Category: Philosophy

The song this planet needs to hear!

A difficult post!

I am going to publish a TomDispatch essay. Or rather, I am going to republish a piece written for Tom Engelhardt by Dahr Jamail. It doesn’t make for comfortable reading.

For a few days I agonised whether or not to republish it.

Then Tom wrote in an email to me: “Here’s what I think… or have, at least, thought these last 17 years… It’s better to plug on and do what you know should be done, say what you know should be said, no matter the state of the world, no matter whether anyone’s listening.  That’s their problem, not ours.  Better to do your best and hope that just one person notices and maybe just once that will be the person who makes all the difference.

He is right.

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Tomgram: Dahr Jamail, “We Can’t Undo This”

Posted by Dahr Jamail, January 15, 2019.

Dahr Jamail, a TomDispatch regular, reported strikingly from Iraq in the years after the 2003 American invasion of that country. Since then, he’s refocused the skills he learned as a war reporter on covering a fossil-fuelized war against the planet (and humanity itself). It goes by the mild name of climate change or global warming and, while a Trump tirade about the border or just about anything else gets staggering attention, the true crisis this planet faces, the one that our children and grandchildren will have to grimly deal with, remains distinctly a secondary matter not just in the news but in American consciousness. Yes, opinions are slowly changing on the subject, but not nearly fast enough. Something about the time scale of this developing crisis — no less that it could, in the end, take out human civilization and so much else — makes it hard to absorb. It’s increasingly evident that we are already living on a climate-changed planet whose weather is grimly intensifying. If you doubt this, just ask the inhabitants of Puerto Rico, Houston, or Paradise (California, that is). Its most devastating consequences will, however, be left to a future that still seems remarkably hard to absorb in an era of the endless Trump Twitch and in a time when we’re becoming ever more oriented to the social media moment.

In 2013, as Dahr Jamail mentions in his piece today, he penned a dispatch for this website on climate change.  In my introduction to it, I wrote, “Still, despite ever more powerful weather disruptions — what the news now likes to call ‘extreme weather’ events, including monster typhoons, hurricanes, and winter storms, wildfires, heat waves, drought, and global temperature records — disaster has still seemed far enough off. Despite a drumbeat of news about startling environmental changes — massive ice melts in Arctic waters, glaciers shrinking worldwide, the Greenland ice shield beginning to melt, as well as the growing acidification of ocean waters — none of this, not even Superstorm Sandy smashing into that iconic global capital, New York, and drowning part of its subway system, has broken through as a climate change 9/11. Not in the United States anyway. We’ve gone, that is, from no motion to slow motion to a kind of denial of motion.”

Sadly, with different and more severe examples of every one of the phenomena mentioned above — four of the years since have, for instance, set new heat highs — that paragraph could stand essentially unchanged. In those same years, however, Jamail did anything but stand still. He traveled the planet, producing a remarkable new book, The End of Ice, which is being published today. It holds within its pages the most dramatic (and well-reported) of stories about what both the present and future will mean for us in climate-change terms. If it were up to him, we would all feel the desperate immediacy of our situation as we face the single greatest crisis since that ancestor of ours, Lucy, walked the edge of a lake in Ethiopia so many millions of years ago. I only hope that the passion in his piece today (and in the book it describes) carries a few of us into the new world we now inhabit, whether we care to know about it or not. Tom

A Planet in Crisis

The Heat’s On Us
By Dahr Jamail

I’m standing atop Rush Hill on Alaska’s remote St. Paul Island. While only 665 feet high, it provides a 360-degree view of this tundra-covered, 13-mile-long, seven-mile-wide part of the Pribilof Islands. While the hood of my rain jacket flaps in the cold wind, I gaze in wonder at the silvery waters of the Bering Sea. The ever-present wind whips the surface into a chaos of whitecaps, scudding mist, and foam.

The ancient cinder cone I’m perched on reminds me that St. Paul, was, oh so long ago, one of the last places woolly mammoths could be found in North America. I’m here doing research for my book The End of Ice. And that, in turn, brings me back to the new reality in these far northern waters: as cold as they still are, human-caused climate disruption is warming them enough to threaten a possible collapse of the food web that sustains this island’s Unangan, its Aleut inhabitants, also known as “the people of the seal.” Given how deeply their culture is tied to a subsistence lifestyle coupled with the new reality that the numbers of fur seals, seabirds, and other marine life they hunt or fish are dwindling, how could this crisis not be affecting them?

While on St. Paul, I spoke with many tribal elders who told me stories about fewer fish and sea birds, harsher storms and warming temperatures, but what struck me most deeply were their accounts of plummeting fur seal populations. Seal mothers, they said, had to swim so much farther to find food for their pups that the babies were starving to death before they could make it back.

And the plight of those dramatically declining fur seals could well become the plight of the Unangan themselves, which in the decades to come, as climate turbulence increases, could very well become the plight of all of us.

During breeding season, three-quarters of the Northern Fur Seal population can be found on the Pribilof Islands. They can dive to depths of 600 feet searching for small fish and squid. (Photo: Dahr Jamail)

Just before flying to St. Paul, I met with Bruce Wright in Anchorage, Alaska. He’s a senior scientist with the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association, has worked for the National Marine Fisheries Service, and was a section chief for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for 11 years. “We’re not going to stop this train wreck,” he assures me grimly. “We are not even trying to slow down the production of CO2 [carbon dioxide], and there is already enough CO2 in the atmosphere.”

While describing the warming, ever more acidic waters around Alaska and the harm being caused to the marine food web, he recalled a moment approximately 250 million years ago when the oceans underwent similar changes and the planet experienced mass extinction events “driven by ocean acidity. The Permian mass extinction where 90% of the species were wiped out, that is what we are looking at now.”

I wrap up the interview with a heavy heart, place my laptop in my satchel, put on my jacket, and shake his hand. Knowing I’m about to fly to St. Paul, Wright has one final thing to tell me as he walks me out: “The Pribilofs were the last place mammoths survived because there weren’t any people out there to hunt them. We’ve never experienced this, where we are headed. Maybe the islands will become a refuge for a population of humans.”

The Loss Upon Us

For at least two decades, I’ve found my solace in the mountains. I lived in Alaska from 1996 to 2006 and more than a year of my life has been spent climbing on the glaciers of Denali and other peaks in the Alaska Range. Yet that was a bittersweet time for me as the dramatic impacts of climate change were quickly becoming apparent, including quickly receding glaciers and warmer winter temperatures.

After years of war and then climate-change reporting, I regularly withdrew to the mountains to catch my breath. As I filled my lungs with alpine air, my heart would settle down and I could feel myself root back into the Earth.

The Gulkana Glacier in the Alaska Range, like most glaciers globally, is losing mass rapidly. Some experts predict that every alpine glacier in the world will be gone by 2100. (Photo: Dahr Jamail)

Later, my book research would take me back onto Denali’s fast-shrinking glaciers and also to Glacier National Park in Montana. There I met Dr. Dan Fagre, a U.S. Geological Survey research ecologist and director of the Climate Change in Mountain Ecosystems Project. “This is an explosion,” he assured me, “a nuclear explosion of geologic change. This… exceeds the ability for normal adaptation. We’ve shoved it into overdrive and taken our hands off the wheel.” Despite its name, the park he studies is essentially guaranteed not to have any active glaciers by 2030, only 11 years from now.

