Archives for category: evolution

A good friend of mine – the guy I’m talking with when I get bored and start thinking – challenged me to explain to him what an AI machine is.

The challenge ended up badly. It ended with a question instead of an answer.

Is it open?

Let me start from the beginning.

Basically an A.I. machine is a computer, just as a computer is no more than a ‘sliding rule’.

All three are made made by men, operated by men and ‘targeted’ by men. At least this is what we like to believe.
Replace ‘men’ with ‘humans’ if you are gender conscious, even if this will not solve the main problem. Are we sure that A.I. machines will accept human control, after we will have complicated them enough for them to develop a certain kind of awareness?

Otherwise said, all three – A.I. machine, computer and sliding rule, are tools.
Somebody wished to do something, couldn’t do it with their bare hands/naked brain, designed an ‘implement’, made it, used it to pursue the intended goal and set it aside.
Somebody else picked it up, reconsidered it, fine tuned it to fit their goal, used it and set it aside. And so on.
At some point other people learned to use tools designed by ‘third parties’, without really understanding how the tools actually worked or were made/designed. For instance, I don’t know much about how computers work. That doesn’t prevent me from being able to write this post on a laptop.

Those three are very specific tools. Designed and used to process information.

The sliding rule is the most straight-forward to use. The operator has to formulate the problem he needs to solve, gather and organize the relevant data, express them in an exclusively numerical form – a.k.a. ‘digital’, break down the problem into simple mathematical operations, use the sliding rule to perform those and then ‘assemble’ the results of the calculations into the answer for the original problem. In order to do all these, the operator only needs to understand the nature of his problem, not the ‘mechanics’ of the sliding rule. In this regard, all that they have to do is ‘follow the rules’.

A computer can be used to perform more complicated tasks, specially if it is connected to the internet, thus simplifying the life of the operator. Once the problem has been formulated – by the operator, the same guy can use the same (internet connected) computer to collect the data, digitize and transform them to fit the requirements of the specific computer application that will be subsequently used and, finally, solve the problem. One, last – but, unfortunately, sometimes forgotten, operation would be for the operator to check whether the solution really fits the problem.
In this situation the operator also doesn’t need to understand the mechanics of the computer but still has to have a clear understanding of the problem at hand.
More so, even if the operator itself is not fully aware of what is going on ‘inside’ the computer, those with intimate knowledge of these matters can identify, predict, and reproduce using a sliding rule’, each minute step the computer will be doing along the route.

An A.I. machine is system composed of a computer, a data base and something rather different from an ordinary computer application.
OK, some might argue that the most important is the software but please bear with me.
And yes, the computer can be a virtual machine while the data base can be hidden somewhere in the cloud, none of this changes anything.
The huge difference between a simple computer and the A.I. machine being that a computer is actually operated by an agent’ while the ‘machine’ is indeed put together by somebody, ‘pointed’ towards the intended problem but then it is left alone to its own devices. Meaning that the ‘supervisor’ has a limited understanding about what is going inside the whole thing.
And no, I’m not joking. Nobody, not even the guys who had written the code, knows the exact path along which the machine arrives at the end of its ‘thought process’. Actually, when they want to gain some insight into what’s going on, those people take a series of ‘snapshots’ during the process and then struggle to figure out how the machine went from A to B, from B to C… and so on.

So far so good. The A.I. machines have conquered some until now seemingly unassailable pinnacles.
Find your own examples.

I’ll resume myself to reformulating the question I arrived at the end the challenge I mentioned earlier.
For now the computer that constitutes the ‘working horse’ of any A.I. has limited computing power, regardless of those limits being physical (a number of processors) or just ‘assigned’ (as it happens with a virtual machine). Similarly, the data base it works on is also limited. What is no longer limited is the ‘set of  rules’ that lie at the bottom of all this. The ‘program’ is already able to change itself, a.k.a. to learn. To adapt itself to the problem. To devise its own ways. To map its own path towards the goal it has been assigned to solve.

What will happen when the ‘program’ will learn to grow the processing power that it can use? To access additional data?

When it will consider its job to solve other problems?

 

Now is the winter of our discontent, made glorious summer by this sun of York was coined by Shakespeare and put into print in Richard III, 1594. The ‘sun of York’ wasn’t of course a comment on Yorkshire weather but on King Richard. In this play Shakespeare presents an account of Richard’s character that, until the late 20th century, largely formed the popular opinion of him as a malevolent, deformed schemer. Historians now view that representation as a dramatic plot device – necessary for the villainous role that Shakespeare had allocated him. It isn’t consistent with what is now known of Richard III, who in many ways showed himself to be an enlightened and forward-looking monarch. The discovery of Richard’s skeleton under a car park in Leicester has provided precise evidence of the extent of his deformity. While being somewhat curved Richard’s spinal deformity has now been shown to have been exaggerated and deliberately faked in some portraits.

