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Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

Our cats are going high-tech

As you know, a couple of months ago we got a new cat – Esmerelda. She’s a little kitten who is friendly and affectionate… and always hungry. She says “I’M SO HUNGRY!” all the time.

This wouldn’t be a big problem except that we have another cat Ruby. Ruby is a couple of years older and used to have the same hunger problem Esmerelda has, but not anyone. Nowadays, Ruby budgets her food to last throughout the day while Esmerelda (aka Zelda) wolfs it all down whenever we feed her.

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This is a problem.

The two cats get different food; Zelda gets kitten food while Ruby gets a combination of 3 different types of adult cat food. If we were to feed them side-by-side, Zelda would gulp down all of her food, while Ruby would eat a little bit, saving the rest for later. However, once Ruby leaves, Zelda would then head over to Ruby’s dish and start eating that too. This leaves too little for Ruby but worse, results in Zelda eating too much.

To remedy that temporarily, we put Ruby’s food dish up on a table that Zelda can’t (?) get to, but Ruby can. At least, we think Zelda can’t get there, I’m sure she could if she tried. We started feeding Ruby there but it is at best a temporary solution.

The fix for this was to get Ruby a high-tech cat feeder. This is a feeding dish that opens and closes automatically. It pairs with the cat’s microchip and when the cat is close enough to the detector, the dish opens automatically after a 3-second delay. When the cat walks away, the dish closes.

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It took Ruby a long time to figure out how to use it. First of all, I had to pair it to her microchip and to do that, you put it in detection mode and put the cat near it. Ruby STRUGGLED FIERCELY while I did it, fighting against me as I held her head in there while it put her microchip in memory. Then, for the next two weeks, we had to leave it on the table open all the time so she would learn to use it. Because at first she couldn’t figure it out.

That cat…

But now she has figured it out. When she wants her food, she goes up to it and it opens, and she munches on it. She walks away and it closes. After a week, I finally put it on the floor where it will stay.

The only “problem” is that Zelda knows there is food in there too, so she tries to get into it when it is closed. She tries super hard. She doesn’t succeed, but she knows that is food.

Problem 1 solved.

 

Problem 2 is how to feed Zelda. Right now, we feed her about 1/4 cup (or slightly less) of kibbles 4 times per day. That’s a lot; it means that if we ever go away for a weekend, we have to get a pet sitter to come in and feed her. We can fill up Ruby’s dish just fine, but we can’t trust Zelda because she might overeat.

Ruby, of course, had the same problem as a kitten.

We don’t want to get a pet sitter every time we go away for a couple of days. So the solution to this was to get a high tech automatic pet feeder. And that’s what we did, we just got a Petnet pet feeder:

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This device is also high tech, maybe even more than Ruby’s feeder. This one releases food at a timed interval. However, you program it with your smartphone.

To do that, we ordered it and it arrived in three days (the other one took a month). I set it up, and then first you install the Petnet app on your phone, and then enter in your wifi network and password, and then you connect the pet feeder to your smartphone app.

Next, you program in when you want to have your pet fed, so I did it 4x per day for Zelda.

But the advantage of this device is that people on the Internet complain that pet feeders jam. If we’re away, that’s bad. What this one does is it tells you if the latest pet feed was successful, and more importantly, if it jams. This is important to keep tabs on whether or not Zelda is getting fed. I can check the app to see the latest feeding schedule, and I can also make adjustments to it. I can also do manual feedings – both by pressing the button on the front and I think through the app, too.

Furthermore, the app is smarter than that. You can fill out the size of the pet food bag, how much you feed our cat, and what type of cat food you are using. There is then an option for the pet feeder to automatically re-order cat food when you are getting low.

To me, this is an incredible option. I’ve wanted to automate the acquisition of supplies for a long time. I haven’t used this technology yet, but if this Internet-of-Things actually works, then I can see how it would be expanded to other things, too (e.g., reordering food).


So that’s how we use technology to solve a couple of problems we were having.

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Rounding up the origin of my family’s history is my mother’s mother’s side (my maternal grandmother, the last of my grandparents to pass away in 2012).

This is the side for which I have the most documentation (or second most) but is also one of the most confusing to research due to there being multiple places by the same name in the country of origin.

It maybe starts in Germany, but also definitely Poland

My maternal grandmother was born in Poland in 1920 in a town called Wladyslawow (pronounced Vlad-ih-slav-ov). If you do a search on the web for that town, there are over 25 places on Wikipedia that it could refer to and they are all over the map.

Furthermore, if you go to Bing Maps and type in “Wladyslawow”, the first hit that comes up is Wladyslawowo which is not necessarily the same place. So to figure it out, I looked up where my grandmother’s first husband was born, and that’s in Adamow, Poland. I then looked up where they were married and that is in Chylin, Poland. Adamow is 5 miles from Chylin, and Chylin is 2 miles from the closest Wladysawow. The marriage certificate for the two of them lists their occupation as “bauer” and if that were a last name, it would mean “peasant.” I take this to mean that they were both probably working class people who wouldn’t have been able to move around that much, which would have been normal at the time.

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I’ve included Kalisz on the map which is where another side of my family comes from, it is 35 miles away from the likely location of my grandparents.

Let’s zoom in a bit and see the distance involved. Notice that there’s a place (district?) called Kamionka which is the same name as where my maternal grandfather was born. Is this the actual Kamionka and not the one from my other blog post? Who knows.

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Now, I’ve said all of this is Poland, but remember that the borders of Poland shifted after World War I. Because Kalisz is a border region that was definitely part of Russia before the first World War (but Prussia before 1795), and because these towns above are so close to Kalisz, here’s a pre-World War I map where I estimate where these places were in regards to Prussian territory. You can see I’ve put it near the border but that’s a guess. Its proximity to border likely accounts for the family’s German heritage.

In either case, after World War I it was definitely Poland and that’s where my grandmother was born.

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My maternal grandmother, and her parents, each spoke German (and Polish) so that would explain a lot if they were indeed living in Prussia before World War I (as in, her family was living in Prussia, and her first husband was born there; and after the war the family didn’t move but the borders did, but the culture and language similarly remained).

My grandmother’s birth surname is of German origin according to Ancestry.com and so was her first husband’s. However, my grandmother’s mother (my great grandmother) had the last name “Simon”. From Ancestry.com:

English, French, German, Dutch, Spanish (Simón), Czech and Slovak (Šimon), Slovenian, Hungarian, and Jewish (Ashkenazic): from the personal name, Hebrew Shim‘on, which is probably derived from the verb sham‘a ‘to hearken’…. In the Greek New Testament, however, the name occurs as Simon, as a result of assimilation to the pre-existing Greek byname Simon (from simos ‘snub-nosed’). Both Simon and Simeon were in use as personal names in western Europe from the Middle Ages onward. 

This is the fifth last name in my family history where I have one that is of German + Jewish origin.

And if you go back to my maternal great-grandmother Simon’s mother (my great-great grandmother), her last name was Kotke. Kotke is a variant of Kot, here’s what it means:

Polish, Slovak, Czech, Belorussian, Jewish (eastern Ashkenazic), and German (of Slavic origin): from a personal name or nickname based on Slavic kot ‘tom cat’. As a Jewish name it is generally an ornamental name.

That’s the sixth last name in my family history that is of German + Jewish origin.

Anyhow, coming back to geography, the above is the most likely origin of my family, that they were living in Prussia which of course was part of Germany at the time. It then became part of Poland after World War I, and then became part of Germany again right before and during World War II, and then became part of an independent Poland again after World War II. While the borders today make it look like it is close to the middle of the country, it wasn’t always that way.

Coming to Canada

This side of my family’s history of coming to Canada is crazy, so I better tell it so it can live on in cyberspace.

My family’s ancestors were living in Germany (the Prussian part, which then became Poland) in the 1920’s when my great grandfather Hinz (who married the Simon) came to Canada. He went ahead of time to get things ready to prepare to bring the rest of the family over.

Then the Great Depression hit.

This forced him to have to wait until the economy could recover so he could afford to bring the rest of the family over – his wife and children. My grandmother would have been 9 at the time, and my great-grandmother would have been 39. Since they were peasants (or farmers) they would have needed to save up for a long time in order to afford to bring over the rest of my family.

The Great Depression lasted a few years but eventually it began to lift. Then another massive disaster struck – World War II. At that poit my great grandfather definitely couldn’t bring anyone over.

My grandmother got married in 1940 and as I said before, they were living in Germany. Her first husband was called up to the military (he had no choice) but he died during the war. Doing the math I think it was nearer to the end of the war. My grandmother became a war widow with two small children under the age of five – my aunt and her younger brother whom I never met.

I never met him because when it became clear that Germany was losing the war, the population had to get up and move further west to escape the wrath of the Russians for were coming from the east. My great grandmother managed to make it back further west to Germany but my grandmother did not. She was deported to fricking Siberia for three years as part of their “Guest Worker Program.” Of course, the workers were anything but guests. But unfortunately, along the way, my grandmother’s young son died.

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My grandmother and aunt spent 3 years in a work camp in Siberia before they finally returned to Germany. My great grandmother emigrated to Canada in 1948, and my grandmother plus aunt emigrated in 1949, finally arriving in Canada in July of that same year. She became a Canadian citizen but I am not sure when because the date is not on the naturalization certificate, but also acquired a German passport in 1967. So I guess she was a dual citizen? I know that when she came to Canada she was given a temporary travel document in lieu of a passport for a stateless person.

My grandmother came straight to Winnipeg where she met my grandfather (also from Poland) where they got married the next year.


Summary

And with that, it wraps up my family history. You can see I have a lot of roots in Germany going back several generations, but the most recent ones are in countries other than Germany – notably Poland and Russia. I also was surprised to discover just how many last names in my history are of Jewish descent.

In a future blog post, I’ll get into why my ancestors may have left Germany. In the case of my grandmother, it’s obvious: the family was tired of all the war. For my other relatives it’s less clear. I’ve investigated some major population trends that tries to explain why the Germans left to go to Russia, and how they retained their culture.

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The next step on my family history is my mother’s father’s side. This is the side in which I have the least information going back more than one generation.

It starts in Poland… sort of

My grandfather had a Polish passport and for all intents and purposes, he was a Polish citizen.

I don’t know that much about him – my other relatives can fill in the gaps although I think that they don’t know much about him either, for whatever reason – but I know that his mother (my maternal great-grandmother) had the last name Schulz, which is a variant of Schultz (I won’t give his actual last name because your mother’s maiden name is often used as a security question but I will say it’s not Jewish).

