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Gaia has plans for us

man and fire

 

Patrick Moore, the former head of Greenpeace,  displayed the best and fastest briefing I have ever seen on the entire history of the earth’s climate and its relationship to CO2. This was at Moses Znaimer’s Idea City last year.

This is the Idea City presentation, about 20 minutes long.
This is the presentation on Youtube, which is about 5 minutes long.

I had not been aware that the earth has recently (last few million years) come close to a CO2 level at which plant life dies from want of carbon dioxide. Now humans are busily pumping CO2 into the atmosphere and thereby saving the earth from catastrophic plant death.

Do you remember the Gaia Hypothesis?

 

The Gaia hypothesis, also known as Gaia theory or Gaia principle, proposes that organisms interact with their inorganic surroundings on Earth to form a synergistic self-regulating, complex system that helps to maintain and perpetuate the conditions for life on the planet. Topics of interest include how the biosphere and the evolution of life forms affect the stability of global temperature, ocean salinity, oxygen in the atmosphere, the maintenance of a hydrosphere of liquid water and other environmental variables that affect the habitability of Earth.

I confess I am attracted to the Gaia Hypothesis,  and I believe (that is the word, believe) that we are a part of the picture and do not stand outside of it merely because we are a conscious species. Indeed we may be more fully implicated in Gaia precisely because we are a conscious species.

Here is what Gaia would be thinking:

 

Facts: Chicxulub asteroid strikes earth 62 million years ago and destroys dominance of large reptiles over next few million years. Out of Gaia’s control. How to react? Do nothing and let time pass.

Mammals emerge as dominant taxon. Furry and warm blooded, they invade ecological niches impenetrable to cold blooded species.

Indian plate strikes Asian plate 33 million years ago Himalayas thrust upwards. Monsoon rains pour down upon impenetrable mountain barrier. Too much CO2 is absorbed from atmosphere into the water, as CO2 striking limestone turns into carbolic acid. Earth’s CO2 decline accelerates.

Glaciation increases in terms of duration, extent and severity.

 Gaia: I/we/she/it am getting colder, because too much CO2 is being absorbed into the oceans and the rocks, and too little is in the atmosphere. Ice ages too long, solar output will not fix the problem. Anyway the Sun and I are barely on speaking terms.

Pause while Gaia thinks for a million years.

Gaia: Why don’t I/we/she/it find a way of releasing the trillions of tons of CO2 locked in the earth’s crust? Options: a) increase volcanic activity b) evolve a species that will burn the immense reserves of carbon stored in earth’s crust, or c) wait for a giant asteroid to rearrange the surface of the earth and allow for the emergence of new species.

Decision:All I/we/she/it got from the asteroid were smelly clever rodents and fur bearing tree climbers. Volcanic activity is tried and true but that might require too much heat loss from my core. Hmmn…. What about those apes? Can we make them more clever? Let the cold continue. That will dry out their jungles and force some out into the savanna. Let’s see what happens….

A million years later, in the blink of Gaia’s innumerable eyes, the apes are the top predators, part vegetarian, part carnivore. They think they are running the planet. They are burning fossil fuels to run their economy. CO2 goes up, plant life recovers, the threat of plant death is removed, ice ages may diminish in duration and severity.

Gaia thinks: okay, I/we/she/it have got the CO2 level back up to what I/we/she/it need them to be. Now how do I get the apes’ population under control? I/we/she/it know! Birth control and prosperity!

Gaia is a complete empiricist. She uses whatever can be used to stabilize herself in her comfort zone, including these new-fangled apes.

It is a good story, isn’t it? Maybe it is also true. Of course, it is also possible that Gaia is but an emanation of an even larger Creator, and He/She/It is driving the process at an even more gigantic scale. Maybe Chicxulub asteroid catastrophe was a ‘forcing’ event, as the ecobabbulists like to say. Plans within plans.

 

chicxulub

 

 

 

Vegans threaten death to apostate restaurant owners

formervegans

 

Entitlement and hypocrisy come together this week in the story Time reported:

The husband-and-wife owners of famous vegan restaurant group Cafe Gratitude are under fire after a group of animal rights activists discovered last week that the couple was raising, slaughtering, and eating animals at their Northern California farm, named Be Love.

Possibly this is all a part of the fine American art of using adversity to promote one’s products.

