Kwame Anthony Appiah (Author, philosopher of history, politics and social sciences.)
Kwame Appiah implies western democracy is the best form of government.
The democracy of which Appiah writes is one in which rule-of-law, freedom within the limits of rule-of-law, and equal opportunity are evident.
However, contrary to Langston Hughes’ poem, the sea is not calm. Democracies’ sea is stormy because its principles are inconsistently practiced.
Appiah’s chapters on religion may be a slog for some but they offer understanding of the inconsistency of religious belief. Religious contradictions are legion. Sermonizers pick and choose paths they like rather than any truth biblical writings may impart.
“The Lies That Bind” examines the role of religion, culture, and government in society.
Agnosticism, and atheism grows with revelations of science, stultified freedom of thought, and (though not mentioned by Appiah) ecumenical abuse.
Appiah’s life story reinforces the importance of culture. Both his parents were highly accomplished people. His mother was a British artist historian and writer. His father, from Ghana, was a lawyer, diplomat, and politician. Both parents come from accomplished families. Their son chooses to marry a man when same sex marriage only slowly becomes culturally accepted.
Appiah’s history addresses the ascendence of the Mongol empire to illustrate the breadth of Mongol conquest while noting its style of government control. His point is that control is exercised with a level of tolerance for independence, cultural understanding, and religious belief among Khan’s descendants.
Genghis Khan (1162-1227 Leader of the Mongol Empire)
In summary, Appiah argues democratic societies need to rethink identity in terms of human equality. Whether a man or woman is a successful entrepreneur, CEO, server in a restaurant, or laborer in construction, all are equally human. Appiah notes Trump’s political success in America relates to his intuitive understanding of what many political aspirants ignored—the importance of American labor, whether highly educated, unschooled, rich, or poor.
A leader of an enterprise can be right, even damn right, but fail without the help of labor. Disrespecting labor ensures failure. This is a lesson Henry Ford understood when he raised the wages of his work force. This is a lesson Elon Musk will undoubtedly find in his acquisition of Twitter.
Appiah’s lifebuoy is meritocracy, a government holding of power by people selected on the basis of their ability. The idea of meritocracy came about in the 1960s. However, there are academicians, like Daniel Markovits who believe the concept of meritocracy increases inequality and causes decline in the middle class. Markovits argues middle-class families lose equal educational opportunity because of high cost. Without equal opportunity for education, too many Americans are left without Appiah’s lifebuoy.
Appiah does not directly address issues of equality of opportunity in a democratic-meritocratic society. Though Appiah may be a minority in white western culture, one doubts his educational opportunity was ever a question of cost.
On balance, Appiah offers insight to how democracy can be improved. The key is equality of opportunity which implies democracy needs to focus on safety-net’ issues which entail more help for lower- and middle-class income earners. In democracy, that means election of leaders who are willing to ensure equality of opportunity for all.
The Other Slavery (The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America)
Narrated by: Eric Jason Martin
Andrés Reséndez (Author, Historian, Ph.D. in history from the University of Chicago.)
One suspects “The Other Slavery” is unknown or misremembered by most Americans. “The Other Slavery” is not about America’s civil war, the Emancipation Proclamation, or Abraham Lincoln. It is about indigenous peoples and their adaptation to a world turned upside down by newcomers from foreign lands.
As is well known, slavery has been a societal constant since the beginning of recorded history. Today, it appears in pornography, low wage peonage, so-called re-education camps, and political/social incarcerations. What Reséndez explains is that Indian tribes of the west are increasingly incentivized by slavery with the arrival of foreigners. Though slavery may have been used by Indians earlier in history, it became a significant source of revenue for warring tribes.
Hernán Cortés de Monroy y Pizarro Altamirano (aka Cortez), 1st Marquess of the Valley of Oaxaca.
Reséndez reminds listeners of internecine wars of early America when conquistadores and Indians ruled the American southwest.
One Indian tribe captures a different tribes’ sons, and daughters to trade for money, horses, guns, and butter from the Spanish or later settlers who need cheap labor or who seek domestic help and/or carnal pleasure. Reséndez notes young women’s slavery prices are higher than young men’s because of their dual service as domestic laborers and sex objects. Over time, as Spanish land holders are replaced by American land holders, Indians remain a source and victim of the slave industry.
