"The fact-free and superstitiously minded party of humans to take over as leaders of the United States in 2017, mirrors a striking resemblance to the worries of Cosmologist Carl Sagan in his 1996 work, The Demon-Haunted World, Science as a Candle in the Dark."Read More
CARL SAGAN AND BROCA'S BRAIN
"I would rather be a transformed ape than a degenerate son of Adam."
"Broca was a humanist of the nineteenth century, but unable to shake the consuming prejudices, the human social diseases, of his time. He thought men superior to women, and whites superior to blacks. Even his conclusion that German brains were not significantly different from French ones was in rebuttal to a Teutonic claim of Gallic inferiority. But he concluded that there was a deep connection in brain physiology between gorillas and men. Broca, the founder of a society of freethinkers in his youth, believed in the importance of untrammeled inquiry and had lived his life in pursuit of that aim. His falling short of these ideals shows that someone as unstinting in the free pursuit of knowledge as Broca could still be deflected but he endemic and respectable bigotry. Society corrupts the best of us. It is a little unfair, I think, to criticize a person for not sharing the enlightenment of a later epoch, but it is also profoundly saddening that such prejudices were so extremely pervasive. The question raises nagging uncertainties about which of the conventional truths of our own age will be considered unforgivable bigotry by the next. One way to repay Paul Broca for this lesson which he has inadvertently provided us is to challenge, deeply and seriously, our own most strongly held beliefs."
SHORT EXCERPT FROM CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS LECTURE AT THE FESTIVAL OF DANGEROUS IDEAS | Full lecture linked below.
Objective truth that sends a stirring of wonder throughout the entirety of the human experience. Described in emotion as a deep feeling in the bones; a ghost in the breath. An involuntary surrender to awe.
"Most educated people are aware that we are the outcome of nearly four billion years of darwinian selection, but many tend to think that humans are still somehow the culmination of that. Our sun, however, is less than half way through its lifespan. it will not be humans who watch that sun’s demise six billion years from now. Any creatures that then do exist will be as different from us as we are from bacteria or ameba."
IN CONVERSATION WITH SAM HARRIS
In collaboration with Hemant Mehta from Friendly Atheist, The Reason Record captured the discussion between Biologist/Writer Richard Dawkins and Neuroscientist/Writer Sam Harris in LA on November 1st, 2016.
Currently reading Oliver Sacks', Hallucinations and entirely fascinated and excited to learn more about this INCREDIBLY common characteristic of the brain. Hallucination has been, at times, a regular experience for me, likely relating to poor eyesight. As an adolescent my imagination entertained the idea that I was experiencing something "mystical" or of the "supernatural realm." It's fun to learn about the tricks my brain has been up to while debunking my previous ideas.
"Hallucinations have always had an important place in our mental lives and our culture. Indeed, one must wonder to what extent hallucinatory experiences have given rise to our art, folklore, and even religion. Do the geometric patterns seen in migraine and other conditions prefigure the Motifs of aboriginal art? Did Lilliputian hallucinations (which are not uncommon) give rise to the elves, imps, leprechauns, and fairies in our folklore? Do the terrifying hallucinations of the nightmare, being ridden and suffocated by a malign presence, play a part in generating our concepts of demons and witches or malignant aliens? Do "ecstatic" seizures, such as Dostoevsky had, play a part in generating our sense of the Divine? Do out-of-body experiences allow the feeling that one can be disembodied? Does the substancelessness of hallucinations encourage a belief in ghosts and spirits? Why has every culture known to us sought and found hallucinogenic drugs and used them, first and foremost, for sacramental purposes?"
Today, in more important things humans are doing: as we continue to point our telescopes beyond our tiny home, we continue to make further discoveries of our insignificance.Read More
AUTHOR | AshlieRené
Always, since delving into the nature of reality and what science has taught us as a species, there is a major sense of urgency. It is an impossibility that I might, in my lifetime, explore every corner of our planetary home, and I must see as much of it as I can. Time cannot be wasted on trivial fantasies. There is too much to learn; Too many wonderfully brilliant scientific writers to read from. The most extraordinary things I will ever do with my life, will be in the presence of creatures not of my own hominid species. I dream of bringing myself face to face with every one of them. The most beautiful thing I know yet, about myself, is my biochemical connection to all of them. I am grateful to not waste another moment rummaging around in the dark. And I wish most to be in a similarly wonderful mind state as Oliver Sacks at the end my life.
