Tag: The Conversation

Writing into old age!

Thank goodness for this!

It’s not exactly a ball of fun growing old. But while somethings inevitable decline writing isn’t one of them. This is a fascinating article from The Conversation.

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One skill that doesn’t deteriorate with age

Reading and writing can prevent cognitive decline.
AJP/Shutterstock.com

Roger J. Kreuz, University of Memphis

When Toni Morrison died on Aug. 5, the world lost one of its most influential literary voices.

But Morrison wasn’t a literary wunderkind. “The Bluest Eye,” Morrison’s first novel, wasn’t published until she was 39. And her last, “God Help the Child,” appeared when she was 84. Morrison published four novels, four children’s books, many essays and other works of nonfiction after the age of 70.

Morrison isn’t unique in this regard. Numerous writers produce significant work well into their 70s, 80s and even their 90s. Herman Wouk, for example, was 97 when he published his final novel, “The Lawgiver.”

Such literary feats underscore an important point: Age doesn’t seem to diminish our capacity to speak, write and learn new vocabulary. Our eyesight may dim and our recall may falter, but, by comparison, our ability to produce and to comprehend language is well preserved into older adulthood.

In our forthcoming book, “Changing Minds: How Aging Affects Language and How Language Affects Aging,” my co-author, Richard M. Roberts, and I highlight some of the latest research that has emerged on language and aging. For those who might fear the loss of their language abilities as they grow older, there’s plenty of good news to report.

Language mastery is a lifelong journey

Some aspects of our language abilities, such as our knowledge of word meanings, actually improve during middle and late adulthood.

One study, for example, found that older adults living in a retirement community near Chicago had an average vocabulary size of over 21,000 words. The researchers also studied a sample of college students and found that their average vocabularies included only about 16,000 words.

In another study, older adult speakers of Hebrew – with an average age of 75 – performed better than younger and middle-aged participants on discerning the meaning of words.

On the other hand, our language abilities sometimes function as a canary in the cognitive coal mine: They can be a sign of future mental impairment decades before such issues manifest themselves.

In 1996, epidemiologist David Snowdon and a team of researchers studied the writing samples of women who had become nuns. They found that the grammatical complexity of essays written by the nuns when they joined their religious order could predict which sisters would develop dementia several decades later. (Hundreds of nuns have donated their brains to science, and this allows for a conclusive diagnosis of dementia.)

While Toni Morrison’s writing remained searingly clear and focused as she aged, other authors have not been as fortunate. The prose in Iris Murdoch’s final novel, “Jackson’s Dilemma,” suggests some degree of cognitive impairment. Indeed, she died from dementia-related causes four years after its publication.

Toni Morrison published her last novel, ‘God Help the Child,’ when she was 84 years old.
AP Photo/Michel Euler

Don’t put down that book

Our ability to read and write can be preserved well into older adulthood. Making use of these abilities is important, because reading and writing seem to prevent cognitive decline.

Keeping a journal, for example, has been shown to substantially reduce the risk of developing various forms of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.

Reading fiction, meanwhile, has been associated with a longer lifespan. A large-scale study conducted by the Yale University School of Public Health found that people who read books for at least 30 minutes a day lived, on average, nearly two years longer than nonreaders. This effect persisted even after controlling for factors like gender, education and health. The researchers suggest that the imaginative work of constructing a fictional universe in our heads helps grease our cognitive wheels.

Language is a constant companion during our life journey, so perhaps it’s no surprise that it’s interwoven into our health and our longevity. And researchers continue to make discoveries about the connections between language and aging. For example, a study published in July 2019 found that studying a foreign language in older adulthood improves overall cognitive functioning.

A thread seems to run through most of the findings: In order to age well, it helps to keep writing, reading and talking.

While few of us possess the gifts of a Toni Morrison, all of us stand to gain by continuing to flex our literary muscles.

Richard M. Roberts, a U.S. diplomat currently serving as the Public Affairs Officer at the U.S. Consulate General in Okinawa, Japan, is a contributing author of this article.

Roger J. Kreuz and Richard M. Roberts are the authors of:

Changing Minds: How Aging Affects Language and How Language Affects Aging The Conversation

MIT Press provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.

Roger J. Kreuz, Associate Dean, College of Arts & Sciences, University of Memphis

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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This is not about dogs but it is about writing about dogs!

Helping dogs with cancer, and a bonus!

This item from The Conversation website is very interesting!

Cancer touches so many people.

My father died of lung cancer in 1956. My step-father in turn died of cancer much later on (I can’t recall what cancer it was and when he died).

It’s a terrible disease.

Key facts. Cancer is the second leading cause of death globally, and is responsible for an estimated 9.6 million deaths in 2018. Globally, about 1 in 6 deaths is due to cancer. Approximately 70% of deaths from cancer occur in low- and middle-income countries.

Cancer – World Health Organization

But then this comes along and offers hope.

The Conversation

Published on Jul 23, 2019

Cheryl London, a professor of veterinary medicine at Tufts University, practices “comparative oncology,” or testing cancer treatments in animals for potential use in humans. Her trials give sick pets a chance at a longer life – and could help contribute to new therapies for people.

That seems like it’s good for dogs and good for us!

Bravo!

The power of a photograph

No words to say how I feel!

