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6.22.2011

The Coming Deluge

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I've talked before about the return of the INLAND SEA that will deluge the central United States in the next 100 years.

Increasingly, we will see these kinds of record floods happening every year - http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20110623/us_nm/us_flooding_plains - as more and more water is transferred to land due to global warming and increased evaporation from the oceans.

They will last longer and longer, until eventually the water just stays year round, turning to ice and snow in the winter, which will keep the water land-bound.

I don't expect anyone to believe me, but it is a fact of pre-history that an inland sea once divided what is now the United States. It was located farther west, because the rockies had not yet formed and the crust of the earth was lower in that region.

Today, much of the midwest is only a few hundred feet above sea level.

Comment.

6.11.2011

Bible vs. Science (A "Gut" Feeling)

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I read an interesting article about gut bacteria this morning.

As I was reading about these "new findings" from intestinal biology, an idea occurred to me as to why some people fancy faith over reason, the Bible vs. Science.

Perhaps some people are made to feel uneasy (queasy?) when they are not 100% certain that the world is as it seems. Science can explain a lot of things, but scientists admit that their work is dynamic and changing as new facts come to light...this can be unsettling for some people.

That is to say, there is a certain comfort in believing that the universe in unyieldingly consistent.

The Bible provides that sense of comfort. Science, though a much better explanation of reality and the universe, is never 100%.

In fact, science can't "prove" anything. All it can do is "fail to disprove" some things. It is the nature of science that it can only disprove the disprovable. A theory and it's subsequent hypotheses are only as good as their ability to be tested.

Conversely, God is neither provable nor disprovable. It is the nature of Faith that the existence of God is simply accepted and held to be rock solidly true.

Believers like the unyielding consistency* over time of the Bible's take on things (however unprovable they may be) vs. the seemingly daily and often unsettling "change" of Science.

When I have queried religious people about their "core values" (a simple psychological exercise where you get people to think about something that if they did not have it life would not be worth living, followed by a visualization of how that thing makes them feel), I always get a similar response. Their core value is peace, calm, tranquility, and the like. Conversely, non-believers are less consistent, reporting core values like knowledge gain, excitement, adrenalin, discovering new things.

I think there is a high correlation between core values and whether someone prefers reason over faith. The Bible, for all its contradictions and defiance of the laws of physics, is a stable philosophy that appeals to those whose core value is stability. Mythology, by design, can be fit to any belief system. It only requires interpretation of abstractions that are untestable. Science though is pesky. It requires continual questioning and the end results do not always appeal to common sense and belief.

*Not to be confused with internal consistency from Statistics, which the Bible sorely lacks.

6.10.2011

Social Species and Doom

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There is a catch-22 with being a member of a social species.
Social behaviors like altruism and cooperation are excellent for the survival of such species, maximizing available resources and distributing Darwinian fitness more uniformly within the group.
But there is a down side. When the population exceeds sustainable resource consumption, the same social behavior distributes the resource exploitation among the group.

Think of the behavior of the overall population as an averaging of the behavior of all the individuals. When the resource infrastructure is sustainable, everyone benefits from some people doing more altruistic resource gathering and sharing than others. But when the resource support base is exceeded, the harvesting drive trait is still prevalent.

Such conditions begin to "select" for more modest natural resource consumption, but it takes a few generations for those traits to become dominant, and population collapse due to resource mismanagement often occurs first. Unfortunately, the demise of the population is not specific to the more exploitative individuals in that population, but is also distributed evenly.

Humans face this dilemma now, as we simultaneously reach and exceed peak capacity in both fossil fuels and water (both required for food creation).

The possible saving grace for the human population is culture, rare to non-existent in other social species. We have the intelligence and technical ability to change our behavior collectively, very rapidly. We could theoretically shift away from non-sustainable resources and do quite well.

Culture also allows us to rapidly spread ideas (often called "memes" to distinguish rapid cultural transmission of behavior from slower genetic transmission). We have the ability to spread protective memes throughout the human species. But as with genes, there is great variability in the available memes.

Science can help us figure out the most creative and productive memes for avoiding a population collapse. But science memes are in a struggle with ideological and mythological memes that have deep roots in human history.

And if said history is any indicator, in general our cultural memes will not act fast enough to counter our genetic drives. Most of the great civilizations that "disappeared" did so following a period of natural resource exploitation and mismanagement.

We may be doomed to repeat history.

Science gives us hope, but scientists have to be responsible and culturally aware and relevant. They seem to strugle with this.

REFERENCES

"World on the Edge" by Lester R. Brown

6.07.2011

Homo Sapiens: Individual vs. Population

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I think it is humanity itself that best illustrates the reality of Darwinism. I will expound on this more in future posts, but right now I have to go to work. At the level of the individual human, we can show examples of great intellectual development, creativity, foresight, and compassion. However, at the population level, humans show the same degree of variation in their traits, including reason and compassion and altruism and other "human" traits, as most other vertebrate organisms. Humans like to believe they are special. Some like to believe that we collectively have the "will" to adapt and survive in changing environmental conditions, such as global climate change. But that is exactly the problem. Individually, some humans have the degree of intellect and wisdom and reason to not only see us out of our self-destructive quandary, but to "prove it" with science. But at the population level, as a very consequence of random variation within our species, we are doomed by the fact that a significant portion of the population has characteristics at odds with our long term survival and willfully avoids scientific understanding in favor of mythology. When the chips are down, it is not our collective intellect or our reason that will save us (for it does not exist at that level). At the end of the world, it will be the sheer will of individual organisms to survive that matters.

6.03.2011

The Year of Living Biblically

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I am reading "The Year of Living Biblically" by AJ Jacobs.

It's hilarious and a very user-friendly way to learn about the Bible, it's contents and the religions that adhere to it.

AJ writes for Esquire magazine and for one year he tries to follow the Bible as literally as possible (without breaking any laws).

He is successful (or unsuccessful) to varying degrees, but in the course of his quest he exposes many myths (and truths) about the Bible and religion, and writes about it in a very entertaining way.

I would recommend this book for anyone who desires to learn about the Bible (to be literate about its content and the people who follow it) in a secular way, painlessly and without the dogma and preaching that, say, a Bible Study would manifest.