Audio-book Review By Chet Yarbrough
Blog: awalkingdelight) Website: chetyarbrough.blog
The Four Books
By: Yan Lianke, Translated by Carlos Rojas
Narrated by: George Backman
THE WORLD AS SEEN, READ ABOUT, LISTENED TO, AND INTERPRETED
Audio-book Review By Chet Yarbrough
Blog: awalkingdelight) Website: chetyarbrough.blog
The Four Books
By: Yan Lianke, Translated by Carlos Rojas
Narrated by: George Backman
By Chet Yarbrough
Being You (A New Science of Consciousness)
By: Anil Seth
Narrated by: Anil Seth
Anil Seth (British professor of Cognitive and Computational Neuroscience at the University of Sussex.)
Anil Seth’s “Being You” is a difficult book to understand, in part because of its subject, but also because it requires a better educated reviewer. Consciousness is defined as an awareness of yourself and the world, a state of being awake and aware of one’s surroundings that emerges from one’s brain. Seth explains neuronal activity of the brain correlates with what “Being You” is you. Seth argues that without neuronal activity, there is no you.
Seth suggests the conscious self operates with a Bayesian view of the world.
Bayes’ theory is that decision making is based on rules used to predict one’s decisions. The example Seth gives is a person living in the desert who sees droplets of water on his lawn and presumes it either rained, or his sprinkler was left on when it should have been turned off. He looks outside and sees his neighbor’s lawn is wet and, with that added information, decides it must have rained. Then he notes his window is dirty and maybe he is not seeing water on his neighbor’s lawn. This reduces the possibility that it rained but not enough to change his mind about it having rained last night. The point is that one continually changes their state of understanding (their consciousness) based on added information.
The difficulty of a Bayesian view of consciousness is that human decisions are a function of human perception of data that is never 100 percent complete.
There are three fundamental weaknesses with a Bayesian view of the world as the prime mover of consciousness. One, humans do not always see clearly. Two, all that is seen is never all that there is to be seen. And three, human minds tend to pattern what they see to conform to their personal bias. The third is the most troubling weakness because, like in police line-ups used for eyewitnesses to identify perps when a crime is committed, mistakes are made. Eyewitnesses are no guarantee for identification of a criminal’s crime. None of this is to suggest Seth is wrong about what consciousness is but it shows consciousness is eminently fallible and only probabilistic.
Seth’s theory of consciousness reinforces the public danger of social websites that influence the public, particularly young adolescents trying to find their way in life. Their search for social acceptance leads them to internet sites that may lead or mislead their lives.
Another fascinating argument by Seth is that the mind is not the source of emotion. He suggests the mind is informed by the organs of the body. The heart begins to race, and adrenalin is released as somatic markers that send signals to an area of the brain that makes fight or flight decisions. Emotions do not originate in the brain. The brain responds to the cumulative effect of the body’s physical and chemical signals.
Seth notes various studies of human decision making that are based on external stimuli with a belief that the primary purpose of consciousness is to survive. Two methods of consciousness measurement are IIT (Integrated Information Theory) and PHI, a number meant to measure quality interconnections between bits of information of a given entity. The resulting number — the Phi score — corresponds directly to a measurement of an entities level of consciousness. A reader/listener should not be discouraged by this technical digression. Much remains in Seth’s book that is more comprehensible and interesting.
Seth explores some of the tests used for consciousness. The mirror test is one in which a living thing is shown itself in a mirror to see if it recognizes the image of itself.
Monkeys show some signs of recognition (dogs do not) which suggests a greater level of consciousness among primates. He notes the evolution of human perception of the world through the eyes of artists like Monet, Mach, and Picasso who see nature’s colors and planes of the face or body in the material world. One thinks of Monk’s insightful “Scream” that reminds some of life’s terror. He shows how a stationary drawing seems to have movement because of a trick of consciousness.
Seth expands that principle to show how consciousness can create a full body illusion like that of a Star Trek transporter that sends their body to another planet. A whole host of social problems can be created by image teleportation. Being able to create a perfect duplicate of one person that is televising false information might start a rebellion or start a war.
Seth argues humans have free will and that the brain’s pre-cognition for action is not because of pre-determination of life but a delay inherent in consciousness which is gathering information before acting, just like the sprinkler story alluded to earlier. As noted earlier, to Seth, consciousness is a Bayesian process, not a predetermination of action.