From Ancestry.com:

German: status name for a village headman, from a contracted form of Middle High German schultheize. The term originally denoted a man responsible for collecting dues and paying them to the lord of the manor; it is a compound of sculd(a) ‘debt’, ‘due’ + a derivative of heiz(z)an ‘to command’. The surname is also established in Scandinavia.

Jewish (Ashkenazic): from German Schulze (see 1 above). The reason for adoption are uncertain, but may perhaps have referred to a rabbi, seen as the head of a Jewish community, or to a trustee of a synagogue.

In case you’re not keeping track, this is the fourth last name in my family lineage that has a last name of Jewish (and German) origin. My grandfather’s actual last name is also of German descent. He also spoke German, and apparently he also spoke Polish.


But where in Poland?

Poland is a difficult country to research. It was invaded and sliced up by its neighbors Austria, Prussia, and Russia in 1795. It was given limited autonomy when Napoleon’s armies bulldozed across Europe in the early 1800’s, and then was divided up again between Prussia, Austria, and mostly Russia after the Congress of Vienna in 1815. It stayed that way until after World War I (with Russia’s rulers getting more power during that time in the Russian side).

After World War I, Poland was repatriated back to itself when Russia collapsed and the Germans lost the war. Poland, however, fought a brief war with Ukraine for some disputed regions, and borders again shifted. They would shift yet again after World War II, north and west.

I say all this because my maternal grandfather was born in Kamionka according to his Polish passport. This is not all that helpful because there are lots of possible places this could be, there are many towns, districts, and counties called Kamionka in both Poland, the Ukraine, and even Austria.

The one thing I am sure of is this – my grandfather was born in a region that shifted borders that eventually became Poland, but the country he was born in would have been either Russia or Austria.

He was baptized in the district of Rovno in the province of Volynia in what is now the modern day Ukraine, in the town of Tuczyn. There aren’t any towns called Kamionka around there.

However, I did find a town called Kamionka near modern-day Lviv (formerly Lwow) which at the time he was born would have been in the Austrian empire.

The problem with this is that he was baptized about a week after he was born, and those two places are 140 miles apart. I have a hard time believing my great-grandparents travelled that distance in 8 days just to get him baptized.

Below is a map of modern-day Europe showing the distance, you can see that the towns are both in Ukraine.

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However, here is what the region looked like in 1920. You can see that both are (were) in Poland.

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And before 1920, the town of Kamionka was located in Galicia, a region of the Austrian empire shaded in purple. I’m not sure what the blue region is as Wikipedia didn’t translate but I think it is Volynia, the border region that kept changing hands and in all likelihood was part of Russia.

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Of course, all of this hinges on the guess that Kamionka above refers to this town I found and not to some other one. As I said, it is a large gap between those two towns and it seems unlikely that in 1908, my great-grandparents would have gone all that way.

But maybe they did.

Anyhow, all that to say that my grandfather has a Polish passport, was born in a region where the borders changed, and in 1929 he left the city of Danzig (now known as Gdansk) and came to Canada where he landed in St. John’s, Newfoundland. We don’t have a lot of data on where he went after that, there’s a big gap in knowledge. The first definitive location I have for him is in Winnipeg in 1944. He later married my grandmother in 1950, and my mother was born the next year.

My grandfather was 21 when he came to Canada. We don’t know why he left, but that region of the world was afflicted by war in World War I, and right after that when Poland fought a war with the Ukraine, and then a war with the Soviets in 1920-1921, and a couple of other uprisings in the 1920’s. My guess is that he probably just wanted a better life overseas, away from an unstable region.

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So once again, this side of my family starts in Germany by the origins of the their last name, but if my research above is accurate then at some point they moved to Poland. I don’t know when this occurred but I have some guesses which I will get to in a future post.

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In my last post, I went through my father’s lineage on his father’s side. This post is my father’s lineage on his mother’s side.

This one is easier because whereas for the Zink side I had to rely upon the Internet, for my paternal’s maternal line someone in our family has already done the research.


It starts in Prussia or Poland

My paternal grandmother’s maiden name was Kohn. From Ancestry.com:

Jewish (Ashkenazic): variant of Cohen. North German (also Köhn): from the personal name Kohn or Köhn, former Low German short forms of Konrad.

This last name is of Jewish origin, no questions there. That’s the second Jewish last name I can find in my family history.

We can trace the name of my great-great-grandfather back to Kalisz, Poland, to the mid-1800’s, I don’t have the exact date-of-birth. He was a peddler or merchant, and he was Jewish. He was ambushed and killed (exact circumstances unknown) in 1864. The town of Kalisz appears to be the origin of the Kohn name, and it is one of the older cities in modern-day Poland.

However, at the time, Poland had been invaded and spliced up by its neighbors Prussia, Russia, and Austria in 1795 – and so Kalisz was part of Prussia. Napoleon invaded a few years later and it lived (sort of) as a quasi-independent state until 1815 when the Congress of Vienna gave back much of Poland to Russia – including Kalisz. Kalisz stayed as part of the Russian empire until after World War 1 (during this time Poland was known as Congress Poland).

Kalisz was always close to the Prussian border and had a lot of German influence which accounts for the family’s German – as opposed to Polish – heritage.

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It moves south to Ukraine, Russia, or Austria

My great-grandfather – the son of the one who was ambushed and killed – moved to the province of Volhynia in Ukraine in 1874. I’ve looked up the border history around this time and it’s hard to distinguish; the borders of the region were fluid until after World War 1. Thus, I am not sure if this area was part of Austria or Russia, or if Ukraine was independent at that time, or merely a Russian province.

Below is a map showing where Volhynia is in modern-day Ukraine.

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In any case, Volhynia is a region in modern-day northwestern Ukraine. My great-grandfather married in 1886, and served in the Russian military for five years. He eventually left to emigrate to Canada in 1893 to avoid having to serve in the Russia armed forces, which was required every two years.

My great-grandmother – the one my great-grandfather Kuhn/Kohn married in 1886 – had the last name Buss and the family was Protestant, and she was from the Austrian empire. However, her mother’s last name was Schmidt (whether maiden name or married last name, I don’t know).

From Ancestry.com:

German and Jewish (Ashkenazic): occupational name from Middle High German smit, German Schmied ‘blacksmith’.

This is the third surname in my family lineage that has Jewish origins.


It moves to Canada

Anyhow, the family left for Canada in 1893. My great-grandfather was 35 and my great-grandmother was 24.

They arrived in Quebec City in May 1893, and travelled to Winnipeg, MB, Canada where they lived for four years until 1897. A few months later, they moved to Whitemouth, MB, Canada which is not far from River Hills where my paternal grandmother would have met my paternal grandfather.

So to summarize:

  1. The Kohn family started off in Kalisz in modern-day Poland but at the time was a border city near Russia, but 50 years earlier was part of Prussia. 

  2. The Kohn’s moved to Volynia in modern day northwestern Ukraine in the 1870’s.

  3. The Buss’s (born of the Schmidt’s) similarly moved from Austria to Volynia.

  4. The family moved to Canada in 1893, stayed in Winnipeg until 1897, then moved to Whitemouth in 1897.

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The above map doesn’t show Whitemouth, MB, but it’s about 1 1/2 drive from Winnipeg.

So that’s the origin of my family on my father’s side. It’s not completely accurate but it does fill in quite a few gaps that I never had before.

Once again, I can’t trace back any further than the mid-1800’s. Prussia technically wasn’t part of Germany back then, but the place where the family lived does account for why we have German roots.

In my next post, I’ll look into my mother’s side.

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I’ve been doing a lot of family history investigation over the past couple of months and what I’ve found has fascinated me.

I used to hear rumours that my lineage had some Jewish ancestry. I was always skeptical of this because we have no Jewish customers in my family, nobody speaks Yiddish, and instead everyone speaks German. Europe is a place that today is reasonably tolerant but in the past has historically been anti-Semitic all too often. And, I had always assumed that my ancestors came from Germany.

But it turns out that the story is more complicated than that.

I’ve been doing research using the following tools:

  • Looking up the origin of my last name online
  • Paperwork that some of my relatives have
  • Documentation that other people have published
  • Basic research about major historical trends that would have shaped my ancestors’ decisions

Even now, I don’t have the full story, but I do have a pretty good piece of it.

Origins of the last name Zink

To begin with, the Zink name has its origins in Germany.

From Ancestry.com:

From Middle High German zinke ‘peak’, acquired either as a topographic name by someone who lived on or near a crag or on a pointed piece of land or as a nickname for a man with a singularly pointed nose. Compare modern German slang Zinken ‘hooter’. 

It was not until the 16th century that the metal zinc was discovered and named (apparently from its jagged appearance in the furnace), so this is unlikely to be the origin of the surname.

And from SurnameDB:

This most interesting and unusual surname with variant spellings Synke, Syncke, Zincke, Zink etc., has two distinct possible origins, both Germanic. Firstly, the derivation may be from the male given name Sink, itself a Frisian form of Signand meaning "Victory-Ventury".

Alternatively, Sink may have originated as a topographical name from residence on a pointed piece of land, or as a nickname for a man with a singularly pointed nose. The derivation in this case is from the Middle High German "Zinke", (Old High German, "Zinko"), meaning tip, point or prong.

And from HouseOfNames.com:

First found in Bavaria, where the name was closely identified in early medieval times with the feudal society which would become prominent throughout European history.

So there you go, it’s either someone who lived by a pointy or craggy piece of land (such as a cliff, or a land jutting into a lake), or someone with a pointy nose. It also originated in Bavaria, an area in current-day southwestern Germany.

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Here’s what Germany looked like when it was just a bunch of small, independent German states, loosely collected under the Holy Roman Empire (which was dissolved in the early 1800’s when Napoleon invaded and tried to conquer the rest of Europe). Bavaria is the region outlined in red.

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So that probably explains why my father’s side spoke German. And it explains why I always thought we were of German origin. However, when doing ancestry research on my father’s side, I can’t find any relatives who came from there, as I’ll explain below.

Great migrations

My father was born in Canada in the 1940’s, but his father was born in 1898 in Costanza, Romania, in 1898.

Huh? Romania?