Certainly it illustrates something C.S.Lewis adverted to a long time ago: the tendency of some to be cruel to those close to them in order to demonstrate their concern for those in the outer circles of the human range of compassion. C.S.Lewis said, as Christian has ever maintained, that the job of man is to love one’s neighbour. From the habits of loving one’s neighbour we may eventually come to broaden the circle of our compassion to others further away from us. There is a particular kind of human who thinks it is right to do harm to those close by in the name of anything or anyone that shows their higher moral concern: starving Africans, the future, the proletariat, the master race, non-human life, Gaia, the Holy Catholic Church. There is no lack of categories of concern different from the slob who shares your house, the actual neighbour, the people of (for instance) Fort McMurray, who have just been burned out of town.

Threatening to kill the owners of your favourite vegan restaurant because they have gone apostate by eating meat: how many sins and vanities does that expose?

The owners of the restaurant speak for themselves:

“We started to observe nature and what we saw is that nature doesn’t exist without animals,” Matthew Engelhart told the Hollywood Reporter last week after animal rights activists dug up and circulated blog entries from spring 2015 from the farm’s website, including photos of a freezer full of pastured beef, jars of gravy and Matthew enjoying a hamburger, with posts on their “transition” into meat products after nearly 40 years of vegetarianism.

Another study that came out this past week was a survey of people according to dietary habits.

A new University of Graz study concludes that vegetarians are more often ill and have a lower quality of living than meat-eaters. According to the German press release, vegetarians “have cancer and heart attacks more often”. The release also says that they show more psychological disorders than meat eaters. Consequently, the report writes, they are a greater burden on the health care system.

The scientists examined a total of 1320 persons who were divided up into 4 groups of 330 persons each. All groups were comparable with respect to gender, age, and socio-economic status. The study also accounted for smoking and physical activity. Also the BMI was within the normal range for all four groups (22.9 – 24.9). The only thing that really was different among the four groups was the diet. The four groups were: 1) vegetarians, 2) meat-eaters with lots of fruit and veggies, 3) little meat-eaters and 4) big meat-eaters. More than three quarters of the participants were women (76.4%).

Vegetarians plagued by significantly more chronic illnesses

The press release states that the results contradict the common cliché that meat-free diets are healthier. Vegetarians have twice as many allergies as big meat-eaters do (30.6% to 16.7%) and they showed 166% higher cancer rates (4.8% to 1.8%). Moreover the scientists found that vegans had a 150% higher rate of heart attacks (1.5% to 0.6%). In total the scientists looked at 18 different chronic illnesses. Compared to the big meat-eaters, vegetarians were hit harder in 14 of the 18 illnesses (78%) which included asthma, diabetes, migraines and osteoporosis [1, p.4, Table 3].

The Medical University of Graz confirms the findings of the University of Hildesheim: More frequent psychological disorders among vegetarians, the press release states.

The roots of anxiety and depression?

In the analysis, the University of Graz found that vegetarians were also twice as likely to suffer for anxiety or depressions than big meat eaters (9.4% to 4.5%). That result was confirmed by the University of Hildesheim, which found that vegetarians suffered significantly more from depressions, anxiety, psychosomatic complaints and eating disorders [2]. The U of Graz scientists also found that vegetarians are impacted more by ilnessses and visit the doctor more frequently [1, p. 3, Table 2].

Big meat-eaters were also found to have a “significantly better quality of life in all categories”, the study found. The four categories examined were: physical and psychological health, social relationships and environment-related life quality [1, p. 5, Table 4].

 

The study did not delve into the question whether vegetarians were more inclined to depression, neurosis and political leftism than meat eaters. It has been my observation that they tend to be. Vegetarians are part of that crowd of western Eloi whose over-developed super egos punish them for the pleasures of existence.

As to the apostate former vegan restaurant owners, their own moral posturing may have brought down the wrath of the disappointed vegans upon them. Try to read this without gagging:

The Engelharts spawned an entire industry with a carefully marketed message of peace, love and sharing, which includes a sister vegan Mexican restaurant, Gracias Madre, in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

The couple have written several books, including Sacred Commerce: Business as a Path of Awakening and Kindred Spirit: Fulfilling Love’s Promise. Their personal website is named Eternal Presence and references the board game they created in 2004, called The Abounding River Board Game, which was on every table in their San Francisco flagship; and which they said would train players to embrace “an unfamiliar view of Being Abundant” and develop a “spiritual foundation” for looking at money.

It is hard to tell who in this story is more to blame.

Lifting the gross national product with a set of tongs

The expression I use for a category error is “like trying to lift the gross national product with a set of tongs”. I could just as well say “he is trying to surf on a crime wave.” You cannot apprehend a statistical abstraction, such as the GDP, or a crime wave, with a physical object, a tool you hold in the hand, or a front-end loader.

