites out of scores of great ideas.
First, reprogramming the genetic make-up of simple organisms so that they directly produce useable fuels (hydrogen, for example). That will be much more efficient than today’s fashionable new bioethanol programs because they will cut out all the energy wasted in growing a crop, then harvesting it and then converting its sugars into fuel.
Second, self-organizing polymer solar cells. Silicon solar cells may be robust and efficient but they are inevitably small and need a lot of energy to make. Self-organizing polymer cells could be ink jetted onto plastics by the hectare, creating dirt cheap solar cells the size of advertising hoardings.
Third, there’s artificial photosynthesis. Nature uses a different trick from silicon solar cells to capture light energy, whipping away high-energy electrons from photo-pigments into a separate system in a few thousand millionths of a second. We are getting much closer to understanding how it’s done, and even how to use the same principles in totally different nano-materials.”
ALUN ANDERSON is a Senior Consultant (and former Editor-in-Chief and Publishing Director of New Scientist).
Quoted in The Edge, World Question Center, 2007
Pascal said, "Scientific learning is composed of two opposites which nonetheless meet each other. The first is the natural ignorance that is man’s lot at birth. The second is represented by those great minds that have investigated all knowledge accumulated by man, only to discover at the end that in fact they know nothing. Thus they return to the same fundamental ignorance they had thought to leave. Yet this ignorance they have now discovered is an intellectual achievement. It is those who have departed from their original condition of ignorance but have been incapable of completing the full cycle of learning who offer us a smattering of scientific knowledge and pass sweeping judgments. These are the mischief makers, the false prophets." (Pensees V:327)
The passage would seem to suggest that the purpose of science — and indeed all education — is to arrive at a state of ignorance, but an ignorance that is aware of itself . It took almost three centuries for Pascal’s insight to become the common view of scientists. The philosopher Karl Popper wrote: "The more we learn about the world, and the deeper our learning, the more conscious, specific, and articulate will be our knowledge of what we do not know, our knowledge of our ignorance. For this, indeed, is the main source of our ignorance — the fact that our knowledge can be only finite, while our ignorance must necessarily be infinite." The physician/essayist Lewis Thomas went further: "The greatest of all the accomplishments of twentieth-century science has been the discovery of human ignorance."
Science writer Timothy Ferris agrees: "Our ignorance, of course, has always been with us, and always will be. What is new is our awareness of it, our awakening to its fathomless dimensions, and it is this, more than anything else, that marks our coming of age as a species." It is an odd, unsettling thought that the culmination of the scientific quest — the long slow gathering of reliable knowledge — should be the confirmation of how little we understand about the universe we live in.
This new awareness of our ignorance should not be taken as permission to indulge the superstitions we are born into. Rather, it should cause us to be modest and skeptical, parsimonious in our creeds, ever richer in reliable knowledge but ever more demanding in the caliber of proof.
On the other hand, consider all the questions for which we have answers. As long as our answers to these questions invoked the gods — as they did for thousands of years — no reliable public knowledge was possible. Only when a few curious people said "I don’t know" did science begin. Admission of ignorance is a prerequisite of scientific discovery, and by the same token, the more we learn, the more we are aware of what we do not know.
From an article in Science Musings:
“On the face of things, better conditions should lead to larger families, not smaller ones. However, it is impossible to argue with the facts, and the facts are that the rate of population increase is dropping, and that the drop is correlated with increases in personal economic well-being.”
Geoffrey Carr, Science editor of the Economist, discussing a forecast world population of c. 10billion. He thinks it will be difficult to cope with, but quite possible. “particularly as it is also the case that economic growth in rich countries is less demanding of natural resources for each additional unit of output than is the case for growth in poor countries.”
“What makes immersive 3D virtual worlds the perfect medium for learning basic math skills is not that they are created digitally on computers. Nor is it that they are the medium of highly seductive videogames such as World of Warcraft (over 7 million players worldwide, although already viewed as passé by many gamers). Rather, it is because they provide a means for simulating the real world we live in, and out of which mathematics arises, and of doing so in a way that brings out and confronts the player (i.e., learner) with the underlying mathematical structure of our world. If Euclid were alive today, this is how he would teach mathematics.”
Mathematician; Executive Director, Center for the Study of Language and Information, Stanford; Author, The Millennium Problems
Quoted in The Edge, World Question Center 2007