My research also took me to the University of Miami, Coral Gables, where I met the chair of the Department of Geological Science, Harold Wanless, an expert in sea-level rise.

I asked him what he would say to people who think we still have time to mitigate the impacts of runaway climate change. “We can’t undo this,” he replied. “How are you going to cool down the ocean? We’re already there.”

As if to underscore the point, Wanless told me that, in the past, carbon dioxide had varied from roughly 180 to 280 parts per million (ppm) in the atmosphere as the Earth shifted from glacial to interglacial periods. Linked to this 100-ppm fluctuation was about a 100-foot change in sea level. “Every 100-ppm CO2 increase in the atmosphere gives us 100 feet of sea level rise,” he told me. “This happened when we went in and out of the Ice Age.”

As I knew, since the industrial revolution began, atmospheric CO2 has already increased from 280 to 410 ppm. “That’s 130 ppm in just the last 200 years,” I pointed out to him. “That’s 130 feet of sea level rise that’s already baked into Earth’s climate system.”

He looked at me and nodded grimly. I couldn’t help thinking of that as a nod goodbye to coastal cities from Miami to Shanghai.

In July 2017, I traveled to Camp 41 in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon rainforest, part of a project founded four decades ago by Thomas Lovejoy, known to many as the “godfather of biodiversity.” While visiting him, I also met Vitek Jirinec, an ornithologist from the Czech Republic who had held 11 different wildlife positions from Alaska to Jamaica. In the process, he became all too well acquainted with the signs of biological collapse among the birds he was studying. He’d watched as some Amazon populations like that of the black-tailed leaftosser declined by 95%; he’d observed how mosquitoes in Hawaii were killing off native bird populations; he’d explored how saltwater intrusion into Alaska’s permafrost was changing bird habitats there.

Orinthologist Vitek Jirinec at Camp 41. Some bird species in the Amazon have already declined by 95% since the 1980s. (Photo: Dahr Jamail)

His tone turned somber as we discussed his research and a note of anger slowly crept into his voice. “The problem of animal and plant populations left marooned within various fragments [of their habitat] under circumstances that are untenable for the long term has begun showing up all over the land surface of the planet. The familiar questions recur: How many mountain gorillas inhabit the forested slopes of the Virunga volcanoes, along the shared borders of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, and Rwanda? How many tigers live in the Sariska Tiger Reserve of northwestern India? How many are left? How long can they survive?”

As he continued, the anger in his voice became palpable, especially when he began discussing how “island biogeography” had come to the mainland and what was happening to animal populations marooned by human development on fragments of land in places like the Amazon. “How many grizzly bears occupy the North Cascades ecosystem, a discrete patch of mountain forest along the northern border of the state of Washington? Not enough. How many European brown bears are there in Italy’s Abruzzo National Park? Not enough. How many Florida panthers in Big Cypress Swamp? Not enough. How many Asiatic lions in the Forest of Gir? Not enough… The world is broken in pieces now.”

“A Terrifying 12 Years”

In October 2018, 15 months after Jirinec’s words brought me to tears in the Amazon, the world’s leading climate scientists authored a report for the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warning us that we have just a dozen years left to limit the catastrophic impacts of climate change. The gist of it is this: we’ve already warmed the planet one degree Celsius. If we fail to limit that warming process to 1.5 degrees, even a half-degree more than that will significantly worsen extreme heat, flooding, widespread droughts, and sea level increases, among other grim phenomena. The report has become a key talking point of political progressives in the U.S., who, likejournalist and activist Naomi Klein, are now speaking of “a terrifying 12 years” left in which to cut fossil fuel emissions.

There is, however, a problem with even this approach. It assumes that the scientific conclusions in the IPCC report are completely sound. It’s well known, however, that there’s been a political element built into the IPCC’s scientific process, based on the urge to get as many countries as possible on board the Paris climate agreement and other attempts to rein in climate change. To do that, such reports tend to use the lowest common denominatorin their projections, which makes their science overly conservative (that is, overly optimistic).

In addition, new data suggest that the possibility of political will coalescing across the planet to shift the global economy completely off fossil fuels in the reasonably near future is essentially a fantasy. And that’s even if we could remove enough of the hundreds of billions of tons of CO2 already in our overburdened atmosphere to make a difference (not to speak of the heat similarly already lodged in the oceans).

“It’s extraordinarily challenging to get to the 1.5 degree Celsius target and we are nowhere near on track to doing that,” Drew Shindell, a Duke University climate scientist and a co-author of the IPCC report, told the Guardian just weeks before it was released. “While it’s technically possible, it’s extremely improbable, absent a real sea change in the way we evaluate risk. We are nowhere near that.”

In fact, even best-case scenarios show us heading for at least a three-degree warming and, realistically speaking, we are undoubtedly on track for far worse than that by 2100, if not much sooner. Perhaps that’s why Shindell was so pessimistic.

For example, a study published in Nature magazine, also released in October, showed that over the last quarter-century, the oceans have absorbed 60% more heat annually than estimated in the 2014 IPCC report. The study underscored that the globe’s oceans have, in fact, already absorbed 93% of all the heat humans have added to the atmosphere, that the climate system’s sensitivity to greenhouse gases is far higher than thought and that planetary warming is far more advanced than had previously been grasped.

To give you an idea of how much heat the oceans have absorbed: if that heat had instead gone into the atmosphere, the global temperature would be 97 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than it is today. For those who think that there are still 12 years left to change things, the question posed by Wanless seems painfully apt: How do we remove all the heat that’s already been absorbed by the oceans?

Two weeks after that Nature article came out, a study in Scientific Reportswarned that the extinction of animal and plant species thanks to climate change could lead to a “domino effect” that might, in the end, annihilate life on the planet. It suggested that organisms will die out at increasingly rapid rates because they depend on other species that are also on their way out. It’s a process the study calls “co-extinction.” According to its authors, a five to six degree Celsius rise in average global temperatures might be enough to annihilate most of Earth’s living creatures.

To put this in perspective: just a two degree rise will leave dozens of the world’s coastal mega-cities flooded, thanks primarily to melting ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica, as well as the thermal expansion of the oceans as they warm. There will be 32 times as many heat waves in India and nearly half a billion more people will suffer water scarcity. At three degrees, southern Europe will be in permanent drought and the area burned annually by wildfires in the U.S. will sextuple. These impacts, it’s worth noting, may already be baked into the system, even if every country that signed the Paris climate accord were to fully honor its commitments, which most of them arenot currently doing.

At four degrees, global grain yields could drop by half, most likely resulting in annual worldwide food crises (along with far more war, general conflict, and migration than at present).

The International Energy Agency has already shown that maintaining our current fossil-fueled economic system would virtually guarantee a six-degreerise in the Earth’s temperature before 2050. To add insult to injury, a 2017 analysis from oil giants BP and Shell indicated that they expected the planet to be five degrees warmer by mid-century.

In late 2013, I wrote a piece for TomDispatch titled “Are We Falling Off the Climate Precipice?” Even then, it was already clear enough that we were indeed heading off that cliff. More than five years later, a sober reading of the latest climate change science indicates that we are now genuinely in free fall.

The question is no longer whether or not we are going to fail, but how are we going to comport ourselves in the era of failure?

Listening While Saying Goodbye

It’s been estimated that between 150 and 200 plant, insect, bird, and mammal species are already going extinct every day. In other words, during the two and a half years I worked on my book 136,800 species may have gone extinct.