Furthermore, my great-grandfather was born in Odessa, Russia (now part of the Ukraine) in 1873, and my great-grandmother was born in Constantza, Romania, in 1873. This means that my great-grandmother and grandfather were each born in the same town. My great-grandparents on my father’s side were married in Odessa in 1897, so they married in Russia but had their first child in Romania. Less than two years later, they emigrated to Canada.

So, to summarize:

  1. The Zink name originated in Bavaria (modern-day southwest Germany).
  2. Assuming they stayed there, at some point between 1763 and 1873 they moved to Odessa, Russia. I’ll explain why it was after 1763 in a future post. My great-grandfather was born in Odessa, Russia.
  3. Also in 1873, my great-grandmotherwas born in Constantza. At the time, Romania was still part of the Ottoman Empire. Her last name was Krieg, whose name means “nickname for an argumentative person.” The word ‘krieg’ in German means ‘war’, which is probably the origin of the nickname.

    The name ‘Krieg’ is of Swiss, German, and Jewish (Ashkezanic) origin. That’s the first surname I found in my family history that is of Jewish origins.

  4. In 1897, my great-grandparents got married in Odessa, Russia.
  5. In 1898, they moved to Constantza, Russia (my great-grandmother’s home time) where my grandfather was born.
  6. Around 1900, but before 1902, the left to go to Canada. We don’t have any landing records for my great-grandparents in Canada so we think he may have landed in the United States and then entered Canada from there.
  7. Sometime after 1900, after arriving in North America, they made their ways to River Hills, Manitoba, Canada and set up a farm where the family stayed, even to this day. River Hills, even today, is a small town. It would have been even smaller back then.

The below diagram shows the order of movement of the Zinks superimposed on a map of Europe around 1870.

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So, you can see that the Zink name originates in Germany, but I can’t anything further back than my great-grandfather being born in Russia, and his wife being born in Romania (technically the Ottoman Empire, although even then I am not sure of the borders). I know the names of my great-great-grandparents on the Krieg side, but not where or when they were born.

That means that there is a big, undocumented gap from when the Zinks first appear (in my research) to when the name first appears in Bavaria. In other words, I only find Zink relatives starting in Russia.

In a future post, I’ll look at my maternal paternal side, that is, my father’s mother’s side.

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I’ve commented on this blog in the past about evolution (that is, that humans evolved from earlier life forms) and how there isn’t as much support for it in the United States as the rest of the developed world. Much of the opposition to evolution is because of the strong influence of evangelical Christianity which staunchly opposes it because it contradicts its interpretation of its holy text. This interpretation is not universal among all Christians; for example, many Catholics believe in evolution, as do many mainline Protestants. However, evangelical Christians are committed to opposing it.

This is to evangelical Christianity’s detriment for two reasons:

  1. It creates a major credibility gap.

    The scientific evidence for evolution is overwhelming. It’s not as if there is a debate in the scientific community about whether or not it happened; it did. Instead, the debate is about how it happened and the factors that influenced it.

    By trying to portray the science as arguing about whether or not it really occurred, rather than the specific factors, the against-evolution movement undermines their own credibility. It makes them look like they are willing to sacrifice clear evidence in order to maintain a specific religious belief that is not grounded in reality.

  2. It misses out on some powerful insights.

    By looking at evolution, Christians who reconcile their beliefs with our own species’ developments gain insights that you just can’t get by believing in a “The world was created as-is” model. I’ll explain what I mean below.

I just finished reading the book The Third Chimpanzee by Jared Diamond. In it, he looks at the development of our own species and how similarly we are related to chimps and pygmy chimps. The reason we humans are called the third chimpanzee is because our DNA is 98% similar to chimpanzee and pygmy chimpanzee DNA. We are more closely related to chimps than we are to gorillas; but chimps, too, are more closely related to us than they are to gorillas.

The book looks at the evolution of human sexuality, humanity’s great leap forward, and why we get addicted to drugs. However, the part that recently blew my mind what the section on genocide.

One of the things that irks me about evangelical Christianity is its insistence of pointing at itself as a compass of human morality but then gets certain things about morality completely wrong!

Specifically, it gets genocide completely wrong.

There are parts in the Old Testament where God orders the destruction of foreign people by the Israelites. He orders the mass killing of men, women, children, and infants of the Amalekites in Joshua 15:1-3.

He also orders the destruction of city after city after city in Judges (it was such a common occurrence that each destruction gets a single verse; only Jericho has more to the story because it is unusual that Joshua left some people alive – for some of the inhabitants helping the Israelites). For any group of people that borders Israel, the Israelites are to destroy every single inhabitant including the animals. For distant cities, they are to kill all the men but can keep the women and children for themselves (Deut 20:10-14).

Modern Christians often gloss over these passages, and rightly so. They are hard to read and we usually dismiss them as “Well, that was a different time.” Skeptics challenge Christians to say “How can you believe in a God that orders these types of atrocities?” Christians are frequently forced to demure or say “Only God knows” which is an honest answer, but seems to concede the point to the skeptics in hopes that there is a really good reason for it somewhere out there.

Unfortunately, there are some Christian theologians who defend God’s actions. One of these is Norman Geisler, one of evangelical Christianity’s theological All-Stars. He’s written numerous books and appears in Lee Stroebel’s “A Case for Faith.” In the book, Stroebel flat-out asks Geisler how he could believe in a God that order such cruel atrocities.

Geisler then gives what I think is one of the most cringeworthy defense in modern Christian apologetics.

“God didn’t order any atrocities.” He goes on to say that the Amalekites were evil so God has to destroy them. Furthermore, he even has the audacity to say that it was an act of mercy.

In that thoroughly evil and violent and depraved culture, there was no hope for those children.  This nation was so polluted that it was like gangrene that was taking over a person’s leg, and God had to amputate the leg […] In a sense, God’s action was an act of mercy

That is, killing all the men, women, children, and infants was an act of mercy.

When I read that, it makes me angry. It makes me madder than a yak in heat.

Steaming mad

It makes me angry because genocide is always wrong. It makes me think “What the hell is wrong with you? How can you call something so evil as something that is actually good?” The targeted killing of an ethnic group is not an act of mercy, it is a whitewashing of history; the Israelites wanted the land so they killed the locals and then later rationalized it by saying that God told them to do it.

Geisler has to do the same thing. Because he believes in Biblical inerrancy – an ideology – he has to rationalize his own beliefs. He believes:

  1. The Bible never makes a mistake.
  2. God is good.
  3. God ordered the genocide of the Amalekites.

Since we usually think of genocide as morally wrong (which it is), Geisler experiences cognitive dissonance. When our brains experience cognitive dissonance, it throws out what is causing it. Since the “genocide is wrong” is causing the dissonance, Geisler tosses it out and rewrites it as “genocide is okay” and then comes up with a bunch of reasons to justify it. This is common in human psychology and is known as “confabulation.”

But notice what happens here – clinging to Biblical inerrancy is more important to Geisler than standing up against genocide. He’d rather maintain his ideology than stand up for morality.

And that’s what sometimes makes me so mad about evangelical Christianity – this clinging to ideology. If you can’t even get it right about genocide (which is pretty much black and white) because ideology is more important to you than anything else, how can we trust you to get it right about any other moral issue? How do I know that you’re not blinded by your ideology on every issue?

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

But hold on, it doesn’t stop there.

I was reading Jared Diamond’s book and there’s a section on genocide. It turns out that genocide is common in our species’ history. It has occurred time and again before Columbus’ discovery of the New World, afterwards up to World World 2, and even since then (Rwanda in the 1970’s and again in the 1990’s, Cambodia in the 1970’s, Bosnia/Croatia/Serbia in the 1990’s, Bangladesh in the 1960’s, and so forth; there are too many to name). Many of these have over 100,000 victims.

It is so common in our species’ history that it can’t be considered an anomalous aberration. It seems to be a regular occurrence (but fortunately is declining according to The Better Angels of our Nature) and is probably encoded in our genes, a byproduct of evolution that we are still living with today.

The problem of genocide is that we bystanders are not good at stopping it. Think about it for yourself – out of all the victims of genocide, how many do you identify with?

There’s probably only one group – the Jews when they were massacred by the Nazis in World War II. You may also sympathize with the only other group that gets attention these days, the Armenians who were targeted by the Ottoman Turks during World War I. All the other groups we have some sympathy for but not a lot.

Why do we sympathize with these two groups?

Diamond has three reasons. The first is that the victims in World War II were white, just like us. The second is that the people doing the atrocities were our enemies in war so we are conditioned to hate them. The third reason is that there are articulate survivors in the United States who go to a great deal of effort to make us remember.

So that’s depressing. I admit that I don’t identify with too many other groups of genocide survivors other than the victims of World War II.

What causes it?

There are a few things that unleash genocide:

  1. The first is that we humans are good dividing the world into groups of “them” and “us.” We take care of members of our own group and view members of “them” with suspicion. However, over time, attacking people because they are “them” but not “us” has fallen out of favor.
  2. The second way that we justify our attacking other people is by blaming the victim. We sometimes use self-defense as a reason for pre-emptive attack. Even Hitler claimed that the Poles were attacking the Germans as a reason to attack Poland.

    Another way we blame the victim is saying they don’t possess the right race or religion or political belief, or that we are civilizing them. Because they are wrong or backwards, they need to be destroyed so we can cleanse that society. This is one of the reasons that the Germans attacked Russia – because the Russians supported communism. But it’s also a reason that the Khmer Rouge emptied their country of intellectuals – they didn’t believe in the same things the regime believed in and therefore had to be purged.

    If you read through some of the American leaders’ views on the native Americans, they justified their extermination by saying that they weren’t civilized. The British settlers in Australia said the same thing about the native Aborigines and Tasmanians. They succeeded in eliminating the native Tasmanians in the 1800’s.

Look at how Geisler’s defense of genocide perfectly aligns with modern times. He both identifies with the aggressors (the Israelites) by dividing them into “them” (the heathen) and “us” (the chosen), and then rationalizes the genocide by saying that the others didn’t have the right set of beliefs, and denigrated their own customs and cultures. They were not civilized.

Geisler’s defense of genocide is not an example of how God’s orders were really an act of mercy, it is instead an example of how people rationalize their own actions even when they are evil, and the patterns Geisler uses are no different than anyone else’s.

In other words, Geisler is just another human.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

But, here’s the thing. My point in all of this is that Norman Geisler is just another human.

Like you.

And like me.

Evangelical Christianity thinks that these passages are in the Bible and need to be defended as morally right.

I have a different interpretation. It’s probably not the right one, but it’s the one I am going to use.