Men, women, and children are used by land holders and competing Indian tribes as barter for trade.
Santa Fe, New Mexico becomes a focal point of conflict between Pueblo Indians and the Spanish. The victimization of Pueblo Indian slaves leads to a rebellion that removes Spain from the New Mexico territory, at least for several years. However, the lure of silver brings Spain back with a slave trade resurgence in southwestern territories of America. Reséndez explains the slave trade becomes endemic as silver is discovered in Mexico and the southwest territories.
The need for cheap labor in silver mines multiplies the value of Indian slaves in the southwest.
The slave trade never dies. Greed drives Indian tribes to steal people from different Indian’ tribes to profit from human sales to landowners looking for cheap labor. Reséndez notes it is not just Indians victimizing Indians but American and Spanish landowners buying young men and women Indians and other human victims to serve as low-cost labor for silver mining, farming, and domestic service.
Reséndez notes male slaves were more difficult to manage than women slaves but for strength males were coveted for their labor in silver mining. Some of the mines were deep in the earth, all were dangerous. Underground mines were flooded with carcinogenic mercury tailings that shortened the lives of those who worked there.
Slavery goes by many names. As is known by historians, the Dawes act further victimizes native Americans.
Reséndez reveals how slavery has always been a part of society. Self-interest is a motive force of human nature. Slavery is found in penal colonies of authoritarian governments to provide cheap labor. Slavery is also found in democratic governments that legislatively reduce the cost of labor based on corporate influence on public policy. A free market, not lobbyist influence, should determine public policy.
The hope for elimination of slavery lies in government policy that reinforces belief in human equality and a balance between corporate profit and cost of labor as determined by a free market.
Stephen Jay Greenblatt (Writer, Harvard University Professor.).
Shakespeare’s plays expose the perfidy of tyrants that reminds one of Vladmir Putin’s actions in 2022. Greenblatt notes Shakespeare explains tyrants rise when governments show weakness at their center. One can conclude the economic collapse of the U.S.S.R. is the proximate cause of Putin’s ascension.
Stephen Greenblatt offers a clever summary of tyrants in Shakespeare’s plays. Greenblatt’s book is published in 2018.
Shakespeare’s tyrants are destined to fail in a variety of ways. One must remember that Shakespeare’s plays are not history but have elements of history in their story. Dramatic affect and a livable wage are what motivate Shakespeare to write for the theatre.
Prescient insight to the nature of human beings is what makes Shakespeare a seer whose prose and plays survive centuries of analysis and earned adulation.
King Richard III is a martinet who barks orders for little reason other than to exercise power. He acts with the arrogance of a narcissist. He murders brothers, nephews, and subordinates who get in his way or refuse to obey his orders. He expects loyalty first, with any opposition viewed as disloyalty.
King Richard cares nothing for rules or human life. His followers are sycophants at best and enablers at least. King Richard III murders brothers and confidents to secure the throne.
He marries for lust and control, murders King Henry VI, marries the assassinated King’s widow, and dies in an ignominious battle. Having killed everyone near him, he grows paranoid of those around him. That paranoia cripples his effectiveness as a sovereign. He may have lost his crown in battle, but his murder of followers and managerial incompetence destine him for failure.
Greenblatt recounts the many tyrants exposed in Shakespeare’s plays but none, other than Richard III, seem comparable to Putin. Putin gathered support of kleptocratic sycophants that are beginning to recognize their wealth and success is threatened by Putin’s foolish attempt to re-annex Ukraine.
Like Shakespeare’s Richard III, Putin is alienating followers and murdering or imprisoning competitors who challenge his leadership.
Greenblatt summarizes events of Shakespeare’s plays to show how tyrants are editors of their own defeat. One hopes there is enough Russian resistance to forestall a nuclear war caused by a tyrant who cares nothing for human life, other than his own.
Annie Murphy Paul (Author, graduate of Yale and Columbia University with a Journalism major).
Annie Murphy Paul is a science writer who has lectured at TED TALK about learning, memory, and cognition. She has written articles for “Scientific American”, and several national newspapers. The interesting insight of “The Extended Mind” is that learning, teaching, and memory are significantly enhanced by physical activity.