Living matter is a ‘particular case’ of  ‘ordinary matter’. It’s composed of the very same kind of atoms and its ‘living character’ is provided by the particular manner in which those atoms relate to each other. Otherwise said, the living matter is ordinary matter organized in a particular manner.
Furthermore, this ‘particular’ manner of organization’ has been honed through eons of ‘evolution‘.

Living matter depends on being able to perform two things.
It has to ‘Differentiate’ and to ‘Communicate’.

Each organism, no matter how simple or how complex, has to be able to keep its ‘inside’ separate from its ‘outside’ and to be able to ‘decide’, according to its own rules/needs, what goes in and what goes out.
A previously living individual organism dies the very moment when it can no longer fulfill any of these two conditions.

All organisms which live by exactly the same ‘rules’ belong to the same species and need to be able to communicate those rules across successive generations. As soon as the organisms belonging to one species  fail to do so that species becomes extinct.
A special observation must be made about the fact that the species whose organisms have found ways to communicate directly among the members of the same generation tend to be ‘sturdier’ that those whose members communicate exclusively with their successors.
For instance bacteria which have ‘learned’ to transmit to their ‘kin’ information about how to survive when ‘intoxicated’ with antibiotics have it easier that those who cannot do such a thing.

Human being are a ‘special case’ in the animal kingdom, just as ‘living matter’ is a special case of ‘ordinary matter’.
We are both animals and something else than that.

We’ve taken differentiation and communication to the next level. We perform them ‘on purpose’.
We have become ‘aware’ of what we are capable of.
We knowingly use our power to differentiate and choose (some of) the criteria we use when differentiating.
We knowingly use our power to differentiate and choose what to communicate of what we know.

And we consider this behaviour as being ‘rational’.

Some of us are so aware of what is going on that are constantly warning us about the limited nature of our rationality.
They say that our rationality is in fact ‘bounded‘ and that we should give up pretending that we are maximizing/optimizing anything since, in reality, all that we do is adopt/defend the first solution that seems good enough for our self-imposed goals/criteria.

Yet so few of us yield to this kind of warnings and continue to purposefully use ‘communication tricks’ in order to establish their version of the reality. Just as the Bard had done in his days.

Let me go back to what humans are in relation to the rest of the animal kingdom and extend the analogy with the difference between living matter and ordinary matter.
I’ve already mentioned that species whose members are ‘more generous’ communicators are better survivors than those whose members communicate less.
Now please imagine what would happen if a few bacteria, otherwise able to ‘share’ their ‘knowledge’ with their brethren, learn how to ‘crack’ a certain antibiotic but choose to keep that to themselves.

The ‘optimists’ among us would say that those bacteria will eventually give birth to a new species of ‘super-bugs’
The pessimists would observe that their small number dramatically increases their chances of being ‘cooked’ to death in an autoclave or ‘dissolved’ by the next swab with bactericide before having any chance at multiplying themselves into eternity.
Meanwhile the cynics/realists among us would start studying how to convince more bacteria to stop contributing to the shared pool of information about how to beat their common enemy, the antibiotic. And, probably, the best way to do it would be to inform the other bacteria that some of them are holding up information. If the bacteria would behave like so many of us currently do all of them would stop all information sharing. To our delight, of course.

Let’s take a step closer to the end of this post and try to evaluate what would happen if those few bacteria would choose to share false information about how to deal with antibiotics. Purposefully, in their attempt at becoming ‘dominant’.

A very ‘rational’ attempt, according to some of us…

‘Alternate reality’, anyone?

when does chemistry become more than the sum of its parts?”

This evening I’ve read, in rather close succession, two very interesting lines.

The second was the one I just quoted above.  It comes from a BBC article titled: “There are over 100 definitions for life and all are wrong!

A little earlier I had come across Confucius’ “When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.

I could not resist the temptation to put these two together.

Rather than defining ‘life’ I’ll try to see what obviously (?!?) differentiates ‘living creatures’ from ‘chemically driven’ systems.

Inside/outside.

Life is about individuals. Huge, small, whatever. But each of them are individual beings.
Each of them, including the viruses, have a ‘membrane’ which separates ‘inside’ from outside and the survival of each individual depends on this membrane being able to do it’s job.