Thus I was entertained by a recent interview with cognitive scientist Donald Hoffman in Quanta Magazine.

The virtue of Donald Hoffman is that he takes the conclusions of quantum physics seriously, and he addresses some issues underlying the attacks on neuroscience launched by Raymond Tallis and others. Says the article on Hoffman:

“while neuroscientists struggle to understand how there can be such a thing as a first-person reality, quantum physicists have to grapple with the mystery of how there can be anything but a first-person reality”

As you read the interview, it is apparent that Hoffman is using the worldview of quantum physics – the interaction of consciousness with matter – to put questions to an evolutionary account of human consciousness.

The argument of Hoffman tends to say that because we humans only evolve to greater fitness, we do not necessarily evolve to apprehend truth. We evolve mental apprehensions of danger, for example, called “snakes” or “traps” or “poison mushrooms”. We learn to avoid them.

Hoffman goes much further, however, by asserting that “physics tells us there are no public physical objects.” I do not believe quantum physics necessarily implies this conclusion. The many commentators on this article in Quanta magazine also appear to agree that Hoffman goes too far in that regard.

However, Hoffman takes proper aim at the neuroscientific community for failing to advance their ideas of physics from Newton to Heisenberg, from Einstein to John Wheeler.

“Not only are they ignoring the progress in fundamental physics, they are often explicit about it. They’ll say openly that quantum physics is not relevant to the aspects of brain function that are causally involved in consciousness. They are certain that it’s got to be classical properties of neural activity, which exist independent of any observer…. And then [neuroscientists] are mystified as to why they don’t make progress. They don’t avail themselves of the incredible insights and breakthroughs that physics has made. Those insights are out there for us to use, and yet my field says, “We’ll stick with Newton, thank you. We’ll stay 300 years behind in our physics.”

The many commentators on this interview provide some important perspectives, corrections and suggested readings on issues such as materialism and the role of consciousness in nature. Those who seem well grounded in philosophy accuse Hoffman of self-refuting solipsism, and more, and worse. It is an education to read them.

 

At first glance, it seems that Hoffman may have modernized his physics but has fallen too far into his own metaphors of consciousness as a user-illusion.By this I mean that he sees the picture that consciousness brings us is like the screen on a computer: it provides the representation of where “files” may be found in the computer, but it is not a circuit diagram and provides no insights as to how the computer works behind the screen.

I would offer the writing of Raymond Tallis as a much deeper and philosophically literate examiner of these issues of consciousness, evolution, and the adequacy of Darwin to get us to where we are.

Raymond Tallis is a British physician and intellectual who holds that neuroscience is in the grips of what he calls Darwinitis and neuromania. By this he means that, by adopting a strictly materialist position on the evolution and operation of of consciousness, we have failed to begin to understand issues such as intentionality, culture, meaning, and what it is like to be human.

All true. I recommend Tallis highly. His take on Darwin is insightful. He considers that evolutionary explanations fail to explain any form of consciousness. Here is a sampling, taken from Aping Mankind (2014) at page 183:

Much of the strength of the case for a Darwinian account of the human person and human society lies, as we saw, in the way language is used to anthropomorphize animal behaviour and animalize human behaviour. The case for the neuralization of consciousness and, in particular, human consciousness has also depended on the misuse of language, but with Neuromania the lexical trickery goes much deeper. While Darwinitis requires  its believers only to impute human characteristics to animals (and vice versa), Neuromania demands of  its adepts that they should ascribe human characteristics to physical processes taking place in the brain.

I cite Dawkins’ “selfish genes” meme, as a prime example of the ascription of human characteristics to physical processes. For a telling attack on Dawkins I recommend David Stove’s “Darwinian Fairytales“, (2006) essay 7, Genetic Calvinism, or Demons and Dawkins, which is scathing as well as funny.

And for something completely different,that is, an interpretation which sees the neuromania and Darwinitis as manifestation of a deep seated attack by the hyper-rationalist and over-developed part of the brain on our intuitive and connecting aspects of our minds, you might like Iain McGilchrist’s “The Master and his Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World.”

 

 

Books

In the Shadow of the Sword: the Birth of Islam and the Rise of the Global Arab Empire, by Tom Holland. In elegant prose, Holland takes rather a long time to convey two hugely important facts. First, that the Eastern Roman Empire was exhausted and devastated by plague, and that the Persian and Roman (Byzantine)  Empires had by 650 AD fought each other to exhaustion. Second, the eastern Roman Empire fell to the new Arab armies for much the same reasons that the Western Roman Empire had fallen to Germans: the barbarians the Romans had hired to protect the frontiers were tired of not being paid in the aftermath of great financial crises. In the case of the Arabs, they were already in Syria when they revolted against Rome. Abd-el Malik, the third caliph, retroactively made Mecca, of little importance to the original scheme of Mohammed, the capital of Islam.

