But then I saw another version of the same story on the BBC News site, from which I republish it in its entirety.
First ever black hole image released
By Pallab Ghosh
Science correspondent, BBC News
Astronomers have taken the first ever image of a black hole, which is located in a distant galaxy.
It measures 40 billion km across – three million times the size of the Earth – and has been described by scientists as “a monster”.
The black hole is 500 million trillion km away and was photographed by a network of eight telescopes across the world.
Details have been published today in Astrophysical Journal Letters.
Prof Heino Falcke, of Radboud University in the Netherlands, who proposed the experiment, told BBC News that the black hole was found in a galaxy called M87.
“What we see is larger than the size of our entire Solar System,” he said.
“It has a mass 6.5 billion times that of the Sun. And it is one of the heaviest black holes that we think exists. It is an absolute monster, the heavyweight champion of black holes in the Universe.”
The image shows an intensely bright “ring of fire”, as Prof Falcke describes it, surrounding a perfectly circular dark hole. The bright halo is caused by superheated gas falling into the hole. The light is brighter than all the billions of other stars in the galaxy combined – which is why it can be seen at such distance from Earth.
The edge of the dark circle at the centre is the point at which the gas enters the black hole, which is an object that has such a large gravitational pull, not even light can escape.
The image matches what theoretical physicists and indeed, Hollywood directors, imagined black holes would look like, according to Dr Ziri Younsi, of University College London – who is part of the collaboration.
“Although they are relatively simple objects, black holes raise some of the most complex questions about the nature of space and time, and ultimately of our existence,” he said.
“It is remarkable that the image we observe is so similar to that which we obtain from our theoretical calculations. So far, it looks like Einstein is correct once again.”
But having the first image will enable researchers to learn more about these mysterious objects. They will be keen to look out for ways in which the black hole departs from what’s expected in physics. No-one really knows how the bright ring around the hole is created. Even more intriguing is the question of what happens when an object falls into a black hole.
What is a black hole?
A black hole is a region of space from which nothing, not even light, can escape
Despite the name, they are not empty but instead consist of a huge amount of matter packed densely into a small area, giving it an immense gravitational pull
There is a region of space beyond the black hole called the event horizon. This is a “point of no return”, beyond which it is impossible to escape the gravitational effects of the black hole
Prof Falcke had the idea for the project when he was a PhD student in 1993. At the time, no-one thought it was possible. But he was the first to realise that a certain type of radio emission would be generated close to and all around the black hole, which would be powerful enough to be detected by telescopes on Earth.
He also recalled reading a scientific paper from 1973 that suggested that because of their enormous gravity, black holes appear 2.5 times larger than they actually are.
These two previously unknown factors suddenly made the seemingly impossible, possible. After arguing his case for 20 years, Prof Falcke persuaded the European Research Council to fund the project. The National Science Foundation and agencies in East Asia then joined in to bankroll the project to the tune of more than £40m.
It is an investment that has been vindicated with the publication of the image. Prof Falcke told me that he felt that “it’s mission accomplished”.
He said: “It has been a long journey, but this is what I wanted to see with my own eyes. I wanted to know is this real?”
No single telescope is powerful enough to image the black hole. So, in the biggest experiment of its kind, Prof Sheperd Doeleman of the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics, led a project to set up a network of eight linked telescopes. Together, they form the Event Horizon Telescope and can be thought of as a planet-sized array of dishes.
Each is located high up at a variety of exotic sites, including on volcanoes in Hawaii and Mexico, mountains in Arizona and the Spanish Sierra Nevada, in the Atacama Desert of Chile, and in Antarctica.
A team of 200 scientists pointed the networked telescopes towards M87 and scanned its heart over a period of 10 days.
The information they gathered was too much to be sent across the internet. Instead, the data was stored on hundreds of hard drives that were flown to a central processing centres in Boston, US, and Bonn, Germany, to assemble the information. Prof Doeleman described the achievement as “an extraordinary scientific feat”.
“We have achieved something presumed to be impossible just a generation ago,” he said.
“Breakthroughs in technology, connections between the world’s best radio observatories, and innovative algorithms all came together to open an entirely new window on black holes.”
The team is also imaging the supermassive black hole at the centre of our own galaxy, the Milky Way.
Odd though it may sound, that is harder than getting an image from a distant galaxy 55 million light-years away. This is because, for some unknown reason, the “ring of fire” around the black hole at the heart of the Milky Way is smaller and dimmer.
I am, of course, referring to the recent death of Stephen Hawking.
There’s no way that I can add anything to the widespread reporting of the very sad death of the theoretical physicist, cosmologist and author Professor Stephen Hawking.
Except, possibly, this interesting quirk of fate.
For this great man died yesterday: March 14th.
The very same day that another very famous man, the German-born Albert Einstein, was born. As in March 14th. Albeit, Stephen Hawking’s death being 139 years after the birth of the 1921 winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics.
Did you also know that Professor Hawking was a great dog lover!
Acclaimed British theoretical physicist, cosmologist and author Stephen Hawking has died aged 76. Hawking is best known for his work on black holes, which revolutionised our understanding of the universe.
Hawking passed away today peacefully at his home in Cambridge, his family confirmed in a statement:
We are deeply saddened that our beloved father passed away today. He was a great scientist and an extraordinary man whose work and legacy will live on for many years.
His courage and persistence with his brilliance and humour inspired people across the world. He once said, “It would not be much of a universe if it wasn’t home to the people you love.” We will miss him forever.
Hawking was born on January 8, 1942, in Oxford, England. In 1963 he was diagnosed with ALS, a form of Motor Neurone Disease, and later confined to a wheelchair and forced to communicate via a computerised voice. But he continued his theoretical work and was outspoken on many things over much of his life.
Tributes have been pouring in on social media for the scientist, who made complex science accessible to everyone in his 1988 bestselling book A Brief History of Time.
Do read the rest of that article. I will take the tribute from Alice Gorman that closes The Conversation article to close today’s post.
Alice Gorman, Senior Lecturer in archaeology and space studies, Flinders University
There are few scientists who reach as far into popular culture as Stephen Hawking did. His research tackled the biggest of big questions – the nature of time, space and the universe we live in.
Sometimes it feels like science is losing ground in the modern world, but people still look to the stars for answers about who we are and how we come to be here.
Hawking’s bestselling A Brief History of Time made cosmology accessible to people and brought black holes out of the shadows and into the public imagination.
Personally I’ll miss his appearances on The Big Bang Theory, where he could out-nerd the nerds, and also provide some often necessary common sense. It was always great to see a world-class scientist just having fun.
Why do I introduce today’s post with that reference to Mr. Einstein?
Because I wanted to share with you a recent essay from George Monbiot and an Einstein quotation seemed so apt an introduction.
We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if mankind is to survive.
That essay from George Monbiot was published yesterday and is shared with you all with Mr. Monbiot’s full permission.
It is an essay that deserves being read slowly and carefully. Please take time aside to so do because it really does offer a new manner of thinking.