These passages are in the Bible as an example of how bad human nature can be – we people are capable of committing acts of evil and then rationalize that they were good by attributing them to God. These acts of evil are part of our nature, they are hardwired into us.

Thus, these passages are not warnings to the heathen nations that they are on thin ice with God, but rather that we are on thin ice with ourselves because we are all human. We all inherited the same nature because it’s encoded in our genetic profile. It’s something that has stuck with us from evolution. Time and circumstance has shown repeatedly in our history that this is something we do over and over again. Worse yet, we use God and morality to justify it. These passages show us what can happen if we don’t actively curb these impulses.

I think Norman Geisler and evangelical Christianity are wrong to defend these passages as morally good. Instead, we should look at them as a warning to ourselves as that which lurks beneath the surface.

It’s almost as if the writers are saying “How well do you know yourself?”

If you think these passages mean that God punished the wicked, you don’t know yourself well at all. If, however, you think that either one of these groups of people could have been you, then you know yourself a lot better.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Lest you think you and me are off the hook, we’re not.

Why don’t we identify with the victims of genocide? The answer seems to lie in the fact that genocide introduces a deep psychological numbing on the victims and the perpetrators. Victims often experience Post-Traumatic-Stress Disorder, and perpetrators become numb to doing it. While attackers at first have to overcome their inhibitions, over time they don’t need to anymore. They are like robots that go through the motions. Trained psychiatrists have a hard time dealing with and after hearing it over and over again, they experience less distress and more distancing of themselves from the stories. If trained professionals can’t handle it, how can we expect the average layperson to deal with it?

Yet deal with it we do by rewriting history. We romanticize the old country by envisioning cowboys and indians, something I did (I think) as a kid. But more than that, I think of cultural and anthropological genocide as something my ancestors did, and I was not responsible for. I wasn’t around to do it, even though I’ve benefited by the 90% reduction in native population that resulted from my ancestors landing in this country (or, to be more fair, arriving in the 1900’s to find the land mostly empty – wait, did I just do it again?). After all, what were the natives doing? Were they developing the land?

But these rationalizations are how I distance myself from genocide. I am doing the exact same numbing thing that everyone else does.

I myself am a normal human.

I used to think that since I didn’t agree with people like Norman Geisler that while I may not know everything, at least I didn’t think that genocide could be morally justified.

But it turns out that I do distance myself from historical genocides, both in my own country and from the sufferings of others around the world.

And that gives me pause.

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A couple of weeks ago, Canada’s Chief of Defence Staff General Tom Lawson got in trouble for comments he made regarding gender and sexual harassment in the military (of men against women):

"It would be a trite answer, but it’s because we’re biologically wired in a certain way and there will be those who believe it is a reasonable thing to press themselves and their desires on others. It’s not the way it should be," Lawson said.

"Much as we would very much like to be absolutely professional in everything we do, and I think by and large we are, there will be situations and have been situations where, largely, men will see themselves as able to press themselves onto our women members,"he added.

Lawson had to retract his comments a few hours later:

"Sexual misconduct in any form, in any situation is clearly unacceptable," Lawson said, adding that his "reference to biological attraction being a factor in sexual misconduct was by no means intended to excuse anyone from responsibility for their actions."

However, he didn’t escape criticism from other politicians who saw his comments as effectively saying “Since it’s hardwired into them, boys will be boys. That’s no excuse!” Others incorrectly paraphrased Lawson’s comments as saying since it is women’s fault they get harassed since it is hardwired into men.

Former Treasury Secretary and current President of Harvard Larry Summers got in trouble recently for saying that men and women are wired differently and this explains part of the ratio imbalance of gender differences in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM). Women don’t go into fields because they aren’t wired for it.

He took criticism for that, too.

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The thing is that in both cases, they were right.

Now, don’t get me wrong. When it comes to relative ability in STEM, I don’t think there’s any difference between men and women.

  • When I was in junior high and high school, girls were just as capable in math, physics, chemistry, as any of the boys. The distribution of smart kids was the same.

  • In university, there were fewer female students but their grades were the same, and the ones with the highest marks was female in electrical engineering.

  • At Microsoft, I see no difference in the abilities between either men or women. The quality of the work is the same.

Studies show the same thing, there’s no difference in ability.

But modern policy makers (elected and self-appointed) have taken this to mean that there is no biological difference in preference. The only reason for female overrepresentation in STEM is because of societal reinforcement.

The argument goes like this:

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Humans are very sensitive to environmental cues. They can be taught things and learn to respond in certain ways because of reward and punishment. This reflects the B. F. Skinner school of psychology when he coined the terms Classical and Operant Conditioning. If a human receives a reward when he or she does something and a punishment when he or she does another thing, they will do something and not the other thing.

Society, at some point in the past, all got together and decided that men would be best suited for certain things and women for others. They then decided to uniformly enforce these gender roles. When men decided to go into STEM, they were rewarded and encouraged, whereas women were discouraged and instead directed towards the “softer” fields like interior design or teaching. These reinforcements towards gender roles are both conscious and unconscious.

And that’s the reason why men choose certain fields and women choose other ones. It’s not because of biological determinism, but because of societal reinforcement. And we can change society’s reinforcement of gender roles if we punish people who support anything that looks like they saying that biology plays a role in sorting men and women into different occupations (which reinforces gender roles). If we can just punish these types of people enough, they will instead say “Anyone can do anything” and the balance will eventually even out because humans will respond to these environmental cues.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

This argument builds upon two fallacies – one is The Blank Slate which says that humans are born with virtually no predispositions and nearly all preferences are learned. The second fallacy is The Noble Savage which says that humans in their natural state are basically fair and equitable and it’s modern society that has corrupted them. It is modern society that is reinforcing these gender stereotypes.

Both of these two beliefs are myths. Humans can learn certain things but there are biological limitations. Genetics plays a major role in personality and preference; we don’t fully understand it but we do know it’s true.

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There have been studies of:

  1. Identical twins raised together
  2. Identical twins raised apart
  3. Fraternal twins raised together
  4. Fraternal twins raised apart
  5. Siblings raised together
  6. Siblings raised apart

These have also been studied with biological and adopted parents. The conclusion is that the genetics plays a much stronger role than the environment. Children with musical ability have musical biological parents. Children with good sporting ability have parents that are good at sports. For example, if a father was a sprinter and his child was in a home where the adopted parents were not sprinters, the child may still be a very good sprinter.

And so forth.

Genetics accounts for at least 50% of the variance in personality.

Even modern social interpreters agree on this when it comes to sexuality. The predominate view today is that homosexuality (and heterosexuality) is not a choice, it is genetically determined. This was not the view 30 years ago but it is today. Even opponents of homosexuality begrudgingly admit it, they just say that gay people can’t act on it.

So, there’s some acceptance of genetics being responsible for behavior.

And, it’s also responsible for gender differences – not in men and women’s capabilities in STEM but in preference for the field people choose.

Gender differences didn’t spring up out of thin air, and they didn’t arise out of a secret conference held by men (and maybe women were invited but probably not say the “We’re all equal” crowd). Instead, they are hardwired into us as they developed during humanity’s Era of Evolutionary Adaptation (EEA), the 2+ million year period of time before the Agricultural Revolution.

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During the EEA, genes in men and women selected for certain traits. The genes that left more historical ancestors are the ones that are still with us today, in both men and women.

And men’s genes and female’s genes have different biological requirements. Women can reproduce whereas men cannot. Women evolved to be sexually choosey and look for the mate who could both (a) provide the best genes for her offspring to survive, and (b) stick around to help raise the child into adulthood. Picking one who failed at either one would mean fewer chances at the child surviving to pass on its genes.

That’s why women are less into having multiple partners than men – having more sexual partners does not result in them leaving more descendants since women can only have one child at a time (or twins). In other words, more sex != more descendants.

Conversely, men cannot have children. Either they convince a female to reproduce with them or face genetic extinction. Since males know that females are choosey, men have to compete with each other to show that they are the best selection. This is why men have testosterone – it prepares them for conflict with other men. It is the hormone responsible for aggression but if men weren’t aggressive with each other when competing for women, they couldn’t demonstrate that they have the best genes.

This is doubly-reinforced for men that having a variety of sexual partners increases their chances of leaving more descendants. Whereas for women it makes sense to be choosey, for men it makes sense to not be too choosey because they don’t know when, or if, they will get another chance. Better to increase their chances, at least from a gene’s point of view.

Thus, the reason for gender differences is biological – men and women’s genes have the same goal, to reproduce. But they have different strategies to attain it. They are competing with each other (men vs. men, women vs. women) to further propagate the species.

Since men are the ones with more testosterone, they are also the ones who are bigger and stronger (I once had a sociology professor say that if society encouraged women to be muscular and strong, the size differences between the sexes would erode; this is flat wrong, too bad I didn’t know it at the time). If men are the ones who are bigger and stronger, then it makes sense that they would be the hunters. This serves two purposes:

  1. Being bigger and stronger, they could be better hunters where this is an asset – staying alive is a minimum requirement for passing down your genes.
  2. By being a successful hunter, they could demonstrate to women that they were big and strong, and could feed children, and their children would survive, and thus demonstrate to women that they’d be a good choice for reproducing with.

If men were the hunters, women would be the gatherers. And if women were the gatherers then certain traits would come in handy such as the ability to differentiate between different shades of particular colors of berries. If the dark red berries were poisonous but the light red ones were not, that’s an advantage. And it’s a serious advantage if that ability is genetic. The ones that could tell the difference would would leave more descendants.

And we can measure this today. Women, in general, can see colors better than men (the wife being an exception). For example, in the following diagram, men can typically only see 3-5 shades of red:

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Women, however, can usually see all 7.

Why? Is it because women are socialized to seeing colors more clearly? And that this is arbitrary?

No, women can see colors more clearly because it was useful in our EEA, and society eventually noticed.

The point of all this that gender roles didn’t arise arbitrarily. Men didn’t get together and say “Okay, we’ll be the jerks and women will be the nice ones. We’ll do this just because we get to set the rules.”

No, men have more testosterone because it was an evolutionary strategy. Women are sexually choosey because it was an evolutionary strategy. One of the tradeoffs of having more testosterone is that it makes you more aggressive. And if you’re not aggressive, you face genetic extinction.

And so the Canadian military Chief of Defence was right when he said that biological differences account for why men are normally the ones who are the offenders of sexual harassment. Of course it’s hardwired into men.

