Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Timeline: The evolution of life

 by Michael Marshall


3.8 billion years ago

This is our current "best guess" for the beginning of life on Earth. It is distinctly possible that this date will change as more evidence comes to light. The first life may have developed in undersea alkaline ventsMovie Camera, and was probably based on RNA rather than DNA.
At some point far back in time, a common ancestor gave rise to two main groups of life: bacteria and archaea.

3.5 billion years ago

The oldest fossils of single-celled organisms date from this time.

3.46 billion years ago

Some single-celled organisms may be feeding on methane by this time.

3.4 billion years ago

Rock formations in Western Australia, that some researchers claim are fossilised microbes, date from this period.

3 billion years ago

Viruses are present by this time, but they may be as old as life itself.

2.4 billion years ago

The "great oxidation event". Supposedly, the poisonous waste produced by photosynthetic cyanobacteria – oxygen – starts to build up in the atmosphere. Dissolved oxygen makes the iron in the oceans "rust" and sink to the seafloor, forming striking banded iron formations.
Recently, though, some researchers have challenged this idea. They think cyanobacteria only evolved later, and that other bacteria oxidised the iron in the absence of oxygen.
Yet others think that cyanobacteria began pumping out oxygen as early as 2.1 billion years ago, but that oxygen began to accumulate only due to some other factor, possibly a decline in methane-producing bacteria. Methane reacts with oxygen, removing it from the atmosphere, so fewer methane-belching bacteria would allow oxygen to build up.

2.3 billion years ago

Earth freezes over in what may have been the first "snowball Earth", possibly as a result of a lack of volcanic activity. When the ice eventually melts, it indirectly leads to more oxygen being released into the atmosphere.

2.15 billion years ago

First undisputed fossil evidence of cyanobacteria, and of photosynthesis: the ability to take in sunlight and carbon dioxide, and obtain energy, releasing oxygen as a by-product.
There is some evidence for an earlier date for the beginning of photosynthesis, but it has been called into question.

2 billion years ago?

Eukaryotic cells – cells with internal "organs" (known as organelles) – come into being. One key organelle is the nucleus: the control centre of the cell, in which the genes are stored in the form of DNA.
Eukaryotic cells evolved when one simple cell engulfed another, and the two lived together, more or less amicably – an example of "endosymbiosis". The engulfed bacteria eventually become mitochondria, which provide eukaryotic cells with energy. The last common ancestor of all eukaryotic cells had mitochondria – and had also developed sexual reproduction.
Later, eukaryotic cells engulfed photosynthetic bacteria and formed a symbiotic relationship with them. The engulfed bacteria evolved into chloroplasts: the organelles that give green plants their colour and allow them to extract energy from sunlight.
Different lineages of eukaryotic cells acquired chloroplasts in this way on at least three separate occasions, and one of the resulting cell lines went on to evolve into all green algae and green plants.

1.5 billion years ago?

The eukaryotes divide into three groups: the ancestors of modern plants, fungi and animals split into separate lineages, and evolve separately. We do not know in what order the three groups broke with each other. At this time they were probably all still single-celled organisms.

900 million years ago?

It is unclear exactly how or why this happens, but one possibility is that single-celled organisms go through a stage similar to that of modern choanoflagellates: single-celled creatures that sometimes form colonies consisting of many individuals. Of all the single-celled organisms known to exist, choanoflagellates are the most closely related to multicellular animals, lending support to this theory.

800 million years ago

The early multicellular animals undergo their first splits. First they divide into, essentially, the sponges and everything else – the latter being more formally known as the Eumetazoa.

Around 20 million years later, a small group called the placozoa breaks away from the rest of the Eumetazoa. Placozoa are thin plate-like creatures about 1 millimetre across, and consist of only three layers of cells. It has been suggested that they may actually be the last common ancestor of all the animals.

770 million years ago

The planet freezes over again in another "snowball Earth".

730 million years ago

The comb jellies (ctenophores) split from the other multicellular animals. Like the cnidarians that will soon follow, they rely on water flowing through their body cavities to acquire oxygen and food.

680 million years ago

The ancestor of cnidarians (jellyfish and their relatives) breaks away from the other animals – though there is as yet no fossil evidence of what it looks like.

630 million years ago

Around this time, some animals evolve bilateral symmetry for the first time: that is, they now have a defined top and bottom, as well as a front and back.
Little is known about how this happened. However, small worms called Acoela may be the closest surviving relatives of the first ever bilateral animal. It seems likely that the first bilateral animal was a kind of worm. Vernanimalcula guizhouena, which dates from around 600 million years ago, may be the earliest bilateral animal found in the fossil record.

590 million years ago

The Bilateria, those animals with bilateral symmetry, undergo a profound evolutionary split. They divide into the protostomes and deuterostomes.
The deuterostomes eventually include all the vertebrates, plus an outlier group called the Ambulacraria. The protostomes become all the arthropods (insects, spiders, crabs, shrimp and so forth), various types of worm, and the microscopic rotifers.
Neither may seem like an obvious "group", but in fact the two can be distinguished by the way their embryos develop. The first hole that the embryo acquires, the blastopore, forms the anus in deuterostomes, but in protostomes it forms the mouth.

580 million years ago

The earliest known fossils of cnidarians, the group that includes jellyfish, sea anemones and corals, date to around this time – though the fossil evidence has been disputed.

575 million years ago

Strange life forms known as the Ediacarans appear around this time and persist for about 33 million years.

570 million years ago

A small group breaks away from the main group of deuterostomes, known as the Ambulacraria. This group eventually becomes the echinoderms (starfish, brittle stars and their relatives) and two worm-like families called the hemichordates and Xenoturbellida.
Another echinoderm, the sea lily, is thought to be the "missing link" between vertebrates (animals with backbones) and invertebrates (animals without backbones), a split that occurred around this time.

565 million years ago

Fossilised animal trails suggest that some animals are moving under their own power.