The end of “Being You” addresses Ray Kurzweil’s “singularity”, “a future period during which the pace of technological change will be so rapid, its impact so deep, that human life will be irreversibly transformed. Seth expresses concern and an element of optimism. The evolution of the beast machine bodes a possible end, an adaptation, or an evolutionary change of humanity.
Seth touches on research being done on cerebral organoids, artificially grown miniature organs resembling the brain.
Presently they are being used to model the development of brain cancer to aid in its cure but how far is this from the next step in machine learning, supplemented by the implantation of cerebral organoids?
The beast machine is consciousness.
Genetics discoveries and research hold the potential for creation, manipulation, and destruction of human life. Artificial Intelligence is on the precipice of a marriage between all information in the world and sentient existence of beast machines. The beast machine will have greater potential for creation, manipulation, and destruction of life.
Human consciousness has created the agricultural age, the industrial revolution and now this technological age. Humans have nuclear weapons of mass destruction that can end our world’s human habitation. The only note of optimism is that the history of human consciousness has generally led to positive changes for humanity, i.e., longer life spans, improved economic and social conditions, and new discoveries about life and living. The world is at its next great social and economic change.
Chet Yarbrough (Book Reviewer and Critic)
As I near the age of 76, as a third generation American of Finnish grandparents, it is disappointing to see Americans’ attitude toward immigration.
America’s economic and social environment is among the best in the world. Of course, other countries have environments that are as conducive to a decent life as America. However, in 2023 world population data (noted by “Worldometer”) shows the median age of Americans is the same as China’s at 38.
With China’s repression of Uighurs and preferential treatment for Han ethnicity (91.6% of the population), Thomas Christiansen suggests China’s economic prosperity and hegemonic ambition are challenged.
“The China Challenge” by Thomas Christensen notes China is faced with a greater aggregate aging population than America.
Though the aggregate number of aging in America is less, America has its own challenge with its reluctance to admit refugees.
There are only four countries with populations nearer America’s that have a median age below 30. Those countries are India, Pakistan, Nigeria, and Mexico. Having been to some of those countries, none compare well with America’s economic and social environment. Young refugees are an American opportunity, not a burden. Refugees have always been an important part of American economic and social progress.
Thinking machines will undoubtedly change the labor needs of the world economy.
However, machines are unlikely to exhibit the empathy and care needed for an ageing human population. Much of that empathy and care can only come from younger and more fit workers.
These observations are not to presume all refugees will become laborers or care-workers, but the young are the raw material of humanity that makes nations great because they are striving to make a better life.
Americans sleeping on the street are not there because of immigration.
Some are out of work because of technology but many are there because of Covid’s interruption of their lives. The business community needs to come to grips with the needs of recovering pandemic survivors by re-training the unemployed for new jobs. Undoubtedly, some homeless are sleeping on the street because of drugs because it is their way of escaping a grim existence. That does not imply, they do not wish to escape that life. It means they need help.
The world is just beginning to recover from Covid. Recovery is a process that takes time. The loss of more than a million Americans means many are grieving over their loss of friends, families, and jobs.
America remains a land of opportunity. That is why America’s borders are being overwhelmed by refugees. Immigration is an opportunity, not a problem for America.
By Chet Yarbrough
The Dragons of Eden
By: Carl Sagan
Narrated by: JD Jackson, Ann Druyan
Carl Sagan (1934-1996, Author, University of Chicago entry at 16 years of age, received a Master of Science and Doctor of Philosophy in astronomy and astrophysics in 1960.)
Carl Sagan died from a bone-marrow disease at the relatively young age of 62 in 1996. One generally associates Sagan with his Cosmos series, but his education went far beyond the study of astronomy. His book reflects as much on the philosophy of life as the future of society, science, and technology.
Today’s controversial abortion question is forthrightly addressed by Sagan. He suggests “Right to Life” and a “Women’s Right to Choose” are politically and philosophically extreme ends of a rational argument on abortion. “Right to Life” followers insist all life is precious even though humans kill animals for sport and consumption. “Women’s Right to Choose” followers insist birth of a baby in utero is the sole decision of women because their body and life are only theirs to control.
Sagan suggests a baby in utero in the first trimester may be tested for brain activity and if none is found, no personhood is formed. With no brain activity of a baby in utero, the right of a woman to choose is an equal rights decision. However, to Sagan if brain activity is present, life is present, and abortion is murder. Sagan infers a science based national law could be created that avoids the extremist positions of the “Right to Life” and “Women’s Right to Choose” movements.