We have a finite amount of time left to coexist with significant parts of the biosphere, including glaciers, coral, and thousands of species of plants, animals, and insects. We’re going to have to learn how to say goodbye to them, part of which should involve doing everything we humanly can to save whatever is left, even knowing that the odds are stacked against us.

For me, my goodbyes will involve spending as much time as I can on the glaciers in Washington State’s Olympic National Park and North Cascades National Park near where I live, or far more modestly taking in the trees around my home on a daily basis. It’s unclear, after all, how much longer such forest areas are likely to remain fully intact. I often visit a small natural altar I’ve created amid a circle of cedar trees growing around a decomposing mother tree. In this magical spot, I grieve and express my gratitude for the life that is still here. I also go to listen.

Where do you go to listen? And what are you hearing?

For me, these days, it all begins and ends with doing my best to listen to the Earth, with trying my hardest to understand how best to serve, how to devote myself to doing everything possible for the planet, no matter the increasingly bleak prognosis for this time in human history.

Perhaps if we listen deeply enough and regularly enough, we ourselves will become the song this planet needs to hear.

——–

Dahr Jamail, a TomDispatch regular, is a recipient of numerous honors, including the Martha Gellhorn Award for Journalism for his work in Iraq and the Izzy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Independent Media in 2018. His newest book, The End of Ice: Bearing Witness and Finding Meaning in the Path of Climate Disruption (The New Press), has just been published. He is also the author of Beyond the Green Zone and The Will to Resist. He is a staff reporter for Truthout.

[Note: This piece was co-published with Truthout.org.]

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Books, John Feffer’s new dystopian novel (the second in the Splinterlands series) Frostlands, Beverly Gologorsky’s novel  Every Body Has a Story, and Tom Engelhardt’s A Nation Unmade by War, as well as Alfred McCoy’s In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power and John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II.

Copyright 2019 Dahr Jamail

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How do you feel upon reading this?

Sad? Angry? Resigned? Hopeful?

I’m still too close to it to gauge my own reactions. So I will close with this:

TomDispatch author and naturalist William DeBuys has this to say about it: “In a sane world The End of Ice would be the end of lame excuses that climate change is too abstract to get worked up about. From the Arctic to the Amazon, from doomed Miami to the Great Barrier Reef, Dahr Jamail brings every frontier in our ongoing calamity into close focus. The losses are tangible. And so is the grief. This is more than a good book. It is a wise one.”

On atheism!

Musings about truth, faith and reason.

One of the Christmas cards that we received said this:

So glad we are friends and neighbors. And I will pray you will have a year full of the peace, love and hope that Jesus promises.

With Love, Hugs and Prayers.

Now I understand to a degree why the sender, a neighbour of ours, would write that. But at the same time I do not. We are clearly atheists. Indeed, back in 2012 on first meeting I happened to say that I was not a believer and it produced a shock; a reaction that how could anyone not be a believer.

And I think yesterday’s post supports the view that the reality of the existence of our solar system, all 2.6 billion years of it, shows that religious beliefs of all forms come from an age where the world beyond one’s doorstep was unknown and scary. Things are different now.

But to go back to the age of things.

That existence of our solar system came about some 9.2 billion years, give or take some 60 million years, after the Big Bang.

In other words, the Big Bang, that started the whole thing off, came about three and a half times earlier than the creation of the solar system.

So read the following by Prof. Jerry Coyne. It makes perfect sense.

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Yes, there is a war between science and religion

   Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolution, University of Chicago

As the West becomes more and more secular, and the discoveries of evolutionary biology and cosmology shrink the boundaries of faith, the claims that science and religion are compatible grow louder. If you’re a believer who doesn’t want to seem anti-science, what can you do? You must argue that your faith – or any faith – is perfectly compatible with science.

And so one sees claim after claim from believers, religious scientists, prestigious science organizations and even atheists asserting not only that science and religion are compatible, but also that they can actually help each other. This claim is called “accommodationism.”

But I argue that this is misguided: that science and religion are not only in conflict – even at “war” – but also represent incompatible ways of viewing the world.

Opposing methods for discerning truth

My argument runs like this. I’ll construe “science” as the set of tools we use to find truth about the

The scientific method relies on observing, testing and replication to learn about the world. Jaron Nix/Unsplash, CC BY

universe, with the understanding that these truths are provisional rather than absolute. These tools include observing nature, framing and testing hypotheses, trying your hardest to prove that your hypothesis is wrong to test your confidence that it’s right, doing experiments and above all replicating your and others’ results to increase confidence in your inference.

And I’ll define religion as does philosopher Daniel Dennett: “Social systems whose participants avow belief in a supernatural agent or agents whose approval is to be sought.” Of course many religions don’t fit that definition, but the ones whose compatibility with science is touted most often – the Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam – fill the bill.

Next, realize that both religion and science rest on “truth statements” about the universe – claims about reality. The edifice of religion differs from science by additionally dealing with morality, purpose and meaning, but even those areas rest on a foundation of empirical claims. You can hardly call yourself a Christian if you don’t believe in the Resurrection of Christ, a Muslim if you don’t believe the angel Gabriel dictated the Qur’an to Muhammad, or a Mormon if you don’t believe that the angel Moroni showed Joseph Smith the golden plates that became the Book of Mormon. After all, why accept a faith’s authoritative teachings if you reject its truth claims?

Indeed, even the Bible notes this: “But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.”

Many theologians emphasize religion’s empirical foundations, agreeing with the physicist and Anglican priest John Polkinghorne:

“The question of truth is as central to [religion’s] concern as it is in science. Religious belief can guide one in life or strengthen one at the approach of death, but unless it is actually true it can do neither of these things and so would amount to no more than an illusory exercise in comforting fantasy.”

The conflict between science and faith, then, rests on the methods they use to decide what is true, and what truths result: These are conflicts of both methodology and outcome.

In contrast to the methods of science, religion adjudicates truth not empirically, but via dogma, scripture and authority – in other words, through faith, defined in Hebrews 11 as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” In science, faith without evidence is a vice, while in religion it’s a virtue. Recall what Jesus said to “doubting Thomas,” who insisted in poking his fingers into the resurrected Savior’s wounds: “Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.”

Two ways to look at the same thing, never the twain shall meet. Gabriel Lamza/Unsplash, CC BY

And yet, without supporting evidence, Americans believe a number of religious claims: 74 percent of us believe in God, 68 percent in the divinity of Jesus, 68 percent in Heaven, 57 percent in the virgin birth, and 58 percent in the Devil and Hell. Why do they think these are true? Faith.

But different religions make different – and often conflicting – claims, and there’s no way to judge which claims are right. There are over 4,000 religions on this planet, and their “truths” are quite different. (Muslims and Jews, for instance, absolutely reject the Christian belief that Jesus was the son of God.) Indeed, new sects often arise when some believers reject what others see as true. Lutherans split over the truth of evolution, while Unitarians rejected other Protestants’ belief that Jesus was part of God.

And while science has had success after success in understanding the universe, the “method” of using faith has led to no proof of the divine. How many gods are there? What are their natures and moral creeds? Is there an afterlife? Why is there moral and physical evil? There is no one answer to any of these questions. All is mystery, for all rests on faith.

The “war” between science and religion, then, is a conflict about whether you have good reasons for believing what you do: whether you see faith as a vice or a virtue.