Circle of Life
13th April 2017
By reframing the economy, Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics changes our view of who we are and where we stand.
By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 12th April 2017
So what are we going to do about it? This is the only question worth asking. But the answers appear elusive. Faced with a multifaceted crisis – the capture of governments by billionaires and their lobbyists, extreme inequality, the rise of demagogues, above all the collapse of the living world – those to whom we look for leadership appear stunned, voiceless, clueless. Even if they had the courage to act, they have no idea what to do.
The most they tend to offer is more economic growth: the fairy dust supposed to make all the bad stuff disappear. Never mind that it drives ecological destruction, that it has failed to relieve structural unemployment or soaring inequality, that, in some recent years, almost all the increment in incomes has been harvested by the top 1%. As values, principles and moral purpose are lost, the promise of growth is all that’s left.
You can see the effects in a leaked memo from the UK’s foreign office: “Trade and growth are now priorities for all posts … work like climate change and illegal wildlife trade will be scaled down.” All that counts is the rate at which we turn natural wealth into cash. If this destroys our prosperity and the wonders that surround us, who cares?
We cannot hope to address our predicament without a new worldview. We cannot use the models that caused our crises to solve them. We need to reframe the problem. This is what the most inspiring book published so far this year has done.
In Doughnut Economics: seven ways to think like a 21st-century economist, Kate Raworth reminds us that economic growth was not, at first, intended as a measurement of well-being. Simon Kuznets, who standardised the measurement of growth, warned: “the welfare of a nation can scarcely be inferred from a measure of national income.” Economic growth, he pointed out, measures only annual flow, rather than stocks of wealth and their distribution.
Raworth points out that economics in the 20th Century “lost the desire to articulate its goals.” It aspired to be a science of human behaviour: a science based on a deeply flawed portrait of humanity. The dominant model – “rational economic man”, self-interested, isolated, calculating – says more about the nature of economists than it does about other humans. The loss of an explicit objective allowed the discipline to be captured by a proxy goal: endless growth.
The aim of economic activity, she argues, should be “meeting the needs of all within the means of the planet.” Instead of economies that need to grow, whether or not they make us thrive, we need economies that “make us thrive, whether or not they grow.” This means changing our picture of what the economy is and how it works.
The central image in mainstream economics is the circular flow diagram. It depicts a closed flow of income cycling between households, businesses, banks, government and trade, operating in a social and ecological vacuum. Energy, materials, the natural world, human society, power, the wealth we hold in common: all are missing from the model. The unpaid work of carers – principally women – is ignored, though no economy could function without them. Like rational economic man, this representation of economic activity bears little relationship to reality.
So Raworth begins by redrawing the economy. She embeds it in the Earth’s systems and in society, showing how it depends on the flow of materials and energy, and reminding us that we are more than just workers, consumers and owners of capital.
This recognition of inconvenient realities then leads to her breakthrough: a graphic representation of the world we want to create. Like all the best ideas, her Doughnut model seems so simple and obvious that you wonder why you didn’t think of it yourself. But achieving this clarity and concision requires years of thought: a great decluttering of the myths and misrepresentations in which we have been schooled.
The diagram consists of two rings. The inner ring of the doughnut represents a sufficiency of the resources we need to lead a good life: food, clean water, housing, sanitation, energy, education, healthcare, democracy … . Anyone living below that line, in the hole in the middle of the doughnut, is in a state of deprivation.
The outer ring of the doughnut consists of the Earth’s environmental limits, beyond which we inflict dangerous levels of climate change, ozone depletion, water pollution, loss of species and other assaults on the living world. The area between the two rings – the doughnut – is the “ecologically safe and socially just space” in which humanity should strive to live. The purpose of economics should be to help us enter that space and stay there.
As well as describing a better world, the doughnut model allows us to see, in immediate and comprehensible terms, the state in which we now find ourselves. At the moment we transgress both lines. Billions of people still live in the hole in the middle. We have breached the outer boundary in several places.
An economics that helps us to live within the doughnut would seek to reduce inequalities in wealth and income. Wealth arising from the gifts of nature would be widely shared. Money, markets, taxation and public investment would be designed to conserve and regenerate resources rather than squander them. State-owned banks would invest in projects that transform our relationship with the living world, such as zero-carbon public transport and community energy schemes. New metrics would measure genuine prosperity, rather than the speed with which we degrade our long-term prospects.
Such proposals are familiar, but without a new framework of thought, piecemeal solutions are unlikely to succeed. By rethinking economics from first principles, Raworth allows us to integrate our specific propositions into a coherent programme, and then to measure the extent to which it is realised. I see her as the John Maynard Keynes of the 21st-Century: by reframing the economy, she allows us to change our view of who we are, where we stand, and what we want to be.
Now we need to turn her ideas into policy. Read her book, then demand that those who wield power start working towards its objectives: human prosperity within a thriving living world.
One of the many things that we adore about living here in Merlin, Southern Oregon is the closeness of nature. Not just the nature of the slopes and mountains but the nature of the trees, creeks, grasses and wild plants.
Plus the awareness over the 4+ years that we have been here of how easy it is to gain the trust of wild animals. I will go to my grave holding on to the sweet sensation of a wild deer trusting me and Jean to the point where we could stroke the deer’s neck when we were feeding her.
(Both photographs taken in October, 2014 in the area of grassland near to our stables.)
The measure of how we, as in humanity, really feel about the only home we have, as in Planet Earth, is how we regard our planet.
The pain that we feel when we read, as I did yesterday, about another animal species possibly heading towards extinction. In this case, an item on the BBC News website about Cheetahs.
Cheetahs heading towards extinction as population crashes
By Matt McGrath Environment correspondent
The sleek, speedy cheetah is rapidly heading towards extinction according to a new study into declining numbers.
The report estimates that there are just 7,100 of the world’s fastest mammals now left in the wild.
Cheetahs are in trouble because they range far beyond protected areas and are coming increasingly into conflict with humans.
The authors are calling for an urgent re-categorisation of the species from vulnerable to endangered.
What if nature, like corporations, had the rights and protections of a person?
October 10, 2016 8.16am EDT
In recent years, the U.S. Supreme Court has solidified the concept of corporate personhood. Following rulings in such cases as Hobby Lobby and Citizens United, U.S. law has established that companies are, like people, entitled to certain rights and protections.
But that’s not the only instance of extending legal rights to nonhuman entities. New Zealand took a radically different approach in 2014 with the Te Urewera Act which granted an 821-square-mile forest the legal status of a person. The forest is sacred to the Tūhoe people, an indigenous group of the Maori. For them Te Urewera is an ancient and ancestral homeland that breathes life into their culture. The forest is also a living ancestor. The Te Urewera Act concludes that “Te Urewera has an identity in and of itself,” and thus must be its own entity with “all the rights, powers, duties, and liabilities of a legal person.” Te Urewera holds title to itself.
Although this legal approach is unique to New Zealand, the underlying reason for it is not. Over the last 15 years I have documented similar cultural expressions by Native Americans about their traditional, sacred places. As an anthropologist, this research has often pushed me to search for an answer to the profound question: What does it mean for nature to be a person?