Though Sagan may have overemphasized the difference between left brain and right brain function, he notes the advances that have occurred in how specific areas of the brain compete and can be electrically stimulated to elicit thought and action.
Sagan notes how computer gaming opens doors to the advance of computer capability and utility.
Nearly 50 years ago, Sagan’s book suggests much of what has happened in the science of brain function and technology. It seems a shorter step from Sagan’s ideas about computer function to what is presently called artificial intelligence. His view of brain and computer function might lead to a machine/brain confluence. It may be that Sagan’s belief in other forms of terrestrial life are secondary rather than primary interests of our human future.
In 1978, Sagan receives the Nobel Prize for nonfiction with “The Dragons of Eden”. In retrospect, it seems a wise decision by the Nobel panel of judges.
By Chet Yarbrough
Fault Lines (The Social Justice Movement and Evangelicalism’s Looming Catastrophe)
By: Voddie T. Bauchham
Narrated by: Mirron Willis
Voddie Baucham (Author, pastor, educator, BA from Houston Baptist Univ. and M. of Divinity from SWestern Baptist Theological Seminary.)
“Fault Lines” is a troubling book. It gives too much shade to racial and ethnic inequality in America. On the one hand, Voddie Baucham relies on story telling to counter the singular atrocity of George Floyd’s murder and on the other he tells stories of inaccurate accusations of police discrimination during traffic stops. White America has enough shade without being forgiven by a black preacher for hundreds of years of discrimination.
George Floyd’s murder.
Baucham implies unequal treatment is less odious because white people are killing white people at a higher rate than white people are killing black people. How does that look when a young teenage black boy knocks on a front door and is shot in the head by a 84-year-old white man because he is afraid?
Ralph Yarl shot in the head for knocking on a front door.
Baucham is right when he argues facts matter but untextualized facts fail to reveal the whole truth. As a preacher, Baucham chooses scriptural text from bibles that have been interpreted in many ways by different preachers and scholars. A skeptic credibly argues truth is fungible in the Bible.
Some would argue the Bible is a proximate cause for belief in inequality of the sexes and races in the world.
Baucham’s story telling may be factually correct while being fundamentally wrong. When the proof he reveals comes from the Bible, a skeptic cringes. That may be because of a skeptic’s own biases and beliefs but how many people in history have justified murder of innocents because of religious belief and biblical interpretation?
It comes as no surprise that Bauchham is a strong proponent and supporter of Thomas Sowell, an American author, political conservative, and social commentator.
Sowell espouses many of the same views of American society that Bauchham endorses. Both are anti-abortionists despite over-population and America’s history of child neglect. Both opposed the election of Barack Obama. Both decry the absence of black Fathers from their families and the consequence to their children. (There is little doubt that absence of fathers in black families is an important issue but the poverty cycle in which black families are trapped is of greater consequence.) They may come to their political views from different angles but undoubtedly voted for Donald Trump in 2017 (Bauchham because of the abortion issue and Sowell for his political party).
Human nature drives us all.
Humans, whether Believers or heathens, strive for money, power, or prestige to differentiate themselves from others. To a humanist, belief in God and the Bible or the devil and purgatory are only tools of human nature. Baucham is a human who believes in God and the Bible who uses those tools to unjustifiably shade the iniquity of humankind.
By Chet Yarbrough
Sense and Sensibility
By: Jane Austin
Narrated by: Rosamund Pike
Jane Austin (English Author, 1775-1817, died at the age of 41.)
Though “Sense and Sensibility” was published in 1811, it is an eternal story. Though not intending to diminish the emotional relevance of Jane Austin’s characters, the story is about the rich and poor. Jane Austin’s book reminds modern readers of the universal truth of inequality. “Sense and Sensibility” touches customs of all cultures, governments, and societies.
The concept of “unequal” began with inequality of the sexes.
Inequality may have originated because of physical strength differences between men and women but it evolved to encompass most, if not all, social, cultural, and economic activities.
The title of Jane Austin’s book could have been “Cents and Sensibility”. Women who have no “Cents…” are slaves to wealth. Austin illustrates how the patriarch of the Dashwood family impoverishes his second wife’s daughters by bequeathing his family’s wealth to the guardianship of his only son from his first wife.
Two of the Dashwood’ daughters, Marianne and Elinor are of marriageable age. Marianne is 17 and Elinor is in her early twenties. Marianne falls in love with John Willoughby and Elinor has strong feelings for Edward Ferrars (one of two sons that are children of the grown Dashwood estate’s heir and wife.)