540 million years ago

As the first chordates – animals that have a backbone, or at least a primitive version of it – emerge among the deuterostomes, a surprising cousin branches off.
The sea squirts (tunicates) begin their history as tadpole-like chordates, but metamorphose partway through their lives into bottom-dwelling filter feeders that look rather like a bag of seawater anchored to a rock. Their larvae still look like tadpoles today, revealing their close relationship to backboned animals.

535 million years ago

The Cambrian explosion begins, with many new body layouts appearing on the scene – though the seeming rapidity of the appearance of new life forms may simply be an illusion caused by a lack of older fossils.

530 million years ago

The first true vertebrate – an animal with a backbone – appears. It probably evolves from a jawless fish that has a notochord, a stiff rod of cartilage, instead of a true backbone. The first vertebrate is probably quite like a lamprey, hagfish or lancelet.
Around the same time, the first clear fossils of trilobites appear. These invertebrates, which look like oversized woodlice and grow to 70 centimetres in length, proliferate in the oceans for the next 200 million years.

520 million years ago

Conodonts, another contender for the title of "earliest vertebrate", appear. They probably look like eels.

500 million years ago

Fossil evidence shows that animals were exploring the land at this time. The first animals to do so were probably euthycarcinoids – thought to be the missing link between insects and crustaceans. Nectocaris pteryx, thought to be the oldest known ancestor of the cephalopods – the group that includes squid – lives around this time.

489 million years ago

The Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event begins, leading to a great increase in diversity. Within each of the major groups of animals and plants, many new varieties appear.

465 million years ago

Plants begin colonising the land.

460 million years ago

Fish split into two major groups: the bony fish and cartilaginous fish. The cartilaginous fish, as the name implies, have skeletons made of cartilage rather than the harder bone. They eventually include all the sharks, skates and rays.

440 million years ago

The bony fish split into their two major groups: the lobe-finned fish with bones in their fleshy fins, and the ray-finned fish. The lobe-finned fish eventually give rise to amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. The ray-finned fish thrive, and give rise to most fish species living today.
The common ancestor of lobe-finned and ray-finned fish probably has simple sacs that function as primitive lungs, allowing it to gulp air when oxygen levels in the water fall too low. In ray-finned fish, these sacs evolve into the swim bladder, which is used for controlling buoyancy.

425 million years ago

The coelacanth, one of the most famous "living fossils" – species that have apparently not changed for millions of years – splits from the rest of the lobe-finned fish.

417 million years ago

Lungfish, another legendary living fossil, follow the coelacanth by splitting from the other lobe-finned fish. Although they are unambiguously fish, complete with gills, lungfish have a pair of relatively sophisticated lungs, which are divided into numerous smaller air sacs to increase their surface area. These allow them to breathe out of water and thus to survive when the ponds they live in dry out.

400 million years ago

The oldest known insect lives around this time. Some plants evolve woody stems.

397 million years ago

The first four-legged animalsMovie Camera, or tetrapods, evolve from intermediate species such as Tiktaalik, probably in shallow freshwater habitats.
The tetrapods go on to conquer the land, and give rise to all amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals.

385 million years ago

The oldest fossilised tree dates from this period.

375 million years ago

Tiktaalik, an intermediate between fish and four-legged land animals, lives around this time. The fleshy fins of its lungfish ancestors are evolving into limbs.

340 million years ago

The first major split occurs in the tetrapods, with the amphibians branching off from the others.

310 million years ago

Within the remaining tetrapods, the sauropsids and synapsids split from one another. The sauropsids include all the modern reptiles, plus the dinosaurs and birds. The first synapsids are also reptiles, but have distinctive jaws. They are sometimes called "mammal-like reptiles", and eventually evolve into the mammals.

320 to 250 million years ago

The pelycosaurs, the first major group of synapsid animals, dominate the land. The most famous example is Dimetrodon, a large predatory "reptile" with a sail on its back. Despite appearances, Dimetrodon is not a dinosaur.

275 to 100 million years ago

The therapsids, close cousins of the pelycosaurs, evolve alongside them and eventually replace them. The therapsids survive until the early Cretaceous, 100 million years ago. Well before that, a group of them called the cynodonts develops dog-like teeth and eventually evolves into the first mammals.

250 million years ago

The Permian period ends with the greatest mass extinction in Earth's history, wiping out great swathes of species, including the last of the trilobites.
As the ecosystem recovers, it undergoes a fundamental shift. Whereas before the synapsids (first the pelycosaurs, then the therapsids) dominated, the sauropsids now take over – most famously, in the form of dinosaurs. The ancestors of mammals survive as small, nocturnal creatures.
In the oceans, the ammonites, cousins of the modern nautilus and octopus, evolve around this time. Several groups of reptiles colonise the seas, developing into the great marine reptiles of the dinosaur era.

210 million years ago

Bird-like footprints and a badly-preserved fossil called Protoavis suggest that some early dinosaurs are already evolving into birds at this time. This claim remains controversial.

200 million years ago

As the Triassic period comes to an end, another mass extinction strikes, paving the way for the dinosaurs to take over from their sauropsid cousins.
Around the same time, proto-mammals evolve warm-bloodedness – the ability to maintain their internal temperature, regardless of the external conditions.

180 million years ago

The first split occurs in the early mammal population. The monotremes, a group of mammals that lay eggs rather than giving birth to live young, break apart from the others. Few monotremes survive today: they include the duck-billed platypus and the echidnasMovie Camera.

168 million years ago

A half-feathered, flightless dinosaur called Epidexipteryx, which may be an early step on the road to birds, lives in China.

150 million years ago

Archaeopteryx, the famous "first bird", lives in Europe.

140 million years ago

Around this time, placental mammals split from their cousins the marsupials. These mammals, like the modern kangaroo, that give birth when their young are still very small, but nourish them in a pouch for the first few weeks or months of their lives.
The majority of modern marsupials live in Australia, but they reach it by an extremely roundabout route. Arising in south-east Asia, they spread into north America (which was attached to Asia at the time), then to south America and Antarctica, before making the final journey to Australia about 50 million years ago.