From birth to maturity, Paul notes physical activity is a critical component of human thought, and action but memory is a critical dimension for both.
This seems tautological at first glance. After all, learning by doing is a self-evident truth. However, Paul explains learning by doing is only the tip of a much larger truth. She argues physical activity informs and extends the mind to ignore, remember, repeat, or forget everything we know or do. Without physical activity, minds atrophy, memories fade, and bodies die.
Paul explains learning is enhanced by physical activity.
Scientific experiments show that learning and memory are improved by association with physical movement. Reading about an experiment may enlighten the uninformed; however, being the experimenter enhances memory of the experiment’s proof. Sitting and thinking about doing is more forgettable than doing what one is thinking about.
Paul notes that association with physical movement is like a mnemonic that aids memory.
She suggests a defined hand gesture has more value than mnemonic association for memory. One might think of a “P” to remember Paul as the author of this book. On the other hand, one might physically form the letter “P” with three fingers and the memory of the author becomes more memorable.
Paul cites several examples of how teachers have improved their teaching skills by encouraging physical activity with interactive class assignments and subjects.
Paul suggests strict order in a classroom (e.g., sitting at one’s desk and reading an assignment or teacher dictation of lessons) limits memory of subjects covered in the school room. She suggests learning is enhanced by social interaction.
Learning may be improved by social interaction, but human nature often gets in the way. For example, social interaction may be viewed as a threat to an introverted student. The introvert is unlikely to participate in a social grouping. The same can be said of those with a different religion, heritage, ethnicity, or gender.
On the other hand, there is wisdom in requiring social interaction even when involving students who are introverted or challenged by their familial upbringing. People grow and educate others from uncomfortable emotional and physical circumstances.
Paul extends her argument to business office environments and how collaborative office orientations improve company creativity and performance.
She tempers that argument based on group preferences where some may be more comfortable in an environment that is more structured than unstructured. This is not contradicting the argument of physical activity as essential for enhanced productivity in the office. She goes so far as to suggest treadmills at workstations for some offices.
Several years ago, this critics preference for audiobooks came from boredom associated with activity that required little directed attention.
Personal experience confirms Paul’s argument. Though detailed memory is far from ideal, exercise while listening to an audiobook has been rewarding.
Narrated by: Cassandra Campbell, Kathleen Gati, Kathrin Kana, Martha Hall Kelly
“Lilac Girls” is a long historical novel. Some may be tempted to quit but may be drawn back by its message to the future. It is a reminder of WWII. It is a warning to our present and future. Martha Hall Kelly’s extensive research on the Ravensbrück concentration camp offers relevance to Uighur re-education camps, Taliban repression, Russian/Ukraine atrocities, and the consequence of human isolation and incarceration.
Kelly’s book is about Ravensbrück rabbits, young women experimented on by Germany’s Nazi leaders.
The Ravensbrück concentration camp evolves into a chamber of horrors. It is managed by Nazi physicians and followers who purposely create damaged human bodies to test drugs and medical treatment for war wounds. A number of healthy young women have their bodies mutilated to test the efficacy of drugs and surgery to repair damaged limbs. They become known as the Ravensbrück rabbits
Ravensbrück is in northern Germany. The concentration camp was created exclusively for women. At its peak it housed 132,000 women, of which an estimated 48,500 were Poles, 28,000 Russians, 24,000 Germans, 8,000 French and a few other nationalities. Their incarceration is for reasons ranging from resistance to Nazi governance to disbelief in the false notion of race purity.
Kelly contrasts New York’ socialite living in the 1930s through the 1950s with European and war veteran survival. The author begins her story with the rise of Hitler, and Germany’s invasion of Poland, France, and Russia. As the German invasion of Russia portends defeat of Germany, Kelly unravels the atrocity of the Ravensbrück concentration camp, the ignominious defeat of France, the unjust western and Russian split of Poland after the war, the subjugation of Poland to Russia, and the rise of the U.S.S.R.
It is the intimacies of living that give Kelly’s book weight. For the romantic, there is some romance. For the historian, there are the revelations of Ravensbrück, for the futurist, there is the warning of the risks of human isolation and confinement based on race, religion, or ethnicity.