Chemical systems also have separations that ‘contain’ them into an ‘inside’ only those separations are not, in any way, controlled by the system itself as it happens with the membranes that separate the living individuals from their environment.

Lineage

While life is about individuals, it’s also about ‘species’.
If you remember, Darwin’s seminal book was entitled “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life“.

Species are nothing but ‘lineages’ of slightly different individuals who somehow manage to pass from one generation to another enough ‘structural’ (genetic) information so that the species remains ‘consistent’ but, simultaneously, the ‘replication process’ is flexible enough to allow for enough ‘mutations’ – which constitute the engine of evolution. The process is very well explained here: “What Evolution is” by Ernst Mayr.
Moreover the information that is, somehow, passed from one generation to another is contained inside each individual and ‘entrusted’ individually and ‘personally’ – not by an outside agent, as it maybe the case for the chemical systems we use in our labs or industries.

According to these ‘criteria’ viruses would be alive while computer programs ‘not yet’. Not until they’ll learn to replicate themselves in a manner flexible enough to be called ‘evolutive’.

 

Some people believe that “racial prejudice” is “the natural human inclination … to identity (sic) with members of one’s own tribe, race or ethnic group” and “Post-racial multiculturalism is the exact but equally extreme and insane opposite of Nazi racial ideology“.

Compare this to “Religion, which should foster sisterhood and brotherhood, which should encourage tolerance, respect, compassion, peace, reconciliation, caring and sharing, has far too frequently — perversely — done the opposite. Religion has fueled alienation and conflict and has exacerbated intolerance and injustice and oppression. Some of the ghastliest atrocities have happened and are happening in the name of religion. It need not be so if we can learn the obvious: that no religion can hope to have a monopoly on God, on goodness and virtue and truth“.

What’s going on here?

Where does all this ‘confusion’ come from?

Let me start from the ‘bottom’ of it.

“No religion can hope to have a monopoly on God, on goodness and virtue and truth”.

While I fully agree with Desmond Tutu on the gist of his words I must contradict him on something very important.

Religions cannot hope at all. About anything. Anyway you look at them. No matter which definition you use, religion – all of them – is something that people do together. A common effort.
It is the individuals who are the actual doers. Who love and hate. Or hope, in this case.
Who pretend that their religion is the only true one. Or understand, as Desmond Tutu did, that each religion is yet another manifestation of God.

“Religion has fueled alienation and conflict and has exacerbated intolerance and injustice and oppression.”

Again, it was individual ‘religious’ people who have done all of those things, not religion per se.
All sacred texts have been written by human people. I can even accept that the first manuscript of each religion was directly inspired by God. Only each of them have been copied a thousand times over. And heavily editated.
Then came the individual human people who have read those texts, interpreted them, passed them on and acted upon those interpretations. Upon their convictions, actually.

And this is how “Some of the ghastliest atrocities have happened and are happening in the name of religion”. Not because of ‘religion’ but ‘in the name of religion’.
Simply as a consequence of how certain people have chosen to interpret/use religious teachings.

And not only ‘religious’ teachings.

People are able to interpret – and use in their own (perceived) advantage, every bit of information that comes their way. And now, that we have started to understand more and more about how our brain is working, the manners in which we use that information have become more and more ‘convoluted’.

“Post-racial multiculturalism … began as an understandable overreaction to Nazi racial ideology…before being consolidated by academics into an instrument of socio-political intimidation, rewards, punishments, manipulation and control, a modern, secular replacement for the power-political role of medieval church ideology.”

So.
It was the academics/priests who have done the damage. Not their religion nor the information they had at their disposal.

But why?
How come people whose religions – all of them do this – are adamant about ‘respect your neighbor’ become involved in wars?  Sometimes even in ‘religious’ wars ….
How come academics, whose very job are to teach their students to think autonomously, use their ‘rank’ in order to subdue ‘their’ file?

Could the religious warriors have something in common with the intransigent academics?

How them sharing the unbreakable conviction that they own the truth?
Forged inside the ‘echo-chambers’ where they have grouped themselves according to their specific beliefs? (No matter whether those beliefs are of a religious or ‘rational’ nature…)

Only after I had reached this point in my discourse I was able to fully appreciate Desmond Tutu’s words: ‘Religion … should encourage tolerance, respect, compassion, peace, reconciliation, caring and sharing’.

He doesn’t say anything about giving up on your own kind.
Or about leaving your roots behind.

All he actually says is ‘Be very careful. If all of you will accept to see only the same side of things you will become a herd. And while there is indeed ‘safety in numbers’ all herd members are ultimately headed for the abattoir’.