And his critics, as what normally happens when people try to explain gender differences using biology, misinterpret what he was saying. Explaining gender differences using genetics does not excuse the behavior. All of these criticisms thinks that what these people are doing; they aren’t.

As a society, we have decided that while some things are natural, that doesn’t make them right. I think people suffer from a form of cognitive dissonance when it comes to using biology as an explaining factor – everything natural is good. “If homosexuality is okay due to biology, then so is men being jerks because of biology. But since men being jerks is not okay, it cannot be natural because everything natural is good (The Noble Savage). Therefore, we need to look for another source for the behavior and thus it must be learned (The Blank Slate).”

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But not everything natural is good. There are many things that modern society has discarded that are natural. Pre-agricultural societies were violent. They used to practice population control by performing infanticide, and they used to regularly kill the elderly once they became less useful. They also used to kill members of foreign tribes if they accidentally came into contact with each other. They conducted raids on each other, killing the men and taking women as “wives.” All these things are natural. And all these things are condemned by modern society.

Thus, explaining behavior using biology does not excuse the behavior. Instead, it examines the source and then looks for ways to shape it. Since people are adaptable and can learn, we can reinforce other behaviors using classical and operant conditioning until people internalize the behavior. Language is natural but writing is not. Speaking is natural but public speaking is not. Male aggression is “natural” but society has figured out ways to contain it by directing men into sports, video games, the military, enforcing law and order, creating educational opportunities, and a bunch of other things.

In other words, we can get people to change their behavior.

But in the end, you’re still left with a human.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

And that brings me back to biological differences between men and women in STEM. If men and women are genetically different, then it makes sense that they would have different preferences.

If women are better at picking out colors, then interior design would be a good fit because they’d more naturally be better at it. If men were historically good at requiring eye-hand coordination to take down a mammoth, it makes sense that they would be more inclined to go into athletics (a field that also requires testosterone when being competitive).

This does not mean that some fields are better than others, and society can work to ensure that men and women have equal opportunity to pick whatever field they want.

But if they want to go into different fields in spite of equal opportunity, that’s not a bad thing, either. Society can level the playing field, ensure that law and order is enforced, provide educational opportunities for women and minorities, and so forth. All of these things are unnatural but we do it because we need to.

Discrepancies in society do exist. As a white male, I have benefitted from unconscious bias and my class is the most favored class there is. And, I went into STEM. I went into it because I was good at it and it was my preference.

Women may not want to go into STEM because they simply don’t want to at the same rate as men. This is not a bad thing; but if society rewards STEM financially then we should make sure that the scales do not get tipped to far out of balance, either. It leads to people (men) thinking that their privileged place is due to their own abilities rather than understanding that there are multiple factors at play.

We ought to ensure that people’s preferences are given priority, rather than suppressing the reality that genetics plays a role in people’s behavior.

The myth of The Blank Slate needs to go. The Noble Savage, too.

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Last month, April 2015, the wife and I went to Sedona Arizona. Sedona is a couple of hours north of Phoenix, in the geographic area of the US called the Colorado Plateau. This is an uplifted part of the country also referred to as the Four Corners and it’s basically a desert. There are some trees and plants but it’s quite harsh.

For several centuries, it was inhabited by native Americans and the region we went to was inhabited by many different groups of people, the latest of which were the Navajo people (I think).

The wife and I don’t do very many tours but I always find anthropology fascinating. On the one tour we did, we got a chance to see some cave art – petroglyphs. These are carvings into the rock that have cultural significance. The only picture I snapped (from multiple angles) is below:

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Now, what’s cool about this picture that the guide is pointing at is that we know how many cultures painted on this wall and it’s not just one – it’s six! Six over a period of not just a few hundred years, but nearly 10,000 years!

Right where the guide’s stick is pointing is a series of vertical scratches, just up and left of the animal thing (the scratches are faint but are in white). I can’t remember exactly what he said, but either the scratches were made by mammoth tusks or the scratches were made by people who were contemporary with mammoths, hunting them! That means they go back to some of the first human residents of the Americas about 10,000 years ago.

That’s some old carvings!

Subsequent areas around the wall were made by additional civilizations who inhabited the area meaning that it was a pretty good place to hang out all those years ago as people moved in and out, in and out. And, they left their graffiti for us to admire hundreds of years later.

I think that’s pretty cool.

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I’ve been thinking a lot recently about my recent post about how I’m not as clever as I think. In that post, I talked a lot about how experts and scientists believe one thing, but the general public believes another and the two views are not compatible. For example, scientists are unified in their belief that vaccinations do not cause autism, but a much larger proportion of the population thinks it does.

I decided to take a look at one of the beliefs where this is a gap between regular people and experts, and this is the idea that evolution never occurred. This is a belief that is prominent in the US (but much less so in other developed nations).

I found a poll by Gallup in 2014 that asked the US population what their views are on the origins of humanity and the results are below:

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As you can see, there is no majority but at least 50% of US adults believe that evolution occurred in some form. But on the other hand, 72% of adults believe that it was divinely guided by God – either God directed evolution or straight up created humans the way they are today with no evolution from earlier life forms. I’m going to look at the “Evolution occurred by guided by God” perspective.

This view, in my opinion, is an attempt to eat our cake and have it, too. It retains the belief that is compatible with religion – that God created the world intentionally – while also acknowledging the evidence that says that evolution happened.

Some young earth creationists – those that believe that humans were created in their present form – grant the middle group no leeway. To them, even acknowledging evolution occurred, even if guided, is wrong. I think they are a minority because more likely than not, most people just believe certain things about the origins of humanity and don’t think too hard about it.

But others in the 42% will probably think that some forms of divinely guided evolution are okay, but not others.

What do I mean by this?

Within theistic evolution, there are two spectrums. On the one hand, there is the deistic view. God kicked off the universe in the Big Bang and then sat back and watched it all unfold. At no point did He get involved but just made the most of the situation. Then there’s progressive creation where God suddenly created groups of plants and animals at certain points.

Then there’s true theistic evolution where natural selection happened but God was involved every step of the way. He caused certain traits to evolve in order to bring about how humans look today. In other words, God created humans in their intentional form but used a process to get there.

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The 42% group has a certain proportion that views any compromise with evolution as unacceptable. But the rest of them are willing to grant that others think differently. But, they’re not willing to give them a free pass on any belief. Most would probably discount the deistic belief as unacceptable:

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I can appreciate this middle position’s attempt to find a middle ground. However, there is a weakness in the middle position that leans further to the right hand side of my chart – the theory of evolution and the idea that God directed evolution are contradictory. It’s like saying there’s such a thing as a square triangle.

The way I picture human evolution is through the image below, and I think that’s how many middle ground people visualize it, too:

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In this picture, humanity is moving in a straight line from a less complex ancestor to a more complex descendant (the picture above shows a monkey which is not where humans actually evolved from).

But it turns out the human tree is not a straight line, but instead a web. But since we’re the only one who survived, we think it was a straight line. For example, take a look at the following sequence:

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Here is looks like a somewhat windy path but otherwise it’s a straight line. And that’s the way it looks like if we know we are at D and started at A. But in reality, we are ignoring how many possible paths could have been taken:

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Our tendency to look at what’s left and ignore other possible branches is called survivorship bias. Even though A-B-C-D is the path that occurred, it could have been A-I-M-O or A-B-C-H.

If 8 people each held a lottery ticket that contained one of the 8 combinations above, and a letter was drawn at random, the person who held A-B-C-D as the winning ticket might be tempted to think they were destined to win. But the reality is that their victory was randomly determined and that their winning victory was no more and no less likely than this one:

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This randomness is how evolution works. Evolution is not random, but instead is the non-random survival of random mutations. Those that can better reproduce will pass on their genes pass and their genetic material to their descendants, and those that don’t go extinct. But the ones that can better reproduce get to be that way because of a random genetic mutation (a copying error from their predecessor’s DNA) because of either a blip or because of environmental factors. But sometimes, these copying blips work in their favor and they gain a reproductive advantage.

That is a massively oversimplified explanation of natural selection.

But the point is that is evolution by natural selection is directionless. If genetic trait A occurs randomly and works, then it survives even if genetic trait B would have been better 10,000 years from when genetic trait A appeared, all things being equal.

There is no specific outcome in evolution; rather, whatever works survives. There is no end goal, it just occurs in response to environmental pressure.

Thus, in our lottery example above, A-B-C-D occurred for no specific reason, that’s just what ended up winning. But if you know it could have gone in any number of ways, you would understand that it was a winner by chance. Evolution produces winners that uses chance to mix things up, but no specific outcome is guaranteed.

And this is why I think the belief that evolution was directed by God is problematic. To say that evolution was directed by anything contradicts the underlying basis of the theory – that it is not directed and whatever happens, happens. To believe in theistic evolution means that you don’t believe in evolution as understood by scientists, but that God used a certain process to bring humans into existence gradually over time. We may think that humans evolved in a straight line, but we didn’t. It’s actually more of a spider web than a straight line with many dead ends and parallel paths. It’s by chance that homo sapiens ended up as the winners.

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It turns out that the deistic belief is closer to what scientists believe, and makes sense for more conservative creationists to reject it (although they would reject Deism for reasons other than evolution).

Now, does it matter if you believe one or the other?

Well, that’s hard to say. We humans are pretty good at rationalizing our beliefs and I have tons of belief I rationalize, both consciously but mostly unconsciously. And most people don’t care enough to differentiate the way I’ve done in this blog post. And let’s face it – few people read this blog or ever will read it, so what I think doesn’t matter.

And what I think you believe doesn’t matter.

And I’m okay with that. Hopefully you are, too.

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I’m not as clever as I think

I like to think I’m a pretty smart guy. It’s not completely true, but I like to think it nonetheless.

This month in National Geographic, the cover page is entitled “The War on Science.” It lists five examples:

  • Climate Change does not exist. This is something I used to think about a decade ago, or that the fears were overblown, but now I completely disagree and think climate change is a huge deal. It’s mostly people who are politically opposed to it that still deny it.

  • Evolution never happened. I didn’t used to believe in evolution during my teen years, but I have since 100% reversed that position. Evolution explains a lot, biology doesn’t make sense without it.

  • The moon landing was fake. I don’t know anybody who ever believed this, but I guess there are still some people out there who do.

  • Vaccinations can lead to autism. This is something that is getting a lot of press coverage recently, and criticism, because of the recent breakout of measles at Disneyland. It’s upper-middle class people who believe this, people who are educated. And this bad because it weakens herd immunity and harms their own kids.