Uighur re-education camp in China.
Many countries, including the United States, have made the mistake of isolating and confining human beings based on race, religion, or ethnicity. This is the first step that may lead to Ravensbrück’ atrocity.
Kelly shows there is no redemption, either for victims or perpetrators. At the end of her novel, what happened to the primary victims of Ravensbrück stays with those who survived. The primary victim loses her mother in the camp. Her life after the war leaves her crippled emotionally and physically because she was one of the Ravensbrück rabbits.
Herta Oberheuser (1911-1978, died at age 66, physician at Ravensbruck concentration camp.)
As Germany nears defeat, the doctor who manages surgery tries to murder the women who were mutilated because they are witnesses to Ravensbrück atrocities.
She is convicted at Nuremberg. She serves 5 years of a 20-year sentence. Her ambition seduced her into atrocity at Ravensbrück. Her wish to be a surgeon, when there are few women surgeons in Germany, outweighed the guilt of her actions. After serving her sentence in prison, she starts a medical practice. She is tracked down by a primary victim of her surgical mutilation. Kelly writes about the rise and fall of Herta Oberheuser. With her exposure by a victim of Oberheuser’s surgical work at Ravensbrück, her medical license is revoked. Ms. Oberheuser dies in obscurity.
There is no redemption for atrocity. All human beings in the Russia/Ukrainian war, as well as the rest of the world, need to remember the lessons of WWII.
John Hersey (1914-1993, Author and journalist, won a Pulitzer for–“A Bell for Adano”.)
John Hersey is the son of American Protestant missionaries who was born in China.
Hersey is considered one of the first journalists to use a “storytelling” style for news reports. His most well-known news story is published in a 1946 “New Yorker” article, later published and expanded as “Hiroshima“, a book about the consequence of the first nuclear bomb blast of WWII.
“Hiroshima” is printed by Alfred A. Knopf and has never been out of print. Hersey reports an estimated 100,000 were killed by the bomb. His book tells the story of the long-term impact of nuclear fall-out on six Japanese survivors of the June 6, 1945’ blast. (Today, the estimate of those who died from the bomb’s long-term impact is 140,000 to 350,000.)
One hopes 9/11/22 #rumors of former Russian supporters of Putin’s Ukraine/Russian War are asking him to resign. Putin’s decision to reinstitute the draft may be a turning point in the Ukrainian war based on his Czarist behavior.
In looking back at Russia’s 1917 revolution, it is discontent of the military and resistance to participation in WWI that aided Lenin’s overthrow of Czar Nicholas. Putin may be repeating that history. Many kleptocratic leaders of his administration are in the same spot as wealthy landowners of the Czarist era.
At least three of the six survivors in Hersey’s story are searching for solace by turning to belief in a Christian God. One presumes, these survivors were chosen by Hersey because of his life as a son of missionaries. As you listen to the six personal stories of Hersey’s choice, one wonders how non-believers cope with the aftermath of the bomb.
Hersey’s report of six survivors tells of broken bones, burned flesh, scarring, chronic fatigue, social isolation, and concomitant unemployment because of symptoms of these six survivors.
THESE ARE THE SIX SUBJECTS CHOSEN BY JOHN HERSEY FOR HIS STORY.
Left to Right–Reverend Kiyoshi Tanimoto (3,500 yards from explosion, Methodist), Mrs. Hatsuyo Nakamura (1,350 yards from explosion, Widow of a tailor with 3 children), Dr. Masakazu Fujioio (1,550 yards from explosion center, a live in the moment hedonist), Father Wilhelm Kleinsorge aka Makoto Takakura (1,400 yards from explosion, a German priest of the Society of Jesus), Dr. Terufumi Sasaki (1,650 yards from explosion, young surgeon at Red Cross Hosp.) and Miss Toshiko Sasaki (1,600 yards from explosion.)
Hersey notes some women who are pregnant when the bomb bursts have children who suffer from the consequence, even though not yet born. He tells of a formally successful physician who must start over again to establish his practice. He has little money and no credit but needs to have a place to treat patients for income. He must work from his home which is only rented because he cannot afford to buy.