The snow-capped mountain
A majestic mountain sits not far northwest of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Like a low triangle, with long gentle slopes, Mount Taylor is clothed in rich forests that appear a velvety charcoal-blue from the distance. Its bald summit, more than 11,000 feet high, is often blanketed in snow – a reminder of the blessing of water, when seen from the blazing desert below.
The Zuni tribe lives about 40 miles west of Mount Taylor. In 2012, I worked with a team to interview 24 tribal members about the values they hold for Dewankwin K’yaba:chu Yalanne (“In the East Snow-capped Mountain”), as Mount Taylor is called in the Zuni language. We were told that their most ancient ancestors began an epic migration in the Grand Canyon.
Over millennia they migrated across the Southwest, with important medicine societies and clans living around Mount Taylor. After settling in their current pueblo homes, Zunis returned to this sacred mountain to hunt animals like deer and bear, harvest wild plants like acorns and cattails, and gather minerals used in sacrosanct rituals that keep the universe in order. Across the generations Dewankwin Kyaba:chu Yalanne has come to shape Zuni history, life, and identity no less than the Vatican has for Catholics.
But unlike holy places in the Western world, Zunis believe Mount Taylor is a living being. Zuni elders told me that the mountain was created within the Earth’s womb. As a mountain formed by volcanic activity, it has always grown and aged. The mountain can give life as people do. The mountain’s snow melts in spring and nourishes plants and wildlife for miles. Water is the mountain’s blood; buried minerals are the mountain’s meat. Because it lives, deep below is its beating heart. Zunis consider Mount Taylor to be their kin.
There is a stereotype that Native American peoples have a singular connection to nature. And yet in my experience, they do see the world in a fundamentally different way from most people I know. Whether it is mountains, rivers, rocks, animals, plants, stars or weather, they see the natural world as living and breathing, deeply relational, even at times all-knowing and transcendent.
In my work with Arizona’s Hopi tribe, I have traveled with cultural leaders to study sacred places. They often stop to listen to the wind, or search the sky for an eagle, or smile when it begins to rain, which they believe is a blessing the ancestors bestow upon them.
During one project with the Hopi tribe, we came across a rattlesnake coiled near an ancient fallen pueblo. “Long ago, one of them ancestors lived here and turned into a rattlesnake,” the elder Raleigh H. Puhuyaoma Sr. shared with me, pointing to the nearby archaeological site. “It’s now protecting the place.” The elders left an offering of corn meal to the snake. An elder later told me that it soon rained on his cornfield, a result from this spiritual exchange.
Understanding these cultural worldviews matters greatly in discussions over protecting places in nature. The American West has a long history of battles over the control of land. We’ve seen this recently from the Bundy family’s takeover of the federal wildlife refuge in Oregon to the current fight over turning Bears Ears – 1.9 million acres of wilderness – into a national monument in Utah.
Yet often these battles are less about the struggle between private and public interests, and more about basic questions of nature’s purpose. Do wild places have intrinsic worth? Or is the land a mere tool for human uses?
Much of my research has involved documenting sacred places because they are being threatened by development projects on public land. The Zuni’s sacred Mount Taylor, much of it managed by the U.S. National Forest Service, has been extensively mined for uranium, and is the cause of violent disputes over whether it should be developed or protected.
Even though the U.S. does not legally recognize natural places as people, some legal protections exist for sacred places. Under the National Historic Preservation Act, for example, the U.S. government must take into consideration the potential impacts of certain development projects on “traditional cultural properties.”
This and other federal heritage laws, however, provide tribes a small voice in the process, little power, and rarely lead to preservation. More to the point, these laws reduce what tribes see as living places to “properties,” obscuring their inherent spiritual value.
In New Zealand, the Te Urewera Act offers a higher level of protection, empowering a board to be the land’s guardian. The Te Urewera Act, though, does not remove its connection to humans. With a permit, people can hunt, fish, farm and more. The public still has access to the forest. One section of the law even allows Te Urewera to be mined.
Te Urewera teaches us that acknowledging cultural views of places as living does not mean ending the relationship between humans and nature, but reordering it – recognizing nature’s intrinsic worth and respecting indigenous philosophies.
In the U.S. and elsewhere, I believe we can do better to align our legal system with the cultural expressions of the people it serves. For instance, the U.S. Congress could amend the NHPA or the American Indian Religious Freedom Act to acknowledge the deep cultural connection between tribes and natural places, and afford better protections for sacred landscapes like New Mexico’s Mount Taylor.
Until then, it says much about us when companies are considered people before nature is.
Today’s post was inspired by something yesterday I read, not for the first time, over on The People Workshop site. (As an aside, I know that many regulars of this place are familiar with the history of my friendship with Jon.) On the page that explains more of Jon Lavin’s approach to his work with clients, he writes:
“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”
Thus said Albert Einstein (1879-1955).
Intuitively, it strikes one as correct. However, reflect for a few moments on how you think and very quickly it becomes clear that how you think is based on deep-seated experiences and the learnings that flow from those experiences.
As it is for all of us.
Just as relevantly, perhaps more so, is that how we behave is based on those same deep-seated experiences and subsequent learnings. This offers a clue as to why bringing about lasting, behavioural change can often feel like pushing water uphill!
There couldn’t have been a better answer to that ponder than a recent video that was presented by TED Talks. It was a talk by Carl Safina about what is going on inside the brains of animals: What are animals thinking and feeling? Or in the fuller words of that TED Talk page:
What’s going on inside the brains of animals? Can we know what, or if, they’re thinking and feeling? Carl Safina thinks we can. Using discoveries and anecdotes that span ecology, biology and behavioral science, he weaves together stories of whales, wolves, elephants and albatrosses to argue that just as we think, feel, use tools and express emotions, so too do the other creatures – and minds – that share the Earth with us.
So back to what inspired today’s post. It was the challenge of really knowing why we behave the way we do, both humans and dogs. With dogs, however, we accept they cannot speak to us clearly. Or as Esme put it in a recent reply to an update on Hazel: “Well you’re getting there, half the battle is diagnosis with dogs because they can’t actually tell us how they feel.” (My emphasis.)
Back to humans. When Jon wrote on his site, “…. how you think …… is based on deep-seated experiences ….”, what I heard is that for us humans there are many times when we cannot actually tell ourselves what we are feeling. That is why we need the counselling of someone who has the professional training and experience to expose those deep emotional and psychological drivers within us; those drivers that are normally out of sight from us.
In my own case, how my father’s death was managed by my mother back in December, 1956 left an emotional wound that was totally out of sight from my conscious mind for 50 years. The emotional crisis that I went through back then was discovered by Jon to have its roots back in December, 1956. By a massive stroke of fortune Jon gave me the insight into that mental place of old and a year later I met Jean down in Mexico.
In other words, to return to Albert Einstein:
“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”
The challenge is having sufficient self-awareness to know when an aspect of our behaviour requires the support of the Jon Lavins of this world.