131 million years ago

Eoconfuciusornis, a bird rather more advanced than Archaeopteryx, lives in China.

130 million years ago

The first flowering plants emerge, following a period of rapid evolution.

105-85 million years ago

The placental mammals split into their four major groups: the laurasiatheres (a hugely diverse group including all the hoofed mammals, whales, bats, and dogs), euarchontoglires (primates, rodents and others), Xenarthra (including anteaters and armadillos) and afrotheres (elephants, aardvarks and others). Quite how these splits occurred is unclear at present.

100 million years ago

The Cretaceous dinosaurs reach their peak in size. The giant sauropod Argentinosaurus, believed to be the largest land animal in Earth's history, lives around this time.

93 million years ago

The oceans become starved of oxygen, possibly due to a huge underwater volcanic eruption. Twenty-seven per cent of marine invertebrates are wiped out.

75 million years ago

The ancestors of modern primates split from the ancestors of modern rodents and lagomorphs (rabbits, hares and pikas). The rodents go on to be astonishingly successful, eventually making up around 40 per cent of modern mammal species.

70 million years ago

Grasses evolve – though it will be several million years before the vast open grasslands appear.

65 million years ago

The Cretaceous-Tertiary (K/T) extinction wipes out a swathe of species, including all the giant reptiles: the dinosaurs, pterosaurs, ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs. The ammonites are also wiped out. The extinction clears the way for the mammals, which go on to dominate the planet.

63 million years ago

The primates split into two groups, known as the haplorrhines (dry-nosed primates) and the strepsirrhines (wet-nosed primates). The strepsirrhines eventually become the modern lemurs and aye-ayes, while the haplorrhines develop into monkeys and apes – and humans.

58 million years ago

The tarsier, a primate with enormous eyes to help it see at night, splits from the rest of the haplorrhines: the first to do so.

55 million years ago

The Palaeocene/Eocene extinction. A sudden rise in greenhouse gases sends temperatures soaring and transforms the planet, wiping out many species in the depths of the sea – though sparing species in shallow seas and on land.

50 million years ago

Artiodactyls, which look like a cross between a wolf and a tapir, begin evolving into whales.

48 million years ago

Indohyus, another possible ancestor of whales and dolphinsMovie Camera, lives in India.

47 million years ago

The famous fossilised primate known as "Ida" lives in northern Europe. Early whales called protocetids live in shallow seas, returning to land to give birthMovie Camera.

40 million years ago

New World monkeys become the first simians (higher primates) to diverge from the rest of the group, colonising South America.

25 million years ago

Apes split from the Old World monkeys.

18 million years ago

Gibbons become the first ape to split from the others.

14 million years ago

Orang-utans branch off from the other great apes, spreading across southern Asia while their cousins remain in Africa.

7 million years ago

Gorillas branch off from the other great apes.

6 million years ago

Humans diverge from their closest relatives; the chimpanzees and bonobos.
Shortly afterwards, hominins begin walking on two legs. See our interactive timeline of human evolution for the full story of how modern humans developed.

2 million years ago

A 700-kilogram rodent called Josephoartigasia monesi lives in South America. It is the largest rodent known to have lived, displacing the previous record holder: a giant guinea pig.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Eashoa of Nazareth vs. The American Jesus

In the birth of the American experiment there grew different roots. One root is the secular enlightenment that was nurtured by Paine, Jefferson, and Franklin types and the other root is the puritan instinct that the Christian fundamentalists nurtured. One root is based on a secular Constitution influenced by the Enlightenment and the other is based on the Bible influenced by thousands of years of religious thought in pre-enlightenment society. These two roots have battled for the soil and the ability to grow to fruition in the same pot. They have been bumping awkwardly into one another and making entwining compromises along the way. Only a belief in the liberty of conscience from both sides can bridge this divide.

Modern conservatism with its relatively recent success in politics has grown a taste for power and this power is easily corrupting the movement. It has become a form concerned with power rather than with the actual individual lives of its members. It is more interested in the spoils of power than the purity and principle of its own people.

History seems to indicate that religion is corrupted by state and government power and vice versa. Christianity seemed to be at its highest point in purity when it was persecuted and alienated. When the Emperor Constantine infused the church with money and power Dante lamented it to see the corrupting impact it had on the church and its hierarchy. Once the church lost its vision to change and reach people on the inside through persuasion and integrity and switched its emphasis to political power and influence to change people on the outside through force and material reward it became a decadent form and a bastard child of its actual foundation.

Dante's Lamentation - "Ah, Constantine, how much evil you gave birth to, not in your conversion, but in that Donation that the first wealthy Pope, Sylvester, received from you!"

The New Testament Jesus seemed more concerned with judging those inside his flock than those outside. His target was not Pilate or Roman politicians but rather the spiritual leaders of his day. If Jesus of Nazareth entered the American scene it seems rather obvious that his targets would be greedy television preachers and abusive Church leaders than Hollywood or the White House. His mission seemed more keen on changing peoples hearts than a political grab for power in Rome. To get really technical the historical Jesus, a bearded man who originated from Palestine, spoke Aramaic, and whose appearance would resemble very few people in the American South would ironically be a liability to the modern conservative politician on image alone. The irony itself is proof of its shallowness and decadence. It has lost its claim to universal truth when it has limited itself to only a specific time and a specific place in America.

Modern American conservatism has become so superficial and xenophobic that they would judge the historical Jesus as an outsider, "not like us", other, different, and perhaps a secret terrorist. The obvious truth is that comfortable pews in Joel Osteen's church in Texas is a great distance from Palestine 2,000 years ago. A modern American Christan is altogether a different creature than the original faithful in ancient Palestine. It lacks "metacognition" the ability to think about itself in context and instead relies on the narrow limitations of its immediate surrounding. The decadence of American conservatism is that it has traded away its internal integrity for a play at power to force a standard of living on others that it fails to uphold in its own homes and congregations. It resembles not the historical Jesus or the New Testament version but a Jesus that is somehow an english speaking American that revels in power politics and money making schemes. Charlatans and political power lead the way to the frugal and passive Nazarene?