John Willoughby, who is in his early twenties, appears to court Marianne in the first chapters of the book. Willoughby is a profligate debtor with a handsome face and smooth-talking demeanor.
Marianne is also being courted by a wealthy 35-year-old former officer and landowner whom she feels is too old. Marianne believes Willoughby is to become her future husband, but he abruptly leaves to marry a woman of wealth. As found later, Willoughby is a debtor and may have been in love with Marianne but realizes she cannot help him with his indebtedness. Marianne is crushed because she feels betrayed by Willoughby’s abrupt departure.
It is the “Cents…” more than “Sense…” that get in the way of Marianne’s relationship.
The real truth of Austin’s story is that to live one must have income more than love because love does not put food on the table. This is as true today as it was in Jane Austin’s time. It is not the absolute difference between wealth and poverty. It is for men and women who choose to marry to have enough wealth to allow love to flourish. Without “Cents…” love does not survive. Even Elinor and Edward realize they cannot marry without a living-wage income.
Some say, Jane Austin’s book has a happy ending because Marianne and Elinore marry men who have “Cents…” Elinore marries Edward, a minister who has a modest income and a bequest from his formally estranged mother but may never be rich. However, he is near Elinore’s age and with “Cents…” seems destined to live a happy life.
Marianne, spurned by young John Willougby, marries the 35-year-old Colonel Brandon, a man who is rich but nearly 20 years older.
Though this may diminish what current readers feel they know about Jane Austin’s story, it idealizes what it means for a 17-year-old to marry a 35-year-old. In today’s age, a 50-year marriage would mean at least 10 years of that marriage will be of one person taking care of an older person. This is not to say love does not grow but age difference at the time of marriage has a consequence.
Poverty is a harsh task master. Without enough income to feed one’s family, the worst parts of human nature ruins lives.
All citizens, of any nation or form of government, must achieve a standard of living that meets the needs of the poorest in society. Peace among nations is dependent on cents as well as “Sense and Sensibility”.
By Chet Yarbrough
The Data Detective
By: Tim Harford
Narrated by: Tim Harford
Tim Harford (British Author, Master’s degree in economics, journalist.)
Tim Harford gives listeners a practical application of “Thinking Fast and Thinking Slow” in the art of statistical analysis. Sounds boring, just as the title “The Data Detective” but in this day of media overload Harford castes a warning. Be skeptical of conclusions drawn by statistical data, whether accumulated by business interests, science nerds, or algorithms. Think slow because thinking fast obscures understanding of statistical analysis. Above all, be curious when reading a statistical analysis that either adds or subtracts from your understanding. With that admonition, Harford offers ten ways to question the veracity and truthfulness of statistical analysis.
Tim Harford gives listeners a practical application of “Thinking Fast and Thinking Slow” in the art of statistical analysis.
Harford argues it is important to investigate a writer’s qualifications as an analyst, and the “how, why, and when” data is collected. As the famous economist Milton Friedman said, “Statistics do not speak for themselves.” Or, as Mark Twain made famous, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” It appears Harford agrees with Friedman, but not Twain, because he believes understanding a statistical study can reveal possible or at least probable truth.
Dr. Cuyler Hammond and Dr. Daniel Horn were smokers up until they finished their statistical report that correlated smoking with cancer.
Harford gives an example of statistical reports that correctly correlated smoking with lung cancer. Cuyler Hammond’s and Daniel Horn’s 1952 statistical study led to the 1964 Surgeon General report that confirmed cancer’s correlation with smoking. The disheartening story Harford tells is the tobacco industry’s purposeful effort to deny correlation. The tobacco industry’s methods were to suggest other causes, like auto exhaust or other carcinogens, as likely causes of lung cancer. They created doubt, whether true or false, which poisons belief in statistical studies.
Like the cowboy Marlboro smoker demonstrating a healthy image of a smoker, advertising obscures facts. The smoking industry successfully created doubt.
Harford explains personal investigation based on curiosity and detective work is necessary if one is looking for a probability of truth.
American free enterprise is created to produce product, service and jobs while making enough profit to stay in business. Sometimes those goals interfere with truth.
As human nature would have it, some businesses care less about truth than profit. This is not meant as a criticism but as an affirmation of human nature.
