http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/americas-true-history-of-religious-tolerance-61312684/?no-ist

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Allen Ginsberg’s Christmas Howl

I can’t think of a better seasonal greeting for everyone than this piece by George Simmers, who edits the monthly online poetry Snakeskin – http://www.simmers1.webspace.virginmedia.com/snake223.html.
Merry Whatever to everyone!

Snakeskin's Blog

Ommm.

I have seen the best teeth of my generation broken upon the crust of a neighbour’s mince pie.

I have seen men struggling through aisles laden with tinsel, buying chocolates uglier than sphincters and enduring carols.

I have seen ecstatic visions of Noddy Holder and of King Wenceslas naked upon a reindeer.

For it is Christmas.

Therefore I rejoice.

I rejoice in the truths that will emerge in shallow Yuletide arguments.

I rejoice in television specials, for mindlessness opens gates into nirvana.

I rejoice in gifts of underwear.

I rejoice in the mother cooking resentfully, and in the drunken aunt.

And in the farting vegan who refuses turkey.

In these I rejoice.

Ommm.

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The future of ISIS

It took the West how many centuries to resolve Catholicism vs Protestantism vs secularism? And it’s not entirely resolved yet. So the Muslim world may have a couple of centuries to go before it sorts itself out.

The more accurate guide to the future

I was going to write about the future of intelligence but I just saw a nice graphic by The Economist on the spread of ISIS:

so I’ll write about them instead.

The main Economist article is http://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21656690-islamic-state-making-itself-felt-ever-more-countries-how-much-influence

I won’t summarize their article about the current state of affairs; read it yourself. I can add a few comments to highlight the future though.

Surveys on Muslim attitudes to violence consistently show that most Muslims reject violence done in the name of Islam: 65-75%. That is the numeric range that describes the reality of ‘the vast overwhelming majority of peace-loving Muslims’ we see emphasized by politicians and media whenever an Islamic terrorist act occurs, two thirds to three quarters according to when and where the surveys have been done. The last high quality survey in the UK arrived at the figure 68%, comfortably in that range. The other side of the same statistics is that 32% of British…

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Switching people off

Control of a consciousness on-off switch raises huge issues, including (but well beyond) the theological. It kind of obviates the idea of a soul, anyway!

The more accurate guide to the future

A very interesting development has been reported in the discovery of how consciousness works, where neuroscientists stimulating a particular brain region were able to switch a woman’s state of awareness on and off. They said: “We describe a region in the human brain where electrical stimulation reproducibly disrupted consciousness…”

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22329762.700-consciousness-onoff-switch-discovered-deep-in-brain.html.

The region of the brain concerned was the claustrum, and apparently nobody had tried stimulating it before, although Francis Crick and Christof Koch had suggested the region would likely be important in achieving consciousness. Apparently, the woman involved in this discovery was also missing some of her hippocampus, and that may be a key factor, but they don’t know for sure yet.

Mohamed Koubeissi and his the team at the George Washington university in Washington DC were investigating her epilepsy and stimulated her claustrum area with high frequency electrical impulses. When they did so, the woman lost consciousness, no longer responding to any audio or…

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It’s homeopathy awareness week. So be aware: it’s total nonsense

Jesus’ miraculous cures fall into this category. He wasn’t able to restore a missing limb… or to put John the Baptist’s head back on!

The more accurate guide to the future

Homeopathy amazes me by the number of otherwise intelligent people that believe in it. Some others do too, such as the UK’s Minister for Health Jeremy Hunt. How he keeps such a job while advocating such beliefs is a mystery.

Homeopathy is total nonsense. Proper scientists agree that it doesn’t work. There is no reliable scientific evidence for it, and no means by which it could possibly work other than invoking a placebo effect. It supposedly relies on dilution of some agent to such a point that not a single molecule of that agent remains.

If you believe in it, try this thought experiment, or do it for real if you prefer. Either way it will be at least as effective and much cheaper than paying for homeopathic treatment: collect a small bottle of seawater next time you go to a beach, preferably not at a sewage outfall (if you don’t live near the sea, best do the…

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Wishing for eternal life, then and now

Humans have always (as far as we can tell) resisted the idea of their mortality. Many people simply refuse to think about it, and others refuse to believe it. In the face of all the evidence of creatures that die and rot or get eaten, and don’t come back to life, humans will confidently state that we are different.