This is a fascinating account of the end of the ancient world. I do not do it justice in this brief review; the author’s style is somewhat too elliptical for my straightforward tastes. Nevertheless Tom Holland’s book earns a strong though qualified recommendation.

 

About Time: Cosmology and Culture at the twilight of the Big Bang, by Adam Frank. Frank is a professor of astrophysics at the University of Rochester in New York. The book may be praised with faint damns as a competent review of how man’s conception of time has been socially constructed out of different forms of engagement with material reality over time. It fails absolutely to persuade me that string theory or multiverses are anything but attempts to get around the supreme issue, which is: why is this universe so ideally and so strangely suited to the emergence of conscious life? As to this larger question, Frank ducks it and Paul Davies confronts it squarely in The Goldilocks Enigma, which is by far to be recommended for intellectual depth and boldness.

The physics community has been evading the issue for some time. The vastly improbable sets of physical constants that allow atoms to bind, for heavier elements to form, for the four fundamental forces (electro-magnetic, gravity, strong force and weak force) to act to produce us, is the huge embarrassing question. Because we do live in a Goldilocks universe, and because the evidence is that, if there is only one universe, it is exquisitely attuned to produce human life and mind, it points to a Creator. The prospect of this is too much for materialists to bear, and so you get books like Adam Frank’s that hover around the question but never really come out and say why the multiplication of universes is called for by materialist interpretations of existence.

Roger Scruton is a British conservative and philosopher. His Fools, Frauds and Firebrands: Thinkers of the New Left is highly recommended if you wish to see through the feculent suppurations of new left thinking. Scruton explains why it is drivel, in patient exposition. It is as if someone has brought a giant vacuum to the culture’s intellectual septic tank. There’s old Roger, the township’s cleaner of shit tanks, doing his smelly but necessary job of keeping the place free from cholera, dysentery, and pollution.

Here is an example, writing of Sartre:

“Sartre’s anti-bourgeois rhetoric changed the language and the agenda of post war French philosophy, and fired the revolutionary ambitions of students who had come to paris from the former colonies. One of those students was later to return to his native Cambodia  and put into practice the “totalizing” doctrine that has as its targets the ‘seriality’ and ‘otherness’ of the bourgeois class. And in the purifying rage of Pol Pot it is not unreasonable to see the contempt and for the ordinary and the actual that is expressed in almost every line of Sartre’s demonic prose.”

We owe to Scruton an immense debt of gratitude for having patiently gone through the nihilistic nonsense of French academic marxizing to capture its essential nullity, vacuity, and gone over to Satan-ness. Someone has done the work, now I do not have to.

I give the highest recommendation to Stephen Rothman, philosopher and biologist, for his wonderful expositions of what is missing and wrong about modern scientific dogmas, especially as they pertain to biology. Nowhere is the prior and unscientific commitment to materialism so great as in biology, and though Rothman does not dispute it directly he is able to see the difference between an axiom (this is how we proceed) from a truth (a demonstrated and ineluctable conclusion). Rothman is, as far as I know, one of three people who seem to have read Darwin’s second great book, the Descent of Man, or Selection in Relation to Sex, published 13 years after The Origin of Species, and realized that Darwin came up with two different ideas as to how evolution worked. The other two are Geoffrey Miller and me.

Rothman’s The Paradox of Evolution: The strange Relationship between Natural Selection and Reproduction (2015) is a good place to start. He explains, in strictly Darwinian terms, why natural and sexual selection are not the same thing, and are at variance with one another. That is fascinating enough. But he also goes further. He also confronts the notion that, as Karl Popper pointed out was necessary for a theory to be truly scientific, that if natural selection admits of so huge an exception as sexual selection, then natural selection is not a complete theory. And if not a complete theory, it is not scientific in the sense in which Popper used the term. Here is what I mean by complete. Newton’s laws of motion and gravitation do not admit of exceptions. They are universal. There is not an exception for these laws in any part of the universe.

Rothman is philosophically literate, which makes all the difference. So many biologists are simply cheerleaders for Darwin and for materialist doctrines. Rothman therefore entertains as he leads the reader through the difficulties which Darwin’s two theories of evolution pose for true believers. So impressed was I by The Paradox of Evolution that I bought a book of his written 15 years ago, “Lessons from the Living Cell: The Limits of Reductionism”.