• Current book recommendation is a big one, an important one, one of my most recommended ever. Stunning perspective from a truly brilliant scientist on life and death.
"I am grateful that I have experienced many things- some wonderful, some horrible- and that I have been able to write a dozen books, to receive innumerable letters from friends, colleagues, and readers, and to enjoy what Nathaniel Hawthorne called 'an intercourse with the world.' I am sorry I have wasted (and still waste) so much time; I am sorry to be as agonizingly shy at eighty as I was at twenty; I am sorry that I speak no languages but my mother tongue and that I have not traveled or experienced other cultures as widely as I should have done."
- Oliver Sacks (neurologist) | "Gratitude"
Today, at twenty four I am not the thinker that I was raised to be. I am at a mind state extraordinarily different from that of myself at thirteen, sixteen and eighteen years of age. My interests, thoughts, ideas of human morality, sense of self; together the truths that make up what I am as a creative, thinking primate, fail absolutely to share a single commonality with that of my parents and grandparents. In my fairly recent ventures into learning more about biology, cosmology and physics from some of our most astounding historic and modern day educators, I have never been more distant from the people that I am a direct descendant of. I am no longer the self-centered, irrational, uninformed and mildly-delusional mind that I was for the larger part of my life thus far. I fail to succumb to ideas of superstition based solely on my innate human attachment and desire to survive, and live eternally. I cease to measure myself above all other living organisms of existence, on this blooming spec of space rock. I am no longer wastefully intrigued and entertained by pseudosciences’ alien abductions, mystical fairies and conspiracy theories. ALL human-made deities, for me, rest together in the burial ground of ancient mythology. I am an advocate for true human equality, a logic and reason based society, free of the delusion and dogma that has held our species back for multiple millennia. And I do not vote with myself nor my pocket money in mind. I vote with our species, our brothers and sisters, human and nonhuman, and our planet deep at heart.
My unexpected exposure to the method of reasoning that has transformed our small world into one humanity can thrive on, live beyond thirty-years on, build rocket ships on- has hurdled my mind down the oh-so-obscure path of all around being the best human I have ever been. I have never been more proud of what I am. And for the first time, I think I have entirely disappointed the parents that raised me. The humans that love me the most will never know the very best parts of me. In this sense only, it is a troubling world to have woken up to. But it will always tremendously exceed the dark world of thinking I was previously a deeply trepid inhabitant of. I will never give up the climb I have made to fully critical thinking, out of an almost trapped, primitive state of mind.
The close friends I have made in the intelligent and beautifully-minded homo sapiens I have surrounded myself with, leave my thoughts stirring in wonder and excitement. The world is a stunningly surprising and poetic place, least imperative of our hindering imaginations. The truths that our skeptical interrogation of reality has revealed to us, have left me fearless, utterly engaged with our universe, human exploration of the cosmos and the profoundly insightful traces of our biochemical relationship to all of it. I am happy. I am unafraid. And I am not alone.
“Our instincts and emotions are those of our hunter-gatherer ancestors of a million years ago. But our society is astonishingly different from that of a million years ago. In times of slow change, the insights and skills learned by one generation are useful, tried, and adaptive, and are gladly received when passed down to the next generation. But in times like today, when the society changes significantly in less than a human lifetime, the parental insights no longer have unquestioned validity for the young. The so-called generation gap is a consequence of the rate of social and technological change. . .Old economic assumptions, old methods of determining political leaders, old methods of distributing resources, old methods of communicating information from the government to the people – and vice versa – all of these may once have been valid or useful or at least somewhat adaptive, but today may no longer have survival value at all. Old oppressive and chauvinistic attitudes among the races, between the sexes, and between economic groups are being justifiably challenged. The fabric of society throughout the world is ripping."Read More
Let me begin by quoting Cosmologist and Public Educator Carl Sagan.
