The “brotherhood of man” myth

September 20, 2022

(This post was triggered by my ire over some sanctimonious media blather about the brotherhood of man).

All the words we use for describing relationships (father, mother, brother, sister uncle, aunt, ….) are as much about including specific people within the relationship as about excluding others. The unavoidable reality of a “brother” or a “sister” is that the terms distinguish between, a brother and a non-brother, and a sister and a non-sister. Brotherhood and sisterhood are as much about creating and describing bonds between those included as about excluding all others. The word brother has no meaning if there is no distinction from a non-brother. If everybody is a brother, the “brotherhood” of man” is trivial at best, and at worst, meaningless.

The need to distinguish between, and have terms for, we and them is deep rooted in human behaviour. The need goes back to the beginnings of social interactions, and the words were invented from the need to protect, and extend protections to, family and tribe. The need for we/them or us/them is primal. These words are intertwined with our own fundamental, individual assessments of good and bad. We are always good and they are usually bad. We shall prevail over them. It is just as much about aligning with someone as with creating distance from others. We cannot exist without excluding them. Relationship descriptors are nearly always we and them words. It is a primal thing for humans and probably for most living things. We look different to them. We wear red, they wear blue. We are predators, they are prey. We go to heaven, they go to hell. Of course, these words describe a relationship but the critical point is to distinguish by the description. A “brother” or a “father” or a “mother” is no doubt descriptive, but by description distinguishes them from all others.

The entire concept of brotherhood builds on the primal drive to protect family. It is built upon the not always true assumption that brothers (siblings) behave more favourably to each other than to non-siblings. Unfortunately it has become an empty, sanctimonious term and is used very loosely and is, nearly always, meaningless. All 7.3 billion humans may be related but that argument extends to all life. “Universal brotherhood” among humans does not – and cannot – exist. The “Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of all humans” is very popular in religious and half-religious circles, but is merely pious and sickly. The “Muslim brotherhood” excludes all non-Muslims and even many Muslims. “Christian brotherhood” is primarily about exclusion not inclusion. The “brotherhood of nations” is a nonsense term much admired in the General Assembly. It should be noted that all fraternal organisations claim brotherhood among their members which of course only works if one excludes all non-members. “In a spirit of brotherhood” is another often used but entirely empty phrase.

Let us not forget that when the spirit moved him, it was Cain who killed his brother Abel.


Vigil – QE II

September 15, 2022

I don’t consider myself a raging monarchist but neither am I a fanatical republican. Human development has depended upon individuals stepping up to be leaders (rather than the followers we mainly see today) and many of them have been monarchs.

I watched the BBC live stream of the ceremonial procession yesterday taking the Queen’s coffin from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Abbey to lie in state. Considering the short time available for preparation and rehearsal, the event was remarkably well done. The solemnity of the actors was matched by the restraint of a disciplined audience on the streets. The actors – many well over 70 – were on stage for almost 2 hours and performed remarkably well. I found – to my own surprise – the procession to be extraordinarily moving. Queen Elizabeth was born in the same year as my mother (1926). Most of my life has been in Elizabethan times. The ending of the procession with 10 (or maybe 12?) guards taking up Vigil around her coffin was particularly well done.

This morning I sat down at my computer at 0600 CET (5 am in the UK) and turned on the live stream just as the guards on vigil were changing. In silence and with no accompanying bugles or drums or cannons or bands. The mourners, who had been passing in a steady stream all through the night, were waiting quietly while the guard changed.  At the front of those waiting was a lady in a wheel-chair who had probably been queueing for over 12 hours. (I understand that each pass for the vigil guards lasts 6 hours but am not sure if this can be right. Standing for 6 hours in the Vigil position is not that easy).

Pomp and Circumstance indeed but very impressive and quite moving.

There is a place for ceremony and tradition in our lives.


The Vigil – Guard changing at 0600 CET 15th September 202

As Sweden votes, sanctimony is being tested

September 10, 2022

Sweden goes to the polls tomorrow and the failure of sanctimonious multiculturalism has taken centre stage. Even with Elizabeth II and Charles III overwhelmingly dominating the British press, the BBC has place for this article.

 

But why is anybody surprised?

I wrote this post 8 years ago:

A “society” – to be a society – can be multi-ethnic but not multicultural

A “culture” is both the glue that binds any society of humans and lubricates the interactions within that society. It applies as well to a family or an association or a sports club or a company or a geographic area (say a country). The culture of any sub-society – a sub-culture – must be subordinated to that of the larger society it is  – or wants to be – part of.