The hypocrisy is there to see but there is also another injustice. The murder of wisdom for the sake of the appearance of morality. So much wisdom is censored in the cause of this puritan instinct that aims to hide from human reality and break the mirrors that reflect ugly truths. To the christianist the mirrors are the enemy not the actual moral failings in the dark. Tupac Shakur was attacked for his raw music and language and he stated, "You censor me you censor the lessons I learned." He once told a person who confronted him about his harsh lyrics that when the community starts to clean up the ghetto he will start to clean up his language. Until then he was going to hold up the mirror and not suppress the injustice and ugliness that went on in the daily lives of people. Tupac despised Victorian polite society that had no problem doing the deed but dare not say it in public.

Hiding human frailty in the dark is corrupting because it censors lessons and wisdom and opens the door to more hypocrisy and ignorance in the day light. If American conservatism has the courage to expose itself in the light and risk political power for doing so it might be able to make its way back to the road of credibility. Until then the politics and the money reign supreme in the movement and the pursuit of bigger church memberships and the political will to power will override personal and private integrity as the priority.

A Victorian would be offended if one spoke of adultery openly but would be comfortable with performing the act in secret. Carrie Prejean is a good example of this. She speaks publicly about political and public morality but when lawyers showed her a tape of a woman masturbating on camera her response was that this was disgusting but then the lawyers let her know that the woman on the tape was her. I suppose it became less disgusting to Miss Prejean. This Neo-Victorianism is hyper compartmentalization. It cannot see beyond its bubbles of illusion and is so bent on hiding from its own humanity.

John 18:36 - Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”

Christianity as it stands now in the West and especially in America is about identity politics not a movement of the heart. It is about protecting ones status and keeping Christianity as the dominant identity. Unlike the Jesus of the gospels it seeks a kingdom of this world and fights for political space and power. It does not seek to reach the hearts of people it seeks to reach the public halls of power. This is not good for the health of spiritual Christianity. Political Christianity corrupts spiritual Christianity. Jesus of Nazareth did not seek to overthrow the Romans by political power. The Roman rule was a foreign pagan occupation and yet Jesus in the gospels said to pay your taxes to Caesar. Would American Christianity accept such a message today? Jesus did not busy himself judging Roman pagan rule, taxes, prostitution and the like but rather his only source of real anger was against the corruption and hypocrisy in his own religious institution.

"What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?"
The Apostle Paul 1 Corinthians 5:12
Can you imagine the Religious Right in America taking this position?

 Theologian Garry Wills suggests it was the freedom of religion in America that allowed Christianity to flourish in the free market of ideas versus the European history of Church institution and State. The greatest danger is from within not from without. It is not the secularism from without but the theology from within that is the threat to the original faith. The problems that I have come across seem to be not from unbelief but from bad belief. It's not trying to be good without God it's being bad with God that is a big problem in American Christianity. It's constructing a Jesus that orbits around personal wishes and not around the Jesus of the New Testament. To put it like this the people who are straying in church are not reading Thomas Paine and Voltaire but they are listening to bad theology from the pulpit that enables and encourages a selfish market friendly Christianity where God is your servant.

To reference the Fall of Genesis - Adam and Eve were not secularists they were believers who listened to a bad theology coming from the serpent. According to scripture even Satan is a believer. The serpent was a believer too...as James put it whats so great about broad faith by itself when even the demons believe - so specific theology matters immensely... A misconstrued faith in an American Jesus that is not even based on the synoptic gospels is a type of faith but is it the original Christian faith?
When one considers the evolution from the radical Nazarene who was a threat to the Ecclesiastical order and to the order of the ruling class and through the process of historical washing of the Greco-Roman culture and then European culture to American culture it becomes an institution that supports the status quo.

The Jesus of Mark's Gospel(70 AD) had already been transformed by John's Gospel(100 AD,which is very Greek in theology-logos-word-truth-life) into a transcendent and in control Divinity. When Christianity rose to official power in the empire it had been through an evolutionary change.
The radical misunderstood-messiah and tragic outcast of Mark's Gospel gets diluted over time...and then when the Church arose to dominance and was blessed by the State, Christianity became a very institutional enterprise indeed. The Metaphorical Pilate and the Ecclesiastical Order now consumed the radical Nazarene into their system.

In this way I see it was the rise of institutional political Christianity that strayed from the original challenge of Jesus. Suddenly Jesus became official and a protector of the status quo instead of the challenge he was before.

American Christianity is seeking materialism (prosperity gospel) and political power (the religious right). This wealth and power gospel does not resemble the Jesus of the scriptures much less the Jesus of history.

Postscript: In praise of Pope Francis. Two things that have encouraged me recently were the Pope's public embrace of the sick (without any condemnation of the sick as deserving it for sin) and  his confrontation with "The Bishop of Bling."  The gospel of Yeshua should comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. I can do without the superstition of the Old Testament and the mythical miracles in the New Testament. A Christianity that comforts the sick and confronts the strong is much more Christ like it seems to me than a Christianity that seeks to be strong in this world and condemn the sick as deserving of their fate. Gracias Francis for highlighting the better aspects of the faith.

Pope Francis Turns Bishop Of Bling’s Mansion Into A Soup Kitchen

Friday, November 22, 2013

Stoic Existentialism - Moby Dick and The Grey

In the movie The Grey I found the narrative a rich source of metaphors for a Stoic Existentialism similar to that in the classic work of Herman Melville, Moby Dick. The cold winter wilderness in the Grey can be compared to the deep mysterious ocean in Moby Dick.