Compartmentalizing realms is irrational

So how do the faithful reconcile science and religion? Often they point to the existence of religious scientists, like NIH Director Francis Collins, or to the many religious people who accept science. But I’d argue that this is compartmentalization, not compatibility, for how can you reject the divine in your laboratory but accept that the wine you sip on Sunday is the blood of Jesus?

Can divinity be at play in one setting but not another? Jametlene Reskp/Unsplash, CC BY

Others argue that in the past religion promoted science and inspired questions about the universe. But in the past every Westerner was religious, and it’s debatable whether, in the long run, the progress of science has been promoted by religion. Certainly evolutionary biology, my own field, has been held back strongly by creationism, which arises solely from religion.

What is not disputable is that today science is practiced as an atheistic discipline – and largely by atheists. There’s a huge disparity in religiosity between American scientists and Americans as a whole: 64 percent of our elite scientists are atheists or agnostics, compared to only 6 percent of the general population – more than a tenfold difference. Whether this reflects differential attraction of nonbelievers to science or science eroding belief – I suspect both factors operate – the figures are prima facie evidence for a science-religion conflict.

The most common accommodationist argument is Stephen Jay Gould’s thesis of “non-overlapping magisteria.” Religion and science, he argued, don’t conflict because: “Science tries to document the factual character of the natural world, and to develop theories that coordinate and explain these facts. Religion, on the other hand, operates in the equally important, but utterly different, realm of human purposes, meanings and values – subjects that the factual domain of science might illuminate, but can never resolve.”

This fails on both ends. First, religion certainly makes claims about “the factual character of the universe.” In fact, the biggest opponents of non-overlapping magisteria are believers and theologians, many of whom reject the idea that Abrahamic religions are “empty of any claims to historical or scientific facts.”

Nor is religion the sole bailiwick of “purposes, meanings and values,” which of course differ among faiths. There’s a long and distinguished history of philosophy and ethics – extending from Plato, Hume and Kant up to Peter Singer, Derek Parfit and John Rawls in our day – that relies on reason rather than faith as a fount of morality. All serious ethical philosophy is secular ethical philosophy.

In the end, it’s irrational to decide what’s true in your daily life using empirical evidence, but then rely on wishful-thinking and ancient superstitions to judge the “truths” undergirding your faith. This leads to a mind (no matter how scientifically renowned) at war with itself, producing the cognitive dissonance that prompts accommodationism. If you decide to have good reasons for holding any beliefs, then you must choose between faith and reason. And as facts become increasingly important for the welfare of our species and our planet, people should see faith for what it is: not a virtue but a defect.

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I would love to have your views.

Carl Sagan once more!

This is incredible!

I will do no more than to post the description of the film that was provided on Top Documentary Films.

STORYLINE

The long-awaited second part of the unauthorized documentary series based on Carl Sagan’s groundbreaking 1994 book has arrived. The insightful Pale Blue Dot: Humility examines how our perspective on the vastness of the cosmos has shaped our shifting sense of self through the ages.

Pieced together as a mosaic of pop culture clips, historical stills and footage, appealing animations, and Sagan’s own audio commentary, the film is a rebuke against the plague of bloated self-importance, and the need to claim superiority over others for control of insignificant specks of territory. Even the field of science has not immune to these selfish pursuits.

From that foundation, Sagan’s probing commentary provides a brief recap of our understanding of the heavens and the Earth throughout history. This evolution of discovery represents an epic and ongoing battle between our quest for supremacy and the reality of our insignificance. For many generations, the deeply held belief that the Earth was the center of the universe was impervious to reason or to revelations obtained through further investigation. Mainstream thinking was slow to evolve when it came to the correlation between the Earth and the Sun, for example, or the age of our planet in comparison to the universe at large. The widespread and steadfast acceptance of various theologies further clouded our capacity for reasoned judgment.

But the ceaseless canvas of the universe – adorned with hundreds of billions of galaxies, distant planets and brilliant stars – provides the ultimate lesson in humility. Our modern understanding of the universe demands a more nuanced and less conceited perspective. Yet our yearning to give special meaning to our existence is a barrier to these scientific discoveries. After all, we have to be here for a reason. As Sagan states during the course of the film, it is a battle between our quest for “deep knowledge and shallow reassurance”.

It is obvious that great care went in to assembling the film, and the flow of complex information is cleanly and artfully presented. Pale Blue Dot: Humility is an affectionate representation and tribute to Sagan’s trailblazing intellect.

But as well as wanting to share this with you it also serves as an introduction to tomorrow’s post.

Won’t say any more just now.

Watch the film.

That Winter Solstice

Good people, this is mid-Winter.

(Northern Hemisphere only.)

OK, not in the sense of weather because the worse is yet to come I’m sure. But in terms of the movement of the Planet Earth in its orbit around the Sun. And that’s what matters!

This is a really ancient moment as the following article published in The Conversation explains in much more detail.

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What winter solstice rituals tell us about indigenous people

By    Associate Professor of Environmental Studies, The University of Montana

December 13th, 2018.

On the day of winter solstice, many Native American communities will hold religious ceremonies or community events.

The winter solstice is the day of the year when the Northern Hemisphere has the fewest hours of sunlight and the Southern Hemisphere has the most. For indigenous peoples, it has been a time to honor their ancient sun deity. They passed their knowledge down to successive generations through complex stories and ritual practices.

As a scholar of the environmental and Native American religion, I believe, there is much to learn from ancient religious practices.

Ancient architecture

For decades, scholars have studied the astronomical observations that ancient indigenous people made and sought to understand their meaning.

One such place was at Cahokia, near the Mississippi River in what is now Illinois across from St. Louis.

The Cahokia mounds. Doug Kerr, CC BY-SA

In Cahokia, indigenous people built numerous temple pyramids or mounds, similar to the structures built by the Aztecs in Mexico, over a thousand years ago. Among their constructions, what most stands out is an intriguing structure made up of wooden posts arranged in a circle, known today as “Woodhenge.”

To understand the purpose of Woodhenge, scientists watched the sun rise from this structure on winter solstice. What they found was telling: The sun aligned with both Woodhenge and the top of a temple mound – a temple built on top of a pyramid with a flat top – in the distance. They also found that the sun aligns with a different temple mound on summer solstice.

Archaeological evidence suggests that the people of Cahokia venerated the sun as a deity. Scholars believe that ancient indigenous societies observed the solar system carefully and wove that knowledge into their architecture.

Scientists have speculated that the Cahokia held rituals to honor the sun as a giver of life and for the new agricultural year.

Complex understandings

Zuni Pueblo is a contemporary example of indigenous people with an agricultural society in western New Mexico. They grow corn, beans, squash, sunflowers and more. Each year they hold annual harvest festivals and numerous religious ceremonies, including at the winter solstice.

At the time of the winter solstice they hold a multiday celebration, known as the Shalako festival. The days for the celebration are selected by the religious leaders. The Zuni are intensely private, and most events are not for public viewing.

But what is shared with the public is near the end of the ceremony, when six Zuni men dress up and embody the spirit of giant bird deities. These men carry the Zuni prayers for rain “to all the corners of the earth.” The Zuni deities are believed to provide “blessings” and “balance” for the coming seasons and agricultural year.

As religion scholar Tisa Wenger writes, “The Zuni believe their ceremonies are necessary not just for the well-being of the tribe but for “the entire world.”