The bodies of Salvadoran migrant Oscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his daughter lie on the bank of the Rio Grande in Matamoros, Mexico. AP Photo/Julia Le Duc

This is a terrible photograph. It has been widely shown but that doesn’t make it any less terrible.

Patrice Ayme recently wrote about the tragedy but for today I am republishing the article in The Conversation.

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How much power can one image actually have?

By

Associate Professor, School of Journalism and Communication, University of Oregon

Professor of Psychology, University of Oregon

When the Associated Press published Julia Le Duc’s photograph of a drowned Salvadoran man, Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez, and his 23-month old daughter Valeria, it sparked outrage on social media. According to Le Duc, Ramírez had attempted to cross the Rio Grande after realizing he couldn’t present himself to U.S. authorities to request asylum.

But beyond raising awareness via Twitter and Facebook feeds, does an image like this one have the power to sway public opinion or spur politicians to take action?

As journalism and psychology scholars interested in the effects of imagery, we study the ability of jarring photos and videos to move people from complacency to action. While graphic imagery can have an immediate impact, the window of action – and caring – is smaller than you’d think.

A political catalyst?

Photographs and videos – through their perceived authenticity – can have an effect on people.

Research suggests that the graphic photo of slain Emmett Till in his open casket served as a “political catalyst” in mobilizing Americans to action in the civil rights movement. Similarly, news images have been credited as playing an important role in ending the Vietnam War.

But not all scholars agree. A recent article argued that it was a “myth” that the iconic “napalm girl” photo swayed public opinion and hastened the end of the Vietnam War.

Did the ‘napalm girl’ significantly shift public opinion on the Vietnam War? manhhai/flickr, CC BY

We must also look to psychology to understand the impacts of emotional news content. Research demonstrates that audiences need an emotional connection – and not merely a “just-the-facts” reporting approach – as “prerequisite for political action” when it comes to appreciating the importance of distant mass suffering. And imagery can trigger this emotional connection by overcoming the psychic numbing that occurs when casualties mount, images blur and lost lives become merely dry statistics.

Images from Syria

In April 2017, gut-wrenching images seem to have awakened the world to the human atrocities happening in Syria. Following a chemical bomb attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun, graphic photos and videos documented the horrific effects of the banned nerve agent sarin. Millions bore witness to excruciating human suffering: gasping, choking, writhing and dying. More than 500 people were injured, with at least 86 deaths, including 28 children.

The vivid, closeup images of sarin attack victims were resonant enough to break through the complacency of people and politicians accustomed to bad news emerging from the war-torn nation. In President Trump’s response – which included a retaliatory missile strike – he seemed to recognize the value of the Syrian lives depicted in the horrific photos and videos.

Syrian doctors treat a child following a suspected chemical attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun, northern Idlib province, Syria. Edlib Media Center, via AP, File

“When you kill innocent children,” he said during a news conference, “that crosses many, many lines, beyond a red line – many, many lines.”

The limits of an image

Nonetheless, even though the attacks may have briefly heightened U.S. concerns over the wars in Syria, the photographic documentation of the suffering in Syria wasn’t new.

The 2015 photos of a tiny Syrian boy’s lifeless body resting face down in the sand similarly stirred the world’s collective consciousness. Within hours of its release, the photo had reached 20 million people through Twitter, with many more millions seeing it on the front pages of newspapers the next day. Afterwards, government restrictions on accepting refugees were loosened while private donations to organizations like the Red Cross spiked dramatically.

A year later haunting images of a young boy in the back of an ambulance, caked in dirt and blood, galvanized the world.

But the emotional and compassionate responses to both photographs were short-lived. The bombing of civilians in Syria continued. Refugees continued risking their lives to escape the war zone.

After a photograph of a dead Syrian boy went viral in 2015, the number of daily donations to a Swedish Red Cross campaign designated specifically for aiding Syrian refugees spiked dramatically – but only for a brief window. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, CC BY-SA

Since the publication of Le Duc’s photo of the dead migrants, supportive politicians may feel emboldened to sound the alarm on the plight of Central American migrants. Donations to immigrant aid organizations might briefly spike.

But it seems that a photograph, no matter how emotionally devastating, can only do so much.

Yes, it can create a window of time when we’re motivated to act, and we’ll usually do so if we have effective options to pursue. This could mean a charitable donation at the individual level or, collectively, a surge of political will. However, psychology research from the “arithmetic of compassion” suggests that sympathy for distant human suffering declines when we’re presented with rising body counts. Sometimes we’re discouraged by the scope of the problem and this stops us from doing things that actually make a difference – even if partial solutions can save lives. Other times, if the options for helping others seem too narrow or ineffective, we’ll turn away and stop caring.

Images can alert us to the horrors of violence, mass migration and poverty. But as we have seen time and again, photographs and news footage of human suffering generally precipitate a short-term emotional reaction, rather than a sustained humanitarian response.

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As one reads the article it is much more than a comment on a single image despite how terrible that photograph may be.

The two scientists set out to show that the period that we are alarmed or terrified or just plain sad at the state of nations is rather short.

Maybe it’s the self-protective nature of our species that does this.

But it still doesn’t diminish the horror of that top photograph.

More on meteorites.

I saw this story very late yesterday.

This was read quickly towards the end of the day, as in yesterday, but I thought it well worthwhile rescheduling my doggie article until Saturday and putting this in for today.