The wolves particularly the pack leader (The Alpha) can be compared to the great Whale in Moby Dick. The difference of course is that Ottway's group was trying to get away from the menace of the wolves where Ahab's group was in pursuit of the great Whale. Just as Ishmael was a wanderer in Moby Dick, the main character Ottway in The Grey was also a wanderer. Both were able to deal with places and people from all walks of life due to their existential wandering. A rootless nomadic restlessness not just in the physical environment but in the very psychology of the character itself. As professor Dreyfus puts it "Leaving the certainties of one's own civilization."
Their flexible philosophy allowed for them to appreciate things in others that may have been ignored by the limitations of a fixed ideology. A sort of polytheistic magnanimity. Pagans (Moby Dick) and outcasts (The Grey) have virtue and may even wear it better than those from your original group identification. Especially in times of extremity. There is no home, no safe land to take refuge in. All your previous assumptions are no longer solid and the cold wilderness and immense ocean must be faced without any shelter from previous ideologies that worked on the common land. The lighthouse is gone, the land is gone, the Sun is gone. What is left is to face the abyss. The Whale and the Wolf cannot be ignored and must be faced. Like Death itself it will have to be faced by all mortals.
Whether you pursue them or they pursue you they are relentless. The cold winter wilderness and the immense ocean is the territory of the wolf and the whale not the place for the faint of heart. In Moby Dick there is a "heartless immensity" from the Ocean and even the sky to where the Sun is seen as a "lonely cast away." The Sun which has been a symbol of God with Dante and the Good with Plato is now alone and a cast away. In The Grey the Sun is powerless it is almost a distant actor that cannot intervene through the harsh cold and clouds. Walt Whitman "The poet judges not as a judge judges but as the Sun falling around a helpless thing."
Any flame must come within the characters. Reminds me of Camus who stated, "In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.' Any light or warmth must come with the memories of their love and devotion to their former families. The flame that must be picked up now in the Grey is the flame of courage. The type of Stoicism that refuses to lay down and give in and exclaims that "whatever my fate I will go to it laughing" or fighting.

There is a term by Ernest Hemingway "Beautiful Fatalism" that means one who remains loyal to a doomed cause. This type of stoic existentialism carries with it the same loyalty and courage to a doomed cause. It leaves the safe land of certainty and resists the nihilistic despair in the mysterious ocean deep and the relentless winter wilderness. Facing the heartless immensity without the numbing smoke of illusion is a a combination of wisdom and courage. The defiance in the midst of despair is a thing of beauty.
"Great is he, who conquers the frightful. Sublime is he, who, while succumbing to it, fears it not." -Friedrich Schiller
"What is it that the soul of the tragic artist communicates to others? Is it not precisely his fearless attitude towards that which is terrible and questionable? A courageous and free spirit, in the presence of a mighty foe, in the presence of sublime misfortune, and face-to-face with a problem that inspires horror--this is the triumphant attitude which the tragic artist selects and which he glorifies...he is used to suffering, he looks out for suffering, the heroic man, extols his existence by means of tragedy--to him alone does the tragic artist offer this cup of sweetest cruelty." Friedrich Nietzsche

Solar eclipse in Africa seen from space | The Planetary Society

The November 3, 2013 solar eclipse in Africa seen from space (animation) | The Planetary Society

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The end of humanity: Nick Bostrom at TEDxOxford

From Dark Matter to Hiccups, Artists Explore Mysteries of Science | DiscoverMagazine.com

From Dark Matter to Hiccups, Artists Explore Mysteries of Science | DiscoverMagazine.com

Asteroid terminated dinosaur era in a matter of days

Asteroid terminated dinosaur era in a matter of days

The Earth Impact Effects Program website shows the estimated tsunami zone created by the Chicxulub impact.

Emotion is Entropy

Dr Geraghty: at the remote outposts of twenty-first-century medicine, where risk blows in on hundred-mile-an-hour winds and the oxygen of deliberation is thin:
“I have no compassion for those whom I operate on,” he told me. “That is a luxury I simply cannot afford. In the theater I am reborn: as a cold, heartless machine, totally at one with scalpel, drill and saw. When you’re cutting loose and cheating death high above the snowline of the brain, feelings aren’t fit for purpose. Emotion is entropy, and seriously bad for business. I’ve hunted it down to extinction over the years.”
Dr.Geraghty is one of the U.K.’s top neurosurgeons.
Kevin Dutton

Asteroid Impacts:10 Biggest Known Hits

Asteroid Impacts:10 Biggest Known Hits

Earth's craters are enduring testaments to direct asteroid hits. And though millions—in some cases billions—of years of erosion have made it difficult to determine the exact size of the meteorites, there is a general scientific consensus around the world's largest craters, which mark the largest asteroid impacts.
Here are the ten biggest known:

1. Vredefort Crater
Asteroid impact date: Estimated 2 billion years ago
Location: Free State, South Africa
Specs: Also known as the Vredefort Dome, the Vredefort crater has an estimated radius of 118 miles (190 kilometers), making it the world's largest known impact structure. This crater was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005.
2. Sudbury Basin
Asteroid impact date: Estimated 1.8 billion years ago
Location: Ontario, Canada
Specs: The Sudbury Basin is considered one of largest impact structures on Earth, with an estimated diameter of 81 miles (130 kilometers). Dating back 1.8 billion years, it is also one of the oldest known impact structures in the world.
3. Acraman Crater
Asteroid impact date: Estimated 580 million years ago
Location: South Australia, Australia
Specs: Located in what is now Lake Acraman, this impact structure has an estimated diameter of 56 miles (90 kilometers).
4. Woodleigh Crater
Asteroid impact date: Estimated 364 million years ago
Location: Western Australia, Australia
Specs: This crater is not exposed at the surface and has led to many discrepancies regarding its actual size. Reports on its diameter vary from 25 to 75 miles (40 to 120 kilometers).
5. Manicouagan Crater
Asteroid impact date: Estimated 215 million years ago
Location: Quebec, Canada
Specs: This impact crater formed what is now Lake Manicouagan. Even with erosion, it's considered one of the largest and best-preserved craters on Earth, with an estimated diameter of 62 miles (100 kilometers).
6. Morokweng Crater
Asteroid impact date: Estimated 145 million years ago
Location: North West, South Africa
Specs: Located near the Kalahari Desert in South Africa, this crater contained the fossilized remains of the meteorite that created it.
7. Kara Crater
Asteroid impact date: Estimated 70.3 million years ago
Location: Nenetsia, Russia
Specs: Now greatly eroded, the Kara crater is a non-exposed impact structure in Russia. Some have claimed that the impact structure actually consists of two adjacent craters: the Kara and the Ust-Kara crater.
8. Chicxulub Crater
Asteroid impact date: Estimated 65 million years ago
Location: Yucatán, Mexico
Specs: Located on the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico, many scientists believe that the meteorite that left this crater caused or contributed to the extinction of the dinosaurs. Estimates of its actual diameter range from 106 to a whooping 186 miles (170 to 300 kilometers), which if proved right could mean it's the biggest.
9. Popigai Crater
Asteroid impact date: Estimated 35.7 million years ago
Location: Siberia, Russia
Specs: Russian scientists claim that this crater site contains trillions of carats of diamonds, making it one of the largest diamond deposits in the world. These diamonds have been referred to as "impact diamonds."
10. Chesapeake Bay Crater
Asteroid impact date: Estimated 35 million years ago
Location: Virginia, United States
Specs: Discovered in the early 1980s, the Chesapeake Bay Crater is located approximately 125 miles (201 kilometers) from Washington, D.C. Some estimates suggest this crater is 53 miles (85 kilometers) wide.