Winter games

Not all indigenous peoples ritualized the winter solstice with a ceremony. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t find other ways to celebrate.

The Blackfeet tribe in Montana, where I am a member, historically kept a calendar of astronomical events. They marked the time of the winter solstice and the “return” of the sun or “Naatosi” on its annual journey. They also faced their tipis – or portable conical tents – east toward the rising sun.

They rarely held large religious gatherings in the winter. Instead the Blackfeet viewed the time of the winter solstice as a time for games and community dances. As a child, my grandmother enjoyed attending community dances at the time of the winter solstice. She remembered that each community held their own gatherings, with unique drumming, singing and dance styles.

Later, in my own research, I learned that the Blackfeet moved their dances and ceremonies during the early reservation years from times on their religious calendar to times acceptable to the U.S. government. The dances held at the time of the solstice were moved to Christmas Day or to New Year’s Eve.

The solstice. Divad, from Wikimedia Commons

Today, my family still spends the darkest days of winter playing card games and attending the local community dances, much like my grandmother did.

Although some winter solstice traditions have changed over time, they are still a reminder of indigenous peoples understanding of the intricate workings of the solar system. Or as the Zuni Pueblo’s rituals for all peoples of the earth demonstrate – of an ancient understanding of the interconnectedness of the world.

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Let me pick up on the last sentence: “Or as the Zuni Pueblo’s rituals for all peoples of the earth demonstrate – of an ancient understanding of the interconnectedness of the world.”

We are all of us interconnected across the world. We have been for a very long time.

The importance of understanding this, truly understanding this, is critical to our future.

Staying with the theme of loyal dogs

Or rather letting Deinah Storm offer a guest post.

This is a guest post. It stays with the theme of loyalty. The loyalty of dogs towards their dead masters.

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8 Dogs Who Remained Loyal to Their Now-Gone Masters

By Deinah Storm, December 5th, 2108

A dog has always been a man’s best friend. Having a pet dog is always great. You have a partner to go with anywhere you want. Also, you won’t feel alone when you have a pet dog. Dogs are creatures that are filled with joy; no wonder fur parents from around the world try to give their best to show how they care for their pooch—be it to provide them the best dog food, regularly visit the vet, or keep dog house warm.

The love and affection that dogs give their owners are comparable to a mother’s love. It is unconditional and lasts a lifetime, and even beyond. Here is a list of eight dogs who remained loyal to their now-gone masters.

Hachiko
You may have heard of this name before already. Hachiko’s story has been all over the world. They even made movies about this loyal dog. He was originally owned by a Japanese professor at Tokyo University named Eizoburo Ueno. His students were the ones who nudged him to adopt this beautiful Akita dog. Every day that the professor goes to work, he goes to the train station to take the train. Hachiko always waited for him to return so they could go home together. After having been partners for only less than a year, Eizoburo Ueno died tragically while he was at work. So that day, Hachiko was waiting in vain for his master to return. But, he never did. Still, Hachiko waited every single day of his life for his now-gone to return to the train station. People were feeding Hachiko and giving him treats until he got old and died. A lot of people mourned over his death, and a statue was built for him.

Capitan
Capitan was a dog owned by an Argentinian man named Michael Guzman. He was bought by Michael for his son Damian as a gift. They always had a special bond and loved each other. When Mr. Guzman passed away after just a year, Capitan could not be found by the Guzman family. Eventually, they were able to locate him. He was beside his master’s grave. Capitan stayed there for six long years until he passed away.

Hawkeye
Hawkeye  was a labrador who was owned by a Navy SEAL who died in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan. A photo went viral during his funeral service. It was a picture of Hawkeye lying sadly in front of his master’s casket. He stayed there for the whole service. It is disheartening for dogs to lose their owners. Thankfully, the best friend of the deceased took Hawkeye and cared for him.

Ruswarp
Ruswarp was owned by Graham Nuttall. One day, they went on a walk along the mountains in Wales. But, they did not return. So, Graham’s friends alerted the police. A search was done. But after several weeks, they could not be found. Eventually, after eleven weeks of being missing, another person found Graham beside a stream together with Ruswarp. Ruswarp never left his master’s side even after several weeks. Ruswarp was so weak and ill when they were found. A statue of Ruswarp was unveiled at a train station which he and his owner helped save.

Fido
Fido was owned by a factory worker in Italy. His name literally translates to “faithful.” He always went with his master to the bus station and waited for him to come back every single day. One tragic day, his owner was killed in the factory due to a bombing attack. Fido waited all day for his owner to return. He eventually returned home, but every single day he waited by the train station for fourteen years until he died.

Shep
Shep was owned by a shepherd. One day, his shepherd was ill and was rushed to the hospital. Shep waited outside the hospital until his owner died. He followed his owner’s casket as it was loaded onto a train to be sent home. Shep waited by the train station for five years. Every single day, he checked each person who went off the train. He stayed there until Shep tragically died in the train station when he became deaf and went to the tracks where a train hit him.

Greyfriars Bobby
Bobby was owned by a police officer. When the officer died, Bobby never left his grave for fourteen years. When Bobby died, he was buried near his master. He had a gravestone which read “Greyfriars Bobby — died 14th January 1872 — aged 16 years — Let his loyalty and devotion be a lesson to us all.” He had a statue made for him across the place where they are buried.

Waghya
Waghya was owned by the King of the Maratha Empire. Traditionally, when a king dies, his remains are cremated. So, when the king died, Waghya never left his side until he was about to be incinerated. When the funeral pyre was lit, Waghya leaped into his death.

Dogs are forever loyal and loving

Dogs bring love and happiness to the world. They are there forever for humans. They will love you for all of eternity. So, love your dogs and care for them. They will never let you down.

(Source of Featured Image: Pexels.com)

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It would be wrong of me to close without thanking Deinah. It’s a great guest post.

Finally, Deinah’s bio:

Author’s Bio:
Deinah Storm is a pet lover from the US that’s had cats and dogs all her life. When she’s not walking the dogs with her family, she spends time writing informational and interesting blogs about pets to share with pet lover communities.

 

Facing up to the end!

It comes to all of us: dogs and humans.

The following article looks deeply into the dog’s life. Or rather the end of the dog’s life.

For the fact of the matter is that we all have this coming to us. Some turn to religion; some know that we are on our own. Every living creature shares the same fate as us humans.

Yet there is something very special about the dog. Something that sets the dog apart. Something that elevates the dog into more than an animal, despite how silly that is to write. But you know what I mean.

Enough from me. Let me turn to the following article that was published on The Conversation website and is republished within the terms of that site.

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Why losing a dog can be harder than losing a relative or friend

By    Cornelia H. Dudley, Professor of Psychology, Knox College

March 9, 2017

Recently, my wife and I went through one of the more excruciating experiences of our lives – the euthanasia of our beloved dog, Murphy. I remember making eye contact with Murphy moments before she took her last breath – she flashed me a look that was an endearing blend of confusion and the reassurance that everyone was ok because we were both by her side.

When people who have never had a dog see their dog-owning friends mourn the loss of a pet, they probably think it’s all a bit of an overreaction; after all, it’s “just a dog.”

However, those who have loved a dog know the truth: Your own pet is never “just a dog.”