I recommend both, if you are interested in what an accomplished thinker can bring to topics of which he is the master. I emphasize the word “thinker”. Rothman is clear, deep, and represents a refreshing change from the fanatic and narrow-minded materialism that dominates so much darwinian cheerleading that passes for thought in the biological sciences. Rothman remains a materialist, I think, but one in whose company one could profitably spend some time.

Life is unfair, chapter 3832

Intelligent people are genetically predisposed to be healthier, sez the Telegraph.

For the first time, scientists have shown that intelligence is linked to good health, so those blessed with brains are also less likely to become sick, develop disease or die early.

The reason is down to genes. An international team, led by the University of Edinburgh, have discovered that the same gene variants which make people smart, also protect them against illness.

Those who performed the best on memory, verbal reasoning and reaction time tests, were less likely to have genes linked to high blood pressure, develop diseases like Alzheimer’s, diabetes or have poor overall health. They were also likely to be taller and have larger brains, the study found.

The only conditions that intelligence appeared to increase were schizophrenia, autism and bipolar disorder.

Which is reasonable considering that those three conditions are misworkings of the mind itself.

When are we going to abandon the notion that we are are equal in anything but a moral sense? Genetics – the instructions that make our bodies and minds – largely determines intelligence, health, personality and character.

Culture is what turns us from savages into citizens, and I am in favour of higher, broader and deeper culture, but it cannot be attained without good genetics.

Otherwise we are in Straight outta Compton. Or 21st century Kandahar. Or 14th century London, in a violent, brutish, impoverished life.

So here’s a toast to culture, self restraint and public order! And three cheers for good genes!

_______________________________________

Another must read for Barrelstrengthians: Norbert Elias’ The Civilizing Process which is worth reading at almost any price. Elias’ book is the basis of Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of our Nature, which debt Pinker freely acknowledges.

Immune deficiency disease

A friend sent me an article asking if Europe was bent on self-destruction, and as you may be sure, answered to the effect that it is. You do not have to look far to find it: decline of faith, decline of mission, Muslim invasion, hatred of Israel,covering up Islamic atrocities,  blaming white people for everything are among the symptoms. David Goldman, who blogs as Spengler, is a firm exponent that Germany in particular is spiritually sick and demographically ruined.

Since my time in college, back in the late sixties, an eruption of anti-intellectual, anti-white, anti-male and anti-Christian thought has marched through the learning institutions, such that kids graduating from school are firmly in the grip of Marxian opinions without the bother of actually knowing anything, as it seems. While the economic claptrap of Marx has been abandoned, the mindset inculcated in universities is largely hostile to those institutions, beliefs and  customs that make life as rich and free as it is in the West. Spineless self-hatred seems to be the order of the day.

This deduction could be the effect of reading too many conservative blogs, or it could be an actual phenomenon out there in the real world. The Islamic refugee invasion permitted by Chancellor Merkel testifies to the fact that what I am talking about is out there in the real world.

To cite Herbert Marcuse’s seminal article, Repressive Tolerance, from 1965:

   Liberating tolerance, then, would mean intolerance against movements from the Right and toleration of movements from the Left. As to the scope of this tolerance and intolerance: … it would extend to the stage of action as well as of discussion and propaganda, of deed as well as of word.

And so forth. The malign effects of the Frankfurt School seems to have gained an impressive victory over everything standing in its path. Its influence is the lasting inheritance of largely German, and almost exclusively Jewish, Marxists or Marxians. (Jürgen Habermas is an exception).

It is not unusual for there to exist powerful alternatives to the dominant ideology in a liberal society. What is unusual these days is that the dominant ideology seeks the destruction of the society that tolerates it in our universities and guardian institutions. Many tenured intellectuals seem to be generating the rot on which they feed, as termites take down the house in which they dwell.

Western self-hatred and self-disgust is not, I would argue, a natural phenomenon, or the waking up to the sins of the past,  but is the calculated result of the poison we have allowed to drip into our veins from the writings of Marxists and their successors. But why have we allowed it? And why has it been so successful?

The difference in post World War 2 western societies is that the cultural anti-bodies have been so weakened that we have no longer have sufficient defences against these poisons. In my view, however mistaken it may be, multiculturalism is not in substance tolerance – which is a worthy state of being in certain circumstances – but is used and promoted as an antidote to remedy the whiteness of our civilization, which is a defect that needs fixing. Anyone familiar with a truly multi-cultural society, such as Lebanon, India, or the Balkans, knows that truly different cultures are not a source of strength, but act as much as fissures for sectarian and cultural strife. Look at French and English Canada, Walloon and Flemish Belgium. These are mild compared to serious religious differences. When two cultures in the bosom of one state cannot agree that God is powerless to make 2+2=5, then the differences go to the root of one’s apprehension of reality.