Later on yesterday it was read more thoroughly and it is full of fascinating information such as the weight of meteorites that fall onto Planet Earth each day. I wasn’t aware of that.

Anyway, hope you too find it of interest.

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The tell-tale clue to how meteorites were made, at the birth of the solar system

By

Professor of Astronomy, Wesleyan University

and

Assistant Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Wesleyan University

June 6th, 2019.

April 26, 1803 was an unusual day in the small town of L’Aigle in Normandy, France – it rained rocks.

Over 3,000 of them fell out of the sky. Fortunately no one was injured. The French Academy of Sciences investigated and proclaimed, based on many eyewitness stories and the unusual look of the rocks, that they had come from space.

The Earth is pummeled with rocks incessantly as it orbits the Sun, adding around 50 tons to our planet’s mass every day. Meteorites, as these rocks are called, are easy to find in deserts and on the ice plains of Antarctica, where they stick out like a sore thumb. They can even land in backyards, treasures hidden among ordinary terrestrial rocks. Amateurs and professionals collect meteorites, and the more interesting ones make it to museums and laboratories around the world for display and study. They are also bought and sold on eBay.

Despite decades of intense study by thousands of scientists, there is no general consensus on how most meteorites formed. As an astronomer and a geologist, we have recently developed a new theory of what happened during the formation of the solar system to create these valuable relics of our past. Since planets form out of collisions of these first rocks, this is an important part of the history of the Earth.

This meteor crater in Arizona was created 50,000 years ago when an iron meteorite struck the Earth. It is about one mile across. W. Herbst, CC BY-SA

The mysterious chondrules

Drew Barringer (left), owner of Arizona meteor crater, his wife, Clare Schneider, and author William Herbst in the Van Vleck Observatory Library of Wesleyan University, where an iron meteorite from the crater is on display. W. Herbst

About 10% of meteorites are pure iron. These form through a multi-step process in which a large molten asteroid has enough gravity to cause iron to sink to its center. This builds an iron core just like the Earth’s. After this asteroid solidifies, it can be shattered into meteorites by collisions with other objects. Iron meteorites are as old as the solar system itself, proving that large asteroids formed quickly and fully molten ones were once abundant.

The other 90% of meteorites are called “chondrites” because they are full of mysterious, tiny spheres of rock known as “chondrules.” No terrestrial rock has anything like a chondrule inside it. It is clear that chondrules formed in space during a brief period of intense heating when temperatures reached the melting point of rock, around 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit, for less than an hour. What could possibly account for that?

A closeup of the Semarkona meteorite showing dozens of chondrules. Kenichi Abe

Researchers have come up with many hypotheses through the last 40 years. But no consensus has been reached on how this brief flash of heating happened.

The chondrule problem is so famously difficult and contentious that when we announced to colleagues a few years ago that we were working on it, their reaction was to smile, shake their heads and offer their condolences. Now that we have proposed a solution we are preparing for a more critical response, which is fine, because that’s the way science advances.

The flyby model

Our idea is quite simple. Radioactive dating of hundreds of chondrules shows that they formed between 1.8 and 4 million years after the beginning of the solar system – some 4.6 billion years ago. During this time, fully molten asteroids, the parent bodies of the iron meteorites, were abundant. Volcanic eruptions on these asteroids released tremendous amounts of heat into the space around them. Any smaller objects passing by during an eruption would experience a short, intense blast of heat.

To test our hypothesis, we split up the challenge. The astronomer, Herbst, crunched the numbers to determine how much heating was necessary and for how long to create chondrules. Then the geologist, Greenwood, used a furnace in our lab at Wesleyan to recreate the predicted conditions and see if we could make our own chondrules.

Laboratory technician Jim Zareski (top) loads a programmable furnace as co-author Jim Greenwood looks on, in his laboratory at Wesleyan University. This is where the synthetic chondrules are made. W. Herbst

The experiments turned out to be quite successful.

We put some fine dust from Earth rocks with compositions resembling space dust into a small capsule, placed it in our furnace and cycled the temperature through the predicted range. Out came a nice-looking synthetic chondrule. Case closed? Not so fast.

Two problems emerged with our model. In the first place, we had ignored the bigger issue of how chondrules came to be part of the whole meteorite. What is their relationship to the stuff between chondrules – called matrix? In addition, our model seemed a bit too chancy to us. Only a small fraction of primitive matter will be heated in the way we proposed. Would it be enough to account for all those chondrule-packed meteorites hitting the Earth?

A comparison of a synthetic chondrule (left) made in the Wesleyan lab with a heating curve from the flyby model, with an actual chondrule (right) from the Semarkona meteorite. The crystal structure is quite similar, as shown in the enlargements (bottom row). J. Greenwood

Making whole meteorites

To address these issues, we extended our initial model to consider flyby heating of a larger object, up to a few miles across. As this material approaches a hot asteroid, parts of it will vaporize like a comet, resulting in an atmosphere rich in oxygen and other volatile elements. This turns out to be just the kind of atmosphere in which chondrules form, based on previous detailed chemical studies.

We also expect the heat and gas pressure to harden the flyby object into a whole meteorite through a process known as hot isostatic pressing, which is used commercially to make metal alloys. As the chondrules melt into little spheres, they will release gas to the matrix, which traps those elements as the meteorite hardens. If chondrules and chondrites form together in this manner, we expect the matrix to be enhanced in exactly the same elements that the chondrules are depleted. This phenomenon, known as complementarity, has, in fact, been observed for decades, and our model provides a plausible explanation for it.