Of course one can have – if one wishes – many different cultures within different sub-societies in a single geographic area. But if these sub-cultures are not subordinated to a larger culture then the sub-societies cannot – because it becomes a fatal contradiction – make up any larger society. Multiculturalism dooms that geographical area to inevitably be a splintered and fractured “greater” society – if at all.

The politically correct “multiculturalism” followed in Europe in recent times has effectively preserved and maintained each ethnic group in its own cultural silo and – inanely – made a virtue out of preventing the evolution of any overriding, common culture. This has been the fundamental, “do-gooding” blunder of the socialist/liberal “democrats” all through Europe. Creating a society of the future with a common culture as the glue has been sacrificed in a quest for some imagined God of Many Cultures. For an immigrant – anywhere – how could it be more important to keep the language of his past rather than to learn the language of his future? The “do-gooders” have prioritised living in the past to creating and living in a new future.

Hence Rotherham and Bradford or Kreuzberg or Rosengård or Les Bosquets,

Multi-ethnic communities particularly need both a glue and a lubricating medium. And that has to be an overriding common – new – culture and not some mish-mash, immiscible collection of sub-cultures – each within its own silo, insulated and held separate from all others.

  1. Multi-ethnic societies are inevitable around the world.
  2. A single society has a single culture.
  3. To have many cultures in one area – which are not subordinated to a larger culture (values) – is to exclude a single society.
  4. Promoting multiculturalism is to promote the fracturing of that area into many immiscible (inevitably ethnic) societies.

Multi-ethnicity – especially – requires a mono-culture to be a society at all.

Multi-ethnic and multi-cultural is separatism and serves to ensure that a single society will never be established.

and again 6 years ago ..

“Multiculturalism” always gives fractured and segregated societies

It seems obvious. Multi-ethnic societies, even with well -developed sub-cultures, work very well under an over-riding common culture. In fact the over-riding common culture is dynamic and takes on parts of the various sub-cultures. But societies with parallel cultures with no over-riding common culture can only give a fractured society. It  prevents any common culture developing and inevitably gives ethnic segregation. For over 5 decades, these parallel cultures have been promoted by the liberal, social-democratic, do-gooding, misguided elite of Europe.

It is not at all surprising that the cities of Europe now have segregated and have no-go ghettos which consider themselves outside of the main society and not subject to the rules and behaviour expected in that society.

But I don’t expect any great improvements after the elections tomorrow. The “liberal” sanctimony will continue, the ghettos and no-go areas in the big cities will continue, Sweden will accommodate Turkey and its quirks for the sake of NATO, the Social Democrats will continue to propose new taxes as solutions to all problems, the Moderates will continue to propose tax cuts to solve all problems, and the minority parties will continue to oppress the majority.

And nothing will change.


 

History we don’t know does not matter …

September 7, 2022

history (n.)
late 14c., “relation of incidents” (true or false), from Old French estoire, estorie “story; chronicle, history” (12c., Modern French histoire), from Latin historia “narrative of past events, account, tale, story,” from Greek historia “a learning or knowing by inquiry; an account of one’s inquiries; knowledge, account, historical account, record, narrative,” from historein “be witness or expert; give testimony, recount; find out, search, inquire,” and histōr “knowing, expert; witness,” both ultimately from PIE *wid-tor-, from root *weid- “to see,” hence “to know.” It is thus related to Greek idein “to see,” and to eidenai “to know.” 


What we say about the past is utterly irrelevant to the past, but what we say determines completely what we think was the past. Histories are constantly being rewritten. Sometimes because research and scholarship gives rise to new “facts” and sometimes to satisfy some political agenda in the present. (I would argue that even the most dispassionate research has an agenda since it can never avoid the biases and prejudices of the historian). Whenever a historian is described as “left-wing” or “right-wing” or “socialist” or any other thing, it is a warning that the veracity of the past being narrated has been subordinated to the historian’s agenda. In any event, writing and rewriting histories does not change the past. Which begs the question as to whether history is knowing what truly happened in the past or just the current story about what happened in the past. I have been reading histories for most of my life. But I have now reached the conclusion that history is much more about the story than it is about the knowing.

What happened in the past gives us our present but knowing what actually happened does not matter to the present. The current story (true or false) of what actually happened matters a little bit in the now, but is soon superseded by new stories. The perceived accuracy of the current story is only of relevance as contributing to the credibility of the current story.

On the paradox of purpose and veracity in histories

I find that all our histories have one of only two purposes. The first is to satisfy the intellectual need to know and the second is the desire to influence future behaviour. The first is part of epistemic curiosity and the second is just politics. ….. Of these two purposes, one is a search for knowledge (truths) and is an end in itself. The other, the civic, political purpose, is as a tool for some other agenda. The curious thing is that whereas the veracity demanded by curiosity is absolute (since truths are needed to be considered knowledge) the use of history as a tool to influence future behaviour requires only perceived veracity. …… Thus, actual veracity is irrelevant in a history to be used for social purposes. Only the perceived veracity matters. Actual veracity – the truth – is relevant only in satisfying epistemic curiosity.