And how did we arrive here?

I blame Adolf Hitler. His poisonous ideology of racial supremacy and his wars of annihilation had to be defeated and stopped, as they duly were. But the reaction against Hitlerism and its associated white supremacism has been endless. In every department of inquiry,  the inherent differences between and among people, sexes, races, nations and cultures have been ignored, and discussion of them made too expensive, too risky. Thus for instance, despite all the strong and unequivocal evidence for the predominant influence of genes on intelligence, such findings are systematically discounted. The mention of male-female differences  by a Harvard President cost him his job and the possibility of being US Federal Bank Chairman, yet, for example,  the most important woman mathematician ranks 140th in the list of the world’s most important mathematicians.

human accomplishment

 

As Charles Murray demonstrates in his Human Accomplishment, the overwhelming preponderance of important scientists, musicians, authors, and artists who have ever lived were white, and came from very specific regions of Europe, which have changed over time, from around Florence to the Low countries and England. Don’t believe me? Read the book. The detail, the maps, the facts will persuade you. As Murray observed, the entire scientific output of Islamic civilization is ranked less by scientific encyclopedias than that of Michael Faraday.

So why then, have our cultural anti-bodies become so weak? Every being in nature is constantly beset and invaded by germs, and would-be parasites. Likewise every society is constantly exposed to ideas hostile to its beliefs,customs, and institutions. What is decadent and abnormal is that we accept the views of ourselves promulgated by our enemies, internal and external. And of the two kinds, the internal are the more serious long term threat.

I know that my liberal friends may think this is nuts; they believe that we are strong because we are so open. I say we are open because we are strong, but that the source of our strength lies not merely in openness, but a belief that we are right. And that belief has been systematically sapped for generations by leftist spiritual termites.

Where is the can of Raid?

Trump?

John Adams and the bean in the paste pie

john-adams-olderstuart-300x204

 

I have been reading the amiable David McCullough’s biography of the first US vice-president, second President, and revolutionary New England patriot, John Adams. There is much to recommend it as a window on the times and as an insight into a man who is in the first rank of American founding fathers.

John Adams was appointed ambassador of the fledgling republic to the court of France, whose policy it was to detach the Thirteen Colonies from the British crown.

Abigail Adams was John Adams’ beautiful, devoted and intelligent wife. In the excerpt below she was writing to her niece, Lucy Cranch, dated January 5, 1785, some 230 years ago. The family is in Paris. Abigail Adams wrote as follows:

 

You must know that the religion of this country requires an abundance of feasting and fasting, and each person has his particular saint, as well as each calling and occupation. Tomorrow is to be celebrated le jour des rois. The day before this feast it is customary to make a large paste pie, into which one bean is put. Each person cuts his slice, and the one who is so lucky as to obtain the bean is dubbed king or queen. Accordingly, today, when I went to dinner, I found one upon our table.

Your cousin Nabby began by taking the first slice; but alas! poor girl, no bean and no queen. In the next place your cousin John seconded her by taking a larger cut, and as cautious as cousin T___ when he inspects merchandise, bisected his paste with mathematical circumspection; but to him it pertained not. By this time I was ready for my part; but first I declared I had no cravings for royalty. I accordingly separated my piece with much firmness, nowise disappointed that it fell not to me.

Your uncle [John Adams], who was all this time picking his chicken bone, saw us divert ourselves without saying anything. But presently he seized the remaining half, and to crumbs went the poor paste, cut here and slash there; when behold, the bean! “And thus,” said he, “are kingdoms obtained!”. But the servant who stood by and saw the havoc, declared solemnly that he could not retain the title, as the laws decreed it to chance, and not to force.

My admiration for the elegance of Abigail Adams’ prose style increased in the copying of the letter, but my point is different.

George Homans

 

I want you now to move your minds ahead two hundred years to the 1970s. Seated at the dinner table are my father and mother, myself, and George Homans, the famous Harvard sociologist,  (August 11, 1910 – May 29, 1989) and his wife Nancy. George Homans was a direct descendant of the same President John Adams, and had had a distinguished career writing about, among other things,  Anglo-Saxon land tenure and its relationship to subsequent English history.  He was very frugal with his considerable fortune, and when he died Nancy was shocked at how rich she now was. He lived well, but very far below his ample means. His favourite occupation in his later years was to go out to his woodlot outside Boston and cut trees for firewood. “Too many God-damn trees” was his motto.