"Mind-Blowing" Discovery: Oldest Body of Seawater Found in Giant Crater

"Mind-Blowing" Discovery: Oldest Body of Seawater Found in Giant Crater

They weren't expecting to find the ancient water, estimated to be 100 to 145 million years old, while boring a hole 1.1 miles (1.8 kilometers) deep into the massive crater, located under the Chesapeake Bay.
The crater was formed about 35 million years ago when a large rock or chunk of ice slammed into what's now the mouth of the bay, off Cape Charles, Virginia, hollowing out a 56-mile-wide (90-kilometer-wide) hole in the floor of the North Atlantic Ocean.
"The water was in the sediment long before the impact occurred. The impact simply reshuffled the sediment in large blocks, which helped preserve it," said study leader Ward Sanford, a hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey.
The asteroid wallup also spawned gigantic tsunamis that possibly hit the Blue Ridge Mountains more than 100 miles (160 kilometers) away. (See "Asteroid Impacts: 10 Biggest Known Hits.")

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Stephen Law: Paper for conference this weekend in Graz, Austria

Stephen Law: Paper for conference this weekend in Graz, Austria

Modern Liberal thought draws on, and is historically at least partly rooted in that period of our intellectual history known as, the Enlightenment. The French intellectuals Diderot and d’Alembert define the Enlightenment thinker as one who,
trampling on prejudice, tradition, universal consent, authority, in a word, all that enslaves most minds, dares to think for himself.[i]
Daring to think for yourself is a core Enlightenment value. In 1784 Kant wrote a short magazine article entitled “What is Enlightenment?” Kant, not normally known for his brevity, came up with one of the most quoted characterizations:
[Enlightenment is the] emergence of man from his self-imposed infancy. Infancy is the inability to use one’s reason without the guidance of another. It is self-imposed, when it depends on a deficiency, not of reason, but of the resolve and courage to use it without external guidance. Thus the watchword of enlightenment is: Sapere aude! Have the courage to use one’s own reason![ii]
“Sapere” and “Aude” are, not uncoincidentally, the names of two philosophy for children organizations. Philosophy for children is very much an Enlightened, Liberal idea, and in arguing that children should be raised to be autonomous, independent critical thinkers, proponents of P4C are promoters of a core Enlightenment value.
Not everyone is quite so enthusiastic about that value, particularly in the classroom. Some social and religious conservatives believe that to encourage children to think independently and make their own judgements is to sow the seeds of disaster. They argue that, without some religious Authority in the classroom to which children are encouraged to defer, children are cast perilously adrift. They insist that, in the absence of some external Authority, morality boils down to nothing more than individual, subjective preference and choice. Every point of view becomes as “correct” as every other. So a Liberal approach – which removes external Authority from the classroom – is a recipe for moral decay and catastrophe.
Those who take this view are, in my view, muddled. In my book The War For Children’s Minds I tackle a range of arguments offered by those critical of a Liberal approach to moral and religious education. Here I explain the failings of just two amongst many particular lines of argument. Both involve the thought that development of a robust cultural and moral identity requires more or less uncritical acceptance of certain cultural norms and values, at least early on, and that a P4C approach is therefore likely to be culturally and morally destructive.

Stephen Law: A parody of C.S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters

Stephen Law: A parody of C.S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters (from my book Believing Bullshit) 