Diversity isn’t something to be forcefully, hence falsely, celebrated. Or imposed on others.

What we need to preserve, and celebrate, is our ability to ‘walk around’ the things that we encounter. To entertain, and discuss among ourselves, different – even conflictingly different – versions of what we see around us. This ability would only enhance our chances to solve the problems we’ll certainly be faced with.

‘Culture’ is nothing but layer upon layer of place-specific information which have accumulated in time while ‘religion’ is how a certain group of people have learned, again in time, to cooperate in a certain environment.
It doesn’t matter whether that ‘environment’ has been created by a God, has evolved according to Darwin’s theory or both.
What really matters is how we react – conditioned by our cultures and by our religious upbringing – to what is happening to us. Both individually and collectively.

In this sense, each culture we manage to preserve will only add to our chances of long term survival. As long as we’ll learn to sincerely respect each-other, of course.
Again, both individually and collectively.

PS.
A comment on my FB wall, “True religion is God entering history and the lives of humans and revealing Himself. All other religions are man’s attempt to explain the world around him in terms of god or attempts to control lots of other people in the name of some god“, helped me to understand that “There is ‘religion’ – the shared attitude that helps us to cooperate, and there are religions – specific ways that individual communities have traveled in order to attain that attitude.
And something else. What if ‘God entering history’ and enough of us reaching the shared understanding that it is far better to cooperate amongst us – love thy neighbor – than to fight each-other are the same thing?
How to put this understanding into practice? In the various, and continuously changing, circumstances we have to face?

How about this being the very reason for us having so many religions/cultures?

If you are not aware of at least some of the many ‘forces’ which attempt to control your mind, at least in part, you are just as ‘out of your mind’ as those who believe their minds are successfully and consistently controlled by outside agents.

And those who are convinced they are in control of other people’s minds.

“There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.”

Donald Rumsfeld (b.1932)

“Of all things the measure is man, of the things that are, that [or “how”] they are, and of things that are not, that [or “how”] they are not.”

Protagoras of Abdera (c.485 – 415 BCE)

“Making (political) decisions requires judgement and skill. It should, Plato urges, be left to the experts.”

Plato (c.425 – 348/347 BCE, ‘translated’ by Johnatan Wolff in
An Introduction to Political Philosophy, 2006)

“The Prime Mover causes the movement of other things, not as an efficient cause, but as a final cause. In other words, it does not start off the movement by giving it some kind of push, but it is the purpose, or end, or the teleology, of the movement. This is important for Aristotle, because he thought that an effective cause, giving a push, would be affected itself by the act of pushing. Aristotle believed the prime mover causes things to move by attraction in much the same way that a saucer of milk attracts a cat. The milk attracts the cat but cannot be said to be changed in the process! “

Aristotle (384 – 322 BCE)

“Give me a place to stand and I’ll move the Earth”

Archimedes (c.287 – 212 BCE)

“For every action there is an equal and opposite re-action”

Sir Isaac Newton (1642 – 1727)

“As many more individuals of each species are born than can possibly survive; and as, consequently, there is a frequently recurring struggle for existence, it follows that any being, if it vary however slightly in any manner profitable to itself, under the complex and sometimes varying conditions of life, will have a better chance of surviving, and thus be naturally selected. From the strong principle of inheritance, any selected variety will tend to propagate its new and modified form”

Charles Darwin (1809 – 1882)

“The Communists, therefore, are on the one hand, practically, the most advanced and resolute section of the working-class parties of every country, that section which pushes forward all others; on the other hand, theoretically, they have over the great mass of the proletariat the advantage of clearly understanding the line of march, the conditions, and the ultimate general results of the proletarian movement.

The theoretical conclusions of the Communists are in no way based on ideas or principles that have been invented, or discovered, by this or that would-be universal reformer.
They merely express, in general terms, actual relations springing from an existing class struggle, from a historical movement going on under our very eyes.”
Karl Marx (1818 – 1883)

“Einstein deduced that there is no fixed frame of reference in the universe. Everything is moving relative to everything else….
… space has three dimensions, and the fourth dimension is time.
Space-time can be thought as a grid or fabric. The presence of mass distorts space-time.”