Once, when we were discussing the English civil war and the American Revolution on the deck of the club, some worthy leftist interrupted us and opined that “the American Revolution had got rid of the American upper class.” At which point, George Homans rocked backwards on his heels, all five feet two inches of him, and shouted to the sky, in his broad Boston accent “There is so an American upper class and I am a paaaht  of it”. The leftist evaporated, so quickly did he disappear.

That was George. He would play tennis in white shorts and black socks, when the dress code was tennis whites only. Nervous, excitable, terrifically bright, and just a kid.

So there we five were at the dinner table at my parents’ place. Desert was brought out, some confection of ice cream in a big bowl. George, with the unconscious glee of a two year old, takes his spoon, and before anyone can say or do anything, took two thirds of it for himself. It such a breach of decorum that everyone shouted “George!” “Mr. Homans!” “What!?” he replied “I like ice cream”. He was made to put back some of it, with ill-concealed annoyance.

I had not thought of George Homans and the Ice Cream Incident for 35 years, until that uncanny story of John Adams and the bean in the paste pie.  I have wondered since whether there was some familial disposition passed down for two hundred years to go for the Big One, without remorse or compunction.

Then I thought,  they are Americans, and of course they will go for the Big One, however they define it,  and why not?, they would ask themselves. Are we not Americans?

 

 

 

 

Scott Adams on Trump

Periodically I can do you no better service than refer you to an article that makes better sense than anything I could write.

This is Don Surber, commenting on how only Scott Adams of Dilbert has captured how Trump is succeeding in blowing everyone’s brains out.

Here is Scott Adams talking about how we make political decisions. Observe this picture. Which tool reminds you of Trump?

tools

As Scott Adams explains:

My hypothesis predicts that you laughed when you saw the huge drill next to the other tools because you instantly knew it was the Trump tool. No thinking required. But I’ll bet you started feeling your rational mind kick-in to identify Cruz and Rubio. And that’s my point.

Trump is operating on the reflex part of your brain, and intentionally. The other candidates are appealing to your reason. That’s the phenomenon I saw back in the summer, and why I predicted Trump will win in a landslide. He isn’t winning the game so much as playing an entirely different one.

You know Trump’s babbling, repetitive, content-free, happy-talk? Every bit of it is engineered persuasion. While the other candidates talk statistics and reason, Trump speaks to your emotions. He knows people will pick the strong, decisive, optimistic leader over the candidate that agrees with their own views. We are wired that way. Reagan didn’t win over so many Democrats because his arguments were strong. He won them by emotion. After the fact, people assumed his policies must have been brilliant too. (Cognitive Dissonance.)

Y

 

 

 

Skyhookers versus the Up From Belows

There is an immense cosmic Opinion Bowl, the Cosmodome. It seats a hundred million people, most of whom, at a given time, are dead spirits. They shout as lustily as the small minority of the audience who at any given time are living.The game lasts eternally. There are time-outs for civilizational collapses, plagues, and really serious wars. If the Opinion Bowl has been at various times destroyed, it has always been rebuilt. In the Opinion Bowl one fight has gone on since the dawn of civilization. It is a struggle for dominance in explanations, between the Skyhookers and the Up-From-Belows. There are other matches too, besides the Skyhookers versus Up-from- Belows, and sub-fights within the factions. The immense, indeed near infinite audience, forms into factions and tribes at the speed of thought.

Prominent captains of the Skyhookers have included Plato, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Aristotle, Descartes, Pascal and other luminaries of the Western canon. Monotheists tend to be Skyhookers, but not exclusively, nor even to the extent of denying the arguments of the Up-from-belows. Indeed the question of theism – is there an organizing God? – tends to confuse the debate somewhat, because the debate is really about whether matter is sufficiently self-organizing for conscious observers (us) to emerge from the primordial stews, or was there some help – guidance if you will – from the future, from where we will end up, allowing for an overall purpose and direction in history. Such a view – the importance of observation – is consistent with the Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Physics.

Unfortunately the two thousand year-long  dominance of Plato and Aristotle, two of the greatest skyhookers who ever thought, who were blind to the virtues of evolution, of trade, of self-organization, of growth and development, biased the intellectual life of the West to static thought, to anti-mercantile attitudes, and to the idea of immutable characters and essences. Aquinas’ adoption of Aristotle in the 12th century, and his acceptance by the Church as official orthodoxy, kept Skyhooker attitudes firmly entrenched in the core of official Christianity. It took a Reformation and a scientific revolution to loosen the links between Christianity and Aristotle. It now asserts that faith in Skyhooks is just that, faith, and if you do not believe in the Great Skyhook, you have not understood the Gospels properly.