When the purpose has no impact the truth is sought assiduously. Where the purpose is to have an impact, the actual truth is irrelevant and only perceived truth matters. Perhaps it is just my cynicism but I find this somewhat of a paradox.

The past is unchangeable. (Observe that the past “is” while the events of the past “were”). Most of the past is unknowable. Since knowledge and knowability require a mind, most of the past is, and also was, unknown to any mind. In fact, most of what occurs in the now is unknown to most of us. Most of all that has occurred is – and will always be – unknown to human knowledge.

The stories we tell about the “recent” past are continually changing to suit our current agenda. “Recent” in this context means since records are available. When we get to ancient times even the “facts” are uncertain. As an intellectual exercise the study of history and origins is fascinating. The stories we tell about the past are important (may be vitally so) for our psyches and our insecurities in the present. We use the stories of the past to justify present and future actions. The stories are tools in the hands of the politicians of the day. Every academic who studies history has an agenda – even if it is as mundane as conning the public purse to provide a living wage. But the intellectual curiosity which drives the study of history is real. We wan’t to know where we came from. We wan’t to know why people in the past behaved as they did. We wan’t to explain how we come to be where we are and to fantasise about what could have been. The stories we tell need to be credible and compliant with the “known facts” but can speculate as much as required to fill in the gaps between the “known facts”. The further back in time we go, the greater the gaps and the more fictional the story we tell.

All of recorded human history goes back – at a stretch – 10,000 years. Humanity goes back – at a stretch – some 300,000 years. Our histories tell stories, not just from 4.5 billion years ago when the earth appeared, but even from 13.8 billion years ago when we say the universe started. Clearly the stories we tell about the past do matter in the present. These stories matter because we use them to guide and justify our present actions. What actually happened in the past is mainly unknown. The stories matter and the credibility of the stories matter but the knowledge of what truly happened is irrelevant. What we don’t know does not matter at all and even what we do know matters only in supporting the credibility of the stories we tell.

Every day we forget more history than we record. What we do record has a lifespan and all that we do record will all eventually come to be forgotten and leave the realm of knowledge. History we don’t know does not matter (and what we do know does not matter very much either). But whether we know or not, we will tell stories for ever.


Words, words, words – How many do we need?

September 2, 2022

There are only four possibilities for the direct, primary use of words. You can think them, say them, write them or read them. (Note that in sign language, signing is a proxy for saying). The purpose, implicit or explicit, is communication. Indirectly, of course, you can learn them, or forget them or use them for some other esoteric purposes, but their manifestation is limited to thinking, saying (signing), writing or reading. There is even a case for writing to be considered secondary to thinking and reading secondary to writing. Words are invented but no word can exist as an arbitrary decision of an individual. Just making a particular sound, or scribbling some particular juxtaposition of letters or symbols, does not make a word. Every word must have an associated meaning but nothing is a word until the meaning and that association is shared with, at least, one other. Repetition of the word must invoke the same meaning. A word without an associated meaning – such as a word in another language – is just a sound or a squiggle but not a word.

But how is a word created in the first place?

The need to communicate in a social setting came first. The sharing of the association of a particular sound with a specific meaning must have come next. Note that in the absence of language, the invention of words must precede the invention of a particular language. Given a language, new words can be invented within it. To be a word in a written language today requires three components. A sound, a meaning and a particular combination of letters or symbols to represent the sound or the meaning. It would seem that symbols to represent meanings came long before phonetic alphabets came to represent sounds. Whereas symbols to represent meanings are restricted to shared meanings, an alphabet can represent – in writing – any sound. It provides the ability to write and then speak sounds which have no associated meanings and are not words at all. Hieroglyphs represented meanings and Chinese and kanji symbols still do. However, letters in most languages nowadays are phonetic. Combinations of letters represent sounds, some of which are representations of word-sounds. (Surprisingly Ethnologue informs me that of the currently listed 7,139 living languages, as many as 3,074 have no developed writing system. It is also estimated that there are around 150 distinct sign languages being used today).