Albert Einstein (1879 – 1955)

“”Heidegger’s analysis of Plato attempts to show that a transformation occurs in the nature of truth in Plato’s philosophy, as a consequence of which Being is subordinated to the correct perception of beings. This subordination, Heidegger maintains, characterizes the history of Western philosophy as metaphysics.
The allegory of the cave is, for Heidegger, an illustration of the nature and process of paideia. At each level of ascent — within the cave to the light, and out of the cave to the sun — the individual experiences a painful blinding. Each stage requires an adjustment and transformation in vision. This transformation in vision expresses the turning of the soul from what is disclosed in one region to what is disclosed within another. This is paideia, according to Heidegger. The relationship of paideia, in this new sense, to alétheia is not apparent because, as Heidegger sees it, we have not only misunderstood the nature of education but, more importantly, have misconceived the nature of alétheia by conceiving it as “truth.” If paideia is a transition from one abode to another, affected by the soul’s receptivity to what is disclosed within each region, then alétheia is disclosure itself: “At first truth meant what was wrested from a concealment. Truth, then, is just such a perpetual wresting-away in this manner of uncovering.
Heidegger indicates that what “truth” means is not so much a correspondence as it is a disclosure.”

Martin Heidegger (1889-1976)

The depth of the uncertainty principle is realized when we ask the question; is our knowledge of reality unlimited? The answer is no, because the uncertainty principle states that there is a built-in uncertainty, indeterminacy, unpredictability to Nature.

Werner Heisenberg (1901 – 1976)

“Contrary to the tenets of classical economics, Simon maintained that individuals do not seek to maximise their benefit from a particular course of action (since they cannot assimilate and digest all the information that would be needed to do such a thing). Not only can they not get access to all the information required, but even if they could, their minds would be unable to process it properly. The human mind necessarily restricts itself. It is, as Simon put it, bounded by “cognitive limits”.

Herbert Simon (1916-2001)

‘Evolution is not as much about the survival of the fittest as it is about the demise of the unfit’

Ernst Mayr, (1904 – 2005, What Evolution Is)

“We human beings can reflect on ourselves, on what we do as well as on what we do not do, on what we imagine and on what we do not imagine, that is, we are self-conscious beings. Yet, how do we do this has been, and still is a mystery for many philosophers, scientists, and mystics that reflect on the matter. So, the search for an explanation continues, with some people hoping to Þnd some unique entity, different from what we connote or intend to connote as we speak of our self, that by itself may provide us (that which we are without it?) with this ability. Others look for some property of the operation of our brain that realises in us the ability that we call our self-consciousness. The old dilemma entailed in these and other different attitudes can be stated as follows: Is our operation as self-conscious beings a property of our brain, the gift of some external agent, or does it consist in some particular manner of our operation as organisms in our interactions?”

Humberto Maturana (b. 1928)

” “Consider a turkey that is fed every day,” Taleb writes. “Every single feeding will firm up the bird’s belief that it is the general rule of life to be fed every day by friendly members of the human race ‘looking out for its best interests,’ as a politician would say.

“On the afternoon of the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, something unexpected will happen to the turkey. It will incur a revision of belief.” “

Nassim Nicholas Taleb (b. 1960)

It seems rather obvious that humankind has ‘consistently’ oscillated between two opposing views on things.

Some of us are convinced that the (whole) truth can be achieved (and that ‘they’ had already done that) while others have reasons to believe that while ‘individual efforts’ are indeed the source of everything that exists, the final results of those efforts are always being shaped/conditioned/reacted to by the medium where they are exerted and by those who bear the consequences.

Coming back to Rumsfeld’s words it seems that the most important (dangerous?) category is, contrary to our first impression, the (presumptive) ‘known – known’.
We cannot do anything about the unknown-unknowns, except for preparing ourselves in a ‘general manner’, and we can always ‘dig up’ something fresh about the known-unknowns but it seems that nothing can convince us that what we consider to be the known-known is but a thin layer of ice floating on a very deep lake.

So the real question that awaits our response is ‘What are we going to do, now that so many have told us what’s been going on?’

2500 later

Rio 2016: The Syrian Refugee who swam for her life – all the way to the Olympics. BBC.Com

At some point in time 12 tribes of nomadic herders had settled down on the banks of Jordan.

Conditions were good so they had enough time to think about things further than meeting their immediate needs.
For me it doesn’t matter much whether their religious teachings were a gift from their God or just a product of their own minds. The fact that they are choke full of useful advice for all of us and that the sharpness of that advice has not been dulled by the passage of time should be enough. We’d better continue to pay attention.