The Up-from-Belows started out small but in the last few centuries have grown to dominate the game. First it was Epicurus, then Lucretius who set Epicurus’ thought to one long poem, and the near miraculous finding of a lost text of Lucretius in a German monastery at the time of the Renaissance. Lucretius is the first exposition of a materialist world of self-organizing atoms without the need for gods to explain anything. No wonder the Platonists were not anxious to preserve it. Later came Adam Smith, David Hume, Darwin, Friedrich Hayek, economists, and other proponents of the self-organizing capacities of nature and man. Atheists are, in general, up-from-belows, but many proponents of the Skyhook tradition also acknowledge the reality and importance of the self-organizing features of nature, which includes human beings.

Now Skyhook is a term of derision, like Puritan, Tory, Quaker, Whig, Protestant, Grit. The Skyhookers think that the entire universe has been brought into existence by a Mind, and that it is pervaded or organized by something like thought, and that behind the appearances is a Big Thinker, who has brought reality into being. Not just quarks and leptons, the strong force and the weak force, electromagnetism and gravity, but mind itself. They point out that mind is a feature of this universe that has to be explained.

Other skyhookers think that minds in the future are, by the force of their observations in the future, bringing into existence a state of affairs conducive to life, consciousness and intelligence. This view was the basis of the recent science fiction movie, Interstellar.

The Up-from-belows, when they wade into cosmology, get into trouble with mind. Their views are frequently materialist, and their ideas of matter are seen, by Skyhookers, as constricting limitations of the largest kinds on whatever could be real.  Daniel Dennett is a prominent example. Extreme materialists end up denying the existence of mind, or denying the particular appearance of qualities (known to the trade as qualia). If everything is self-organizing matter, and we know that matter is dead – so to speak – then mind is found in brains, and dies with brains. Brain generates mind, and not the other way around. This conclusion is an undiscussable reality for the extreme materialist.

The Sky-hookers say that Mind is a feature of this universe that needs explanation, and they rely on the Benign Designer God as their Super Turtle, the explanation that stops the need for an infinite regress of explanations. The Universe rests on the back of an Elephant, and the Elephant stands on the back of a Turtle, and either it’s turtles all the way down (infinite regress), or a Super Turtle ends the regression. That is what I mean by a Super Turtle.

Many Up-from-belows say that the question is absurd: we are here by fluke. Others say that we live in a multiverse, and in this world of infinite possibilities, we just happen to live in the world that generated minds to observe it. So they offer the same explanation as the flukers, only disguise it under the multiplication of universes. Many up-from-belows  disparage the idea of  an Intellgient Designer, but hold that physical laws are Platonic abstractions that exists outside of time and space.  Designer God, fluke, multiverse, the immutable Laws of Nature which exists outside human influence: each is a Super Turtle. The whole issue is explored entertainingly and well by Paul Davies in the Goldilocks Enigma: Why is the Universe Just Right for Life?

Just because the Up-from-belows wander into conceptual and metaphysical difficulties when they ponder the origin of everything, and the nature of mind, does not mean that they are wrong about how  human institutions have evolved.

Thinkers as different as Darwin and Hayek are in the Up-from-Below camp. It is frequently amazing to me that people who celebrate the process of biological discovery called evolution tend to be squeamish about the process of price and product discovery called capitalism.

The basic idea is that humans create order without thinking about it, and that order causes changes in us, as we adapt to it and develop social customs that allow for greater wealth creation and more complex societies. Such an idea infuses thinkers like Adam Smith and Friedrich Hayek. In fact Charles Darwin is known to have thoroughly read Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations when he was in university.

matt-ridley

 

This has to be the most long-winded introduction to a wonderful book by Matt Ridley, the Evolution of Everything. I strongly recommend it.

Ridley engages in a thorough exploration that evolution applies to everything: religions, moralities, biology, technology, languages, laws: a complete bottom-up self-organizing explanation of everything.I do not find it necessary to agree with every argument of a writer, especially when they are engaged in a serious romp through vast reaches of important subject matters. For a splendid stimulation of your mind, even as you may argue with it as you read, Ridley’s book makes a great Christmas gift.

He is not the kind of writer who obliges you to agree with him on pain of being cast into outer darkness.

PS:
If you google this book, ignore especially the Guardian’s mean spirited assassination attempt. Kirkus Reviews discusses the actual ideas of Ridley fairly.