This exercise in character assassination will be nicely rounded off with a suggestion of arrogance—get the patient thinking that her brother is being arrogantly dismissive of things that he doesn’t even properly understand. Remind them both that there are “more things in heaven and earth” than are dreamed of in his philosophy. Shouldn’t her brother be showing a little humility? Notice the delightful switcheroo we pull here. We are the ones claiming certainty, yet we end up appearing humble while he is portrayed as the arrogant know-it-all! You’ll enjoy the delicious irony! But remember—don’t be caught savouring it.
There is a second strategy that will also prove invaluable in dealing with the brother—the Way of Questions. Look it up in the Handbook and study it well. Don’t let the brother be your interrogator. You must become his. For every question he asks you, ask him three back. Get him on the back foot.
Of course you must not come across as inquisitorial. Pretend your questions are merely for “clarification”—you just want to understand more clearly where the brother is coming from, so you can properly address his concerns. But here’s what you actually do: hit him with a series of thorny philosophical puzzles with which he’ll inevitably struggle. I recommend two in particular:
1. Ask him why he supposes the universe exists. Why there is something rather than nothing.
2. Ask him how he is able to know right from wrong. How is he in a position to say that something truly heinous, such as slavery, is wrong? Or, better still, the Holocaust?
If the brother is an atheist, or agnostic, he’s not going to have pat answers to these Big Questions. As you will know from that training in moral and religious philosophy we gave you, they are awfully deep and difficult questions to which there are no simple, easy answers (one of the reasons we provided that training is precisely so you can use it to tie people like this irksome brother up in knots).
The fact is, we don’t have good answers to these questions either. But we pretend we do. We say, Glub is the explanation for why there is anything at all. We say, Glub provides us with our moral compass in this otherwise treacherously uncertain and increasingly morally depraved world.
Our patient will be impressed by the fact that, while her brother struggles with such tricky moral and metaphysical questions, we do not. We offer quiet, calm, simple, certainty. As your patient looks back and forth between—on the one hand—your serene, wise and confident expression and—on the other hand—the look of exasperation creeping across her brother’s face as he struggles and fails to provide an adequate justification for condemning the Holocaust, your job will be more than half done. Indeed, the thought might even cross your patient’s mind that her brother is morally rudderless!
Even if the brother manages to deal successfully with your first round of questions (which, he almost certainly won’t) you can just ask another “clarificatory” question, and then another: “Ah, I see. But then let me ask you this. . . .” “Hmm, that’s interesting, but what do you mean by. . . .” This will tie him up in knots, very probably leaving your patient with the impression that you are the winner in this little intellectual exchange. The truth, of course, is that you never dealt with his penetrating questions. But the chances are your patient won’t even notice this, or even remember what his questions were, after half an hour or so of the Way of Questions!
At the very least, if you combine these two techniques, the patient will be left with the impression that the debate between you and her brother is all square—that neither side can be said to have achieved a decisive victory. And that is all the space we need in which to operate.
Your affectionate aunt,

Freud Quote

Survivors of Super Typhoon Haiyan march during a religious procession in Tolosa on the eastern Philippine island of Leyte on Nov. 18, 2013 over one week after Super Typhoon Haiyan devastated the area “Religious ideas have arisen from the same need as have all other achievements of civilization: from the necessity of defending oneself against the crushing superior force of nature.” Freud

Monday, November 18, 2013

Thomas Paine Quotes

“I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection. 'Tis the business of little minds to shrink; but he whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles unto death.” Thomas Paine
“Infidelity does not consist in believing, or in disbelieving; it consists in professing to believe what he does not believe. It is impossible to calculate the moral mischief, if I may so express it, that mental lying has produced in society. When a man has so far corrupted and prostituted the chastity of his mind, as to subscribe his professional belief to things he does not believe, he has prepared himself for the commission of every other crime.” Thomas Paine

Huxley quote

T. H. Huxley "the great tragedy of science - the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact".

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Examination of the axiom "All is well" continued

Voltaire was right to attack the axiom all is well and that this is the best of all possible worlds. You philosophers who say "All is well." How could a human know enough to conclude such a statement. Hubris or faith. In today's world it is at least within our grasp to get a hold of more information on what is happening around the world. But even with the information age we do not even begin to touch the total elemental drama that goes on. Each day there is a new tragedy or horrific event that underlines the ever present danger and fragility for a primate species living on a rock in space going around a nuclear fire ball we call the Sun. Viral infections, flesh eating bacteria, children with cancer, tsunamis and earthquakes that kill thousands upon thousands, genocide, suicide, and accidents that take us out in ridiculous fashion from choking on food or being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Death may tarry for you but it will not wait forever.
People who point to this are sometimes maligned as debbie downers or overly pessimistic thinkers but the most pessimistic thinker cannot even grasp or come close to absorbing the day to day drama that goes on Planet Earth. Give me the most pessimistic Schopenhauer and the most stoic Epictetus and have them face the total elemental drama each day on earth and like Medusa it would turn them to stone and the shock would break them into a thousand pieces. And that is just a journey through today's drama on Earth. Human beings are not made to absorb it all and must partialize the world to operate in it. Imagine trying to cover the history of human civilization and then try to absorb the natural history of hundreds of millions of years of that type of activity on this Planet! This is beyond human brain capability especially in our day to day lives. If we try to imagine the natural history and the human drama on Earth I think of the quote "belief in the supernatural is a failure of imagination" because when you start to go down that path of imagination you come to a realization that it would be a rather large leap of faith to make any final conclusions and presumptions on this existence especially conclusions about the gods or providence.
We can only grasp it in moments and even then it does not come close to encompassing the reality on the Blue rock. On my website I have the statement "See the world in its fullness" to promote an ideal to strive for because I do think it is possible to increase our awareness of reality and become more magnanimous to each other. Even with this ideal I know it is an uphill climb with our mental limitations and evolutionary baggage. People have a hard time with the imagination for their own reality much less the immense variety of life and deep history of life. You can see this list and go over some of the natural disasters and the numbers of victims in your head but it is hard to really grasp it for each individual caught in the way of nature's force. As the infamous saying goes, "One life is a tragedy, one million a statistic." The sad truth is that we can touch the numbers but can never grasp it. Sade exclaimed "What is all the worlds suffering to just one of my desires." We condemn Sade but sadly his solipsism is more common than we would like to admit. One could add to the solipsistic Sade "What is all the worlds suffering to just one of our ideologies?"
We protect our sacred ideologies by ignoring the reality in front of our nose. We make light of the real victims of cruel fate and their suffering to protect our imaginary gods. The Earth could swallow a million children today and the dogmatic will still state "All is well." To paraphrase Becker we stand over a grotesque amount of corpses and suffering and declare life good. Stephen Colbert in one of his ironic comic bits wagged his finger at Death for not respecting the sanctity of life. As Camus stated that which exalts life adds to its absurdity. You can deny death by exclaiming you are immortal but I can take you to the local hospital or nursing home and you will see patients in some cases where their brain, personality, or soul if you will is no longer in tact and is no longer there...why would it survive the complete death of the body if it cannot even survive it while the heart and blood still pumps? Aristotle was correct to think that for solipsistic humans "luck is when the other person gets hit with an arrow." I think for humans to even begin to reach our full potential on empathy and compassion we need to start with the axiom "it could have been me, I am not special or superior by any deity or merit" instead of the unprovable claim "all is well." A better axiom in the context of life history on Earth would be "All is fragile."