Hersey writes of a woman who is too fatigued to work at a regular job and decides to use her sewing machine to work at a pace her health will allow. She finds she cannot make enough money to house and feed herself. She sells the sewing machine and finds part time work collecting subscription payments for a newspaper that pays her fifty cents per day.
Hersey writes of recurring scars that occur from the flash and burn of the nuclear bomb explosion. The disfigurement requires plastic surgery.
Without money needed for cosmetic surgery, the young are reliant on financial gifts from others. Some Americans rise to the occasion.
In one instance, the TV program, “This is Your Life” generates contributions for a few victims’ who need plastic surgery.
Incongruously, on “This is Your Life”, the co-pilot of the Enola Gay meets with a survivor of the Hiroshima nuclear blast. Some consider this among the most awkward TV appearances of all time.
The fundamental point of Hersey’s stories is a nuclear weapon in war goes beyond immediate physical destruction and mental injury. Radiation from a nuclear bomb stays with victims for their entire, often shortened, and always compromised lives. It is more than the death of thousands, it is the remaining lives of every human being, whether born or yet to be born, who is exposed to the flash and burn of nuclear detonation.
Biology and Human Behavior: The Neurological Origins of Individuality, 2nd Edition
By: The Great Courses
Lecturer: Robert Sapolsky
Robert Sapolsky is an author, American neuroendocrinology researcher, and doctor of neuropsychology, educated at Harvard and acting professor at Stanford.
Sapolsky’s lectures begin with optimism. He infers one can understand the biological origin of human behavior. However, as the lectures progress one becomes skeptical. By the end of Sapolsky’s lectures, the source of human behavior seems too complex for human understanding. In a future age, it may be possible to reduce uncertainty, but determination of the sources of human behavior are likely to remain a probabilistic endeavor.
Sapolsky begins with neurological, physiological, endocrinological, genealogical, and environmental influences on behavior but ends with no definitive origin for human behavior.
This is not to say these lectures are not interesting, but science is far from understanding how any discipline can effectively or accurately identify the sources of dysfunctional human behavior. Cures for psychological maladies remain elusive because of the complexity of their origin.
There is no nerve that can be cut, no drug that can be administered, no gene that can be removed, no environment created that singularly cures abnormal human behavior. Sapolsky is saying the origin of human thought and action begins with genetic history, is influenced in the womb, is subjected to hormonal disruption, lives to be changed by environmental circumstances, and dies either early or late depending on the circumstances of life.
Sapolsky begins his lectures with a lesson in physiology and discussion about cells and the nervous system and how it works.
He explains limbic and autonomic nervous systems. A limbic system is where subcortical structures meet the cerebral cortex. It influences the endocrine system and the autonomic (breathing, heartbeat, and digestive system) functions of the body.
Sapolsky explains how regulation of body function is affected by hormones that come from many organs of the body. These hormones affect brain function (which is also a hormone producing organ) that have a great deal to do with how one acts. The physiology of the nervous system and blood circulatory system carry hormones throughout the body.
Sapolsky goes on to explain evolution of behavior that comes from genetically inheritable social history. What is revelatory is the myth of evolution based solely on a genetic singularity which preserves itself at all costs.
Sapolsky argues preservation of species, not specific gene preservation, is the key to understanding evolution. (This is a partial disagreement with the “selfish gene” postulated by Richard Dawkins.)
The example Sapolsky offers is the Wildebeest herd that plans to cross an alligator infested river.
An early interpretation of that crossing is that a leader of the herd voluntarily steps into the river to sacrifice itself to allow the herd to cross the river while it is being feasted upon by alligators. Sapolsky explains the Wildebeest is not sacrificing itself. Careful observation shows an older Wildebeest is forced into the river by the herd. It is not a voluntary action but a heritable social behavior of the herd to preserve itself.
Sapolsky identifies myths about what causes abnormal human behavior. The idea that testosterone levels are a cause for aggression is untrue. The National Institute of Health found that increased or decreased levels of testosterone have a weak correlation with aggression. Sapolsky notes that testosterone levels vary based on environmental circumstances and interaction with other hormone producing organs. It is not found to be a hormonal cause of aggression.