So what would we require from a counsellor, from a therapist, who was working with us to uncover those hidden aspects? In other words, in terms of assessing that therapist what’s the difference that would make the difference?
Naturally, I don’t have the skills to answer that question in any direct, professional manner. But if I look down at our dogs then a form of answer does ‘speak’ to me. Dogs are creatures of integrity, openness and trust. They relate to us humans and other known dogs around them through friendship and love; frequently unconditional love.
A therapist who embraces those values; nay, lives those values, would display that very quickly after meeting with the ‘client’. Any person seeing that in a therapist would be seeing the difference that makes the difference.
Good people, I’m not asking any of you who read this to divulge any personal stuff but, nonetheless, I would love to hear your thoughts on what I have written today!
Celebrating the life and times of Albert Einstein.
Yesterday was the centenary of the birth of Albert Einstein (14 March 1879 – 18 April 1955). It has been widely reported. For example, a piece on the EarthSky blog:
March 14, 1879. This is the anniversary of the birth of Albert Einstein, undoubtedly the most famous scientist of the modern era.
Einstein was born in Ulm, Germany, where an uncle – Jakob Einstein, an engineer – introduced him to science and math. At age 17, he enrolled in the Swiss Polytechnic Institute after failing the entrance exam the previous year. He graduated in 1900, and in 1902 he became a junior patent examiner in the Swiss Patent Office in Bern, Switzerland, where he specialized in electrical devices.
The year 1905 came to be known as Einstein’s Miracle Year. He was 26 years old, and in that year he published four papers that reshaped physics.
Now before you read on let me proclaim that today’s post has absolutely nothing to do with dogs! (Unless dogs exist in parallel universes!)
But a recent documentary that was published on Top Documentary Films was really fascinating and incredibly well presented. Thus, in terms of the likes of you and I better understanding what Einstein revealed about our universe, I couldn’t resist sharing it with you all today. It is just 29 minutes long.
One hundred years have passed since Albert Einstein first unleashed his highly influential Theory of General Relativity unto the world. These revelations charted a future course of scientific pursuit, and never cease to inform our understanding of the universe today. In celebration of that impressive legacy, the documentary short Einstein’s Extraordinary Universe travels to three research facilities in different regions across the globe, and shows us how Einstein’s work continues to challenge, shape and inspire the scientific discoveries of tomorrow.
The film opens in Tuscany. Under the shadows of Galileo’s groundbreaking work on gravity research, a group of astrophysicists are exploring Einstein’s theories related to the occurrence of gravitational waves through space and time. Can modern technologies and advanced scientific intellect result in actual proof of such waves?
Viewers are then taken to the world’s largest underground laboratory. Hidden far beneath Italy’s Gran Sasso mountains, the lab serves as a home to researchers who work tirelessly to prove another of Einstein’s grandiose theories: the existence of dark matter. The vast majority of our universe is made up of materials that we have not yet been able to detect through forces of light and energy. The dedicated team who toil away in this impressive underground lair hope they can lay the groundwork in changing that.
The filmmakers’ next stop is Switzerland, where they are given a tour of one of the most impressive displays of scientific testing technology on the planet. Housed by the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN, the Large Hadron Collider is the most powerful particle accelerator on the planet, and is being used to question and examine the substance of all matter in our universe.
Through each destination on this incredible journey, what amazes most is how prescient Einstein’s theories have proven even after a century has passed. His work continues to test the limits of our scientific understanding, and sets a groundwork from which researchers still strive for answers. Featuring a plethora of illuminating interviews with many top figures in the fields of scientific study, Einstein’s Extraordinary Universe is certain to delight seasoned science geeks and novices alike.
For I was conscious that many would simply reject the proposition that I saw in John Zande’s book, namely that, “there was an evil origin to the universe and, more directly, that the deep, and growing, suffering of the pinnacle of evolution, us humans, can be traced back to that evil origin.”
The emotional challenge, of which I am acutely aware, is recognising that core proposition, that as we humans evolve so too does the capacity for human suffering, yet not wanting to give up on my personal core belief that better times ahead are possible, given sufficient people sharing that power of hope. Echoing what Sue wrote as a response to yesterday’s post that motivated me to reply, in part, thus:
If there was one sentence of yours that struck me as spot on, it was your declaration that what we think is what we create. Or as I often reflect, we are what we think.
Jean and I last night watched the latest BBC Panorama report about the migrant/refugee crisis in Europe. It was profoundly upsetting for reasons that many will understand.
George Monbiot’s essay that follows shortly is also profoundly upsetting.
But if hope is to be translated into a determination to make a difference, then it demands that we don’t ignore the pain but use our anger to fuel our passion to behave appropriately: We are what we think! Or in the much more eloquent words of Albert Einstein:
Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.
George Monbiot is to be saluted for his commitment to questioning and I am privileged to have his permission to republish the following.
There may be water on Mars. But is there intelligent life on Earth?
By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 30th September 2015
Evidence for flowing water on Mars – this opens up the possibility of life; of wonders we cannot begin to imagine. Its discovery is an astonishing achievement. Meanwhile, Martian scientists continue their search for intelligent life on Earth.
We might be captivated by the thought of organisms on another planet, but we seem to have lost interest in our own. The Oxford Junior Dictionary has been excising the waymarks of the living world. Adders, blackberries, bluebells, conkers, holly, magpies, minnows, otters, primroses, thrushes, weasels and wrens are now surplus to requirements.
In the past four decades, the world has lost 50% of its vertebrate wildlife. But across the latter half of this period, there has been a steep decline in coverage. In 2014, according to a study at Cardiff University, there were as many news stories broadcast by the BBC and ITV about Madeline McCann (who went missing in 2007) as there were about the entire range of environmental issues.
Think of what would change if we valued terrestrial water as much as we value the possibility of water on Mars. Only three percent of the water on this planet is fresh, and of that two-thirds is frozen. Yet we lay waste to the accessible portion. Sixty percent of the water used in farming is needlessly piddled away by careless irrigation. Rivers, lakes and aquifers are sucked dry, while what remains is often so contaminated that it threatens the lives of those who drink it. In the UK, domestic demand is such that the upper reaches of many rivers disappear during the summer. Yet still we install clunky old toilets and showers that gush like waterfalls.
As for salty water of the kind that enthralls us when apparently detected on Mars, on Earth we express our appreciation with a frenzy of destruction. A new report suggests that fish numbers have halved since 1970. Pacific bluefin tuna, that once roamed the seas in untold millions, have been reduced to an estimated 40,000, yet still they are pursued. Coral reefs are under such pressure that most could be gone by 2050. And in our own deep space, our desire for exotic fish rips through a world scarcely better known to us than the red planet’s surface. Trawlers are now working at depths of 2000 metres. We can only guess at what they might be destroying.
A few hours before the Martian discovery was announced, Shell terminated its Arctic oil prospecting in the Chukchi Sea. For the company’s shareholders, it’s a minor disaster: the loss of $4 billion. For those who love the planet and the life it sustains, it is a stroke of great fortune: it happened only because the company failed to find sufficient reserves. Had Shell succeeded, it would have exposed one of the most vulnerable places on Earth to spills that are almost inevitable, where containment is almost impossible. Are we to leave such matters to chance?