Many times, I’ve had friends guiltily confide to me that they grieved more over the loss of a dog than over the loss of friends or relatives. Research has confirmed that for most people, the loss of a dog is, in almost every way, comparable to the loss of a human loved one. Unfortunately, there’s little in our cultural playbook – no grief rituals, no obituary in the local newspaper, no religious service – to help us get through the loss of a pet, which can make us feel more than a bit embarrassed to show too much public grief over our dead dogs.

Perhaps if people realized just how strong and intense the bond is between people and their dogs, such grief would become more widely accepted. This would greatly help dog owners to integrate the death into their lives and help them move forward.

An interspecies bond like no other

What is it about dogs, exactly, that make humans bond so closely with them?

For starters, dogs have had to adapt to living with humans over the past 10,000 years. And they’ve done it very well: They’re the only animal to have evolved specifically to be our companions and friends. Anthropologist Brian Hare has developed the “Domestication Hypothesis” to explain how dogs morphed from their grey wolf ancestors into the socially skilled animals that we now interact with in very much the same way as we interact with other people.

Perhaps one reason our relationships with dogs can be even more satisfying than our human relationships is that dogs provide us with such unconditional, uncritical positive feedback. (As the old saying goes, “May I become the kind of person that my dog thinks I already am.”)

This is no accident. They have been selectively bred through generations to pay attention to people, and MRI scans show that dog brains respond to praise from their owners just as strongly as they do to food (and for some dogs, praise is an even more effective incentive than food). Dogs recognize people and can learn to interpret human emotional states from facial expression alone. Scientific studies also indicate that dogs can understand human intentions, try to help their owners and even avoid people who don’t cooperate with their owners or treat them well.

Not surprisingly, humans respond positively to such unqualified affection, assistance and loyalty. Just looking at dogs can make people smile. Dog owners score higher on measures of well-being and they are happier, on average, than people who own cats or no pets at all.

Like a member of the family

Our strong attachment to dogs was subtly revealed in a recent study of “misnaming.” Misnaming happens when you call someone by the wrong name, like when parents mistakenly calls one of their kids by a sibling’s name. It turns out that the name of the family dog also gets confused with human family members, indicating that the dog’s name is being pulled from the same cognitive pool that contains other members of the family. (Curiously, the same thing rarely happens with cat names.)

It’s no wonder dog owners miss them so much when they’re gone.

Psychologist Julie Axelrod has pointed out that the loss of a dog is so painful because owners aren’t just losing the pet. It could mean the loss of a source of unconditional love, a primary companion who provides security and comfort, and maybe even a protégé that’s been mentored like a child.

The loss of a dog can also seriously disrupt an owner’s daily routine more profoundly than the loss of most friends and relatives. For owners, their daily schedules – even their vacation plans – can revolve around the needs of their pets. Changes in lifestyle and routine are some of the primary sources of stress.

According to a recent survey, many bereaved pet owners will even mistakenly interpret ambiguous sights and sounds as the movements, pants and whimpers of the deceased pet. This is most likely to happen shortly after the death of the pet, especially among owners who had very high levels of attachment to their pets.

While the death of a dog is horrible, dog owners have become so accustomed to the reassuring and nonjudgmental presence of their canine companions that, more often than not, they’ll eventually get a new one.

So yes, I miss my dog. But I’m sure that I’ll be putting myself through this ordeal again in the years to come.

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I don’t want to think of losing any more of our family but it will surely happen. As night follows day!

Going to close with this:

Pharaoh, relaxing in a Devon garden.

The mind-body question.

Is how you think the same as how she thinks?

The challenge of how you think, and whether or not it is similar to how others think has long intrigued us.

Tam Hunt has written an article that now ponders on whether how we think, how we are conscious of the world around us, depends on how that ‘thing’ vibrates.

Over to Tam.

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Could consciousness all come down to the way things vibrate?

By    Affiliate Guest in Psychology, University of California, Santa Barbara

Why is my awareness here, while yours is over there? Why is the universe split in two for each of us, into a subject and an infinity of objects? How is each of us our own center of experience, receiving information about the rest of the world out there? Why are some things conscious and others apparently not? Is a rat conscious? A gnat? A bacterium?

These questions are all aspects of the ancient “mind-body problem,” which asks, essentially: What is the relationship between mind and matter? It’s resisted a generally satisfying conclusion for thousands of years.

The mind-body problem enjoyed a major rebranding over the last two decades. Now it’s generally known as the “hard problem” of consciousness, after philosopher David Chalmers coined this term in a now classic paper and further explored it in his 1996 book, “The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory.”

Chalmers thought the mind-body problem should be called “hard” in comparison to what, with tongue in cheek, he called the “easy” problems of neuroscience: How do neurons and the brain work at the physical level? Of course they’re not actually easy at all. But his point was that they’re relatively easy compared to the truly difficult problem of explaining how consciousness relates to matter.

Over the last decade, my colleague, University of California, Santa Barbara psychology professor Jonathan Schooler and I have developed what we call a “resonance theory of consciousness.” We suggest that resonance – another word for synchronized vibrations – is at the heart of not only human consciousness but also animal consciousness and of physical reality more generally. It sounds like something the hippies might have dreamed up – it’s all vibrations, man! – but stick with me.

How do things in nature – like flashing fireflies – spontaneously synchronize? Suzanne Tucker/Shutterstock.com

All about the vibrations

All things in our universe are constantly in motion, vibrating. Even objects that appear to be stationary are in fact vibrating, oscillating, resonating, at various frequencies. Resonance is a type of motion, characterized by oscillation between two states. And ultimately all matter is just vibrations of various underlying fields. As such, at every scale, all of nature vibrates.

Something interesting happens when different vibrating things come together: They will often start, after a little while, to vibrate together at the same frequency. They “sync up,” sometimes in ways that can seem mysterious. This is described as the phenomenon of spontaneous self-organization.

Mathematician Steven Strogatz provides various examples from physics, biology, chemistry and neuroscience to illustrate “sync” – his term for resonance – in his 2003 book “Sync: How Order Emerges from Chaos in the Universe, Nature, and Daily Life,” including:

  • When fireflies of certain species come together in large gatherings, they start flashing in sync, in ways that can still seem a little mystifying.
  • Lasers are produced when photons of the same power and frequency sync up.
  • The moon’s rotation is exactly synced with its orbit around the Earth such that we always see the same face.

Examining resonance leads to potentially deep insights about the nature of consciousness and about the universe more generally.

External electrodes can record a brain’s activity. vasara/Shutterstock.com

Sync inside your skull

Neuroscientists have identified sync in their research, too. Large-scale neuron firing occurs in human brains at measurable frequencies, with mammalian consciousness thought to be commonly associated with various kinds of neuronal sync.

For example, German neurophysiologist Pascal Fries has explored the ways in which various electrical patterns sync in the brain to produce different types of human consciousness.

Fries focuses on gamma, beta and theta waves. These labels refer to the speed of electrical oscillations in the brain, measured by electrodes placed on the outside of the skull. Groups of neurons produce these oscillations as they use electrochemical impulses to communicate with each other. It’s the speed and voltage of these signals that, when averaged, produce EEG waves that can be measured at signature cycles per second.

Each type of synchronized activity is associated with certain types of brain function. artellia/Shutterstock.com

Gamma waves are associated with large-scale coordinated activities like perception, meditation or focused consciousness; beta with maximum brain activity or arousal; and theta with relaxation or daydreaming. These three wave types work together to produce, or at least facilitate, various types of human consciousness, according to Fries. But the exact relationship between electrical brain waves and consciousness is still very much up for debate.