No word originated as a jumble of letters or symbols. Sounds come first, associated meanings come next and letters or symbols then follow. In non-alphabetic writing systems, meanings are conveyed but there is no information about the sound. Phonetic alphabets convey sounds but meanings have to be inferred or provided by memory and teaching and learning. The letters put together to represent a word-sound follow the rules of spelling extant at the time.  During the lifetime of a word, its sound, its meaning or symbolic representation (spelling), all can and do evolve. Sometimes a word describes the meaning of a sound where the word-sound approximates or suggests the sound-meaning itself (bang, boom, sizzle, … ). Sometimes the word-sound has the meaning of that which creates the sound suggested by the word-sound (choo-choo train, tick-tock clock). Just as language enables conveying the abstract (including lying), the alphabet enables nonsense words and sounds. Dylan Thomas or Edward Lear would have had different lives without their command of the alphabet.

Wikipedia: Onomatopoeia is the process of creating a word that phonetically imitates, resembles, or suggests the sound that it describes. Such a word itself is also called an onomatopoeia. Common onomatopoeias include animal noises such as oink, meow, roar, and chirp. Onomatopoeia can differ between languages: it conforms to some extent to the broader linguistic system; hence the sound of a clock may be expressed as tick tock in English, tic tac in Spanish and Italian, dī dā in Mandarin, kachi kachi in Japanese, or tik-tik in Hindi.

Human brains have cognitive limits and exhibit individual vocabularies ranging from beginners having about 2,000 words and Wordsmiths with over 50,000.

Most people know around 20,000 – 35,000 words (in any language). Extremely gifted people – very rarely – may approach a vocabulary of 60,000 words. Even multi-lingual people seem to have a total vocabulary not exceeding the limits of mono-lingual people. …….. But why does each of us know so few words of all the words that are available?

My hypothesis is that there is a stable level – the Wordsmith Number – which the brain establishes. It is a cognitive limit to the size of the active vocabulary that a person can maintain. It is established by the manner in which the brain learns, stores and retrieves active and passive words. It is a dynamic level and varies as our activities change (reading, writing, speaking, diversity of social relationships ..). Words that are not active are shunted out of active memory. In very rare circumstances is a Wordsmith Number of greater than about 30,000 established.

There is probably no healthy grown adult who has a vocabulary of less than about 2,000 words in some language. In a language typically having about 200,000 active words, there would be about 200 (0.1%) which were absolutely necessary and without which no concept could be conveyed. A fluent speaker would need to know only about 15% of the total and even the most proficient wordsmith would only know about 25-30%. With just about 1% of all the available words (2,000 words) more than 95% of communications in that language could be understood. Knowing just 1% of the available words in a language is sufficient for an individual to be fully functional in a society.

Children learn to recognise sounds and associate meanings well before they can reproduce them. By the age of 12 months they can probably recognise 50 -100 word-sounds. By the age of 2 years they can produce over 100 word-sounds and start combining words to convey meanings. By 4 or 5 their vocabulary is numbered in thousands.

When a 15% vocabulary gives fluency and 25% gives the highest proficiency, I cannot avoid the conclusion that language is vastly under-utilised. But what would our societies be like if being a wordsmith was the norm and not an outlier? I suspect that language is a tool that is, as yet, too advanced for the species and is waiting for evolution to catch up.


There are no non-believers

August 26, 2022

Every belief is assumed knowledge and all knowledge assumed is a belief. Why do we find it necessary to have beliefs at all?

Our behaviour and our actions are all about the future. Consciously or unconsciously we project our actions into the future. Knowledge provides a basis for such extrapolations. But where we do not know, we need to find some basis for behaviour. And so we turn to “assumed knowledge”, to beliefs. I don’t actually know that the sun will rise today. I wake up because I believe it will. Every human action is based on the belief that life will continue. It is not possible for any human mind to know everything and so it is impossible for any human mind to be devoid of belief. This is an inevitable consequence of our finite minds having a very limited capacity for “knowing”. Human minds, singly or collectively, are also finite and incapable of encompassing the incomprehensibly large amount of what is knowable. (Observe that knowledge is whatever a brain can comprehend and that incomprehensibly large is usually given the label infinite but inventing a label does not increase comprehension).

All beliefs are necessarily subjective but any belief may be shared by many minds. A Belief (B) can apply to any proposition (P) which is taken to be true but which cannot be proved. All the fundamental assumptions in science and philosophy and logic are propositions taken to be true and are beliefs. Of course, contrary to popular delusion, there are no objective truths. What is True is always subjective. Every definition of Truth is circular (truth = in accordance with fact, where fact = what is true). Circularity in definitions is a sure indicator of having reached a cognitive boundary – a limit to comprehension. Any human brain contains only a tiny fraction of what can be called accumulated human knowledge and an even tinier part of what is knowable. For that brain, all external knowledge assumed to be true is just belief. Not believing (denying or negating) a Belief about a Proposition, is a subjective negation of the Belief but not of the Proposition. A denial of a belief in a proposition is silent about the truth of the proposition itself. There is no case where the statement “I don’t believe in Belief P” is not itself a Belief Y where Y is now just the proposition that P is not true.