  • Genetically modified food is evil. And here’s where I have to stop being so smug. For years I never cared about GMO foods, but after moving to the left coast I admit my thinking started to get infected with this. But as it turns out, most experts believe that GMO food is safe. There have been hundreds, if not thousands, of studies done and none of the definitively demonstrate that GMO food is bad for you or dangerous. The thinking is “But it might be!” but the science says “Well, probably not.”

So, I got four out of five. I’d like to pat myself on the back but I can’t. As someone with a science background, I should know better.

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Over the past couple of years, I’ve been reading a lot about genetics and its influence on personality. When I was in university, I took a class on Sociology. The basis of the class was that personality was heavily influenced by culture. Furthermore, one of the major paradigms of humanity is “the blank slate” – the idea that humans are (nearly) infinitely malleable. This was a reaction to the eugenics movement of the first half of the 20th century that stated that some people just had superior genes.

However, “the blank slate” is wrong. While culture and environment shape us, we are not infinitely malleable. We are are not even greatly malleable. It turns out that our genetics, just as it shapes our physical bodies, also shapes our personalities. We can do things to affect it and choose to behave in certain ways, but our brain structures and genes dictate greatly how we react internally, and then we choose to override it.

One of those personality traits is introversion. I’ve been introverted as far back as I can remember, with the possible exception of when I was less than 5 years old. But it turns out that introversion is probably genetic. Dr. Jerome Kagan has been studying the introversion/extroversion phenomenon and has tons of data.

I found this one excerpt:

For example, he believes, based on his data, that high reactivity is associated with physical traits such as blue eyes, allergies, and hay fever, and that high-reactive (introverted) men are more likely than others to have a thin body with a narrow face.

Um:

  • I have blue eyes
  • I have hay fever (although no other allergies – although I do get nosebleeds easily in dry weather)
  • I have a thin body
  • My face is narrow

In other words, the description 100% describes me!

I thought that was eerie. I used to think that I was in control of my own personality and that I could change it with enough work. That’s not really true; I can change it to some extent but I have much less free will than I thought.

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Myths about how the brain works

I thought I’d do a blog post about some common myths about how the brain works.

  1. People only use 5-10% of their brains

    This is a common myth I hear all the time, that people don’t use all of their brains. This implies that we have a lot of untapped potential and if we could unlock it, we would be super-geniuses!

    But it’s not true.

    The brain consumes 20-25% of our total calorie intake, that’s far too much energy to waste on an organ that is running at 1/10 of its potential capacity. The truth is that we use 100% of our brains, we just don’t use all parts of it at the same time. Various parts of the brain are dedicated to doing different functions, and we aren’t using those functions all the time at the same time.

  2. The left brain/right brain model

    One thing we frequently hear is the right brain/left brain model – left-brained people are more analytical and right-brained people are more creative.

    This isn’t true. Or rather, it’s hopelessly oversimplified.

    While it is true that different hemispheres of our brains control different parts of our bodies, the truth is that we all have parts of our brains that talk to other parts. The reason that some of us are more analytical than others, while some people are more creative than others, has more to do with genetics and environment.

    One hemisphere dominating and leading to a particular trait doesn’t adequately explain how our brains work with all of its parts to form a whole. While the term “right brain/left brain” is useful to describe what type a person is, it is not accurate about how it actually works biologically.

  3. The brain is a single unit, like a computer

    One of the ways we think of the brain is that it is like a computer – it has a central processing unit that takes in all the inputs, we make a decision, and then act on it. The brain weighs the evidence and then issues its verdict. All the possible inputs go to a central processing unit.

    But that’s not how it works.

    Instead, the brain is more like the Internet. There are a bunch of nodes that have highly specialized functions. Some of these nodes talk to each other, but others do not. When we receive information (sound, sight, touch or ideas), the various units process it but there’s not a central unit in charge. Some units are unaware of others, and this is very strategic.

    We don’t process information that efficiently.

Those are brain myths I thought I’d briefly correct.

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I’ve been doing some reading lately on the nature of violence. When we look at violence over the course of history, most of the time it is men committing it. This is confirmed if we look at offenders of violent crime in prison in every country, and looking at who participates in the most wars. Even when it comes to domestic violence, both men and women have roughly equal representation in doing it, but the difference is that women do it in self-defense most of the time.

Why are men the more violent gender?

Back in the 1990’s, after taking my sociology class I probably would have said because society reinforces it. Men are encouraged to be violent and therefore they commit more acts of it. It’s society’s fault.

But is it really?

No. At least, not exactly.

The reason men are more violent is because of genetics. Through natural selection, genes that predispose men to violence are the ones that survived to pass on their descendants.

It works this way:

  • Men who reproduce more often have more descendants. The most successful ones win. This is not a moral statement either in favor of it or not in favor. But in the animal kingdom, a male lion who kills the king of the pride will also kill off all the cubs and then mate with the female lions. Obviously, he wants no competition.

  • For men, because of this competition, they are drawn to compete for the attention of women because from an evolutionary standpoint, a woman’s reproductive capacity is a scarce resource. That is, women can only have a certain amount of children in a defined period of time.

    By contrast, men have relatively little work to do in the conception of children. It’s “easy” for them to reproduce. But for women, because they cannot have more kids simply by being promiscuous, it pays for them to be selective. But for men, being selective doesn’t matter that much.

  • But because women are a scarce resource (from a male reproductive point-of-view), scarcity breeds competition. When you want something badly enough, you will fight over it. The men who defeated other men survived to pass on their genes with the women along to their descendants. The men who were pacifists died out, just like the dodo bird.

  • But for women, it makes no sense to fight over men (most of the time). Getting access to multiple men doesn’t help them produce more children. But having a monopoly on multiple women does help men. And these genes that caused them to fight over this explains why men are more violent than women – the stakes are higher.

  • That doesn’t excuse violence today, of course. There are many things from our ancestry that we don’t do today like infanticide, casting away the elderly, and so forth. And, thankfully, violence has been declining over time gradually.

  • In hunter-and-gatherer societies, tribes would conduct raids on other tribes in order to steal their women. Why would they do this? For wives to produce children (violence because of competition).

    You can even see this in the Bible. In Numbers 31, the Israelites launch a raid on the Midianites. They burn all the towns where they lived, as well as the camps and brought back captives to Moses (10-12). Moses is angry with these officers – why have you allowed all the women to live (v15). He then instructs them to kill all the boys and all the women who have slept with a man (v17). But for every girl who has never slept with a man, they could keep for themselves (v18).

    This sounds an awful lot like the lion who kills his competition’s descendants. The Israelites then kill the (tainted?) women, and then use the rest of the women to presumably breed out the rest of the Midianites.


That’s my theory on men are more violent than women.

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As I mentioned in a previous post, one of the books I’ve read recently is The Blank Slate, by Steven Pinker. In it, he goes after the myth of how everything in human behavior is learned.

When I was in university, I took a sociology class and this is basically what they taught – that all behavior is culturally determined. Gender roles are assigned by society. The reason that men are physically larger than women is because men are encouraged to be more aggressive and therefore spend more time exercising muscles that contribute to bulk. But if women were encouraged the same way, they could be as large as men.

It’s all culturally determined and reinforced by society’s rules.

This is the doctrine of the Blank Slate – the idea that the human mind is basically empty and we can program anything we want on it.

Nonsense, claims Pinker. Probably 70% of our behavior is genetically determined. The reason that men are physically larger than women is due to our genetic makeup, not because society wants it that way. Men like math and science because it was useful (in a manner of sorts) for millions of years, whereas women like social sciences because it was useful to them for millions of years. These traits were naturally selected, and you and I inherited them.

Indeed, the human mind comes pre-loaded with software. We still have to learn it, but there things we don’t have to learn what to do.

For example, you don’t have to teach kids how to learn a language. They just naturally pick it up. They still have to learn it, but you don’t sit down and explain how language is used to communicate. The reason kids naturally learn it is because there is a genetic basis for humans to learn, acquire and use language.

The mind is not a blank slate – there are certain things we just do and it is a product of human evolution.

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The second doctrine that Pinker addresses is the Noble Savage. This is the idea that humans, in their natural state, are peaceful and live in harmony with the world. It is only the corrupting influence of civilization that turns them into barbarians.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. Study after study after study refutes this idea; indigenous peoples are as violent as the rest of us. Indeed, it’s only through the civilizing process that any of us threw off violence and instead figured out how to live together.

The third doctrine that Pinker talks about is the Ghost in the Machine. This belief says that there is a part of humanity that lives outside of the brain. Our bodies may die but there is a part of us that survives and can survive indefinitely outside of the body.

The contrast to this is that our personalities are shaped by our brains which are unbelievably complex organs. Our entire being, instead, is shaped by the ways our brains process information. Without a functioning brain, our “self” ceases to exist. Obviously, this has important ramifications for some religions which assert that we have fully-aware souls that can exist outside of our bodies. The “self” we think exists is simply our brain’s way of processing information and it works hard to maintain this illusion.

Interesting stuff and I learned a lot that I never knew. It made me think “Man, I wish I knew this stuff back in 1999 when I took that course.” Of course, by disagreeing with the professor so much, I probably wouldn’t have gotten an A.

Back then, I would have cared.

Today, I probably wouldn’t.

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Did you ever stop to wonder how your brain works? What makes you you?

What I mean is this – all of us have this thing called consciousness. It’s the piece inside of you that is reading this, thinking about this blog post in specific, but is aware of what is around you in general. It’s what you call the essence of you. Philosophers have struggled with defining existence for centuries.

Did you ever wonder how it all works in your brain?

Your center of consciousness is your brain, and we normally think of ourselves as a brain-within-a-brain. That is, we know that our brain processes all sorts of information: vision, hearing, taste, touch and thinking. Different parts of our brain are responsible for each of these senses but they send all of this information to a central processing unit that makes the decision. We have a brain-within-a-brain that processes all this information and it is what makes us us.

image

But it turns out, that’s now how your brain works.

You see, as it turns out, your brain is modular. Different parts of your brain are responsible for different senses, just as the brain-within-a-brain model.

However, where the brain-as-a-module differs is each module talks with other modules, but not necessarily every module. Some modules talk to more, others talk to fewer. Some modules are not even aware of each other.

 

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In this model, there is no central processing unit. Different parts of the brain do different things, and you make decisions based upon interactions of these different parts.