The authors’ model for forming chondrules. A small piece of rock (right) — a few miles across or less — swings close to a large hot asteroid erupting lava at its surface. Infrared radiation from the hot lava briefly raises the temperature on the small piece of rock high enough to form chondrules and harden part of that object into a meteorite. W. Herbst/Icarus

Perhaps the most novel feature of our model is that it links chondrule formation directly to the hardening of meteorites. Since only well-hardened objects from space can make it through the Earth’s atmosphere, we would expect the meteorites in our museums to be full of chondrules, as they are. But hardened meteorites full of chondrules would be the exception, not the rule, in space, since they form by a relatively chancy process – the hot flyby. We should know soon enough if this idea holds water, since it predicts that chondrules will be rare on asteroids. Both Japan and the United States have ongoing missions to nearby asteroids that will return samples over the next few years.

If those asteroids are full of chondrules, like the hardened meteorites that make it to the Earth’s surface, then our model can be discarded and the search for a solution to the famous chondrule problem can go on. If, on the other hand, chondrules are rare on asteroids, then the flyby model will have passed an important test.

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Perfect timing!

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.

Science and the ocean floor

A wonderful postscript to my letter to Mr. Neptune!

The following was published last Wednesday and appeared on The Conversation site.

I found it very interesting and wanted to share it with you.

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Scientists have been drilling into the ocean floor for 50 years – here’s what they’ve found so far

September 26, 2018

By Professor Suzanne O’Connell, Professor of Earth & Environmental Sciences, Wesleyan University

The scientific drilling ship JOIDES Resolution arrives in Honolulu after successful sea trials and testing of scientific and drilling equipment. IODP, CC BY-ND

It’s stunning but true that we know more about the surface of the moon than about the Earth’s ocean floor. Much of what we do know has come from scientific ocean drilling – the systematic collection of core samples from the deep seabed. This revolutionary process began 50 years ago, when the drilling vessel Glomar Challenger sailed into the Gulf of Mexico on August 11, 1968 on the first expedition of the federally funded Deep Sea Drilling Project.

I went on my first scientific ocean drilling expedition in 1980, and since then have participated in six more expeditions to locations including the far North Atlantic and Antaractica’s Weddell Sea. In my lab, my students and I work with core samples from these expeditions. Each of these cores, which are cylinders 31 feet long and 3 inches wide, is like a book whose information is waiting to be translated into words. Holding a newly opened core, filled with rocks and sediment from the Earth’s ocean floor, is like opening a rare treasure chest that records the passage of time in Earth’s history.

Over a half-century, scientific ocean drilling has proved the theory of plate tectonics, created the field of paleoceanography and redefined how we view life on Earth by revealing an enormous variety and volume of life in the deep marine biosphere. And much more remains to be learned.

Technological innovations

Two key innovations made it possible for research ships to take core samples from precise locations in the deep oceans. The first, known as dynamic positioning, enables a 471-foot ship to stay fixed in place while drilling and recovering cores, one on top of the next, often in over 12,000 feet of water.

Anchoring isn’t feasible at these depths. Instead, technicians drop a torpedo-shaped instrument called a transponder over the side. A device called a transducer, mounted on the ship’s hull, sends an acoustic signal to the transponder, which replies. Computers on board calculate the distance and angle of this communication. Thrusters on the ship’s hull maneuver the vessel to stay in exactly the same location, countering the forces of currents, wind and waves.

Another challenge arises when drill bits have to be replaced mid-operation. The ocean’s crust is

The re-entry cone is welded together around the drill pipe, then lowered down the pipe to guide reinsertion before changing drill bits. IODP, CC BY-ND

composed of igneous rock that wears bits down long before the desired depth is reached.

When this happens, the drill crew brings the entire drill pipe to the surface, mounts a new drill bit and returns to the same hole. This requires guiding the pipe into a funnel shaped re-entry cone, less than 15 feet wide, placed in the bottom of the ocean at the mouth of the drilling hole. The process, which was first accomplished in 1970, is like lowering a long strand of spaghetti into a quarter-inch-wide funnel at the deep end of an Olympic swimming pool.

Confirming plate tectonics

When scientific ocean drilling began in 1968, the theory of plate tectonics was a subject of active debate. One key idea was that new ocean crust was created at ridges in the seafloor, where oceanic plates moved away from each other and magma from earth’s interior welled up between them. According to this theory, crust should be new material at the crest of ocean ridges, and its age should increase with distance from the crest.

Part of a core section from the Chicxulub impact crater. It is suevite, a type of rock, formed during the impact, that contains rock fragments and melted rocks. IODP, CC BY-ND

The only way to prove this was by analyzing sediment and rock cores. In the winter of 1968-1969, the Glomar Challenger drilled seven sites in the South Atlantic Ocean to the east and west of the Mid-Atlantic ridge. Both the igneous rocks of the ocean floor and overlying sediments aged in perfect agreement with the predictions, confirming that ocean crust was forming at the ridges and plate tectonics was correct.

Reconstructing earth’s history

The ocean record of Earth’s history is more continuous than geologic formations on land, where erosion and redeposition by wind, water and ice can disrupt the record. In most ocean locations sediment is laid down particle by particle, microfossil by microfossil, and remains in place, eventually succumbing to pressure and turning into rock.