~B(P) is about the B and not about the (P)

~B(P) = B(Y) where Y = ~P

“I don’t believe in X” is just another belief statement saying ” I believe that X is not”.

The human mind creates (invents) and makes up plausible assumptions so that it does not get stuck and can move on. Beliefs allow us to avoid the paralysis of thought that not knowing can lead to. Science assumes causal determinism and the Laws of Nature so that all phenomena can then be deemed explainable. Of course, this assumption means that science is restricted to the knowable and cannot address the unknowable or the incomprehensible (since what is incomprehensible is not permitted to be knowledge). A label – random – is invented for that which incomprehensibly has no cause but random is just a label. The determinism assumed by science is merely a belief. Philosophy, logic – and even metaphysics – all need their assumptions. There is some debate as to what these fundamental assumptions are but only to the extent as to which assumptions are fundamental and which emerge from others. It is just an assumption of human cognition that something cannot be both true and false. Or so we believe. It is an assumption (a belief) that logic and reason must prevail. It is an assumption (a belief) that for logic and reason to prevail, contradictions in arguments are absurd and not permitted. All our fundamental assumptions are also boundary conditions.

Physics and religion both make fundamental assumptions which are always beliefs. Physics assumes causality according to assumed discoverable laws of nature in all of the universe (even though our brains and senses are finite and limited). Religions assume various versions of gods and deities with a variety of attributes regarding existence, creation and omniscience.

Physics theories are remarkably similar to God theories

The human brain is finite. Human cognition has increased as we have evolved but is limited by the size of our brains and of the senses (including extended senses) that the brain has access to. Human comprehension is circumscribed and cognition resorts to circularity when the boundaries of comprehension are reached. Reality is whatever the brain can perceive as reality. Knowledge is whatever the brain can comprehend as knowledge. Curiosity about the surrounding world is an innate part of the human cognitive state and drives the process of inquiry we call the scientific process.

We invented gods long before religions came along and hijacked the beliefs to exercise political power.

God or no-God? That is the wrong question

The fundamental reason for inventing any god was to be able to answer or explain the inexplicable. Every God ever invented was, at its core, a Theory of Explanation.

The most common form of atheism lies in denying – often with much logic and reason as justification – the beliefs of others in gods or deities, but what is usually forgotten is that this denial is merely a criticism of the beliefs of those others, but is actually silent about the propositions themselves. Famous atheists (Russell, Hitchens, Dawkins, Dennett, among many others) revel in ridiculing, with reason and logic and a heavy dose of sanctimony, the beliefs of others in gods and deities. But it is worth noting that when anyone denounces a belief in a God, the God must first be defined to be able to claim the non-belief. Which claim is itself a belief.

I tried to clarify my thinking a few years ago

The proposition that “God Exists” is logically meaningless until “God” is defined. This is the wrong proposition to be addressing. Most religions do not logically come to the conclusion that “God Exists”. They start with that as an assumption which – as with all such assumptions – is taken as self-evident but which cannot be proved. To ridicule this assumption is not difficult. Religions avoid the more fundamental questions by invoking their gods. But this is a method used also by physics and cosmology. The universe is assumed to be homogeneous. The four laws of nature operating in this homogeneous universe are invoked by physicists to avoid the question of why the laws exist in the first place. The Big Bang and Dark Matter and Dark Energy are invoked by cosmologists to avoid the question of why time exists and what time is and what the universe is.

Every atheist can assert a non-belief in any version of any god  – which is itself a belief.

But no atheist is a non-believer.


On the way to homo superior?

August 21, 2022

A recent after-dinner discussion led to us speculating as to how humans and our world would change in, say, 100, 1,000 or 10,000 years. One approach was to look back 100, 1,000 and 10,000 years and forecast changes in the future to be at the same rate as in the past. But this is easier said than done. Extrapolation along a specified path of change is only a matter of elapsed time but when the direction itself changes, extrapolation does not work. Furthermore, any extrapolation is hampered by the fact that the rate of change is itself changing. However, there are some aspects of human physiology and behaviour which – apparently and to the best of our knowledge – have not changed at all in 10,000 years. And that led the discussion into whether the species homo sapiens sapiens is evolving, or will evolve, into homo sapiens superior, perhaps along the way through homo superior eventually to a homo scientia.

And how long could that take?

The term homo superior was coined in 1935 by Olof Stapledon in his science fiction novel Odd John which I read in my teens some fifty years ago.