Fries calls his concept “communication through coherence.” For him, it’s all about neuronal synchronization. Synchronization, in terms of shared electrical oscillation rates, allows for smooth communication between neurons and groups of neurons. Without this kind of synchronized coherence, inputs arrive at random phases of the neuron excitability cycle and are ineffective, or at least much less effective, in communication.

A resonance theory of consciousness

Our resonance theory builds upon the work of Fries and many others, with a broader approach that can help to explain not only human and mammalian consciousness, but also consciousness more broadly.

Based on the observed behavior of the entities that surround us, from electrons to atoms to molecules, to bacteria to mice, bats, rats, and on, we suggest that all things may be viewed as at least a little conscious. This sounds strange at first blush, but “panpsychism” – the view that all matter has some associated consciousness – is an increasingly accepted position with respect to the nature of consciousness.

The panpsychist argues that consciousness did not emerge at some point during evolution. Rather, it’s always associated with matter and vice versa – they’re two sides of the same coin. But the large majority of the mind associated with the various types of matter in our universe is extremely rudimentary. An electron or an atom, for example, enjoys just a tiny amount of consciousness. But as matter becomes more interconnected and rich, so does the mind, and vice versa, according to this way of thinking.

Biological organisms can quickly exchange information through various biophysical pathways, both electrical and electrochemical. Non-biological structures can only exchange information internally using heat/thermal pathways – much slower and far less rich in information in comparison. Living things leverage their speedier information flows into larger-scale consciousness than what would occur in similar-size things like boulders or piles of sand, for example. There’s much greater internal connection and thus far more “going on” in biological structures than in a boulder or a pile of sand.

Under our approach, boulders and piles of sand are “mere aggregates,” just collections of highly rudimentary conscious entities at the atomic or molecular level only. That’s in contrast to what happens in biological life forms where the combinations of these micro-conscious entities together create a higher level macro-conscious entity. For us, this combination process is the hallmark of biological life.

The central thesis of our approach is this: the particular linkages that allow for large-scale consciousness – like those humans and other mammals enjoy – result from a shared resonance among many smaller constituents. The speed of the resonant waves that are present is the limiting factor that determines the size of each conscious entity in each moment.

As a particular shared resonance expands to more and more constituents, the new conscious entity that results from this resonance and combination grows larger and more complex. So the shared resonance in a human brain that achieves gamma synchrony, for example, includes a far larger number of neurons and neuronal connections than is the case for beta or theta rhythms alone.

What about larger inter-organism resonance like the cloud of fireflies with their little lights flashing in sync? Researchers think their bioluminescent resonance arises due to internal biological oscillators that automatically result in each firefly syncing up with its neighbors.

Is this group of fireflies enjoying a higher level of group consciousness? Probably not, since we can explain the phenomenon without recourse to any intelligence or consciousness. But in biological structures with the right kind of information pathways and processing power, these tendencies toward self-organization can and often do produce larger-scale conscious entities.

Our resonance theory of consciousness attempts to provide a unified framework that includes neuroscience, as well as more fundamental questions of neurobiology and biophysics, and also the philosophy of mind. It gets to the heart of the differences that matter when it comes to consciousness and the evolution of physical systems.

It is all about vibrations, but it’s also about the type of vibrations and, most importantly, about shared vibrations.

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Well, I’m not sure of the relevance but I’m bound to say that I am going to the doctor once a week for Alpha-Sim resetting. The reason I mention it is the Alpha frequency in the above brain wave chart.  I sit very quietly for about 90 minutes and it does seem to provide some benefit.

Just a number, or is it!

I can do no better than republish in full the following:

(Simply because I scarcely understand it!)

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Why the number 137 is one of the greatest mysteries in physics

Famous physicists like Richard Feynman think 137 holds the answers to the Universe.

By PAUL RATNER,  31st October, 2018.

  • The fine structure constant has mystified scientists since the 1800s.
  • The number 1/137 might hold the clues to the Grand Unified Theory.
  • Relativity, electromagnetism and quantum mechanics are unified by the number.

Does the Universe around us have a fundamental structure that can be glimpsed through special numbers?

The brilliant physicist Richard Feynman (1918-1988) famously thought so, saying there is a number that all theoretical physicists of worth should “worry about”. He called it “one of the greatest damn mysteries of physics: a magic number that comes to us with no understanding by man”.

That magic number, called the fine structure constant, is a fundamental constant, with a value which nearly equals 1/137. Or 1/137.03599913, to be precise. It is denoted by the Greek letter alpha – α.

What’s special about alpha is that it’s regarded as the best example of a pure number, one that doesn’t need units. It actually combines three of nature’s fundamental constants – the speed of light, the electric charge carried by one electron, and the Planck’s constant, as explains physicist and astrobiologist Paul Davies to Cosmos magazine. Appearing at the intersection of such key areas of physics as relativity, electromagnetism and quantum mechanics is what gives 1/137 its allure.

Physicist Laurence Eaves, a professor at the University of Nottingham, thinks the number 137 would be the one you’d signal to the aliens to indicate that we have some measure of mastery over our planet and understand quantum mechanics. The aliens would know the number as well, especially if they developed advanced sciences.

The number preoccupied other great physicists as well, including the Nobel Prize winning Wolfgang Pauli (1900-1958) who was obsessed with it his whole life.

“When I die my first question to the Devil will be: What is the meaning of the fine structure constant?” Pauli joked.

Pauli also referred to the fine structure constant during his Nobel lecture on December 13th, 1946 in Stockholm, saying a theory was necessary that would determine the constant’s value and “thus explain the atomistic structure of electricity, which is such an essential quality of all atomic sources of electric fields actually occurring in nature.

One use of this curious number is to measure the interaction of charged particles like electrons with electromagnetic fields. Alpha determines how fast an excited atom can emit a photon. It also affects the details of the light emitted by atoms. Scientists have been able to observe a pattern of shifts of light coming from atoms called “fine structure” (giving the constant its name). This “fine structure” has been seen in sunlight and the light coming from other stars.


The constant figures in other situations, making physicists wonder why. Why does nature insist on this number? It has appeared in various calculations in physics since the 1880s, spurring numerous attempts to come up with a Grand Unified Theory that would incorporate the constant since. So far no single explanation took hold. Recent research also introduced the possibility that the constant has actually increased over the last six billion years, even though slightly.

If you’d like to know the math behind fine structure constant more specifically, the way you arrive at alpha is by putting the 3 constants h,c, and e together in the equation —

As the units c, e, and h cancel each other out, the “pure” number of 137.03599913 is left behind. For historical reasons, says Professor Davies, the inverse of the equation is used 2πe2/hc = 1/137.03599913. If you’re wondering what is the precise value of that fraction – it’s 0.007297351.

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Now, as I said in my introduction, I don’t understand this. But it doesn’t stop me from marvelling at the figure.

This is what dogs are all about!

A truly beautiful blog post.

I’m still struggling with WordPress but wanted to post the following rather than delay it.

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How a dog named Maybe saved the day

Not every happy-ending rescue story starts with love at first sight.

 By JO DILONARDO   October 29, 2018

Maybe Jade poses with her new family the day she was adopted. (Photo: Kerrieann Axt/KGA Photography)

Just a few months ago, Kerrieann Axt began searching for a puppy. The family dog was 16 years old and her three kids were itching to have a playful four-legged friend.