Harford explains there are many statistical studies purporting rises in crime, inequality, poverty, and medical health that need to be closely examined for validity. He argues every conclusion drawn from statistical surveys that contradict interest-group’ or individual’ belief should be closely examined. The methodology of a good statistical study must be understood within its era, its compiler’s biases, its stipulated human cohort, its conclusion, and its tested repeatability by others.
Harford challenges the supposition that violence has increased in America. This is undoubtedly music to the ears of elected officials who resist national gun control measures. Harford and the famed psychologist, Steven Pinker, suggest statistical analysis shows violence of earlier history is greater than in the 21st century. Harford acknowledges this is no comfort to the heart-rending reality of a child lost to suicide by gun or the horrendous school shootings of the last 3 years. As Horford explains statistics do not register human grief. Statistics are an impersonal unfeeling view of human life.
Harford does not read statistical surveys as truth but as a roadmap for discovery. He looks at a statistical survey like a detective searching for details. Who are the gatherers of the statistics? How were they collected? Why are they relevant? What period do statistics represent and do they relate the present to the past? Without answers, Harford argues statistical surveys are no better than propaganda.
Harford offers a graphic example of the context needed to clearly illustrate the value of statistical studies. The history of America’s invasion of Iraq and its human cost is dramatically and comprehensively revealed in one statistical picture.
Harford advances his view of the metaverse and its growing role in the world. He gives examples of Target’ and Costco’ algorithms that tells a father his daughter is pregnant, and infers a wife’s husband is cheating. A Target algorithm sends a note to a father about the pending birth of a baby based on his daughter’s purchases at the store. Costco sends a rebuy message for condoms to a wife when she calls and explains they never use condoms. Both stores apologize for sending their notes and say their stores made auto-response mistakes. Harford notes email apologies are a common response of stores that use similar algorithms.
Harford notes the irony of a metaverse that invades privacy with algorithms that can easily mislead or affirm societal trends or personal transgressions.
The last chapters of Harford’s book reinforce the importance of statistical studies by recounting the history of Florence Nightingale’s heroic hospital service in Turkey during the Crimean war (1853-1856). Harford explains Nightingale’s interest in mathematics and association with luminaries like Charles Babbage (an English polymath that originated the concept of a digital programmable computer). Nightingale’s hospital service and interest in mathematics lead her to correlate patient’ diseases with causes. The hospital to which she was assigned by the U. K. was without proper food and water. The hospital was dirty, and disease ridden. She had two objectives. First to have food and water supplied, and second to clean the hospital. Her statistical analysis made her realize cleaning was as important as food and clean water in reducing contagion among her patients. Like the statistical analysis of smoking and cancer changed smokers, Nightingale changed nursing.
Florenvce Nightingale (1820-1910, English social reformer born in Italy, Founder of modern nursing.)
“The Data Detective” is a disturbing book that shows the power of media and how it can mislead as well as inform the public.
This is a disturbing book that shows the power of media and how it can mislead as well as inform the public. With poorly or intentionally misleading statistical studies, opposing interest groups harden their political beliefs.
Harford concludes with an appeal to discordant interest groups to be curious about why they disagree with each other. Reputable statistical analysis can improve one’s belief in probable truth and decrease echo chamber‘ adherence of disparate interest groups.
By Chet Yarbrough
Rise of the Machines (A Cybernetic History)
Release Date 6/28/16
By: Thomas Rid
Narrated by: Robertson Dean
Thomas Rid (Author, political science Professor received Ph.D from Humboldt Univ. of Berlin in 2006.)
Thomas Rid’s history of the “Rise of the Machines” is a political perspective on society’s adoption of cybernetics (the science of communications and automatic control systems in both machines and living things).
Rid begins his history with the industrial age that created machines and increased worker productivity while displacing and retraining workers to meet the needs of a growing economy.
Rid’s history defines the origin and significance of cybernetics. It may be interpreted positively or negatively. Viewing the state of the world today, there is room for praise and criticism. On the one hand “Rise of the Machines” offered opportunities and prosperity, on the other, it promoted murder and mayhem. The irony of both is they come from the same source, military R & D. Like Willie Sutton said about robbing banks, military defense budgets are “…where the money is”.
Rid recognizes Norbert Wiener’s formative role in the cybernetic age. Rid notes Wiener develops communications engineering and cybernetic theory during WWII. Rid reminds listeners of the military’s radar refinement and jet pilot cybernetic helmets, long before virtual reality became available to the public. The key to Wiener’s success is experimenters’ recognition of the importance of environmental feedback when designing machines to precisely locate an enemy target or for pilots to engage an enemy plane.