Every country of the world is populated with people like the wildebeest. Until the world is one herd, it seems humans are destined to lose their way as a species. The river to cross is the world’s environmental crises. With disparate herds in the world, the alligator in the river (our environment) will eat us all.
Stephen Nowicki (Professor of Biology at Duke University.)
Professor Stephen Nowicki offers a 36.5-hour lecture on Biology. From the origin and growth of life to the chemical and neuronal function of living things, Nowicki systematically reveals experimentally tested knowledge of the “…Science of Life”. This brief review only addresses a few of the many fascinating details Nowicki explains.
Nowicki suggests, cells evolve from the agglomeration of detritus from the “Big Bang”.
The early formation of these cells is missing two ingredients for life. Nowicki explains these early cells evolve from violent volcanic and electrical activity of the “Big Bang”, an environment in which those two missing ingredients are created.
Nowicki explains early non-living cells are bombarded by electrical storms that generate amino acids (organic compounds) and sugar from violent atmospheric conditions that include water.
In the early 1950s, these conditions were tested in laboratory conditions and found to create two essential building blocks of life. Nowicki explains, these building blocks (amino acids and sugars) became part of non-living cells.
The eukaryotic cells had a nucleus containing genetic material while prokaryotic cells carried free-floating genetic material without a nucleus. Nowicki then explains the role nucleotides (protein) play in activating genetic material within these cells.
Nowicki notes DNA is present in both prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells, but they need to have a way of being activated. With replication, molecules (chemical compounds) could form. Nowicki explains living matter originated from the clumping and replication of these molecules.
Nowicki explains ribonucleotides (proteins) were created in the primordial soup of early earth. These ribonucleotides transformed into RNA which activated DNA genetic material and replicated both prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells.
Evolution of species, established by Darwin in the 19th century, appears quite consistent and reminiscent of the primordial process Nowicki outlines.
With that reflection, Nowicki reminds listeners that evolutionary process should not be thought of as a necessarily progressive improvement. Evolution is chancy. It can either preserve or destroy species. Nowicki wanders back in history to explain classification of species as theorized by Linnaeus in the early 18th century.
Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778, Swedish botanist, zoologist, taxonomist, physician.)
The second doubling of a zygote creates four cells separated in a vertical axis with all genetic material present in each cell. Subsequent doubling is separated on a horizontal axis. These new cells do not have all genetic material enclosed. The new cells have a more limited genetic role. There is significance in that axis change because of the location of genetic material in respective cells. With a change in axis, the viability of one cell carrying all the characteristics of its host goes from certainty to doubtful. The specialization of cells removes some of the genetic material that would contain all the characteristics of the life form.
The zygote at four cells is mature. The next doubling becomes an embryo. All four cells have the genetic material of a male’s and female’s contribution. Each multiplication reduces the size of sister cells until they form a mass that surrounds a vacant space within its middle. This vacant space is the blastocyst stage. The blastocyst is made up of an exterior shell, a middle shell, and an inner shell. Each shell becomes the seat of design for what is to be born.
All amassed cells around the blastocyst carry site specific genetic material of life that forms a living thing.
The process of design in a human begins with an intrusion into the blastocyst without breaking its shells. That intrusion (a human gastrula), around the 7th or 8th day, uses the membranes as laboratories within which genetic codes create skin, bone, internal organs, and the digestive system.
Each of the three membranes are the laboratories of creation. The exterior or outer shell for example would become skin, the middle shell would become organs, the inner shell would become the digestive system.
The next exploration of biology by Nowicki is more suited to students of biology. Nowicki makes a valiant effort to explain the chemistry of ADP and ATP phosphates that provide energy needed for growth and maintenance of life. This part of the lecture series becomes too technical.
As molecules of ATP and ADP break down, they fuel cells of life to act in specific ways to promote growth and maintenance. Like the importance of protein messengers for activation of genetic material, life cannot exist without the energy provided by ATP and ADP. Nowicki diligently tries to explain the mechanics of this phosphate process but loses this reviewer’s interest.