At the beginning of September, two weeks after he granted Shell permission to drill in the Chukchi Sea, Barack Obama travelled to Alaska to warn Americans about the devastating effects that climate change, caused by the burning of fossil fuels, might catalyse in the Arctic. “It’s not enough just to talk the talk”, he told them. “We’ve got to walk the walk.” We should “embrace the human ingenuity that can do something about it.” Human ingenuity is on abundant display at Nasa, which released those astounding images. But when it comes to policy, the search for intelligent life goes on.
Let the market decide: this is the way in which governments seek to resolve planetary destruction. Leave it to the conscience of consumers, while that conscience is muted and confused by advertising and corporate lies. In a near-vacuum of information, we are each left to decide what we should take from other species and other people; what we should allocate to ourselves or leave to succeeding generations. Surely there are some resources and some places – such as the Arctic and the deep sea – whose exploitation should simply stop?
All this drilling and digging and trawling and dumping and poisoning – what is it for anyway? Does it enrich human experience, or stifle it? A couple of weeks ago, I launched the hashtag #extremecivilisation, and invited suggestions. They have flooded in. Here are just a few of the products my correspondents have found. All of them, as far as I can tell, are real.
Every year, clever new ways of wasting stuff are devised, and every year we become more inured to the pointless consumption of the world’s precious resources. With each subtle intensification, the baseline of normality shifts. It should not be surprising to discover that the richer a country becomes, the less its people care about their impacts on the living planet.
Our alienation from the world of wonders with which we evolved has only intensified since David Bowie described a girl stumbling through a “sunken dream”, on her way to be “hooked to the silver screen”, where a long series of distractions diverts her from life’s great questions. The song, of course, was Life on Mars.
“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”
So said Albert Einstein.
The reason I went searching for a quotation on reality was that our, as in humans, ability to see the world in grossly distorted ways jumped ‘off the page’ at me when I was reading a recent essay from George Monbiot. Followers of Learning from Dogs will know that Mr. Monbiot has featured before; most recently just under a month ago in a post Returning to Nature. Before then in April when George gave permission for the full republishing of his essay The Great Unmentionable.
Why the notion of humans seeing reality in grossly distorted ways? Simply because in George Monbiot‘s following essay he challenges what we mean by the word ‘wildness’ and I immediately realised that my own idea of wildness was badly corrupted.
See if you react the same way as you read The Naturalists Who Are Terrified of Nature by George Monbiot, republished in full with the kind permission of George.
The Naturalists Who Are Terrified of Nature
July 16, 2013
A radical challenge to British conservation and its bizarre priorities.
I’m writing this on the train home, after visiting two places in the north of England celebrated for their “wildness”. One of them is Ennerdale in the Lake District, now officially known as Wild Ennerdale, a valley in which the river has been allowed to move freely once more, and in which native trees are succeeding naturally up the hillsides(1).
The other is the Sheffield Moors (in the Peak District), from which most of the sheep have been removed and where the structure of the vegetation has been allowed to change a little. I found both visits fascinating, not least because of the eruditon and enthusiasm of the people who walked me through these places.
But sitting on the train, watching the chemical deserts of the English lowlands flash past, I’m struck by how pathetically grateful I feel. For what? For the fact that, in two small conservation areas, located in national parks, a few natural processes have been allowed to resume.
Were I to explain to a foreigner that these places are now celebrated by conservationists in Britain for their radical approach, he or she would think I had gone mad. “What?,” they would say, “you are telling me that this is the cutting edge of nature conservation in your country? Where have you been for the past 50 years?”
I don’t know if there is any other country in which people – including conservationists – are as afraid of nature as they are in Britain. I don’t know if there is anywhere else in which conservationists are so convinced that if they relax their intensive management of the natural world, something dreadful will happen.
Nowhere else do conservationists subscribe more enthusiastically to the biblical doctrine of dominion: that we have a holy duty to control and corral nature, in case it gets out of hand. Nowhere else does conservation look more like a slightly modified version of the farming which trashed the land in the first place.
In my view most of our conservation areas aren’t nature reserves at all. They are museums of former farming practices, weeded and tended to prevent the wilds from encroaching. The ecosystem’s dynamic interactions are banned. Animals and plants are preserved as if they were a jar of pickles, kept in a state of arrested development, in which little is allowed to change.
But nature is not just a fixed assemblage of species, maintained as if it were a collection in a museum. It is also the ever-changing relationships between them, the successional processes, the shifting communities: all of which, in many of our reserves, are prohibited.
The problem begins with designation. The “interest features” of a site of special scientific interest – its species and habitats – must be kept in “favourable condition”. Often this means the condition in which they happened to be when the reserve was created. In most cases that’s a condition of dire impoverishment and depletion: ecosystems missing almost their entire trophic structure, most of their large herbivores, all their large predators, in many cases even the trees. They have to be kept like this by extreme and intrusive management, in order to sustain the impacts which reduced them to this woeful state.
In Wild-ish Ennerdale and on the Sheffield Moors, there has been a partial relaxation of this draconian regime. But even in these places, there is much that I question.
On the Sheffield Moors, for example, cattle are kept: at much higher densities and for far longer periods than large herbivores would exist in a self-willed ecosystem. In many parts of the moors, trees, if they have the temerity to return, are cleared. The effort, even here, is to ensure that the landscape remains farmed, open and bare.
This is done partly to favour breeding populations of wading birds(2). It’s likely that these species are being maintained at artificially high populations(3). A tendency I’ve noticed among some groups is to try to make all their target species common, even if they were naturally rare. Perhaps some species ought to be rare. Those which lived in open habitats – which would have been small and occasional before people started cutting and burning the forests – are likely to have been rarest of all.
Think of the varying fortunes of grouse populations in Britain. The palaeontological evidence is extremely sparse, so this is guesswork, but during the Boreal and Atlantic phases, 9,000-5,000 years ago, when closed-canopy forest covered most of Britain, the commonent grouse species in this country might have been hazel hen. Perhaps the second commonest would have been capercaillie, followed by black grouse, followed by red grouse, which are likely to have been very scarce.
That likely sequence has now been reversed. Hazel hen is extinct, capercaillie extremely rare, black grouse are sparse and in severe decline and red grouse are bloody everywhere. The red grouse is the magpie of the uplands: it benefits from human intervention, which in this case means the clearing of land.
Arbitrarily, conservation groups in the uplands of England and Wales have decided that their priorities are, for example, dunlin and curlew, rather than capercaillie and pine martens. I’m not insisting that this is always the wrong decision. But it’s a decision that should be rigorously questioned, especially if this intensive management means the destruction of habitats which would have sheltered a much wider range of species.