Odd John: A Story Between Jest and Earnest is a 1935 science fiction novel by the British author Olaf Stapledon. The novel explores the theme of the Übermensch (superman) in the character of John Wainwright, whose supernormal human mentality inevitably leads to conflict with normal human society and to the destruction of the utopian colony founded by John and other superhumans. …  It is also responsible for coining the term “homo superior”

10,000 years is about 500 human generations and is not really long enough for humans to have developed into a new species (though it has recently been observed in finches that just 2 generations – with stringent isolation – is sufficient to create a new “species”). Defining a species is not so simple, but the practical – and pragmatic – definition of a species is one where individuals (of the appropriate gender) can interbreed and produce viable offspring. Changes to the species homo sufficient to give breeding incompatibility needs significantly longer time scales. It is just a guesstimate but one reason for putting the start of modern humans at 200,000 – 300,000 years ago is that individuals from that distant past would probably be sufficiently different from modern humans to disallow successful breeding.

We do not know for sure how fast humans are evolving. Views in the scientific community are divided and range from faster than ever before, to slower than ever before, to stopped completely.

One view is that human development has neutralised the forces which have driven evolution. Certainly human development has now produced the capability for, and the practice of, manipulating our immediate surroundings. We create bubbles of habitability around us. We carry the bubbles around us not only on earth but also to escape the confines of the earth’s surface. We now have the potential to move under the oceans or even to other planets. The vagaries of weather and climate have virtually been eliminated as an evolutionary force. Having diversity is of value only when an organism has to face change. In an unchanging environment, unused diversity merely withers away. In the past it has been the uncontrollable changes to our surrounding environment which has given rise to “natural selection” and the evolution of us. In that sense, human development de-emphasises the value of genetic diversity since we maintain an unchanging environment within our habitable bubbles. Outlying genetic traits such as abilities to withstand cold or extreme heat or low oxygen pressure have lost relevance since they are not needed. There can be no “selection” for such traits when they provide no survival or reproductive advantage. 

Similarly medical advances have led to the neutralisation of “de-selection” forces. Genetic propensities for disease or weaknesses are no longer “naturally de-selected” since medical advances allow and enable such affected individuals to survive, reproduce and sustain these genetic weaknesses. Physiological weaknesses which would once have been weeded out by de-selection are now no longer “weaknesses” and are preserved.

Geographic isolation of whole groups has almost disappeared. Whereas propagation remains predominantly between individuals from nearby geographical locations the occurrence of offspring from parents from distant origins is sharply increasing. 

So what actually is being selected for? The short answer is that we do not know.

The three main drivers required for evolution to occur – diversity, de-selection of the non-viable and geographic isolation – have all been neutralised to varying degrees. It may not be a high probability but it is not inconceivable that the species will stagnate and individuals will regress to some mean. We could just become more and more alike. But it is much more likely that the human evolutionary drivers have just become more subtle and will only show up over longer periods. Our food habits are changing (generally softer foods) and we don’t need the same set of teeth and the same jaws that our ancestors did. Our need for long legs to hunt down prey is an anachronism. Our body size is increasing (partly nutrition, partly genetic) and this may check – and even reverse – the trend to smaller brains that has taken place over the last 500,000 years. Independent of brain size, the effectiveness of brain processes may be slowly increasing. (A smaller wrinkly brain can be much more effective than a large smooth one). The evolution of tool-making hands may be subtly changing to suit other things (bigger, more dextrous thumbs perhaps?). The disparity in the design life of our various organs was of no consequence before but are sharply in focus as we live ever longer. There is an element of artificial selection due to medical developments which was of no significance before, but is now becoming increasingly important. We are not far from the situation where the results of medical interventions in one generation could be passed on to the next. Resistance to particular diseases, for example, could potentially be induced in one generation and be passed on. Genetic engineering, if practised, could well pass on some “desired” traits to the next generation, but will also pass on many hidden, unknown traits.

Our own experience usually covers 5 generations in our c. 100 year lifetimes (grandparents to grandchildren). In evolutionary terms this is almost invisible but is certainly not insignificant. But we do not know if homo superior is on the way. There is little doubt that there will be – some 300,000 years in the future – a homo future species which will not be able to interbreed with us. But there is as good a chance that homo future turns out to be a homo inferieur, rather than a homo superior.