Microfossils (plankton) preserved in sediment are beautiful and informative, even though some

are smaller than the width of a human hair. Like larger plant and animal fossils, scientists can use these delicate structures of calcium and silicon to reconstruct past environments.

Thanks to scientific ocean drilling, we know that after an asteroid strike killed all non-avian dinosaurs 66 million years ago, new life colonized the crater rim within years, and within 30,000 years a full ecosystem was thriving. A few deep ocean organisms lived right through the meteorite impact.

Ocean drilling has also shown that ten million years later, a massive discharge of carbon – probably from extensive volcanic activity and methane released from melting methane hydrates – caused an abrupt, intense warming event, or hyperthermal, called the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum. During this episode, even the Arctic reached over 73 degrees Fahrenheit.

The resulting acidification of the ocean from the release of carbon into the atmosphere and ocean caused massive dissolution and change in the deep ocean ecosystem.

This episode is an impressive example of the impact of rapid climate warming. The total amount of carbon released during the PETM is estimated to be about equal to the amount that humans will release if we burn all of Earth’s fossil fuel reserves. Yet, an important difference is that the carbon released by the volcanoes and hydrates was at a much slower rate than we are currently releasing fossil fuel. Thus we can expect even more dramatic climate and ecosystem changes unless we stop emitting carbon.

Enhanced scanning electron microscope images of phytoplankton (left, a diatom; right, a coccolithophore). Different phytoplankton species have distinct climatic preferences, which makes them ideal indicators of surface ocean conditions. Dee Breger, CC BY-NC-ND

 

Finding life in ocean sediments

Scientific ocean drilling has also shown that there are roughly as many cells in marine sediment as in the ocean or in soil. Expeditions have found life in sediments at depths over 8000 feet; in seabed deposits that are 86 million years old; and at temperatures above 140 degrees Fahrenheit.

Today scientists from 23 nations are proposing and conducting research through the International Ocean Discovery Program, which uses scientific ocean drilling to recover data from seafloor sediments and rocks and to monitor environments under the ocean floor. Coring is producing new information about plate tectonics, such as the complexities of ocean crust formation, and the diversity of life in the deep oceans.

This research is expensive, and technologically and intellectually intense. But only by exploring the deep sea can we recover the treasures it holds and better understand its beauty and complexity.

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Did the phrase in the first paragraph of the article jump out for you as it did for me?

This one: “…we know more about the surface of the moon than about the Earth’s ocean floor.

Doesn’t Mr. Neptune hold his cards close to his chest.

Wonder if he communes with man’s best friend??

 

The Fall

And I am not speaking of the Autumn!

To be honest, dear friends, I really agonised over whether or not to republish an item that I saw on The Conversation blogsite last Friday. For it has nothing to do with dogs, nothing to do with learning from dogs, and everything to do with being the ‘wrong’ side of 65 years old.

But then one day last week I was out watching some tree cutting being undertaken by Jimmy Gonzales and his crew and heard the phoning ringing in the house.

I ran for the steps leading up to the deck and missed the bottom step.

I fell but luckily managed to grab the handrails seconds before I could have smacked my head into the steps. However, it did scare me especially when I reflected that it wasn’t even 9 months since my medical emergency following my fall from my bicycle.

It confirmed the sense in republishing the item. Republished within the terms of The Conversation site.

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Before the fall: How oldsters can avoid one of old age’s most dangerous events

September 21, 2018

By four authors:

 Co-Director of Texas A&M Center for Population Health and Aging, Texas A&M University

  Research Scientist, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

  Regents and Distinguished Professor, Associate Vice President for Strategic Partnerships and Initiatives, Texas A&M University

  Adjunct Assistant Professor, Public Health, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Baby boomers, who once viewed themselves as the coolest generation in history, are now turning their thoughts away from such things as partying and touring alongside rock bands to how to they can stay healthy as they age. And, one of the most important parts of healthy aging is avoiding a fall, the number one cause of accidental death among people 65 and older.

The issue is growing more pressing each day. More adults than ever – 46 million – are 65 and older, and their numbers are increasing rapidly.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one in four older adults will fall each year. Falls are the leading cause of injury and injury deaths among older adults. And, they are costly. Falls are responsible for an estimated US$31 billion in annual Medicare costs. This estimate does not account for non-direct medical or societal costs.

People who fall can lose their physical mobility for life, go into a hospital never to be discharged, require skilled nursing or other caregiver support, or become so fearful about falling again that they dramatically limit their daily activities.

The good news is that most falls are preventable, research has identified many modifiable risk factors for falls, and older adults can empower themselves to reduce their falls risks. This means there are opportunities to intervene in clinical and community settings to promote protective behaviors and improve safety.

A life-changing event

Falls can cause fractures, traumatic brain injuries and other conditions that require an emergency room visit or hospitalization. An older adult dies from a fall every 19 minutes, and every 11 seconds an older adult is treated in an emergency room for a fall-related injury. About one in four falls results in needed medical attention, and falls are responsible for about 95 percent of all hip fractures. In addition to the physical and mental trauma associated with the fall itself, falls often result in fear of falling, reduced quality of life, loss of independence and social isolation.

shutterstock. Astrid Gast/Shutterstock.com

There is no single cause for falling. Falls can result from issues related to biological aging, such as balance problems, loss of muscle strength, changes in vision, arthritis or diabetes. Taking a combination of several prescription drugs can also contribute to falls. Lifestyle behaviors such as physical inactivity, poor nutrition and poor sleep quality can also increase the risk for falling. Environmental hazards inside the home, such as poor lighting and throw rugs, and outside, such as bad weather, standing water and uneven sidewalks, can create situations where falls are more likely to occur.