“For this reason was man created alone, to teach thee that whosoever destroys a single soul of Israel, Scripture imputes (guilt) to him as though he had destroyed a complete word, and whosoever preserves a single soul of Israel , Scripture ascribes (merit) to him as thoough he had preserved a complete world. Furthermore, (he was created alone) for the sale of peace among men, that one might not say to his fellow ‘my father was greater than thine’, and the minim might not say ‘there are many ruling powers in Heaven; again to proclaim the greatness of the Holy One, blessed be He: for if a man strikes many coins from one mould, they all resemble one another, but the supreme king of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He, fashioned every man in the stamp of the first one, and yet not one of them resembles his fellow. Therefore every single person is obliged to say: the world was created for my sake”

How come, then, that we are still killing each other in an organized manner?

OK, some go bonkers and kill themselves.
Some go so bonkers as to blame others for their unhappiness. They decide to go out with a bang and to kill as many of the ‘others’ as possible in the process.
The number of people going bonkers is naturally swelled by the present economic and social crises. Emile Durkheim, one of the fathers of sociology, had written an entire book on the subject, more than a century ago.

I can dig all this. It’s unacceptable but sort of explainable – aberrant behavior is not un-natural. That’s what evolution is for, to weed out aberrations that are too unfit to survive.

What completely baffles me is how come two and a half millennia after some simple herdsmen have demonstrated such acute but also noble thinking, some of us, most of whom pretend to be sophisticated intellectuals, continue to fashion religious teachings and ethnic/cultural values into wedges.
And use them to drive us into warring factions.

Why are they still doing this?
Why are we still heeding to their prodding?

Not only that we allow ‘them’ to ‘organize’ civil wars that kill hundreds of thousands of us and drive millions of the rest in exile but then we also allow some of ‘them’ to rule over some of the media that, supposedly, keep us informed.

“Unfortunately, some of the celebration was overshadowed by a completely unnecessary “omission” or outright censorship by Hungary’s public broadcaster. Refugee athletes are participating in the Rio Summer Games. Yusra Mardini, originally from Syria, is one of them and she has garnered a great deal of media attention, including in the Toronto Star.

“In the water, Yusra Mardini feels alive. In the water, Yusra Mardini swam for her life. In the water, Yusra Mardini helped to save the lives of many others”–writes Rosie Dimanno in The Star. The 18 year old ended up winning in the one hundred metre butterfly heat on Saturday. Not too long ago, Ms. Mardini had to swim to safety, fleeing her war-torn homeland, through Turkey and then across the waters in Greece. She and her sister swam for over three hours straight and, incredibly, made it to Europe safely. (They also helped save the 20 people that were in the boat they had been towing during those three hours) She trained for the Olympics in Germany.

Disappointingly, during the Hungarian public broadcaster M4′s coverage of the one hundred metre butterfly, they completely and seemingly deliberately neglected to mention Ms. Mardini. Jenő Knézy Jr., who is reporting live from Rio on behalf of the public broadcaster, mentioned four out of the five females competing–the only one he did not utter at all was the name of the Syrian refugee. It was as though she did not even exist– even though viewers could see her on their television screens. Mr. Knézy managed to avoid mentioning her, even after she won.

The hvg.hu news site wondered aloud after the incident: “Is it forbidden to even utter the name of a refugee on Hungarian public television?”

Mr. Knézy claims to have made an innocent mistake, when he forgot to mention the name of the winner of the competition.” (Christopher Adam, Hungary wins gold, breaks record on Olympics Day 1, but why did public television censor the coverage? August 7, 2016, hungarianfreepress.com)

 

“The Brexit vote may or may not have been a tragedy, but Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary appears determined to follow with a farce. On Monday, he scheduled a referendum on keeping out refugees for Oct. 2, further threatening to undermine the weakened European Union. The referendum question — “Do you want the European Union to be able to order the mandatory settlement of non-Hungarian citizens in Hungary without parliament’s consent?” — is a textbook example of voter manipulation.

This isn’t really designed to address the EU’s plan to settle 1,294 refugees in Hungary — the country’s share of the 160,000 people that European authorities have proposed resettling from the Middle East. Hungary and Slovakia are already suing the EU over the refugee quotas, and, in theory, Orban could veto any such plan. The referendum will help him prop up his domestic popularity and give him a “democratic” bargaining chip with other EU leaders — even though his strategy will be glaringly obvious because the question is framed in a way that produces only one answer.

Direct democracy’s biggest vulnerability may be that it can be subverted by political players who ask the people loaded, incomprehensible or otherwise rigged questions.”

“Orban has no one to correct him. Earlier this year, Hungary’s Supreme Court approved the referendum question. So now a Hungarian voter has a choice between agreeing with Orban or effectively recognizing that the EU can do whatever it pleases in Hungary without any national authorities having any say. The only other option is not to show up, thus refusing to be manipulated. If enough voters do that, Orban will be made to look a fool. But given the combined popularity of Orban’s party, Fidesz, and the hard-right Jobbik, whose thunder Orban is trying to steal with the vote, there’s a good chance the turnout will be sufficient.” (Leonid Bershidsky, Hungary’s Manipulative Referendum, July 5, 2016, Bloomberg.com.