Spend a couple of hours in an open upland nature reserve, and count the diversity and abundance of the birds you see. Then spend a couple of hours in a bushy suburban garden and do the same thing. In my experience you’re likely to see more birds of more species in the garden. That’s hardly surprising: most birds – indeed most wildlife – require cover to survive. Am I the only one who thinks that something has gone badly wrong here?
It’s not just common species I’m talking about. Many of those excluded by our brutal upland management are not just rare in Britain; they are extinct.
Whenever I meet a conservation manager, I find myself acting like a 3-year old: I keep asking “why?”. Why are you preserving this and not that? Why is this site designated for moorland flea beetle and pearl-bordered fritillary, rather than blue stag beetle and lynx? Why are you protecting the wretched scrapings of life that remain here, rather than reintroducing the species which would once have lived here, but have been excluded by the kind of interventions that you – the conservationists – have sustained?
When I worked in the Amazon, the conservationists I met were fighting to defend the rainforest against cattle ranching. In Britain the conservationists are – literally – defending cattle ranching against the rainforest. Britain was once covered by rainforest: woodland wet enough for epiphytes to grow. (Epiphytes are plants which root in the bark of trees). Our closed-canopy rainforest was likely to have been richer in species than any of our remaining habitats. Given half a chance, it would return. But it isn’t given half a chance, even in conservation sites, because conservationists keep clearing the land and running cattle on it, in case the wayward and irresponsible ecosystem does something that isn’t listed in the rules. In doing so, they preserve a burnt, blasted and largely empty land with the delightful ambience of a nuclear winter.
Conservation groups in this country are obsessed by heather. Heather is typical of the vegetation that colonises land which has been repeatedly deforested. You can see similar vegetation – low, scrubby, tough, thriving on burnt ground and depleted soils – covering deforested land all over the tropics. There, the dominance of these plants is lamented by ecologists, for it is rightly seen as a symptom of ecological destruction. Here it is fetishised and preserved.
Even in the Eastern Sheffield Moors management plan, published by the RSPB and the National Trust, “cutting and burning” are listed as the requisite tasks for managing heather(4). Imagine what a tropical ecologist would say if she saw that. “You people have been telling us for decades that we should stop cutting and burning. You’ve been sending us money and lobbying our governments to discourage us from doing it. And all the while you’ve been telling yourselves that cutting and burning are necessary for the protection of wildlife.” If she concluded that we are hypocrites, that we are unambitious, irrational, anally retentive and ecologically illiterate, she would not be far wrong.
The same plan reveals that these two august conservation bodies will maintain cattle on the moors at their current level, but keep them there for longer. “Their grazing and trampling will manage the vegetation in a way which should improve the condition of the habitats and benefit wildlife.”(5) What does this mean? Yes, it might benefit some wildlife, but only at the expense of other species. Yes, it might “improve the condition” of a habitat, if by improvement you mean a better representation of the state of arrested development you’ve chosen. It sounds uncomfortably close to the 19th Century agricultural meaning of “improvement”: which means draining and clearing land to make it more suitable for farming.
It astonishes me to see statements like this left unpacked. Asserted without qualification, they create the impression that all wildlife benefits from management of this kind. Of course, all interventions (including a complete cessation of management), are better for some species than for others. But in my view, the losses inflicted by cattle ranching – here, as in the Amazon – outweigh any gains.
An even starker example is provided by a report commissioned by the RSPB on changing livestock numbers. It contends that “undergrazing and loss of vegetation structure is now occurring in some areas, with adverse impacts for some species such as golden plover and other waders.”(6)
“Undergrazing” is an interesting concept. The report seems to be referring to “undergrazing” by sheep. How can a native ecosystem be undergrazed by an invasive ruminant from Mesopotamia? Is our wildlife underhunted by American mink? Are our verges underinfested by Japanese knotweed?
I would question what undergrazing by any domestic animal means. “Not farmed enough” is what the term appears to signify, “or not sufficiently damaged”. Sure, the golden plover is among a small group of species that benefit from scorched-earth policies, but a far greater number are harmed by them. So why is the golden plover the priority? And how can a report for a conservation organisation blithely use the term undergrazing without qualification or explanation?
Another RSPB report advocates “the eradication of invasive tree species” from the bare uplands of Wales and claims, without citing any evidence or explaining what this means, that “extensive grazing, ideally mixed grazing, is important in maintaining upland pastures in a state that benefits upland birds and other wildlife.”(7)
A document published by the Welsh government revealed something I have never seen in the RSPB’s literature: that the society advises farmers “to cut down trees to discourage buzzards which kill other birds.”(8)
I checked with the RSPB in Wales and it confirmed that it does “at times provide advice to landowners on the management of trees to reduce available vantage points and nest sites for some avian predators.”(9)
Isn’t that more or less what the British government wanted to do to protect pheasant shoots? And didn’t the society contest those efforts?(10)
I wonder whether, in their arbitrary choice of target species and target habitats, British conservationists are influenced by the legacy of hunting. Many of the birds on behalf of which this extreme and brutal simplification of the ecosystem takes place are those which, in the 19th Century, were pursued by gentlemen with guns. Perhaps we should see conservation efforts in Britain as a form of gamekeeping, which regards some of our native species as good and worthy of preservation, and others (such as trees and buzzards) as bad and in need of control.
Sometimes I receive coherent answers from the conservation managers I speak to, which are debatable but at least consistent. Sometimes the only answer I receive is “that’s what the rules say.” But isn’t it time we began to challenge the rules? Isn’t it time we began to question the way sites are designated, and to challenge the ecological blitzkreig required to maintain them in what is laughably called “favourable condition”? Isn’t it time we began asking why we have decided to privilege certain species over others? Isn’t it time we started wondering whether the collateral damage required to support them is worth it?
After all, how did nature cope before we came along? To judge by the actions of British conservation groups, it must have been in a pretty dismal state for the three billion years before humans arrived to look after it.
2. National Trust and RSPB, 2012. The Eastern Moors Management Plan summary, page 15. Eastern Moors Partnership, Curbar.
3. This, of course, is speculative, as palaeontology gives us few indications of numbers. But the circumstantial evidence seems powerful: the habitat required for breeding populations of these birds, many of which need to nest several hundred metres from the nearest woodland edge to avoid predation, was in short supply. See for example:
NJ Whitehouse and D Smith, 2010. How fragmented was the British Holocene wildwood? Perspectives on the ‘‘Vera’’ grazing debate from the fossil beetle record. Quaternary Science Reviews Vol. 29, nos. 3-4, pp539–553. doi.org/10.1016/j.quascirev.2009.10.010
FJG Mitchell, 2005. How open were European primeval forests? Hypothesis testing using palaeoecological data. Journal of Ecology Vol. 93, 168–177
JHB Birks, 2005. Mind the gap: how open were European primeval forests? Trends in Ecology & Evolution Vol. 20, pp154-156.
R Fyfe, 2007. The importance of local-scale openness within regions dominated by closed woodland. Journal of Quaternary Science, Vol.22, no. 6, pp571–578. doi: 10.1002/jqs.1078
JC Svenning, 2002. A review of natural vegetation openness in northwestern Europe. Biological Conservation Vol 104: 133-148.