It takes a careful village

Because falls can be caused by many things, the solutions must also include a diverse set of systems, organizations and professionals. Toward that end, 42 active or developing state fall prevention coalitions, which coordinate initiatives and serve as advocates for policy development and community action, are in place. Their activities foster collaboration across the aging services network, public health and health care system. They do such things as host health fairs and fall risk screening events, fall prevention programs, and awareness-raising events to inform decision-makers and legislators about ways to make communities safer for older adults.

Here are some of the key objectives that the coalitions are working on to reduce hazards from falling:

  • Enhance clinical-community collaboration for programming.

There are many fall prevention programs offered in communities to promote healthful behaviors and to reinforce positive mental perspectives about falls being preventable.

People concerned about falling should contact their local Area Agency on Aging to find out where these programs are offered and which can be most beneficial. Also, seniors should ask their doctors about fall-related risk factors and what they can do to reduce risk. Communicate your concerns about falls with your health care team and social network, tell them about what you learn during your fall prevention programs, and report back about how they are making a difference in your life.

  • Manage chronic conditions.

About 70 percent of older adults have one or more chronic conditions, many of which can increase the risk for falling. For example, people with diabetes may have vision problems and problems with sensation in their feet. Also, the medications used to treat these conditions can increase fall risk. And, taking five or more medications has been identified with increased frailty and higher risk for falling.

Being physically active can help seniors have better balance and reduce the risk of falls. wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock.com

While health care access and utilization are important for chronic disease diagnosis and management, 90 percent of health care happens outside the health care setting. Therefore, older adults need to manage their diseases better. To do this, however, they often need help. For starters, they should discuss the side effects of all medications with their doctors and also how best to adhere to prescribed treatment regimens, such as when to take medications, whether to take with food and whether there are possible interactions of one medication with another. Seniors also can consider enrolling in evidence-based disease self-management programs to improve their knowledge and confidence to manage their conditions as well as enhance lasting skills for goal setting and action planning, such as being physically active for 30 minutes a day for five days a week.

  • Alter the physical environment.

About 44 percent of falls occur inside the home. In-home risk factors for falls can include dim lighting, clutter on floors, throw rugs and ottomans, missing railings, uncovered wires and extension cords, children and pets underfoot and unsafe bathrooms. A unsafe bathroom is one with an inappropriate toilet height, high shower or bathtub walls and no grab rails.

To identify possible risks in the home, the CDC created a user-friendly safety checklist that can safeguard older adults by eliminating environmental hazards.

  • Maintain healthful behaviors.

Daily lifestyle behaviors such as physical activity, nutrition and sleep quality can influence fall risk, and these are never too late to change. Interventions can be successful for people of all ages. Among the most important is physical activity, namely safely performing lower-body exercises to increase strength, balance and flexibility. Additionally, seniors should work with their health care team to have medications reviewed and eyes checked regularly. Also, they should ask about their vitamin D levels and possible nutritional supplementation.

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Yes, when it comes to being more careful on our feet once again our dear dogs offer us a much better way: Have four of them!!

Just look at the ease of our dear Brandy scampering through the woods yesterday morning!

Our dear, sorely-missed Pharaoh demonstrating the advantages of four feet!

So my good people – you be careful out there!

How our dogs come to us in times of angst.

Science confirms what every dog lover truly knows.

This was seen on The Conversation website and is republished within the terms of that site.

You will love it!

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Lending a helping paw: Dogs will aid their crying human

File 20180723 189335 ay9ify.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
I’ll try to be there for you 100 percent. Chris Gladis, CC BY-ND

Authors: Julia Meyers-Manor, Ripon College and Emily Sanford, Johns Hopkins University

From Lassie to Balto, pop culture loves stories of a dog coming to a person’s rescue. Anecdotally, people experience their dogs coming to their aid every day, like when one of us found herself “trapped” by her children under a pile of pillows only to be “rescued” by her noble collie, Athos.

But is there any scientific evidence behind these sorts of tales?

Researchers know that dogs respond to human crying and will approach people – whether their owner or a total stranger – who show signs of distress. We decided to investigate whether dogs would go a step further than just approaching people: Would they take action to help a person in need?

Dog/human partners come into the lab

We recruited 34 pet dogs and therapy dogs – that is, those who visit people in hospitals and nursing homes – to take part in our study. Dogs included a variety of breeds and ages, from an elderly golden retriever therapy dog to an adolescent spaniel mix.

When they got to the lab, each owner filled out a survey about the dog’s training and behaviors while we attached a heart rate monitor to the dog’s chest to measure its stress responses.

In the experimental setup, dogs could see and hear their owners.

Next, we instructed the owner on how to behave during the experiment. Each owner sat in a chair behind a clear door that was magnetized shut – there as a barrier separating the dog from its owner – that the dog could easily push open. We assigned half the people to cry loudly and say “Help” in a distressed voice every 15 seconds. The other half of our volunteers we assigned to hum “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” and say “Help” in a calm voice every 15 seconds. We ran the test until the dog opened the door or, if it didn’t, until five minutes elapsed.