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

All is not well

Children torn from Fathers arms: Marvin Isanan said three of his daughters -- ages 8, 13 and 15 -- were swept from his arms by the storm surge. He and his wife, Loretta Isanan, had found the bodies of the two younger children. -CNN
Come, ye philosophers, who cry, “All’s well,” And contemplate this ruin of a world. Behold these shreds and cinders of your race, This child and mother heaped in common wreck, These scattered limbs beneath the marble shafts-- A hundred thousand whom the earth devours, Who, torn and bloody, palpitating yet, Entombed beneath their hospitable roofs, In racking torment end their stricken lives. To those expiring murmurs of distress, To that appalling spectacle of woe,
Will ye reply: “You do but illustrate The iron laws that chain the will of God”? Say ye, o’er that yet quivering mass of flesh:
“God is avenged: the wage of sin is death”? What crime, what sin, had those young hearts conceived That lie, bleeding and torn, on mother’s breast?
Thus the whole world in every member groans: All born for torment and for mutual death. And o’er this ghastly chaos you would say The ills of each make up the good of all! What blessedness! And as, with quaking voice, Mortal and pitiful, ye cry, “All ’s well,” The universe belies you, and your heart Refutes a hundred times your mind’s conceit.
Man crawls and dies: all is but born to die: The world ’s the empire of destructiveness. This frail construction of quick nerves and bones Cannot sustain the shock of elements; This temporary blend of blood and dust Was put together only to dissolve; This prompt and vivid sentiment of nerve Was made for pain, the minister of death: Thus in my ear does nature’s message run.
Voltaire, Examination of the Axiom "All is well"

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Imagination for Reality

This little Island of Life in the Universe is a multitude of worlds. A spectrum of realities that do not fit into the limited human boxes of dogma. This life on Earth comes from the guts of Stars. What does that tell one of the Stars? It is beautiful, brutal, awesome and dreadful. There is cruelty and compassion within the various conscious creatures and realities on Earth.
There is warm kindness and there is cold indifference. The Beauty and the Cruelty on Earth are overwhelming to the human mind that suppresses these realities within ideologies that give shelter to the heat and cold in the Universe. Cosmic Complexity crushes human matchstick boxes of dogma. In a world like this "nothing is so strong as gentleness."
I think that too much cynicism can lead to paralysis. On the flip side too much optimism can lead to denial of some truth. So it seems we need a mixture that allows for awareness and positive action. It is a difficult dance since we humans do have our limitations. But a dance worth trying.
What can be problematic is partialization and our limitations to stay in one spectrum of reality when there are many.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Philosophy of the Body - Voila mes philosophes

“I think, therefore I am is the statement of an intellectual who underrates toothaches. I feel, therefore I am is a truth much more universally valid, and it applies to everything that's alive. My self does not differ substantially from yours in terms of its thought. Many people, few ideas: we all think more or less the same, and we exchange, borrow, steal thoughts from one another. However, when someone steps on my foot, only I feel the pain. The basis of the self is not thought but suffering, which is the most fundamental of all feelings. While it suffers, not even a cat can doubt its unique and uninterchangeable self. In intense suffering the world disappears and each of us is alone with his self. Suffering is the university of egocentrism.” ― Milan Kundera, Immortality
"There is more wisdom in your body than in your deepest philosophy." - Friedrich Nietzsche
“Voila mes philosophes.” (Here are my philosophers) The French materialist La Mettrie used to say this of his senses…He claimed to have reached this insight during a fever, when he realized that his intellect was entirely subject to his body.
"What does man actually know about himself? Is he, indeed, ever able to perceive himself completely, as if laid out in a lighted display case? Does nature not conceal most things from him-even concerning his own body-in order to confine and lock him within a proud, deceptive consciousness, aloof from the coils of the bowels, the rapid flow of the blood stream, and the intricate quivering of the fibers! She threw away the key. And woe to that fatal curiosity which might one day have the power to peer out and down through a crack in the chamber of consciousness" -Nietzsche
"The supposedly immaterial soul, we now know, can be bisected with a knife, altered by chemicals, started or stopped by electricity, and extinguished by a sharp blow or by insufficient oxygen...Sex and excretion are reminders that anyone's claim to round-the-clock dignity is tenuous. The so-called rational animal has a desperate drive to pair up and moan and writhe...Many tragedies come from our physical and cognitive makeup. Our bodies are extraordinarily improbable arrangements of matter, with many ways for things to go wrong and only a few ways for things to go right. We are certain to die, and smart enough to know it. Our minds are adapted to a world that no longer exists, prone to misunderstandings correctable only by arduous education, and condemned to perplexity about the deepest questions we can ascertain." Steven Pinker
"Even on the highest throne in the world, we are still sitting on our ass. Kings and philosophers defecate, and so do ladies." ― Michel de Montaigne
"With anal play the child is already becoming a philosopher of the human condition. But like all philosophers he is still bound by it, and his main task in life becomes the denial of what the anus represents: that in fact, he is nothing but body where nature is concerned. Nature's values are bodily values, human values are mental values, and though they take the loftiest flights they are built upon excrement, impossible without it, always brought back to it...man is a worm and food for worms. This is the paradox: he is out of nature and hopelessly in it; he is dual, up in the stars and yet housed in aheart-pumping, breath-gasping body that once belonged to a fish and still carries the gill-marks to prove it. His body is a material fleshy casing that is alien to him in many ways—the strangest andmost repugnant way being that it aches and bleeds and will decay and die. Man is literally split in two: he has an awareness of his own splendid uniqueness in that he sticks out of nature with atowering majesty, and yet he goes back into the ground a few feet in order blindly and dumbly to rot and disappear forever." -Ernest Becker