House intel panel debunks many Benghazi theories

My, my. Who could imagine that? What will the right-wing do now??–politics.html

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Science thrives only in societies where knowledge and reason are not overwhelmed by superstition and prejudice

The medieval mentality of modern science | Science News

Science coexists with society. Science shapes society, informs society, enables society to function in ways not possible without an in-depth knowledge of how the natural world works. But you can flip that coin and declare, equally accurately, that society shapes science. Science responds to societal needs, reflects societal values, conceives of nature within the framework of society’s prevailing worldview. And science thrives only in societies where knowledge and reason are not overwhelmed by superstition and prejudice.

So modern science, the conventional story says, emerged with the societal Renaissance that ended the millennium-long “dark” ages. A rebirth of learning transformed society from medieval to modern, enabling the birth of modern science.

“There can be no doubt,” science historian David Lindberg has written, “that in the early modern period science found itself in new social circumstances, which influenced its practice and altered its shape.”

Thanks to this synergistic coexistence, modern science and modern society have achieved heights of sophistication, complexity and affluence far beyond the dreams of medieval savants. Society enjoys the fruits of labor-saving machinery, electronic technological wizardry, health care expertise and agricultural and industrial productivity that science has made possible. At the same time societal support has allowed modern science to master the microworld of atoms and molecules, the vastness of the cosmos, the secrets of stars and planets, the mysteries of the Earth’s environs and its innards, the mechanisms of life and the origin of its multiplicity of species — not to mention the architecture of the human body and brain. Modern society, and modern science, could not be more different from their medieval predecessors.

But then again, in some ways both science and society have remained very much the same. Society still embraces superstitions and prejudices. Greed, corruption and violence do not seem to be in any danger of disappearing. And modern science, for all its progress and achievements, has not resolved many of the issues that arose in medieval times. In many, many ways, modern science retains a medieval mentality, by which I mean a frame of mind mired in deep physical, philosophical and technical problems that impede the path to a profound and indisputable grasp on truth.

Nobody denies that science has made enormous progress in comprehending nature, or that today’s best theories and analytical tools far exceed the scope and explanatory power of medieval beliefs and methods. Yet deep questions remain unsolved, and scientists today struggle with issues very similar to those that occupied the best medieval minds.

For instance:

In medieval times, Europeans learned the view of the ancient Greeks that “celestial” matter in the heavens differed in nature from matter making up the Earth. Today, scientists have concluded that the bulk of cosmic matter is indeed unlike anything known on Earth, but have been unable to determine just what that cosmic matter is made of. Medieval thinkers similarly debated about the properties of celestial matter — whether it was crystalline and rigid or fluid, for example.

Medieval scientists (natural philosophers) also wondered whether the universe is eternal or had a beginning. Aristotle had argued strongly for eternal. Medieval authors debated that point in light of the Christian creation story. Today physicists generally believe in a Big Bang creation of our universe, but also debate whether the popular theory explaining that event — inflation — implies a preexisting universe extending back eternally.

Other questions can be posed in both the medieval and modern context. Can a void exist beyond the universe we inhabit? Again, Aristotle said no, but medieval scientists often argued otherwise. Today some physicists picture the universe’s three space dimensions as occupying an empty “bulk” space of higher dimensions. Consensus on this point is as elusive today as it was seven centuries ago.

Are there multiple universes, or only one? The medieval worldview encompassed one cosmos: a set of nested spheres, self-enclosed by the outermost one. But many natural philosophers and church officials alike contended that God could very well have decided to make other worlds. And today cosmologists seriously consider the possibility that our universe is just one in a multitude of spacetime bubbles — a multiverse — beyond our immediate awareness.

More generally, medieval experts debated whether science should restrict itself to direct experience or could consider factors abstracted from experience by reason. Averroës, a medieval Muslim philosopher, “identified the real world with the directly observable and concrete,” the historian A.C. Crombie wrote (a view shared by William of Ockham, famous for his “razor”). But while Averroës argued that abstract concepts were imposed on nature by modes of human thought, others, such as Avempace, believed that a deeper reality was revealed by the idealizations that reason could draw from direct experience. Much the same argument is alive in science today. Some scientists complain that a multiplex of unseen universes, or “superstrings” too tiny to detect, are not scientific at all, while others vigorously pursue those topics as mainstream scientific research programs.