Numbers and mathematics are possible only because time flows

August 13, 2022

It is probably just a consequence of ageing that I am increasingly captivated (obsessed?) by the origin of things. And of these things, I find the origins of counting, numbers and mathematics (in that order) particularly fascinating. In that order because I am convinced that these developed within human cognition – and could only develop – in that order.  First counting, then numbers and then mathematics. The entire field of what is called number theory, which studies the patterns and relationships between numbers, exists because numbers are what they are. All the patterns and relationships discovered in the last c. 10,000 years all existed – were already there – as soon as the concept of numbers crystallised. Whereas counting and numbers were invented, all the wonders of the patterns and relationships that make up number theory were – and are still being – discovered. And what I find even more astonishing is that the entire edifice of numbers is built upon just one little foundation stone- the concept of identity which gives the concept of oneness.

Croutons in the soup of existence

The essence of identity lies in oneness. There can only be one of any thing once that thing has identity. Once a thing is a thing there is only one of it. Half that thing is no longer that thing. There can be many of such things but every other such thing is still something else.

Numbers are abstract and do not exist in the physical world. They are objects (“words”) within the invented language of mathematics to help us describe the physical world. They enable counting and measuring. The logical one or the philosophical one or the mathematical one all emerge from existence and identity. Neither logic nor philosophy nor mathematics can explain what one is, except that it is. Every explanation or definition attempted ends up being circular. It is what it is.

Given one (1), all other numbers follow.

Where numbers come from

Numbers start with one (1), and without a one (1) there can be no numbers. …… . Given the abstract concepts of identity (oneness, 1) and arithmetical addition (+), all natural numbers inevitably follow. With a 1 and with a +, and the concept of a set and a sum, all the natural numbers can be generated.

1 + 1 + 1 + 1 ……

…. Numbers, ultimately, rest on the concept of identity (oneness).

Equally fascinating are the questions that existence, time and causality are answers to. I am coming to the conclusion that the flow of time (whatever time is) does not emerge from existence but, in fact, enables existence.

Revising Genesis

…. What time is remains a mystery but the first act of creation is to set it flowing. Note that the flow of time does not need existence. To be, however, requires that time be flowing. Time itself, whatever it is, is a prerequisite for the flow of time and the flow of time is prerequisite for existence. ………. For even the concept of existence to be imaginable, it needs that the flow of time be ongoing. It needs to be present as a permanent moving backdrop. The potential for some particular kind of existence then appears, or is created, only when some particular rules of existence are defined and implemented. These rules of existence must therefore also be in place before the concept of things, whether abstract or material or otherwise, can be conjured up.


It is inevitable that my views have evolved and they may well evolve further but my current conclusion is that for mathematics to exist time needs to be flowing.

The bottom line:

  1. All branches of mathematics, though abstract, are existentially dependent upon the concept of numbers.
  2. Numbers depend on the concept of counting.
  3. Counting derives from the concept of oneness (1).
  4. Oneness depends upon the concept of a unique identity.
  5. The existence of a unique identity requires a begin-time.
  6. Beginnings require time to be flowing.
  7. Existence is enabled by the flow of time

Therefore

Numbers and mathematics are possible only because time flows


Canada euthanised 10,064 people in 2021

August 9, 2022

Canada’s Third Annual Report on Medical Assistance in Dying in Canada (2021) was published at the end of July.

Euthanasia in Canada in its legal voluntary form is called medical assistance in dying (MAID) and it first became legal along with assisted suicide in June 2016 to end the suffering of terminally ill adults. In March 2021, the law was further amended by Bill C-7 which permits assisted euthanasia in additional situations, including for certain patients whose natural death is not reasonably foreseeable, subject to additional safeguards.

Remarkably, there has been little media attention either in Canada or elsewhere. The daily euthanising of around 30 individuals of any other mammal species would hardly go unnoticed. Yet, it probably is a very good thing that assisted dying in Canada happens quietly and without fuss. Hopefully the system is sufficiently robust to prevent misuse.

The average age of the euthanised was 76.3 years. The main reasons for requesting MAiD were loss of ability to engage in meaningful activities (86.3%) and the loss of ability to perform activities of daily living (83.4%). Concern about pain was a reason for wanting to die for 57.6%. Around 20% indicated loneliness or isolation as a reason for wanting to die.

I observe that my views about medical assistance in dying have evolved over the years. Now at 74, I find that reduction of suffering and preventing the indignities of dementia take precedence.

BioEdge writes:

  • In 2021, there were 10,064 MAID deaths, representing 3.3% of all deaths in Canada.
  • This is an increase of 32.4% over 2020.
  • The total MAiD deaths since Canada’s 2016 legislation is 31,664.

….

Even if the MAiD annual report flew under the radar, the media has not ignored the issue. CTV News Toronto recently interviewed a Toronto woman in her 50s who is suffering from long Covid and has applied for MAiD. “[MAiD] is exclusively a financial consideration,” she said. “My choices are basically to die slowly and painfully, or quickly. Those are the options that are left.”