Norbert Wiener (American mathematician and philosopher, 1894-1964.)
Feedback is key to efficient machine performance because it provides information for changed response in the same way humans respond differently when circumstances or environments change.
Rid gives the example of pilot helmet refinement, partly related to ideas of the Star War’s movie.
Darth Vader’s helmet became a model for pilots of newer jet fighters.
The original helmets were unwieldy and uncomfortable. In Vietnam, the rough terrain led to GE research on motorized robots. However, what they found was the rough terrain and swampy land made them too vulnerable for practical use. GE’s research shows limitations but leads to robotic mechanization for repetitive work in fixed environments of industrial production.
Rid digresses with science fictions’ contribution to the advance of cybernetics. Timothy Leery, and Scientology were early endorsers of Wiener’s theory of cybernetics. Timothy Leery extolls the virtues of LSD as an entry to a different reality. One of Leary’s friends is Jaron Lanier who created an early version of virtual reality headwear.
L. Ron Hubbard claims Scientology’s connection to cybernetics. Wiener pointedly objects to Hubbard’s claim and forbids further association of Scientology with cybernetics.
The first computer is invented in the 19th century by an English mechanical engineer named Charles Babbage. It was an early form of number computation and analysis. It was a century ahead of its time. During WWII, British codebreakers needed to decipher German miliary communications. In 1936, Alan Turing writes a paper “On Computable Numbers…” that leads to employment by the British during WWII to decode German military communications. Turing’s computer decoded Germany’s secret enigma machine’ messages. As a result, Turing becomes known as the father of modern computer science.
The early internet years came in the 1960s from the need for a communications network for government researchers to share information.
That network is called ARPANET, which is financed by the U.S. Department of Defense. It is transformed into the world wide web, now known as the internet. Rid’s book is published in 2016. The potential of cybernetics in war is clearly demonstrated by Ukraine’s ability to resist a much larger and better equipped foreign power.
The role of the military in cybernetics research and development is shown as both critical and essential in Rid’s history.
Ukraine’s use of cybernetic surveillance for military equipment targeting and drone weaponization equalizes power and effectiveness of two mismatched powers.
Though not a subject of Rid’s history, the principal value of free speech is diminished by a cybernetic world that is not properly legislated, adjudicated and enforced by rule-of-law. Internet users have been influenced by media trolls who spew lies and disinformation. Young people kill themselves because of being dissed on the internet. The internet gives voice to hate groups around the world. Gaming is a principal revenue producer in the cybernetic world that patently discounts reality. Human value is discounted by the mayhem of computer gaming.
As late as yesterday, 3/27/23, another school shooting occurs in Nashville, Tennessee. Three adults and three nine-year-old children are killed.
Rid notes cybernetics’ military application both protects and exposes security of nations around the world. Rid writes about an American military intelligence penetration by foreign and domestic hackers during the Clinton administration. Hackers have the tools to disrupt both economic and military operations around the world. Of course, those tools are multiplying. With quantum computing, existing passwords will become obsolete. Intelligence services of all countries are becoming more and more capable of disrupting military or domestic affairs of any foreign power.
By Chet Yarbrough
London: A Short History of the Greatest City in the Western World)
By: The Great Courses
Narrated by: Robert Bucholz
Robert O. Bucholz (Professor at Loyola University in Chicago, Graduate of Oxford and Cornell.)
Robert Bucholz’s brief history of London walks the curious through ancient and modern streets of London. Like John Wayne in “True Grit”, this history shows what grit means to British Londoners. Possibly as far back as 1750 BC, archeological remains show evidence of a community on the Thames that later becomes the site of London. Around the year 43 AD Londinium was founded by the Romans. It became the capital of Roman Britain with a population estimated at 60,000 inhabitants.
King Aethelberhtl (589-616AD.)
The Saxons displace the Romans in the 5th century AD. An Anglo-Saxon (mixture of German and British descendants) was established as King. His name is Aethelberht (spelling varies). He was the first Anglo-Saxon king to convert to Christianity.
Bucholz notes Saint Mellitus is the first bishop of London appointed when a Cathedral is dedicated to St. Paul in AD 604. Though the site (the highest point in the city, Ludgate Hill) is the same today as then, the original cathedral evolved and was replaced four times.
It was destroyed in the “Great Fire of London” in 1666 and soon after rebuilt to its current form at the direction of Christopher Wren.