The first inkling of cause for plant growth is noted by Jan Baptist van Helmont in the 17th century. Nowicki explains Helmont planted a tree in a tub of soil. He carefully weighed the soil and tree at the time of planting. Over several years, he observed the growth of the tree. At the end of those years, Helmont weighed the soil and tree. He found a small decrease in the soil’s weight and a gigantic increase in the tree’s weight. Helmont speculates the difference is from water added over the years. Though his conclusion is only partly correct, he paved the way for discovery of photosynthesis.
Jan Baptist van Helmont , a Dutch chemist and physician (1580-1644, On the left with his son on the right.)
That synthesis is a more complete explanation of the weight gain noted in Helmont’s experiment. The fundamental point being made by Nowicki is that species growth and demise is based on resource availability. Jan Ingenhousz completes Helmont’s theory with the discovery of photosynthesis.
Jan Ingenhousz (1730-1799, Dutch physiologist.)
Around 1779, A Dutch physician named Jan Ingenhousz found that green plants use sunlight to synthesize food for plants from carbon dioxide and water.
The remaining lectures are about Malthusian limits to life. There are natural and societal actions (meaning acts of war) that affect species survival. For natural calamities, one is reminded of the Black plague in the 14th and 17th centuries, the Spanish flu after WWI., the Irish famine in 19th century, the great Chinese famine during the “Great Leap Forward”, and now Covid19.
From man’s inhumanity to man, there is the Mongol invasion of Europe in the 13th century, two 20th century World Wars, the holocaust atrocity of WWII that murdered 11,000,000 (6,000,000 of which were Jews), and most recently, an estimated 600,000 dead in the Syrian Civil War.
How many more deaths will there be from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine?
Of course, Nowicki’s attention is on the biology of life. Nowicki explains, the key to balance of nature is biodiversity. Nowicki notes the unprecedented loss of species in the post 20th century world risks life’s future. Nowicki briefly explains how drug discoveries and loss of genetic material from species extinction affects the balance of nature by diminishing the sources and utility of future medical discoveries.
The fundamental point of Nowicki’s view is that no species escape the natural biological limits of life. Nature balances life based on resources available. A listener may imply Nowicki believes humanity is threatened as much by ignorance of biology as of “man’s inhumanity to man”.
Will Buckingham (English Author, novelist, philosopher, masters in anthropology, PhD in philosophy from Staffordshire University.)
Will Buckingham succeeds in telling the story of philosopher’s big ideas. Buckingham takes listeners on a journey through the ages of philosophy. Beginning in the pre-Julian Roman calendar of 585 BC, Buckingham explains how Thales of Miletus began humanities’ journey from belief in mythology to observation and prediction. Miletus predicted a solar eclipse, presumably based on astronomical observation.
Thales of Miletus (626 to 623 BC to 548 to 545 BC, Pre-Socratic Philosopher known by some as the Father of Science.)
Socrates is believed to have lived from 470 to 399 BC when he chose to take his own life when found guilty of charges of blasphemy and corrupting youth.
Plato (428-423 BC to 348-347 BC, died at the age of 80.)
Socrates could have escaped execution according to Plato’s writing in the “Phaedo” but chose to drink Hemlock tea, the poison of capital punishment.
Socrates denies both accusations against him. Plato writes Socrates mentions the god Asclepius (one of the gods noted for healing) in his last moments of lucidity. The implication of Plato is that Socrates believed in the gods. Socrates flatly denies the corruption of youth for which he is accused.
Buckingham notes what is known of Socrates is only through Plato and Aristotle’s writing which support his innocence by relating stories of Socrates search for truth. An ancient Oracle is said to have told Socrates he was the wisest of all men. By questioning beliefs of those who professed wisdom, Socrates finds others ignorance and understands why the Oracle considers him the wisest “…because I alone, of all the Greeks, know that I know nothing.” It is through dialog with others about belief that Socrates finds other’s ignorance and his wisdom.
Confucius (551 BCE-479 BCE, died at 71 or 72, Chinese philosopher.)
Before Socrates, Buckingham notes the prominence of Confucius who lived in China, between 551 to 470 B.C.E. Both Socrates and Confucius search for truth.
Both are searching for causes of societal chaos. However, where Socrates looks to dialog with others and communication with the gods for help in understanding life, Confucius looks to what is called the DAO, i.e., the “way”, the road, or the path that gives harmony to human nature. In the DAO, there is a yin and yang to life that leads one to a harmonious code of behavior. It is neither based on God or gods but on the search for harmony in life.