“I was looking at rescue dogs under the radar,” Axt tells MNN. She didn’t tell the kids, but each time she found a dog she liked, she would show her husband, Michael, who would just say no. That is, until she found a cute little waggly-tail boxer/hound/Lab mix going by the name of Twinkie.

“I showed him a picture of Twinkie and he said, well, maybe, and she kind of became the maybe baby,” she says. “I told the kids maybe we’ll go look at this one dog, but it’s just a maybe right now. We just don’t know if she’ll like us or if we’ll like her.”

They met her and then she met their other dog, Jackson Cade, and everyone got along just fine. So she moved to their Sandy Springs, Georgia, home.

“When she got here and she was staying, we thought now her name has to be Maybe,” Axt says.

Maybe’s middle name is Jade, a mashup of their other dog’s two names. Sometimes they call her MJ, but she is always the Maybe dog.

And that’s how it went for a while.

Not a snuggly pup, but a super-smart one

Eliot (left) and Townesend (right) work on Maybe’s training. (Photo: Kerrieann Axt/KGA Photography)

Maybe went to live with the excited Axt family in early July, but early on she wasn’t exactly the puppy the kids hoped for. Ten-year-old twins Owen and Eliot and 8-year-old Townesend wanted to hold and snuggle their new little girl. But Maybe wasn’t having it.

“She is very independent and very smart,” says Axt. She’s around you sometimes, but is perfectly content to go hang out on her bed and have some alone time.

The kids knew she was a wonderful dog, but they were somewhat disappointed, which prompted some family discussions. They knew this would be the one puppy their kids would grow up with, and they wanted it to be a great experience for everyone.

“We went back and forth, wondering if this is the right dog for us,” Axt says.

Axt talked to the puppy’s foster mom who was very supportive and was willing to take Maybe back, knowing she’d quickly get adopted again.

“She just wasn’t what we had in our heads of what a puppy was going to be,” Axt says. “But we said to the kids, we committed and she likes her life here. We are going to stick with her.”

So they started going to training classes as a family and even hired a trainer to come to the house. They found out Maybe couldn’t learn things fast enough. People couldn’t believe how smart she was and how much she loved mastering new tricks. The kids now read books on dog training and spend time every day teaching her new things and working with her on all the tricks she has already learned.

Maybe’s still not much of a snuggler, but the family loves working with her and this smart puppy enjoys all the attention. “That’s how we all show love to each other,” Axt says.

Maybe saves the day

When Maybe rang the bells to signal she had to go outside, Owen was smart enough to check why she was barking so much. (Photo: Kerrieann Axt/KGA Photography)

One of Maybe’s many talents is ringing bells on the back door when she needs to go potty. She did that one evening when Axt was getting Townesend ready for bed, so she asked Owen to let the puppy out.

He let her outside and Maybe — who rarely barks — started barking at the yard next door. A frustrated Owen tried to coax the puppy back inside, but she wouldn’t budge. Owen knew it must be important if the mostly silent pup was so insistent, so he checked and saw the neighbors’ yard in flames. It was a large fire, almost in a perfect circle like a massive fire pit, prompting him to call his mom.

When his mom went downstairs to look, she realized there was nothing intentional about the blaze. She texted her neighbor, who didn’t respond. Then when she saw a tree go up in flames, she called 911.

“It was very big. It was the start of a forest fire and trees were going up,” Axt says. “It was amazing how fast it moves when you’re watching something like that.”

The neighbor quickly replied. She had been tucking her kids in bed and was surprised when she heard Maybe’s unusual bark. But she didn’t realize there was a blaze in her backyard. Within a few minutes the firetruck arrived.

“Once they were there, Maybe rang the bells again,” Axt says. “I put her on a leash and I walked her out. She just went out very calmly, wagged her tail, looked at the firemen, sat down and never barked. It was as if she knew, ‘We’re going to be OK.'”

The kids are so excited about Maybe’s heroics, Axt says. They are convinced that someone from the fire department is going to come to their house and award Maybe a medal of honor.

At least the 6-month-old rescue pup did get a really good chewy that night and probably put up with a lot of hugs from the proud family. In the end, everyone knew that Maybe — for sure — was the perfect dog for them.

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There is no doubt about it Maybe is the perfect dog for this family.

Oh, P.S. – Welcome to November.

Bet they are wrong!

It seems to me, that although the science is good it can’t be perfect!

I saw this recently and, ….. well you decide!

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Dogs may not be as exceptionally smart as we think they are

Mary Jo DiLonardo

MARY JO DILONARDO

October 3rd, 2018.

Dogs have a scientific reputation for being rather brainy, but a new study says that may not be deserved. (Photo: Shevs/Shutterstock)

I know I’m biased, but I think my dog is brilliant. I’ve been bringing home animals all my life — from parakeets to ducks, cats to horses. But of all my feathered and furry pets, it’s no contest: Dogs are by far the brainiest. They are quick learners and great communicators with an incredible ability to solve problems.

But a new paper in the journal Learning & Behavior finds dog intelligence is “not exceptional.”

Although animal smarts have long been the subject of scientific research, recently there’s been a lot of focus on canine cognition. And that’s what triggered Stephen Lea, professor emeritus at the University of Exeter, to take a closer look. He was editor of the journal Animal Behavior, where he saw so many papers dealing with the mental abilities of dogs.

“Through the process of working as an editor [and] seeing all this research, I definitely got a sense that we as a collective had gotten a bit overexcited about dog intelligence,” Lea told Popular Science.

History of studying dog smarts

Dogs can learn problem solving, but raccoons often solve puzzles more easily. (Photo: Joerg Huettenhoelscher/Shutterstock)

Dogs and their brains have been studied for centuries (remember Pavlov and his bell?), but then were pushed aside for more popular studies with primates and other species. It wasn’t until the 1990s when dogs came back into focus. Lea wondered whether humans were giving dogs too much credit.

Lea and his coauthor, Britta Osthaus of Canterbury Christ Church University, studied more than 300 papers on the intelligence of dogs and other animals. They looked at research that covered three groups: carnivorans (another name for carnivores), social hunters and domesticated animals. Dogs fall into all three groups.

They discovered that when it comes to brainpower, dogs don’t particularly excel in any of the groups. There were species in each that were on par with or better than dogs in cognition comparisons. Raccoons, for example, seem to solve puzzles more easily, and hyenas seem to follow the cues of their pack more handily.

“Taking all three groups (domestic animals, social hunters and carnivorans) into account, dog cognition does not look exceptional,” said Osthaus in a statement. “We are doing dogs no favor by expecting too much of them. Dogs are dogs, and we need to take their needs and true abilities into account when considering how we treat them.”

Dogs do, however, stand out from their smart counterparts because they perform well in all three categories.

“Every species has unique intelligence,” Lea told Popular Science. “Their intelligence is what you would expect of an animal that is … recently descended from social hunters … that are carnivores and that have [also] been domesticated …There’s no other animal that fits all three of those criteria.”

Sounds pretty brilliant to me.

ooOOoo

It seems to me that science it taking far to narrow a look at our dogs.

For if one expands the range of qualities then one can include:

  • Unconditional love,
  • Companionship,
  • Sensitivity,
  • Consciousness,
  • Spirituality,
  • Bravery,
  • and a whole lot more besides.