In 1066 the Saxons are replaced by the Normans (mixture of Vikings and French). They rule into the 1400s when the Tudor’ monarchs (a mixture of Welsh and English) come to power. King Henry VII, and then Henry VIII take charge.
King Henry VIII (1491-1547, Coronation 1509)
It is the reign of Henry VIII that is most well-known, in part, because of the split that occurs between the Roman Catholic Church and England’s Protestant Anglican Church. The other reason Henry becomes well-known is because of his future wife, Anne Boleyn, whom he has beheaded. The consequence of church schism reverberates through the rest of London’s history.
Bucholz gives a brief history of Chaucer who is born around 1340 and lives until 1400. Chaucer lives in the heart of London. Though Chaucer is known to most as the author of the Canterbury Tales, he is an important servant of the crown as comptroller of customs at the Port of London.
Bucholz reminds his audience of the first Queen Elizabeth I’s reign, the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. She is shown as a consummate politician by opening herself to the London public.
The wealth of the empire was diminished by the devaluation of money and profligacy of King Henry the VIII. Elizabeth’s political skill replenishes the royal coffers. London grows to an estimated 200,000 residents. Though the wealth of the royal coffers improves, poverty rises dramatically. Bucholz notes the population increase in London rises faster than the economic benefits to its people. The increase is not from natural births but from the country people moving into the city in greater numbers than can be handled by the local economy. Bucholz notes more babies die than needed to replace the population that dies from natural causes.
Bucholz briefly recounts the unsuccessful gunpowder revolution during James I’s reign (1601-1625). James I is not a popular King. Though he manages to bring Scotland into the empire, the rift between Catholics and protestants continues to roil the country. At the same time, poverty increases as London’s population expands.
Jumping to the 1800s, Bucholz addresses the consequence of London’s rapid growth. Now the population is nearing a million. Pollution, crime, and poverty are aggravated by industrialization. Crime is an everyday reality ranging from pickpockets to, to prostitution, to the infamous “Jack the Ripper” murders. The Thames is a running sewer, streets are spottily paved, the city is dark or poorly lit by candles, burning torches are carried by guides who will pick your pocket as often as guide you through the city.
The infamous London fog is caused by coal burning factories and home heating demands. This is the London which Charles Dickens writes of in “A Christmas Carol”, “Oliver Twist”, “Great Expectations” and “A Tale of Two Cities”.
Sir Robert Peel (1788-1850, Home Secy, Chancellor of ther Exchequer, Prime Minister served from1828-1846.)
Each 19th century problem is attacked by London’s leaders. In 1829, Home Secretary Sir Robert Peel forms a municipal police force. Initially, it was formed for the countryside on the outskirts of London but became institutionalized and eventually adopted within the London city boundaries. Those who were employed in these new police wore uniforms, including distinctive hats. They became known as “Bobbies”, possibly because of Peel’s first name. By 1851, there were 13,000 police across England and Wales.
Cholera infected the London’s population because of Thames’ pollution.
By 1858, the stink from the Thames was so great in the summer that one had to hold their nose. Cholera and the stink of the river dropped dramatically when a large system of sewers was built. It was commissioned by the Metropolitan Board of Works which became the London County Council in 1889. It was designed by Joseph Bazalgette, an English civil engineer. It took 9 years to build with future repairs and improvements as the years passed and the population continued to grow.
Its estimated length is around 82 miles of brick main sewers and 1,100 miles of street sewers.
Joseph Bazalgette (1819-1891, English Civil Engineer.)
A British Clean Air Act was passed in 1956. The key to its abatement was the reduction of coal burning particle emissions. Of course, pollution remains a worldwide problem.
London fog worsened through to the 1950s. In December 1952, the pollution level grew so dense, 150,000 people were hospitalized and an estimated 4,000 died.
Bucholz reminds listeners of Londoner’s grit during WWI and WWII. WWI introduces the reality of war to every 20th and 21st century human. The consequence of war never leaves those who experience it. PTSD is not diagnosed in WWI but found as an incurable disorder in all subsequent wars. It is never cured but many have learned how to live with it. With the help of friends and medical assistance, PTSD is managed by many but not all.
Visiting London today is a great pleasure. It has some of the greatest theatres, museums, and entertainments of the world. Bucholz’s history of London shows political unrest, pollution, poverty, and crime are killers but there are solutions.