RHW Bradshaw, GE Hannon, AM Lister, 2003. A long-term perspective on ungulate-vegetation interactions. Forest Ecology and Management, Vol. 181: 267–280.
John Hurlburt writing as ‘an old lamplighter‘ has been a regular contributor to Learning from Dogs. Indeed, just last Friday in my rather introspective post, Maybe home is found in our quietness, I included John’s beautiful Evening Meditation. The day before that post, John sent me the following (the picture below is my contribution to John’s essay!) It’s a reflection on both the absurdity of modern times and the simplicity of the answers.
In return for a local pet store patronage, today’s cost savings included free bird seed. Meanwhile, our economic system squanders our common wealth.
The agendas of rich and powerful people who don’t want anything to change are reflected by FAUX News. What we have on our hands is an absurd interpretation of reality, which is made up as they go along. Politics has become a game of “Can You Top This”; with no limits. There’s a question about our collective level of sanity.
Our shared crisis mounts as our demographic increases and our natural resources are depleted accordingly. The fact is that we’re beyond the carbon limits the atmosphere requires to maintain the inclusive well-being of life on earth. And we’re damaging the surface layer of the planet that sustains us all in the process.
The answers are simple and natural. Here are five quick examples and a conclusion of sorts.
1. Diesel fuels run the majority of the world’s heavy machinery. Switching from carbon-based diesel fuels to natural bio-fuels, as per the original design by Rudolf Diesel, would have a profound effect on carbon pollution as well as fostering green innovation and industry. No modification of any on-line diesel engines would be required. As a matter of fact, they’d probably run more efficiently.
Solution: Economic advantage of using bio-fuels.
2. Re-establishing human rights may be best accomplished through increased awareness of our fragile unity as a species. The openness, honesty and integrity of Creation lights the way each day and lends serenity to our reflections.
Solution: Accept that deliberate human war and related destruction of the earth is empty, has no future, and is contrary to the purpose of human life.
Incidentally, when we put a natural floor under the global economy we’ll save our collective bacon in the process. Transitioning military forces to support green economic development opportunities might be a possibility if we decide to take life seriously enough to make a real difference.
3. Re-establishing a realistic base for a global economy that’s swollen 25 times beyond any material planetary resource foundation may best be accomplished by transitioning to green industries that benefit our planet, nations, communities and the sanctity of life in general. A modification to our technically driven financial system is needed.
Solution: Isaac Asimov; “I Robot” (the laws of robotics)
4. Re-establishing common law with inclusive equality and justice may be best accomplished by an in-depth examination of personal beliefs values, motives and actions in terms of respect for whatever Higher Power we may believe there to Be, compassion for Creation and the realization that we’re all living in and on the same life boat.
Solution: Education, formation and transformation based upon the facts of reality that we know in our present state of development and the far greater Reality which transcends our being and our current understanding based upon reason alone.
5. Agreeing on an equitably interactive and enforceable world-wide corporate, government, labor, and service organization wage scale may best be accomplished by listening to the voices of economic reason which tell us that money is only a symbol.
Rationale: Everything fits together. Change is constant. Life needs to adapt to survive. In Unity there is strength. At our best, we care for the earth and each other.
Inclusive solution: Surrender to Reality. The global system is broken, Resources are limited. It’s time to wake up. It’s time to change. A sustainable and growing green economy benefits everyone on earth.
Love lights the way
Faith is stronger than fear
Hope springs Eternal
Pure mathematics is, in its way, the poetry of logical ideas. Albert Einstein.
I have never been proficient at mathematics. But that doesn’t mean that I am not fascinated by the field of maths.
Hold that in your thoughts as I mention the name of blogger: Patrice Ayme. It’s a non-de-plume but so what! What blows me away, to use the vernacular, is the depth of thought expressed through the keyboard of Mr. Ayme (even the gender is an assumption). The sub-heading on the home page of his blog is “Intelligence at the core of humanism“. Just run your eye down the list of Recent Posts to the right-hand side of the home page to get a feel for the topics covered in the last few months. Impressive is an understatement!
Anyway, five days ago Patrice published a post proposing how the Neanderthals were outbred, under the title of Math Extinguished Neanderthals. It fascinated me and Patrice was gracious in allowing me permission to republish it on Learning from Dogs.
Math Extinguished Neanderthals
HOW NEANDERTHALS WERE OUTBRED:
Zillions of theories about the “disappearance” of Neanderthals. The latest one, from Oxford University, claims that Neanderthals’ big, beautiful eyes, and their big muscles caused their demise. They were too busy looking at things, and flexing their muscles. The idea is that significantly larger eyes would have crowded the Neanderthal brain out, making them relatively stupid. In particular it made them incapable of having social groups as large as those of Homo Sapiens Sapiens.
Big Eyes Do Not Kill
Sapiens girl on the left, Neanderthal girl on the right (reconstitution published in Science Magazine a few years ago).
I have long argued that the strength of democracy came from having many brains working in parallel. There is little doubt that larger social groups bring a higher cultural intelligence, hence higher individual intelligence. So I agree about that bit of logic. Yet, ironically, to reach the conclusion that Neanderthals’ social group were less numerous, the simple fact that Neanderthals were bigger, is enough. There is no need for hazardous demeaning allegations about Neanderthals’ brains.
That big eyes made Neanderthals stupid contradicts some facts that were thought to be established:
1) Sapiens Neanderthalis’ brains were significantly larger to start with. See Wikipedia.
2) Many very clever Homo Sapiens Sapiens have small brains. Famously Anatole France, an intellectual, had only a 1,000 cubic centimeters brain. Homo Floresiensis, the “hobbit” species living on the island of Flores, Indonesia, until it was wiped out recently, was extremely intellectually capable, although it had really small (and completely different) brains.
3) In the Middle East, Neanderthals and Sapiens went back and forth through the same large caves over 50,000 years. So whatever happened, it was not in evidence for 50,000 years.
So, of course, I have my own theory. That’s what philosophy is all about: trying to guess what really matters most, and how that most significant data logically articulate. Then scientists, politicians and writers can swoop, figure out the details, and attribute themselves the glory.
What could have happened by around 28,000 years ago that caused the demise of Neanderthals? At the time, the last fierce glaciation was gaining ground. (It reached its maximum 25,000 years ago.) Some have argued, absurdly, that the Neanderthals could not take it. That’s beyond silly, as Neanderthals had evolved, from half a million years ago, precisely to handle extreme cold.
Neanderthals were stocky, powerful, and they had thrived through hundreds thousands years of glaciation, mostly on a meat diet, hunting big game. But they also knew how to cook plants, and eat them.
50,000 years ago, Neanderthals exterminated Cave Bears, a huge animal who lived in caves, prime real estate Neanderthals craved for. Could the disappearance of Cave Bears be logically linked to the disappearance of Neanderthals? Yes. That’s a consequence of my theory. More advanced technology played a direct role.