Though Socrates and Confucius seek wisdom, their paths are quite different but with similar objectives.
This seems a beginning of a split between gods, God, and human belief. The Greeks pursue the help of gods for earthly harmony. The Chinese search for a path to human harmony within society, exclusive of gods or belief in one God.
Buckingham proceeds to overwhelm listeners with mostly well-known philosophers of history. He does not make a distinction between belief in gods, God, or what is broadly characterized as science.
In coming to grips with the number of philosophers noted, one tends to rely on a perceived societal direction. To this listener, the direction is away from God, toward science.
This is not to say that science or philosophy excludes God. There are many famous scientists who claim belief in God. Rene Descartes, Isaac Newton, Galileo Galilei, Albert Einstein, Gregor Mendel, and Charles Darwin, to name a few. The irony of that truth is that each of these scientists made discoveries that weaken one’s belief in God because their discoveries offer insight to the origin of life and living without God.
The list of non-believers is as long or longer. Some say Einstein was an Atheist. There is Daniel Dennett, Michael Shermer, Rosalind Franklin, Sigmund Freud, Stephen Hawking, Richard Dawkins, Richard Feynman, Niels Bohr, Francis Crick, Erwin Schrodinger, John Bell, and so on.
“The Philosophy Book” offers more information about philosophers than one may want to know. Nevertheless, it offers a well written overview of belief, if not wisdom, in the world. One may ask themselves, what’s next? Artificial Intelligence seems to offer our best chance of survival if humanity is on its own.
Nick Bostrom (Swedish philosopher at University of Oxford, author.)
Nick Bostrom explains the difference between A.I. potential and human brain limitation. With addition of sentient reasoning, Bostrom explains the incomprehensible leap beyond human brain capability with the advent of artificial intelligence.
That leap can be viewed with fear and trembling as inferred by Bostrom or it might be seen as a next step in human evolution.
Bostrom’s concern revolves around human brain limitation in setting standards for A.I.’ programming.
A machine’s ability to recall billions of facts and historical precedence cannot be matched by the human brain. However, the significance of A.I.’s achievement is delimited by how it may be programmed to have moral, ethical, and normative standards that benefit humanity. The difficulty of that programing is humanity’s continual redefinition and lack of agreement on normative standards.
One may ask oneself how good a job has human evolution done in setting standards for humanity? Have authoritarians like Vladimir Putin, and Donald Trump benefited the world?
Bostrom notes two fundamental scenarios for human evolution. Both seem more a return to the past than to the future. Bostrom suggests A.I. will become either an oracle or sovereign leader of humanity. As an oracle, one is reminded of Athenian fealty to the Oracle of Delphi. As sovereign, one is reminded of Augustus Caesar, Caligula, Franklin Roosevelt, and Adolph Hitler. Humanity has survived all–both false predictions of the Oracle and atrocities of sovereigns.
It is unfair to suggest Bostrom is not revealing the difficulties accompanying the introduction of A.I. to humankind. The reality of advancing intelligence through machine learning far outstrips the ability of any singular past or present scientist, philosopher, or politician. One is intimidated by the shear complexity of programing A.I. and its potential for benefit and harm to humanity.
To understand humanities place in the world, human beings cannot agree on what is moral, amoral, equitable, or unfair in society.
How will input from human beings to an oracle or sovereign A.I. escape the imperfect nature of humankind? Added to that difficulty is A.I.’ potential to ignore the best interest of humanity in the interest of its own self-preservation.
Bostrom’s book is interesting, but he beats the idea of A.I.’s ascendance to death by delving into game theory. Bostrom notes the world’s race to create artificial intelligence has the potential of ignoring safeguards for A.I.’s growth and potential for world domination.
Though abandoning safeguards is quite true as evidenced by the Crispr revolution that opened Pandora’s box of genetic manipulation, evolution of species is a fundamental law of the world’s existence.
A.I. is a step in the evolution of species. Its consequence is unknown and cannot be known because it follows the randomness of genetic selection. Humanity needs to get over it and get on with it. A.I. will either be humanity’s savior or its doom.