This means you have no brain-within-a-brain.

Huh?

If there’s one thing I know, it’s that I have a central personality, an essence of me. But it turns out that what I think is me might just be a way that my brain processes information. And my brain works very hard to create this cognitive illusion. That is, different parts of my brain work very hard to create this cognitive illusion.

When I first read this earlier this year, I found it very disconcerting. I’m not sure I agree with this, but it doesn’t matter what I think if it is the correct model of the brain.

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Today, one of my friends posted an article from the National Post entitled What Would Bonobos Do? The short article is a blurb on polyamory, where men and women live in “open relationships” (look it up if you don’t know what I mean). My friend added the quote “What would bonobos do? Always a good question to ask.”

The thinking behind my friend’s comments is this: Humans are descended from apes, and bonobos are one of our ancestors (or, more accurately, humans and bonobos share a common ancestor; you and your cousin share a common ancestor in your grandparents but you are not descended from your cousin nor vice versa. Also, humans are more closely related to chimpanzees than bonobos. But bonobos are the second closest to us on the human evolutionary chain of all species that still survive).

Anyhow, because humans are descended from bonobos, then we should have many of our behavioral practices in common with them. Bonobos have very promiscuous sexual relationships. Males and females have many sexual partners and even have it recreationally. What my friend on Facebook is saying is that polyamory is perfectly acceptable in the animal kingdom, even among our closest ancestors. Why does society condemn this perfectly, biologically normal behavior in humans? It must be because we have rules imposed by others (usually religious in origin, but not always) that tries to regulate our sexual behavior.

That’s the meaning behind “WWBD”. It is a play on the term “What would Jesus do?” because a bonobo has no problem with multiple sexual partners, males or females. Therefore, what’s the big deal if humans do it? Prohibitions against it are arbitrary, and the enforcement of it was arbitrary.

I know this is what my friend means because he is a Libertarian, but also because I have read other articles that try to use nature as way to rationalize non-monogamous relationships as okay since animals do it (especially our closer primate relatives), but it was only through society’s rules that it became condemned.

Does my friend have a point? Are humans naturally promiscuous, and have authorities places rules on us in order to regulate our behavior because of their own standards of morality and tricked us into agreeing with them?

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To answer this question, we need to understand a few facts about human evolution.

  1. The goal of evolution is survival and reproduction.

    Species that procreate survive. The ones that don’t go extinct. Thus, many of the behaviors we have today are optimally designed to ensure that we survive in our environments, and that we can reproduce.

  2. Humans are more closely related to chimpanzees than bonobos.

    While it is true that bonobos are polyamorous (many-to-many sexual relationship), it doesn’t mean that humans originally were. Our common ancestor may have been monogamous and then after we branched off, bonobos became polyamorous and humans remained monogamous.

    Or, the other possibility is that our common ancestor was a one-to-many relationship where one male had sexual relationships with many females (think of a harem). This is what we see in chimpanzees. Anthropological research has determined that is the most likely behavior we see in our common ancestors as well.

    Thus, while bonobos may be many-to-many, our more recent ancestors were one-to-many. You don’t see too many (male) writers advocating that in the western world.

  3. Males and females have different reproductive goals.

    From a biological perspective, men increase their chances of reproducing by engaging in sexual relationships with more than one partner. However, women do not. They cannot have more than one child than they could normally deliver. That is, having more sexual partners does not increase the number of children they can have in a certain time frame.

    Thus, from an evolutionary standpoint, promiscuity doesn’t make sense for women. But what does make sense for them? Selecting a strong partner.

    They can increase their offspring’s chance of survival by picking a partner with good genes. In the animal kingdom, this is done by picking the strongest, best looking males. The Birds of Paradise in New Guinea and Australia best exemplify this – the top male on the pyramid mates with 80% of the females. The number 2 male mates with the remaining 20%. The other males get nothing.

    You don’t see too many male writers advocating that in the western world because most of us realize we are not at the top of the pyramid.

  4. Females increase their odds of offspring survival if males help raise the children.

    Humans are expensive to raise. They consume a lot of resources compared to other animals. A male who sticks around and helps raise his child increases the child’s chances of survival, and therefore ensuring his genes proliferate.

    Females benefit from this also, but it doesn’t necessarily matter which male it is – the father or some other male.

  5. Males don’t want to raise other males’ children.

    In the animal kingdom, the biggest losers are the males who raise the children of other males. He’ll ensure that his rivals’ genes survive while not spreading his own genes.

    This is a big point. The male wants the female to not be promiscuous and it makes sense for her to not be because it doesn’t help her much. But the male increases his odds of spreading his genes if he is not monogamous but is promiscuous.

    So, he could be the father of two sets of children and help raise two different sets of kids.

  6. Females don’t want males to split their time between her kids, and some other female’s kids with the same father. They evolved strategies to combat this.

    From the female’s perspective, if the male bird mates with her and some other bird, he may help raise both sets of children. However, this weakens her position. The time the male spends with the other birds’ children diverts resources away from her own. This decreases their chance of survival.

    To combat this, human females developed a very powerful strategy: concealed ovulation.

    For much of human history, females did not know when they ovulated and become fertile to reproduce. Neither did men. It is only during the 20th century that we became fully aware of when pregnancy could occur. This is concealed ovulation, and it differs from the animal kingdom because most females signal their receptivity such as emitting scents, changing colors on parts of their bodies, and so forth. In other words, it is obvious when females can conceive.

    But not to humans. We didn’t know when conception was likely.

    What is the ramifications of concealed ovulation?

    It means that if neither men nor women are sure when a women can conceive children, then neither the men nor women can be certain who the father is in a polyamorous society. It could be Father A, or Father B, or Father C.

    But neither Father A, B, nor C want to raise each other’s children. In order to combat this, they need to ensure that their mates are faithful and not promiscuous. And in order to ensure that their children survive and proliferate their genes, they need to stick around and help raise the kids. They also need to guard against any other males who may “raid the nest” when they are out of town. This ensures a one-to-one relationship instead of a one-to-many relationship amongst males and females.

    Thus, concealed ovulation is an evolutionary strategy to increase a species odds of survival. One of its consequences is monogamy.

  7. Monogamy results in winners and losers.

    In a society of birds, there are high status males, high status females, low status males, and low status females.

    Who wins and loses in monogamous birds society?

    Low status males win because if the females flock to high status males, they can’t all have high status males. After the best, all that’s left is the rest.

    High status females and low status females win because males cannot divert their resources raising multiple sets of kids, thereby decreasing their offspring’s chance of survival.

    High status males sort-of-win, but not entirely. They win by ensuring monogamy for everyone else, but promiscuity for themselves. They will still be seen as valuable by females, high or low status.

    However, unattached low status females lose. They don’t have their pick of the litter because the high status males are taken. They have to settle for the left-overs of low status males.

Taking all of this together, humans did not spell out monogamy because someone wanted to impose rules on others. Instead, it arose because it increased the species’ odds of survival and worked better than other mechanisms.

To ask “What would bonobos do?” is not relevant because the circumstances of bonobos is not the same as humans. We developed in different ecological niches.

It was only after we evolved monogamy that we rationalized  them using various means: It promotes family values, or it’s the natural way of things, or it forms the nucleus of the family.

Our ability to reason and create logical arguments arose in our brains (the neo-cortex) after we became monogamous. That’s why it’s hard to describe why we should be one-to-one (this doesn’t guarantee we will be, it only explains why it arose).

But it did not come about because some people wanted to control the behavior of others; it only seems that way because we aren’t familiar with its evolutionary advantages in our species’ history.

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Lately I’ve been reading a lot of books on Behavioral Economics. This is the study of human behavior about how we actually behave, not how should behave.

Traditional economists have theories about how humans operate. One example is that all things considered, we naturally gravitate towards the lowest price for a consumer product. It is very rational to do this; we get the product we want at the lowest price so we have more money for other things.

Behavior economics agrees that sometimes humans are rational, but we are frequently irrational. And I’ll prove it to you.

I’m going to give you a choice. What would you rather have?

  1. $100 one year from today
  2. $101 one year and one day from today

I’ll give you a moment to think this over.

But I’ll bet that most of you take option 2. Sure, $100 is great but if you’re already waiting a year, you may as well wait one more day for the extra dollar.

Now let’s make a second choice. What would you rather have?

  1. $100 today, right now
  2. $101 tomorrow, twenty-four hours from now

I’ll give you a moment to think this over.

If you’re like most people, you take option 1. You’d rather have the money to spend immediately rather than 24 hours because it just isn’t worth your time to wait the extra time.

But why? In our example above two choices, the difference is $1, and the time difference is 24 hours. But in the first option you decided to wait the extra 24 hours but in the second choice you didn’t.

What changed?

To a traditional economist, you acted irrationally. But did you? In psychology-speak, this is called “hyperbolic discounting.” The closer something gets to the present time, the more important and urgent it becomes. That’s why you wait until the last minute to study for that test. When it becomes close, its urgency can no longer be put off. It’s why you don’t work on that report until the day before.

The old saying is true: If it weren’t for the last minute, nothing would ever get done.

But this isn’t necessarily bad. While economists may think you’re irrational, your brain is doing what it was designed to do. You see, your brain has different modules that are responsible for different things. Some modules seek to optimize short term goals (I’m hungry, put some food in) and other modules are designed to optimize long term goals (let’s go exercise so I can stay in shape).

Your brain is frequently calculating the rate-of-return between these different modules. If you’re only a little bit hungry, you can wait until you get home to eat something healthy. But if you’re starving, your brain says “Put food in me now!” and you buy something from McDonald’s.

When your brain puts things off, it’s calculating the rate-of-return against long-term and short-term modules. The consequences of not studying for the test tomorrow is not going to hurt because the test is five days from now. But you’re tired right now, and therefore you nap. Or you watch a movie because your short-term goals of being entertained will be met.

But when the test is tomorrow, the short-term impact suddenly goes up and now you have to study. And that’s why stuff gets done. It’s because your brain calculates that the pain associated with not studying will be higher than the pleasure achieved by napping or watching a movie.

The way around this is to know that you’re irrational and plan for it. I know that I will be lazy in the evening so I will punish myself by paying $250 to my evil friend if I don’t go to the gym. That’s the secret to people with strong willpower. They don’t actually have stronger willpower, they just design their lives to realize that they are susceptible to the same weaknesses we all are.

And then they plan ahead.