"Welcome to planet Earth- a place of blue nitrogen skies, oceans of liquid water, cool forests and soft meadows, a world positively rippling with life. In the cosmic perspective it is, as I have said, poignantly beautiful and rare; but it is also, for the moment, unique. In all our journeying through space and time, it is, so far, the only world in which we know with certainty that the matter of the cosmos has become alive and aware. There must be many such worlds scattered through space, but our search for them begins here, with the accumulated wisdom of the men and women of our species, garnered at great cost over a million years. We are privileged to live among brilliant and passionately inquisitive people, and in a time when the search for knowledge is generally prized. Human beings, born ultimately of the stars and now for a while inhabiting a world called Earth, have begun their long voyage home."
It was today, the day following my twenty-forth birthday that I took a small moment to gather the current feeling of what it is to be twenty-four-year-old-me.
Yesterday was the anniversary of my birth into this species and this world. Thanks to the hormones of both my young parents and the shuffling of ancient ancestral genes, I exist.
To call the reality of this chance awakening, beautiful and amazing is an understatement. And I intend to live each following orbit about our star more mindfully than the previous.
Yesterday evening, I peered across a beautiful candle lit table, set with linen napkins, silver eating utensils and gold-rimmed plates, at my lovely partner enjoying his cooked brussel sprouts and pesto penne. I observed him for a moment and remarked, "we are ridiculously spoiled creatures." It is common for me to verbally exclaim this same idea in differing words and many other instances. (I should also allow you to entertain the laughable image of my partner proceeding to react like a chimpanzee, in response to my comment, as he did). Yet, aside from a couple of my close friends, I never hear such observations remarked, otherwise. I would go as far as to claim that the vast majority of our species finds him or herself deeply entitled to this upper class of highly intelligent animal life. Divinely entitled- most commonly. And rather insulted to be categorized among animal at all. It is human tradition to tell our children that this world has been set into motion just for us. That what is here, on Earth, life and other material, is for our use, however we see fit. Here, I am chuckling at the thought of one of our primate cousins, sharing this same pretentious idea with his or her offspring, and the same of a bird, and perhaps an insect. Surely, there is a fair level of silliness to the idea, but more surely, these other Earth-born creatures are all biologically related to a common ancestor of ours. This is simply a scientific fact. So, here, aside from an intelligent, million-years-evolved processing instrument, we do stand on equal ground. Stumbling upon this thought has me reminded of a poem Sagan quoted in his work, The Varieties of Scientific Experience.
"Heaven" // Rupert Brooke
FISH (fly-replete, in depth of June,
Dawdling away their wat'ry noon)
Ponder deep wisdom, dark or clear,
Each secret fishy hope or fear.
Fish say, they have their Stream and Pond;
But is there anything Beyond?
Thus life cannot be ALL, they swear,
For how unpleasant, if it were.
One may not doubt that, somehow, good,
Shall come of Water and of Mud;
And, sure, the reverent eye must see
A purpose in Liquidity.
We darkly know, by Faith we cry;
The future is not Wholly Dry.
Mud unto mud!-Death eddies near-
Not here the appointed End, not here!
But somewhere, beyond Space and Time,
Is wetter water, slimier slime!
And there (they trust) there swimmeth One.
Who swam ere rivers were begun,
Immense, of fishy form and mind,
Squamous, omnipotent, and kind;
And under that almighty Fin,
The littlest fish may enter in.
Oh! never fly conceals a hook,
Fish say, in the Eternal Brook,
But more than mundane weeds are there,
And mud, celestially fair;
Fat caterpillars drift around,
And paradisal grubs are found;
Unfading moths, immortal flies,
And the worm that never dies.
And in that Heaven of all their wish,
There shall be no more land, say fish.