True, some groups have accepted that even if we have a “soul”, our body rots in the grave and our “soul” gradually fades away underground. This was one of differences between the Pharisees and the Sadducees in the time of Jesus. The former believed in a resurrection of the body and a divine rebalancing to reward the virtuous and punish the evildoer. The latter felt that life ended at death, and there was no reckoning in an afterlife. Therefore the Pharisees tended to be morally upright and religious puritans, while the Sadducees were generally more venal and collaborated with the Roman Occupation. Fair enough.

Jesus surrounded himself with Jews of all types in his attempt to bring all of Israel to repentance and purity. Of the four philosophies of his time, he was close to the Pharisees, Zealots and Essenes, less close to the Sadducees.

The promise of a physical resurrection of the body, together with the promise of an eternity in paradise if you are a believer or an eternity in hell if you are an unbeliever, is basic to Christian and Muslim belief. It has been a very powerful meme for persuading people to donate their time and cash to the promulgators of the religion. The Mormons have upped the ante by promising their adherents that they can become gods of their own planets… at least, if they are men; the status of women in all these religions is less than equal.

The religious afterlife may be an increasingly laughable idea, but the desire to avoid death is as strong as ever. Last year Google launched a new company, Calico, to focus on health and aging in particular. It is run by Arthur Levinson, former CEO of Genentech and currently Chairman of the Board of Directors at both Genentech and Apple. This is a serious attempt at life extension, backed by Google and its $54 billion in cash.

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In Google, Larry Page and his cohorts Sergey Brin, Eric Schmidt and Astro Teller have created a company that is known for two things: crunching data phenomenally well, and going after data-heavy speculative ideas (officially identified as “Moonshots”) that – even if they work out – will take many years of development to pay off. The original Google search engine was the product of vision and a data-heavy opportunity. Currently under development are a raft of others, including Google Glass and self-driving cars. Looked at in this way, medicine is just another information science with vast amounts of data – seven billion case histories walking around on the planet… data to be assembled and crunched for a path to understanding everything about our life processes. Google’s Calico should then be able to cure disease – eliminate all cancer (which would add some three years to average life expectancy) – and presumably tinker with our cellular and genetic structures any way we can imagine. To me, that suggests an indefinite lifespan in a body that would gradually move away from current human norms.

Timeframe for this? The only hint is from Larry Page: “In some industries it takes 10 to 20 years to go from an idea to something being real. Health care is certainly one of those areas. We should shoot for the things that are really, really important, so 10 or 20 years from now we have those things done.”

Larry Page is only 40, but I’m 63. Let’s get a move on, guys!

And what will it cost? Google is “not a philanthropic organization. But,” says Astro Teller, “if you make the world a radically better place, the money is going to come find you, in a fair and elegant way.”

Or in other words, just like with the priests of old, the promise of eternal life will get you to give them a ton of money. The big difference is that this time around, it is grounded in scientific developments, not wishful thinking.

Making a secular holiday tree

For thousands of years, the winter solstice – the turning point of the year, with the end of increasing darkness and the beginning of the return of light – has been celebrated with feasts, log fires, and a tree decorated with shiny things and candles.  It’s all about light.

If you want a holiday tree, but want to make it very clear what your religious or philosophic position is, then why not let 300 or so books return temporarily to their roots (so to speak), and be a tree for a couple of weeks!

You make whatever statement your reading habits make.

You make whatever statement your reading habits make.

A holiday tree, full of light.

A holiday tree, full of light.

There are several places on the web where you can find instructions for doing this in an organized way.

We started with a circle of seven outsized books, spines out, and built up from there. At about two feet we started to fill it with pillows and cushions, and at about four feet we put an oversized book across the shrinking hole to stabilize everything.

After we wrapped 80 feet of lights round it, we inserted a bunch of white lights into a convenient crystal cone to top it off.

Happy holidays!