Past research seemed to indicate that dogs would not help their human companions in distress, but it’s possible that the tasks to demonstrate “help” were too difficult for a dog to understand. So we adapted this straightforward task from previous research in rats. It seemed like dogs would be capable of nudging open a door to access their owners.

Lassie, Timmy’s crying in the other room

We expected to find that dogs would open the door more often if their owner was crying than if they were humming. Surprisingly, that isn’t what we found: About half the dogs opened the door, regardless of which condition they were in, which tells us that dogs in both conditions wanted to be near their owners.

I’m on my way! Emily Sanford and Julia Meyers-Manor, CC BY-ND

When we looked at how quickly the dogs who opened the door did so, we found a stark difference: In the crying condition, dogs took an average of 23 seconds to open the door, while in the control condition, they took more than a minute and a half. The humans’ crying seemed to affect the dogs’ behaviors, taking just a quarter as long to push open the door and get to their human if they seemed distressed. We did not find any differences between therapy dogs and other pet dogs.

Other interesting results came when we looked into how the dogs were behaving in each condition. In the crying condition, we found the dogs that opened the door showed fewer signs of stress – and were reported by their owners to be less anxious – than dogs that did not open it. We also found that dogs that opened the door more quickly were less stressed than dogs that took longer to open it.

In contrast, dogs in the humming condition showed a slight tendency to open more quickly if they were reported to be more anxious. This may mean that dogs who opened in the humming condition were seeking their owners for their own comfort.

Helping requires more than just empathy

Because both humans and animals tend to be more empathetic toward individuals with whom they are more familiar or close, we thought that the strength of a dog’s bond with its owner might explain some of the differences we saw in dogs’ empathetic responses.

As soon as the test was over, we let the dog and owner reunite and cuddle for a few minutes to make sure everyone was calm before the next part of the experiment. Next, we turned to a test called the Impossible Task to learn a bit more about each dog’s emotional bond with its person.

Hey, a little help down here for your furry friend? Julia Meyers-Manor and Emily Sanford, CC BY-ND

In this task, the dog learns to tip over a jar to get to a treat; then we lock the jar onto a board with a treat inside and record whether the dog gazes at its owner or a stranger. There have been some mixed results with this test, but the idea is that a dog who spends more time looking at their owner during this task may have a stronger bond with their owner than a dog that doesn’t spend much time looking at their owner.

We found that dogs who opened the door in the crying condition did gaze at their owner more during the Impossible Task than non-openers. On the other hand, it was the dogs who didn’t open the door in the humming condition that gazed at their owners more than those who opened it. This suggests that openers in the crying condition and non-openers in the humming condition had the strongest relationships with their owners.

Taken together, we interpreted these results as evidence that dogs were behaving empathetically in response to their crying owners. To behave empathetically toward another individual, you must not only be aware of the distress of another person, but also suppress your own stress enough to help out. If you are overwhelmingly stressed, you might either be incapacitated or try to leave the situation entirely. This pattern has been seen in children, where the most empathetic kids are the ones who are skilled at regulating their own emotional states enough to give help.

It appears to be the case with these dogs as well. Dogs with weaker emotional bonds to their owners, and those that perceived their owners’ distress but were unable to suppress their own stress response, may have been too overwhelmed by the situation to provide any help.

While everyone hopes their dog would help them if they ever were in trouble, we found that many of the dogs did not. People involved in our experiment, particularly those with dogs that didn’t open the door, told us many stories of their dogs coming to their aid in the past. Our study suggests that in some cases if your dog doesn’t help you, it’s not a sign he doesn’t love you; Fido might just love you too much.

Julia Meyers-Manor, Assistant Professor of Psychology, Ripon College and Emily Sanford, PhD Student in Psychology and Brain Sciences, Johns Hopkins University

(This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.)

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Well done, Julia Meyers-Manor and Emily Sanford. Great work!

 

Can we really avoid the ‘train crash’?

The idea that humanity will not prevent the approaching disaster is beyond belief!

One of the results of all you great people signing up to follow Learning from Dogs is that it encourages me to share things that strike me as so, so important.

Another of the results in there being, as of today, 3,349 following this place, is that I get the sense of what many of you good people also feel is important. Ergo, it is clear to me, clear beyond doubt, that caring and loving a dog or two makes you a person who cares and loves passionately this beautiful planet that is our home.

The emotion that is spilling out of me via these words to you is a result of having just read an essay published recently on The Conversation site and shared with you today.

Directly, it has nothing to do with our dear dogs. Yet, in a way, it does!

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7.5 billion and counting: How many humans can the Earth support?

By Associate Professor of Mathematics, College of the Holy Cross, July 9th 2018.

Humans are the most populous large mammal on Earth today, and probably in all of geological history. This World Population Day, humans number in the vicinity of 7.5 to 7.6 billion individuals.

Can the Earth support this many people indefinitely? What will happen if we do nothing to manage future population growth and total resource use? These complex questions are ecological, political, ethical – and urgent. Simple mathematics shows why, shedding light on our species’ ecological footprint.

The mathematics of population growth

In an environment with unlimited natural resources, population size grows exponentially. One characteristic feature of exponential growth is the time a population takes to double in size.