On a related point, scientists then and now have both grappled with the nature of mathematics and its relationship to physical reality. Medieval scholars adopted Claudius Ptolemy’s mathematical treatment of planets circling the Earth, orbiting along circles modified by epicycles. But Ptolemy’s system was meant to be a method for predicting the motions of points of light in the sky using math. He wrote an entirely different book to discuss the nature of the planets’ physical reality. The more general issue was whether math is just useful for predicting observations (“saving the phenomena,” as medieval writers called it) or if it inheres directly in physical reality (as the ancient Pythagoreans, and Plato, believed). This issue resonates today in debates about the quantum wave function. It’s a mathematical expression that excels for making predictions of experimental outcomes. But experts don’t agree on whether it is “ontic” — possessing a reality of its own — or “epistemic” — merely offering knowledge about a system that is useful for predicting its behavior.

Other medieval-modern similarities arise when a science’s implications elicit objections to its validity. Despite the popularity of astrology in medieval times, some thinkers objected to it on the grounds that celestial control of personal destiny eliminated human choice and free will. Many medieval philosophers sided with St. Augustine, who had written that “the choices of the will are not subject to the positions of the stars.” Much the same sort of dispute over science occurs today about how findings from neuroscience could imply lack of free choice in human behavior.

Medieval scientists also argued about the proper methods for establishing scientific truth, debating the role of observation and reason and the proper use of experiments. Today methodology debates are much more sophisticated, but the proper way to design and evaluate experiments — and draw correct inferences — remains a source of vigorous discussion among scientists and philosophers alike.

Now, the point of all this is not that science has made no progress since the days of Averroës or William of Ockham. Or to just have fun finding some medieval-modern analogies. Rather the point is that the generalized system of science, for seeking truth about the workings of the natural world, is in a sense still medieval — that is, a prelude to a deeper understanding that may not come for another millennium.

Science’s history suggests that some of the grandiose claims of modern science’s success should be tempered by an appreciation of how it is likely to be viewed in the future. A few centuries from now, today’s grand scientific edifice will no doubt be viewed as something like a medieval cathedral — magnificent, to be sure, but nevertheless a product of a backward intellectual age. Some problems that perplex scientists today will have been solved; other questions viewed as crucial today will be seen as insignificant or improperly posed; topics not yet imagined today will be textbooks trivialities then. But even half a millennium from now, it may still well be that the deepest questions about reality and existence, mathematics and physics, eternity and ultimate truth, will still be fodder for bloggers whining about what science still doesn’t know.


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Training can lead to synesthetic experiences: Does learning the ‘color of’ specific letters boost IQ?

The University of Sussex research, published today (18 November 2014) in Scientific Reports, also found that the training might potentially boost IQ.

Synesthesia is a fascinating though little-understood neurological condition in which some people (estimated at around 1 in 23) experience an overlap in their senses. They “see” letters as specific colors, or can “taste” words, or associate sounds with different colors.

A critical debate concerns whether the condition is embedded in our genes, or whether it emerges because of particular environmental influences, such as colored-letter toys in infancy.

While the two possibilities are not mutually exclusive, psychologists at the University’s Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science devised a nine-week training program to see if adults without synesthesia can develop the key hallmarks of the condition.

They found, in a sample study of 14, that not only were the participants able to develop strong letter-color associations to pass all the standard tests for synesthesia, most also experienced sensations such as letters seeming “colored” or having individual personas (for instance, “x is boring,” “w is calm”).

One of the most surprising outcomes of the study was that those who underwent the training also saw their IQ jump by an average of 12 points, compared to a control group that didn’t undergo training.

Dr Daniel Bor, who co-led the study with Dr Nicolas Rothen, says: “The main implication of our study is that radically new ways of experiencing the world can be brought about simply through extensive perceptual training.

“The cognitive boost, although provisional, may eventually lead to clinical cognitive training tools to support mental function in vulnerable groups, such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity (ADHD) children, or adults starting to suffer from dementia.”

Dr Rothen adds: “It should be emphasized that we are not claiming to have trained non-synesthetes to become genuine synesthetes. When we retested our participants three months after training, they had largely lost the experience of ‘seeing’ colors when thinking about the letters. But it does show that synesthesia is likely to have a major developmental component, starting for many people in childhood.”


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Tiny Houses for the Homeless

MADISON (WKOW) — Madison’s newest– and smallest– neighborhood makes its debut this weekend.

Tiny House Village on E. Johnson Street is a project to offer shelter to some of Madison’s homeless population. Occupy Madison created it three years ago with a goal of helping the homeless get back on their feet.

“Rather than taking people form the streets and putting them in a building, we thought we could work together to create our own structures,” says Luca Clemente, with Occupy. “We don’t give houses to homeless people, we enable people to build their own houses to create their own futures.”