In finding this poem, among pages of Sagan's eloquently gathered thoughts, I felt a genuine feeling of comfort. And ultimately- hope. Optimism. I let out a laugh and shared the poem with my partner. It is becoming evermore often that I find myself in a bright, open room of familiar thought, while reading the ideas of humans that began thinking long before I even began existing. As much as I treasure the blurry sight of a fully rational-thinking humankind, I am not entirely regretful of existing as one among some few in this current century. Watching science make discovery after discovery as superstition begins the fight against what should be its very long and slow death, is a place in time to be noted. This is, still, just the very beginning of the noble battle against numerous millennia of praised illogical thinking, deeply interwoven into both the culture and society of our species. It should be our decedents, many centuries in the future that find themselves pondering how we could have ever brought ourselves to embrace thinking in such a fearful and intellectually preposterous form. That day is distant, but it must be out there if we are to progress to our full potential.
So, here is to our full potential.
As a species.
As an advanced happening of cosmic chemistry.
As the brief inhabitants,
of planet Earth.
It is a deep and hindering struggle for humankind.
Because it means this is it.
It means that in a moment, this feeling of what it is to exist and to be conscious and to feel everything that is good and warm and comforting, is gone.
And the world exists as it did before you were born.
Without your consciousness of it.
And with this- every moment that you are inhaling and exhaling the nitrogen and oxygen of the existing creatures of the Earth as well as that of your ancestors, has incredible value.
You are not important, beyond natural survival. You don't have a given purpose.
It is up to you only, to make your own.
It is just as great a 'miracle' of higher power to die tragically of a parasitic disease as it is to have happened to be at the right place at the right time, in any large or small instance favorable to your life.
We are lucky creatures.
Of no more supernatural importance than that of every large and microscopic living organism made up of the same elements as our dominating species.
We stand on equal ground, with respect to nature and its evolution, within billions of years- of billions of creatures, small and large, physically 'beautiful' and others what we humans have commonly deemed 'disgusting' or 'slimy,' all made up of the same basic ingredients.
Time is in the layers of the earth.
And the rise of our species is now, brief within it.
We are fortunate to be here and we are even more fortunate to possess the capability to understand and further discover how.
It is with the same method of understanding the natural world that we are capable of saving our own lives and the lives of other animals. And that we are able to use a GPS to navigate the Earth. It is with the same method of understanding that we are able to make a cup of coffee.
We forget this. Some of us fail to ever realize it.
We all too often hold the socially glorified and pretentious position that WE, individually, are chosen to be saved from death and blessed beyond measure above those that suffer greatly for the most part of their existence.
So it means that we decide what we are as conscious, moral humans.
That our scientists and engineers are rightfully responsible for our advancements and the saving of lives.
That we should ultimately embrace every good-natured creature we cross paths with on the journey.
That we are deeply connected, rooted, in the Earth that we inhabit. And the closely and distantly related animals we choose for food and for companionship.
That we are responsible for our actions and non-actions.
That we have every reason to further understand and discover.
It means we are lucky.
And we need not waste a minute of existence.
This is us.
Here, in the twenty-first century,
Among human-made spacecraft
Completing the stretch of seven-plus billion kilometers
Across our solar system,
To the outermost known rock
That entangled the imagination of our species
Now ten years ago.
Among the most incredible life-saving innovations
In human history.
Among this species of ours,
To live equally with one another.
Taking on millennia of misinformation and superstitious thinking.
Millennia of bad human ideas.
Here we are.
Among the best of man
And among the worst of man.
Enriched in knowledge,
Hindered by the gods and the demons
Of our earliest thinking ancestors' imaginations-
Subject to question.
Some, crumbling under our skeptical interrogation of reality.
The method of reasoning that has enlightened this growing species
On the laws of this universe,
That humankind has so blindly inhabited
For hundreds of thousands of years.
We stand here,
On the timeline of human history
When we might begin to ask greater questions
Without fear of slaughter.
Fear that kept freethinkers before us
Quiet in their thoughts.
We stand here,
In the warming dawn of reason.
Let us be loud.