How did Neanderthals kill Cave Bears? With technology. We do not know exactly what weapons Neanderthals had at their disposal. However, technology had improved, and kept improving. Recently it was found that Sapiens Sapiens (Homo SS; I hope one gets the joke) in Africa had invented bows and arrows 80,000 Before Present (BP). (About 60,000 years earlier than previously thought!) Before bows and arrows, the propeller had been invented, and was used in Europe. The propeller took advantage of angular momentum to send a sort of mini lance further and stronger than by hand.
Why did the Neanderthals and Denisovans (another human species from Central Eurasia) lose their edge? Advancing technology is the obvious answer. When technology of clothing and weapons was sufficiently advanced, the physiological advantage that the Neanderthals genetically had, disappeared. Homo Sapiens Sapiens could thrive just as well through winter.
At that point, Homo Sapiens Sapiens from Africa could be as successful as the Neanderthals through the freezing wastelands of Europe. OK.
But the Homo SS outbred the Neanderthals, so they became genetically more successful. How do I explain that?
Simple. However, the explanation involves the exponential function, the same function found all over, and that the mathematician Rudin called “the most important function in mathematics”. The exponential also explains the plutocratic phenomenon, and that is why it’s so dangerous. The exponential always rules extinction events, that’s why one day a species is all over, like the American Pigeon, or the Tasmanian Tiger, and the next day, it’s gone.
So visualize this. Neanderthals were bigger than Homo SS, just like the Polar Bear is bigger than the Black Bear. Bigness is an adaptation to cold. Southern Europe’s Brown Bears are smaller than those found in Kamchatka, or Alaska (also known as Grizzlies: the Grizzly is an emigrated European Brown Bear!) Bigger makes warmer inside. That’s why the most massive animal that ever was, the Blue Rorqual, at up to 180 tons, is nearly twice the mass of the largest dinosaur (it’s not just that it’s floating, but also that water is cooler than Jurassic air, I hold).
To simplify, let’s use a bit of exaggeration (that’s reasoning by exaggeration, one of my preferred tactic of thought; the one humor exploits, and why joking helps thinking). Let’s assume Neanderthals were twice more massive than Homo SS.
Now let’s consider an habitat where Homo SS and Neanderthal bands roamed. They will tend not to mix, for obvious racist reasons. The racial hatred between Neanderthals and Homo SS has got to have been colossal. People who look too different are not even sexually attracted to each other (and where Neanderthals and Homo SS were in contact in the Middle East, for 50,000 years, there is no evolution of an interbred species, an indirect proof that there was no love lost there!)
The density of human mass is going to be roughly the same all over, because that density depends only upon the resources available (mostly meat on the hoof, and fur in burrows in glaciating conditions).
Thus, there would have been apartheid. But the Homo SS would have been twice more numerous, where they reigned (from my assumption of twice the mass). So now graft on this a catastrophe; a drought, a flood, a very tough winter, a volcanic super disaster, whatever. The climate was highly variable, starting about 40,000 years ago, just when Homo SS appeared. Some have stupidly argued that Neanderthals were too stupid to adapt to this changing circumstances. Like this paralyzing stupidity struck them just when Homo SS were around. My explanation is more subtle.
After a catastrophe in said habitat, say one of these numerous habitat in Europe isolated by glacial mountain ranges, or seas and lakes, most of the human population would be wiped out, Homo SS, just as Neanderthals. There would tend to be always a small remaining population, because the greatest limit on man is man himself: as a population gets wiped out, resources rebound, and life of the survivors tend to get much easier (that’s what happened in Europe after the Black Death of 1348 CE; if nothing else, survivors could ask for higher salaries from their plutocratic masters, and they did).
So say 90% of the population of the habitat was wiped out. As suddenly resources are now not limited, the human population will rebound exponentially. The equation is: N(t) = N(0) exp(Rt). “R” is the “Malthusian” parameter, the rate of growth. Now it’s going to require twice the resources to feed a Neanderthal to sexual maturation (under our outrageously simplifying assumption that Neanderthals are twice the mass). Thus one may assume that R(Homo SS)/R(Neanderthal) is 2. The end result is that the quotient:
Number Homo SS/ Number Neanderthal = A exp(2t). (Where A is the ratio of the populations H SS/Neanderthal after the catastrophe.)
Thus the population of H SS would exponentially grow relative to that of the Neanderthals, resulting in a quick extinction. And in no way this is happening because Homo SS were superior. Just because they were more gracile.
Hence the mystery of the evolution of contemporary man is smoothly explained. Just a bit of math. QED.
Europeans & Asians: Not Just African
Note 1: what of the mentally deliquescent and racist article in the Proceedings of the Royal Society? First, they sank so low as to“using orbit size as a proxy, that Neanderthals had larger visual systems than contemporary AMH [Anatomically Modern Humans]“. That’s about as intelligent as saying that, because special forces use night vision goggles, they have got to have bigger visual systems.
The main woman author also found the same physiological feature, bigger eyes, in the past, about people presently living at high latitude. She contentedly asserted that, because light levels are lower in the north, people living in the north (40,000 years at least for Homo SS) have bigger eyes. Amusingly, she did not draw, in that case the conclusion that Norwegians and the English are therefore more stupid. Somehow, though, in her lack of smarts, she applies that controversial reasoning to Neanderthals. Does she have giant eyes?
Seriously the Oxford study rests on a central fact that contradicts one of established facts about Neanderthals. Indeed it claims Neanderthals’ brains were not any larger than Homo SS.
Note 2; what catastrophes am I talking about? Well the climate fluctuated wildly, to start with. Second, A Campanianignimbritevolcanic super-eruption around 40,000 years ago, followed by a second one a few thousand years later, certainly crashed Neanderthal populations (based on logic, and evidence fromMezmaiskaya cave in the Caucasus. Mitochondrial DNA analysis of a specimen there is C14 dated 29,000 years BP, one of the latest living pure Neanderthals). After such a catastrophe, the exponential rebounds of populations would have advantaged Homo SS, as explained above.
Note 3: OK, I exaggerated with the mass ratio. (Mathematicians often do this, considering an exaggerated case to understand the mean, through the tails.) But the real mass ratio would be aggravated because, Neanderthal was built in such a way, relative to gracile Homo SS, that they consumed more calories per day (some paleontologists have come up with 300). So there is no doubt that the effect above will play a role, even if the mass ratios were not as bad. Notice the mechanism above would tend to extinguish the Neanderthal traits that were most characteristic of the subspecies.
Note 4: A preferred trick of Neanderthals’ haters is to exhibitArchaic Neanderthals‘skulls, and compare them to those of modern men. The skull of an Archaic Neanderthal of 400,000 years ago should not be compared to a modern human, less than 40,000 year old! All the more since Neanderthals’ brain size augmented faster than the brain size of Homo Sapiens Sapiens.
Note 5: Part of the mechanism above generalizes for other species in competition. It provides with a disappearance mechanism after ecological turbulence, according to species’ ecological footprint.
So hope that others shared my pleasure at reading the essay.
Going to close with another quotation from Mr. Albert Einstein: “As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain, and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.”