Exponential growth of world population

It took 127 years for the world population to double from one billion to two. By contrast, it took only 47 years, from 1927 to 1974, to double from two billion to four. Since 1960, world population has grown by about one billion every 13 years. Each point represents an additional one billion people.

[Ed: Text taken from a chart displayed in the article.]

Exponential growth tends to start slowly, sneaking up before ballooning in just a few doublings.

To illustrate, suppose Jeff Bezos agreed to give you one penny on Jan. 1, 2019, two pennies on Feb. 1, four on March 1, and so forth, with the payment doubling each month. How long would his $100 billion fortune uphold the contract? Take a moment to ponder and guess.

After one year, or 12 payments, your total contract receipts come to US$40.95, equivalent to a night at the movies. After two years, $167,772.15 – substantial, but paltry to a billionaire. After three years, $687,194,767.35, or about one week of Bezos’ 2017 income.

The 43rd payment, on July 1, 2022, just short of $88 billion and equal to all the preceding payments together (plus one penny), breaks the bank.

Real population growth

For real populations, doubling time is not constant. Humans reached 1 billion around 1800, a doubling time of about 300 years; 2 billion in 1927, a doubling time of 127 years; and 4 billion in 1974, a doubling time of 47 years.

On the other hand, world numbers are projected to reach 8 billion around 2023, a doubling time of 49 years, and barring the unforeseen, expected to level off around 10 to 12 billion by 2100.

This anticipated leveling off signals a harsh biological reality: Human population is being curtailed by the Earth’s carrying capacity, the population at which premature death by starvation and disease balances the birth rate.

World population projections

In 2020, the UN predicts that there will be 7,795,482 people worldwide.

[Ed: Text taken from a chart displayed in the article.]

Ecological implications

Humans are consuming and polluting resources – aquifers and ice caps, fertile soil, forests, fisheries and oceans – accumulated over geological time, tens of thousands of years, or longer.

Wealthy countries consume out of proportion to their populations. As a fiscal analogy, we live as if our savings account balance were steady income.

According to the Worldwatch Institute, an environmental think tank, the Earth has 1.9 hectares of land per person for growing food and textiles for clothing, supplying wood and absorbing waste. The average American uses about 9.7 hectares.

These data alone suggest the Earth can support at most one-fifth of the present population, 1.5 billion people, at an American standard of living.

A man works recycling plastic bottles outside Hanoi, Vietnam. REUTERS/Kham

Water is vital. Biologically, an adult human needs less than 1 gallon of water daily. In 2010, the U.S. used 355 billion gallons of freshwater, over 1,000 gallons (4,000 liters) per person per day. Half was used to generate electricity, one-third for irrigation, and roughly one-tenth for household use: flushing toilets, washing clothes and dishes, and watering lawns.

If 7.5 billion people consumed water at American levels, world usage would top 10,000 cubic kilometers per year. Total world supply – freshwater lakes and rivers – is about 91,000 cubic kilometers.

World Health Organization figures show 2.1 billion people lack ready access to safe drinking water, and 4.5 billion lack managed sanitation. Even in industrialized countries, water sources can be contaminated with pathogens, fertilizer and insecticide runoff, heavy metals and fracking effluent.

Freedom to choose

Though the detailed future of the human species is impossible to predict, basic facts are certain. Water and food are immediate human necessities. Doubling food production would defer the problems of present-day birth rates by at most a few decades. The Earth supports industrialized standards of living only because we are drawing down the “savings account” of non-renewable resources, including fertile topsoil, drinkable water, forests, fisheries and petroleum.

The drive to reproduce is among the strongest desires, both for couples and for societies. How will humans reshape one of our most cherished expectations – “Be fruitful and multiply” – in the span of one generation? What will happen if present-day birth rates continue?

Population stays constant when couples have about two children who survive to reproductive age. In some parts of the developing world today, couples average three to six children.

We cannot wish natural resources into existence. Couples, however, have the freedom to choose how many children to have. Improvements in women’s rights, education and self-determination generally lead to lower birth rates.

As a mathematician, I believe reducing birth rates substantially is our best prospect for raising global standards of living. As a citizen, I believe nudging human behavior, by encouraging smaller families, is our most humane hope.

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This essay from Professor Hwang is one of those articles that one frequently sees online that comes across as really interesting but, in the end, only gets a skim read; at best.

So if you didn’t fully comprehend what the good Professor included then ‘Stop‘ and go back and read it all very carefully.

Don’t just be alarmed at Professor Hwang writing:

This anticipated leveling off signals a harsh biological reality: Human population is being curtailed by the Earth’s carrying capacity, the population at which premature death by starvation and disease balances the birth rate.

Or:

Though the detailed future of the human species is impossible to predict, basic facts are certain. Water and food are immediate human necessities. Doubling food production would defer the problems of present-day birth rates by at most a few decades. The Earth supports industrialized standards of living only because we are drawing down the “savings account” of non-renewable resources, including fertile topsoil, drinkable water, forests, fisheries and petroleum.

Be concerned that each and every one of us, as in you and me, can only prevent the train crash by making a change in how we live: Today!

Otherwise ….

In so many ways we are such a clever and inventive race, capable of exploring the farthest reaches of outer space and the innermost aspects of quantum mechanics. Surely we must learn to live sustainably on beautiful Planet Earth!