By Chet Yarbrough
The Dawn of Everything (A New History of Humanity)
By: David Graeber, David Wengrow
Narrated by: Mark Williams
David Graeber and David Wengrow persuasively reject the view of farming as a critical step leading to tribes, hamlets, villages, cities, and future nation-states. Graber and Wengrow’s archeological research reveal human remains and structures are found in many areas of the world long before any evidence of farming. Their research suggests hunter-gatherer populations created and sustained stable communities with remnants of worship, government rule, and tools for construction, punishment, and defense. These early civilizations knew nothing of or practiced any form of organized farming.
Graeber and Wengrow argue early civilizations did not arrive as a result of organized farming.
The goal of the author’s research is to find an answer to the question of why inequality plagues civilization. They suggest inequality is (in part) created by the myth propounded by stories like the bibles’ garden of Eden. The myth of original sin and redemption sets many precedents for inequality and redemption through good works. Their archaeological research suggests the plague of inequality has never been cured because history and archaeological evidence shows civilization wobbles between extremes. First, there is the altruism of sharing benefits of life with everyone. Second is the realism of what is mine is mine. Graeber and Wengrow argue there is history and archeological evidence proving both extremes exist but the second prevails more than the first. It would seem the first is more likely to preserve humanity, and the second to end it.
Graeber and Wengrow offer a story of “sharing” by the American Indian leader Kondiaronk who saved his tribe by playing the Iroquois and French against each other to keep his tribe whole. Kondiaronk becomes an arbitrator for peace between the Iroquois and French. He secures peace for the French, Iroquois, and the Huron tribe of which he is a part.
Kondiaronk (French Canadian depiction.)
Kondiaronk becomes an arbitrator for peace between the Iroquois and French and secures peace for the French, Iroquois, and Huron tribe of which he is a part.
The authors say Kondiaronk is invited to France and finds monarchy a terrible form of government. He considers its hierarchy of wealth and privilege an abomination. His criticism revolves around the “mine is mine” hierarchal structure that impoverishes much of French society. Kondiaronk returns to Canada where he is buried in Montreal’s Notre-Dame church.
The “mine is mine” examples are more numerous than the “sharing” and distributive benefits Kondiaronk endorses. Schizogenesis is a phenomenon identified by Graeber and Wengrow in examination of Chinese, Roman, Persian, and other empires’ remains. Schizogenesis is defined as “creation of division”. It is social behavior of “get everything you can” and don’t worry about anyone else. The authors note archeological remains of most ancient civilizations are schizogenetic. Excerptions are a few North American Indian tribes and some Mesoamerican societies.
If authors’ stories of great empires schizogenesis are not enough, today’s Russian invasion of Ukraine is tomorrow’s archeological reminder of the phenomena.
There seems a slim hope for humanity in the example of Kondiaronk. Global warming is every nation’s problem. Humanity has a choice of “sharing” or continuing to fight each other until there is nothing left to fight over. In the past, many civilizations have fallen because of schizogenesis but now the world is at risk. As Friedrich Nietzsche said, “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.”
This is a long book. It covers many subject areas that could be books of their own. As an example: the remains of civilization offer evidence that women’s equality, if not superiority, may have been exhibited during the hunter-gather phase of social development. The authors suggest women may have been the scientists of their time by experimenting with farming practices as farms became a part of civilization. Increasing and improving product grown on farms required experimentation. Who tended the farms? The authors suggest it would have been women while men were hunting and gathering.
Part of the authors story covers America’s Mississippi River Valley and Etowah River area of Georgia to show how communal life grows in parts of what becomes the United States. Both areas leave burial mounds filled with hints of how their civilizations were formed, how they were governed, and why they disappeared. Both are founded on hereditary male leaders with some influence exercised by democratically elected council members. The authors note there is a belief in the importance of dreams that presage Freudian thought and its influence on lived life. It seems both areas grew with hierarchical governance by Tribal chiefs who lived, worked, and died in conflicts with competing tribes. (This is more evidence of schizogenetic life.) Farming is certainly a part of these societies but not as a formative cause of creation.
America’s Mississippi River Valley burial mounds.
The greater chiefs were memorialized by ritual mounds.
This is not light reading or listening, and it remains a speculative story of civilizations’ growth, and organization. It seems a more careful examination of archeological evidence than the farming explanations from different authors like Fukuyama, Diamond, Pinker, and Harari.
Of course, Fukuyama is a political theorist, Diamond and Harari are historians, and Pinker is a cognitive scientist. All are well regarded professionals. What Graeber and Wengrow add is evidence that suggests a different interpretation of the past.