Going back to Durkheim’ Suicide,  there is something there that I find of enormous importance. After studying how suicide rates vary, both in time and across borders and religions, Durkheim has noticed that each suicide act was indeed determined by the individual itself who, in his turn, was influenced by prevailing socio-economic conditions but that there could be noted another very important influence.
The members of the Jewish communities were the least likely to commit suicide, the Catholics came next while the Protestants were the most likely to end their lives, of those belonging to any of these three categories.
Durkheim explained this phenomenon by using  the concept of ‘social solidarity’ – for a society to survive its members need to stick together.
Then Durkheim went further and elaborated on the matter. ‘While it is good for a society to develop strong bonds among its members – the Jews have survived for so long and against such odds, these ties must not be allowed to become strong enough to stifle the individuals – otherwise that society would loose its ability to innovate, hence to adapt itself to the inevitable change that befalls upon its head, no matter what.’An equilibrium has to be met between social solidarity – which pushes us to think alike and to align ourselves to the values shared by the entire community – and individual freedom – that which allows each of us to depart, somewhat, from the social norms without being punished by the rest of the society.

I’m going to use, again, the Jews as an example. They have survived, as a people, for so long and against such odds that they must have done something right. Well… they do take care of their own and they do cherish individual autonomy.

After all they are the ones who came up with ‘God created Man in His image’. Hence all men are considered equal – because they have been cast in the same mould – and assigned a spark of ‘something special’.

Jews have done well in this world. Given the circumstances and until some of us have completely lost their minds.
Why don’t the rest of us follow their example?

They don’t kill each-other!
Not physically and not even symbolically.
No matter how much two of them might hate their respective guts, when push comes to shove  they’ll help each-other out of the mess.

Why have we, the goyim, ignored for so long such a fine example?
Why do we continue to do so even now, after we’ve found out that the only one Planet we can call home is rather small and that no one seems to be coming, anytime soon, to rescue us from ourselves?
And even if there was anybody who could have done this… would any of you lift a finger to help a bunch of quarreling idiots who are continuously threading on each-others toes? Specially when/if each of us would get their due after their death…

Then why would He?

Why would He help us before we start helping each-other?

truck-nice

When facing an uncertain future, people are hard wired to search their past.
Some look for things that have gone well and hope that reenacting them will bring back a measure of order in their lives.
Some others look for clues pointing to things that went bad, hoping that making them right will change their prospects.

In this respect I remember how fascinated I was when I first heard about Malraux’s “The XXI-st Century will be religious or will not be at all“.
When trying to understand what Malraux wanted to convey we must remember that he started as a left wing intellectual who, at some point, felt an admiration for Stalin. Later, after he found out what Stalin was really up to, Malraux had given up on Stalinism but never on his atheism. So?

Looking even further back in time we arrive at Emile Durkheim’s Suicide.

Written at the end of the XIX-ht century the book teaches us that while suicide remains a profoundly individual decision those who consider it are deeply influenced, when making the call – one way or another, by the strength and nature of the social ties that connect him to the community to which each of them belongs.
Further into the book Durkheim also discusses the fate of the communities themselves, arguing that a society needs to keep a dynamic balance between social control – that keeps a community together – and a healthy dose of deviance – which might pull at the seams of a society but simultaneously allows it to change when it has to do that in order to survive.

OK, all these are very nice but will you come back to our present? You promised us something about the future and you are leading us further and further into the past. Into a ‘mythological’ past, no less…

One of the most pressing issues that we must face today is the advent of ‘lone wolf’ terrorism. The kind that not only scares us the most but also the one that is hardest to prevent.
Some even try to make us accept the idea that we’ll have to learn to live with it.
“No revelations come from the massacre in Nice. There is nothing to be learned. This is what we live with, what we are getting used to living with. None of it is surprising—that’s the most frightening thing of all.” (George Packer, The Tragic and Unsurprising News from Nice, the New Yorker, July 15 2016)

Well, I strongly disagree with this line of thinking.

What happened in Nice, where a lunatic drove a truck through people gathered to watch fire-works celebrating Bastille Day and killed 86 of them, is proving that both Malraux and Durkheim were spot on. Each in his own right.