At the moment, the Canadian government is studying whether to expand eligibility for MAiD by extending it to people with mental illness. A doctor who is the physician chair of a hospital MAiD team expressed his alarm. Writing in the National Observer, Dr Sonu Gaind said:

It is a myth that expanded MAiD is just about autonomy. Expansion may increase privileged autonomy for some to die with dignity, but it does so by sacrificing other marginalized Canadians to premature deaths for escaping painful lives that we failed to allow them to live with dignity.

Highlights

Growth in the number of medically assisted deaths in Canada continues in 2021

  • In 2021, there were 10,064 MAID provisions reported in Canada, accounting for 3.3% of all deaths in Canada.
  • The number of cases of MAID in 2021 represents a growth rate of 32.4% over 2020. All provinces continue to experience a steady year over year growth.
  • When all data sources are considered, the total number of medically assisted deaths reported in Canada since the Parliament of Canada passed federal legislation that allows eligible Canadian adults to request medical assistance in dying in 2016 is 31,664.

Profile of MAID recipients

  • In 2021, across Canada, a slightly larger proportion of men (52.3%) than women (47.7%) received MAID. This result is consistent with 2020 (51.9% men vs 48.1% of women) and 2019 (50.9% men vs 49.1% women).
  • The average age at the time MAID was provided in 2021 was 76.3 years, slightly higher than the averages in 2019 and 2020 (75.2 and 75.3 respectively). The average age of women during 2021 was 77.0, compared to men at 75.6.
  • Cancer (65.6%) is the most commonly cited underlying medical condition in the majority of MAID provisions during 2021, slightly down from 69.1% in 2020. This is followed by cardiovascular conditions (18.7%), chronic respiratory conditions (12.4%), and neurological conditions (12.4%). Three-quarters of MAID recipients had one main condition, while one-quarter had two or more main underlying medical conditions.
  • In 2021, 2.2% of the total number of MAID provisions (219 individuals), were individuals whose natural deaths were not reasonably foreseeable (non-RFND) (in Quebec since 2019 and the rest of Canada after the passage of the new legislation on March 17, 2021). The most commonly cited underlying medical condition for this population was neurological (45.7%), followed by other condition (37.9%), and multiple comorbidities (21.0%). The average age of individuals receiving MAID who were non-RFND was 70.1.

 

Earth is spinning faster …. or maybe not

August 8, 2022

The simple truth is that we haven’t a clue as to why the earth spins, how it started spinning and why the speed of spin varies.

These are all recent headlines.

Earth spinning faster.

Faster

Earth spinning slower

Slower

Why does the earth rotate in 24 hours? It’s just magic

June 26, 2017

The rotational speed of a planetary body around its own axis is primarily set by the angular momentum the mass of matter making up the body had when it first coalesced into a planet. What determined that initial angular momentum is unknown. All known effects thereafter (mainly tidal and all fundamentally gravitational effects) slow this rotation. For the last 3,000 years the earth’s rotation has been slowing down to cause the day to lengthen by about 2 milliseconds per century.

Currently the solar (siderial) day has a mean value of about 2 milliseconds greater than 86,400 seconds while the stellar day (relative to the fixed stars) has a mean value of about 86, 164 seconds.

But we have no real understanding of why it is what it is. …… 

We can observe that the day length on the planets are:

…….. The laws of physics (as we know them) did not apply at the Big Bang singularity. All the energy (dark, imaginary and real) in the universe and all the momentum in all the materia (dark or otherwise) making up the universe was determined in the singularity when the laws of physics did not apply. How the Big Bang caused matter to gain spin in the first place is also unknown. So the simple answer to why earth’s day is 24 hours long (and why any planet’s rotational speed is what it is) is that we haven’t a clue.

It’s just magic.

It used to be that a second was defined as 1⁄86400 of a day – this factor derived from the division of the day first into 24 hours, then to 60 minutes and finally to 60 seconds each (24 × 60 × 60 = 86400). But the day is now taken to be 86 400 seconds where a second is now defined as the time that elapses during 9,192,631,770 cycles of the radiation produced by the transition between two levels of the cesium-133 atom.

“Caesium is a relatively rare element, estimated to average 3 parts per million in the Earth’s crust. Caesium (55Cs) has 40 known isotopes, making it, along with barium and mercury, one of the elements with the most isotopes. The atomic masses of these isotopes range from 112 to 151. Only one isotope, 133Cs, is stable”.

The very concept of a day derives from the spin of the earth. Of course, if a day was still defined as the period of the earth’s rotation around its own axis and and not as a multiple of the second, there would be no need to have any headlines.

I wonder sometimes whether a second now is longer than a second was then.

And how would we know?



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