When complete, there will be nine homes in the village made from reclaimed and recycled materials. Organizers hope to add a garden, tree orchard and chickens.


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Climate Change Militant now in Charge


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SolaRoad: Exactly Like it Sounds

SolaRoad is a pioneering innovation in the field of energy harvesting. It is a unique concept, which converts sunlight on the road surface into electricity: the road network works as an inexhaustible source of green power. SolaRoad is sustainable and can be used in practice in many different ways.
SolaRoad was officially opened on November 12th 2014.

Be sure to watch the video:


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The Jesus Parable the GOP Loves but Should Actually Hate

The Parable of the Talents is the story of a lazy slave who buries the talents (think “a lot of money”) his Master gives him and receives exactly what an insolent and do-nothing slave deserves: a demeaning lecture and getting booted to the dark edges of society where he will suffer greatly for his poor stewardship of his master’s money.

If you don’t hear in that parable the echoes of the GOP’s perspective about food stamps, universal health care and pretty much anything else that takes care of those in need at the cost of the larger society, I have to believe you weren’t paying attention.

In conservative circles there is an almost obsessive concern with “lazy” people taking advantage of the system and getting their basic needs met at the expense of others.

If I didn’t know better, I’d believe that the parable of the talents is the foundation upon which the modern day GOP platform is built.

It’s the story of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. Verse 29 reads, “For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” If I weren’t already familiar with that verse I’d think that it was from some new, twisted and perverted rewrite of the Bible that was funded by the Koch brothers.

The Koch brother klan must LOVE this piece of scripture.

Unfortunately, loving it because of it’s condemning of the “lazy” slave, completely misses the point of the parable.

For these pieces of scripture to condemn the slave, you have to read them out of context. You have to completely ignore the fact that five short verses later Jesus says, “…for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” You have to ignore that Jesus concludes that lesson with these words, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”

Those lines are the morals of the stories, the parables, Jesus just told. So ask yourself, who in the parable is the least of these, the marginalized?
Let me help you by sharing verse 30 from this parable, “As for the worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

It’s the third slave – he is the least of these, the marginalized.

“Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”

The Parable of the Talents is not a condemnation of the third slave, it is a condemnation of the master.

That’s right, the master is not God.

The master is us, those with power – including the middle class in America.
Every time we live into our positions of power and then judge those who are struggling on what we see as the margins of society, the master is us. Every time we assume a right to our privileges and label those without those same privileges as “lazy,” the master is us. Even when our places of prerogative are so endemic that we live into the abuse they cause by carelessly supporting the slave labor required to provide the goods we want at rock bottom prices, the master is us.

Yes, it is the master that is being condemned here and, along with him, the words he speaks: “For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.”

You see Jesus doesn’t say, “Just as you did not do it unto one of the more productive of least of these, you did not do it unto me.”

The Parable of the Talents is the parable of a “master” whose place of power gets in his way of understanding Jesus’ core lesson. This parable is the story of a “slave” who is willing to risk everything, even in the face of fear, to the point of being shunned to the dark corners of society for the sake of standing up to abusive power systems by simply being unwilling to participate in them.

In many ways, there is great humor in the how they are labeled. The master is truly a slave to a system that suggest he is more powerful and more deserving than the “slave.” So much so that he somehow believes it is a good thing to call attention to the fact that he “reaps where he does not sow.”

The slave, on the other hand, while still a slave to his circumstances and the brutal “power” of the master, is the master of his own response to the power structure that instills fear into those who have little established power within the system. He confronts the system and it’s representative, the master – us.

This is a parable that confronts the masters of the world. It confronts those who have plenty and want more. It confronts those who assume some right to what they have because of their social position. It confronts those who believe the privileged places they were born into makes them more deserving than those who weren’t. It confronts those who believe they have what they have because they aren’t lazy like the people who don’t have it.

This is a parable that the GOP should hate.

The Koch klan who are hellbent on ushering the world’s newest oligarchical society, should fear the comeuppance encouragement offered to the least of these in this text. The “get your hands off my stuff” perspective of the Tea Party should tremble at the judgement this parable places on those who only focus on their own wealth and interests.

This is a text of equality. It is a story of resistance, of facing down the powers that be by refusing to participate in the system of dominance.
Yes, we are the master, but we are the third slave as well. This is our story. It is a call to arms, an encouragement, in the face of the one percent whose money is taking over the country.

The question is, are we willing to let go of the fear? Are we willing to live into the story of the third slave who confronted the powers that be? Are we willing to risk what little we have in order to confront the system that marginalizes us all?

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