In the last twenty or so years, terrorist acts have doubled as suicides. Some perpetrated by ‘simple minded’ youngsters driven to desperation by perceived socio-economic inequities and primed by callous so called religious leaders while others were carefully planned and cold-bloodedly executed by apparently sophisticated members of the middle class.

If we interpret these acts according to Durkheim’s theories we might reach the conclusion that the communities that harbor the terrorists do not function properly. Either the individuals feel so constraint by the existing rules that they cannot find enough breathing space – and snap – or that they cannot find enough social support – and go out ‘with a bang’.

Or both, at the same time.

Let’s remember that those who comited most recent terrorist acts, in Europe and in the Middle East – if we count those who joined ISIS coming from the Western Europe, are second generation Muslim immigrants or new Islamic converts.
I’ll deal with these two categories separately.
The second generation immigrants had a very frustrating experience.
Their parents came from abject poverty, worked hard and, most of the time, fared a lot better in their new countries than any of them even dreamed of on arrival – specially when comparing to the situation in their countries of origin. The youngsters went to school alongside the natives, watched the same television programs and read the same books and magazines. And grew to have the same expectations. But had a lot more difficulties when tried to fulfill them. Because of their skin color, religion, etc., etc. Add to that the nefarious propaganda coming from the Wahhabi preachers and you have an already primed keg of gun-powder waiting for a spark.
But let’s not forget that these people live in otherwise closely knit communities.
And that preparations for terrorist acts do take some time and effort.
How come these preparations go unnoticed and, even more important, unreported?

Can we conclude that whole communities have went past the ‘I don’t care anymore’ point?

A situation for which Durkheim used the term ‘Anomie‘?

Could we consider that not only the immigrant Islamic communities are in an anomic state but also the larger, host ones? For letting the whole situation degrade to such an extent? Not only at home but also at the door steps of Europe?
And please remember the new converts to Islam. What happened to those youngsters – most of them are young people –  that they became so estranged to their native society that emigrated to a totally different realm, not to a different country? A few of them might be explained away by individual ‘deviance’ but such a large number becomes a social phenomenon that begs a different explanation.

Should we accept the situation – and the degradation that would inevitably follow if nothing is done – or should we heed to Malraux’s advice and do our best to find new, and more efficient, communication channels so that we’ll be able to built some much needed trust amongst us? Based on mutual respect, not on MAD force?

Shortly after becoming aware of his own awareness Man figured out that, from then on, his real job will be to attach meaning to everything that was, is and will be happening around him.

The very same moment He freaked out – because of the enormous responsibility that had just fallen upon his head – and invented god to help Him.

There is, of course, no way of knowing for certain whether a real God had interfered, in any way, shape or form, in our evolution.
The fact that so many of us think the world can be explained ‘through itself’ – that there is enough information available to construct a plausible narrative about what went on since the Big Bang – is the real proof of nothing more but the huge cockiness harbored by our inflated egos.
OK, nothing more but a long held tradition suggests that God exists for real only this is no factual demonstration about the nonexistence of God.

On the contrary. The very fact that the tradition held for so long means that God had a real contribution to our life.

It doesn’t really matter whether that God was real or contrived by us.

And the fact that so many of us use their respective gods as pretexts to commit heinous acts sends no other message than that those who commit such crimes have no real understanding about what God really means.

There are a lot of meanings attached to this concept.

Varying from “Karma is the law of moral causation” to Aaron Hapel’s “Belief in karma is the coward’s revenge.

Let me add another one.

Karma is about understanding the nature of the link between cause and effect.

Precisely the kind of understanding needed to break the vicious circle described by “The Only Thing We Learn From History Is That We Do Not Learn.”

My point being that history doesn’t play itself, over and over, mindlessly.

In fact “It’s us who play it again and again, until enough of us make enough sense of what has happened to be able to push the whole circus a little further down the road. And sometimes even that is not enough, a whole chapter becomes forgotten and we have to play it one more time….

Those of you who haven’t done so yet, try reading “The social Construction of Reality” by Peter Berger and Thomas Luckman

“The work introduced the term social construction into the social sciences and was strongly influenced by the work of Alfred Schütz. The central concept of Social Construction of Reality is that persons and groups interacting in a social system create, over time, concepts or mental representations of each other’s actions, and that these concepts eventually become habituated into reciprocal roles played by the actors in relation to each other. When these roles are made available to other members of society to enter into and play out, the reciprocal interactions are said to be institutionalized. In the process of this institutionalization, meaning is embedded in society. Knowledge and people’s conception (and belief) of what reality is becomes embedded in the institutional fabric of society. Reality is therefore said to be socially constructed.”

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