29 March 2010

Sam Harris: Science can answer moral questions | Video on TED.com

Sam Harris: Science can answer moral questions | Video on TED.com

We know and agree on the goals of human culture. We want collectively to survive and thrive and become all we can be; the same thing we want for our gardens and pastures. And just as horticulture is a scientific approach to gardening and animal husbandry, human culture could perfectly well be a scientific approach to getting what we want out of life. Neither specifies in detail how each plant or animal or human should behave. But it does specify how the gardener should behave in the face of threats to the health of the garden, and why, in each and every case. There is no reason to invoke the will of another in this; in the case of human culture, we do it for our own sakes and because we know how, and it’s time we admitted as much. This is what I believe Sam Harris is saying here.

24 March 2010

The Poetry of Reality

John Boswell's remix series continues with a new video that focuses on Science as a human activity and the most effective method for gaining knowledge known to humankind.

13 March 2010

The Unbroken Thread

So now there is a fourth "symphony of science" by John Boswell, this time with David Attenborough and Jane Goodall, with the poshumously peripatetic Carl Sagan. Here are some of the best lines:

"Those are some of the things that molecules do, given 4 billion years of evolution." [Sagan]
"Its a very wuzzy line and it's getting wuzzier all the time." [Goodall]
"Our planet is, as far as we know, unique in the universe; it contains life" [Attenborough]
"Its continued survival now rests in our hands." [Attenborough]

"There's an unbroken thread from those first cells to us." This is Sagan's line and it is taken as the theme of this symphony. That's what we've learned about the genetic code: that while it is ever changing, it is also eternal. It's as if a notebook was opened at the creation, and it has been gathering notes continuously ever since. The number of copies has expanded, seemingly without limit, though in practice there are of course limits, especially on each genomic variation. But overall, the notebook proliferates and each new note adds to the storehouse of information about what works and what does not work for life on this planet. And each individual has their own copy and makes contributions that are realized in new copies of the genome. Darwin may not have known about the molecular machinery, but he certainly grasped the essence of the situation when he wrote:

"There is grandeur in this view of life..as the Earth has gone on cycling... from so simple a beginning, endless forms most wonderful and beautiful have been, and are being evolved." -- Charles Darwin, 1872

08 March 2010

A Universal Golden Rule?

I came across the figure on a facebook UU page. It's from a poster that can be obtained in larger sizes, presumably large enough to be able to read the different translations of the golden rule in the various faiths and philosophies. Or you can get the texts here. But the idea is plain enough. To me it echoes the message of a bumper sticker I like and have on my car, showing several of these symbols in a row that spells out "Coexist". I used to have a bumper sticker that says "Slow for Tailgaters," but replaced it with this one when I found it.

The quality of the drivers in Maryland disappoints me greatly. This week at the first stop light I come to on my way to work, there were two cars in front of me. The first in line was timid about turning on red, because of oncoming traffic. The second in line beeped his horn at the first car several times. Finally, the driver of the first car opened his door and got out, stood up, and looked back at the second car driver reprovingly. Whereupon, the second car pulled to the left around the first car and then made the right turn on red that he so fervently wanted, getting some rubber as he sped off. The standing driver of the first car stood there and watched him drive off, perhaps making a gesture at him, though I'm a bit foggy about that detail. By this time I was getting antsy and considering whether some additional horn blowing was called for! But then we were off into the morning rush hour traffic with reconsidered priorities.

I guess I'm just offering this as an example of coarse behavior that could certainly benefit from a more universal adherence to the golden rule in everyday life. It is so easy for selfish behavior to turn into anger and retaliation, and worse. Clearly it is anything but instinctive for us to exercise golden rule consideration for others. We need to be taught and to learn the advantages of that approach. Most faiths teach it, but sadly few individuals can see the advantage to it when faced with bad behavior.