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A topic that I’ve recently stumbled across is Behavioral Economics. This is the study of why people act irrationally when it comes to making financial decisions.

Let me give you an example. Answer this question quickly based upon your initial impulse. What would you rather have:

  1. $100 in one year, OR
  2. $101 in one year and one day from now

Think it over and answer before you move on.

Next, answer the following question. What would you rather have:

  1. $100 today, OR
  2. $101 tomorrow

Think it over before you move on.

If you’re like most people, you’d take $101 in one year and one day (option 2 in the first question). You’d be willing to wait the extra one day for the extra dollar when the impact is so far off in the future. However, if you’re also like most people, you’d prefer to have the $100 today instead of waiting the extra day for a single dollar (option 1 in the second question).

This doesn’t make sense.

In both cases, you’re waiting only one more day. Theoretically, the amount of people switching or choosing should be the same since it makes no difference. But most people don’t want to wait an extra for that $100 when the time frame is so short. They want their money now instead of in the future.

It’s irrational. But it is what it is. And Behavioral Economics tries to study this phenomenon.

Conventional economics states that when it comes to doing almost anything, even with money, people are rational. If they can get the same goods elsewhere, they drift to the one with the lowest price. If something makes sense, then over the long run people will do the thing that makes sense.

This is the basis of capitalism; if you make a better product, or do it for cheaper, people will abandon the existing source of where they get stuff and move to the better stuff. People get a better product, and the person producing the better stuff gets paid.

But Behavioral Economics says that people don’t always do this. People sometimes act irrationally. During the housing bubble, people would buy and sell homes and flip them to the next buyer in anticipation of making a quick profit. And more and more people entered the market, doing this. House prices were no longer irrational (my little experiment above proved that even you can be irrational). This is what happens with bubbles.

Why do people do this?

Without doing much research into Behavioral Economics, I’ve looked into the topic before about how people make decisions. Briefly:

  1. Emotions can color judgment

    People can act in ways contrary to their own best interests if their emotions interfere with decision making. However, at low levels of intensity, emotions only act in an advisor role. To get them to interfere, stronger levels of emotion are required.

  2. Probability

    As humans, we judge things based upon the impact of if something occurs, rather than the probability of it occurring. For example, people are more afraid of dying in an airplane crash than in a car crash even though airplanes are far more safe. But the reason they are more afraid is because your chances of surviving an airplane crash are basically zero, whereas you have a fighting chance in a car.

  3. Control

    The fact that we can control or influence an outcome alleviates the negative feelings we experience.

  4. Time

    The closer a deadline is, the more this influences us to take action (this explains the money decision above).

  5. External factors

    There are four stimuli that humans are susceptible to experiencing interfering emotions: Money, Food, Sex and Revenge. They prevent us from thinking clearly.

    In my experiment above, it involved Money and Time, a double-whammy. You just weren’t thinking clearly when you picked the $100 today.

Knowing this, the financial markets are not rational. People are not rational. We fear a loss twice a much as we desire a gain (if not more). That’s why we rush into investments – we fear we are losing out on the easy money.

I think it’s a pretty cool subject. It explains why I invested in rental property.

And why I lost big time money.

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Every once in a while, I read some article or some excerpt on a friend’s Facebook page taking pot shots at young earth creationists. This is usually in reference to a politician (usually a Republican) taking a stand on the topic, and how having this type of person in office is “dangerous.”

Growing up, I was heavily exposed to the young earth creationist idea that the earth is only 6000 years old or so. It was taught in seminars and books and it’s something I believed in. However, in school and the textbooks, we were taught that the earth is billions of years old. I was never able to reconcile these two beliefs, but on the tests I quoted what they wanted to hear.

As time passed, I lost interest in the creationist/evolutionist debate. However, eventually I abandoned the young earth position as I started reading more and more about the science behind it. As it turns out, the overwhelming evidence falls on the side of a planet that is billions of years old and a universe that is even older. Astronomy, geology, paleontology and anthropology all confirm it.

Reading about human development is really interesting when you understand that humanity has taken a very complex biological journey to get where we are today, and an equally complex migratory journey to populate the earth.

Just for fun, I decided to check out the Answers in Genesis web page. This is a web page that is dedicated to defending young earth creationism. The website is very consistent, although I disagree with most of what they have published. In my view, their faith in a literal six day creation according to the first two chapters in Genesis colors their interpretation of science. Because they interpret these chapters literally, they discount the evidence that says that the earth is old and accept evidence that says it is young. I believe that this is clear evidence of their Confirmation Bias.

One article I checked out is entitled The Australian Aboriginal. This is something I have a minor degree of expertise in after having read Jared Diamond’s book Guns, Germs and Steel which theorizes about reasons for the divisions of wealth between nations.

Answers in Genesis addresses the question of the Australian Aboriginal and why they were so far “behind” when they were discovered by European settlers several hundred years ago. Here are some excerpts from the article:

When Captain Cook arrived in Australia some 200 years ago, he encountered a dark-skinned race of nomadic people with a stone age culture. Evolutionists say these Aborigines came to Australia at least 40,000 years ago from unknown origins. The evolutionary view which is taught in schools and promoted in the media is really saying these were a people who hadn’t evolved as fast as other types of man.

This isn’t correct. From the picture above, you can see that humans migrated out of Africa and crossed down through southeast Asia about 40,000 years ago. We know their origins. We also know that modern humans are the same as the ones that migrated out of Africa 50,000 to 200,000 years ago. It is incorrect to say that they haven’t evolved as fast as us because they are like us.

The question is why was their society so primitive compared to European society? Answers in Genesis talks about how since the Noahic Flood, everyone on earth had the same ancestors (eight people) and followed the same God, and therefore had the same technology. Thus, as recently as 4000 years ago, we were all on equal footing. They put it this way:

Their ancestor Noah had the knowledge of the true God. He also had ship building technology, farming ability, knew how to work alloys, etc. Remnants of this true knowledge of God, of creation and of Noah, can still be seen in their mythology, e.g. they have many legends of a world wide flood.

All of which means that somewhere in their history, this knowledge has been forgotten, lost, or deliberately discarded. The culture Captain Cook discovered was spiritist. They did not have the knowledge of the true God and only had a “stone age” culture.

So what happened?

Someone, somewhere in their history, has turned away from the true God, devised their own religion and successfully persuaded their fellow Aborigines to accept it. They have suffered the consequences of this. Instead of being a culture regenerated by God’s standards, they have degenerated from them.

Societies get this way, because they turn their back on God and degenerate away from His standards. They no longer have a respect for the life of man made in the image of God, because they no longer respect God.

Thus, by turning away from God, the aboriginal culture “degenerated” and what happened is an example of when human societies turn to to their own ways. They go “backwards.” In other words, it’s their own fault. They had technology but lost it.

Anthropologists and biologists look at this much differently. In my view, the reason why AiG makes statements like this is because they are forced into it because of their views. They only have 3700 years to explain how the aboriginals went so far backwards compared to Europeans. Of course they are so primitive! Without God to supernaturally guide or enlighten them, that’s what happens!

But it isn’t nearly this simple.

There are plenty of cultures that were not Christian or Jewish that built very advanced societies: the Mayans in Mesoamerica, the Khmers in southeast Asia, and the Incas in South America. They were isolated from the West and they had very advanced cultures before they collapsed. A dearth of spirituality does not explain why a society does not advance because obviously it doesn’t happen everywhere. Some cultures, like the Chinese, advanced further than Europe but they did not have the same, or even similar, religious beliefs.

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So what happened to the Aboriginals?

50,000 years ago, all human societies were the same. There was no region that was further ahead than the other in any part of the world. The reason why some societies advance further than others is due to a combination of multiple factors:

  1. The best land

    Regions of the world with the best agricultural land make it easier to grow crops for subsistence farming. If you’re not spending all of your time hunting and gathering, you can settle down and produce a food surplus. This means that instead of 100% of your population devoted to gathering food, you have a surplus of people who can spend time building an army, or inventing things like technology.

    Australia is a very difficult country to live in. Most of the land is not arable. Crops do not grow natively there (there are only five places in the world where agriculture arose spontaneously: the fertile crescent in modern Mesopotamia, New Guinea, China, Mesoamerica and the modern northeastern US; everywhere else it was introduced). Not only did the Aboriginal people not have agriculture at the time they landed in Australia (that wouldn’t be invented anywhere for another 30,000 years), it was never introduced to them.

    This means that they lived in a harsh climate where they spent most of their resources just trying to survive. They didn’t have time to invent things. They only had rudimentary tools.

    By contrast, the Europeans lived in a part of the world with good climate and good land. It rains a lot there. The soil is productive. It’s easy to grow things. That’s two distinct advantages the aboriginals did not have.

  2. The best animals

    Another reason that the Europeans advanced is because they were able to harness animal power. When growing crops, it’s easier to tether a yoke to an ox and have them do it than it is to pull it yourself. It’s easier to advance on an army of horses than it is field an army of only foot soldiers.

    There are only fourteen mammals over 100 lbs that have ever been domesticated by humans (horses, cows, pigs, ox, llamas, and nine others). Of these, 13 are native to Europe.

    What? Only 13?

    Yes, only 13. We typically think of Africa as the continent of large mammals. But zebras, hippos and rhinos have never been domesticated. Lions and tigers are carnivorous and are not suitable for domestication, not because of their temperament but because they need too much meat. It takes 10x as much meat to sustain a lion as what it weighs. They are too inefficient.

    Europe had 13 large land mammals. South America had 1 (the llama). Every other continent, including Australia, had none.

    Because they were able to harness animals for agriculture, Europeans could produce food surpluses to support a class of kings and military. They also harnessed animals for military to build superior forces to other continents.

    Australia had neither. The humans who invaded the land 40,000 years ago either hunted the suitable mammals to extinction, or the rest of them (kangaroos) they never domesticated.

Because they had no animals and poor land unsuitable for agriculture, the Australian aboriginals never moved beyond the hunting-and-gathering stage. Societies composed of hunters-and-gatherers never generate large populations. The land doesn’t support it. It’s estimated that there were only 300,000 aboriginals who inhabited Australia when Captain Cook landed in the 18th century.

Thus, the reason why Europe advanced is because of… luck. The reason why Australia didn’t advance is because of bad luck. The native Europeans were able to grow food easily and use animals to grow it faster. People could spend time developing society. Inventions arose. Society advanced.

This created a multiplication factor – when you get a little bit of head with better tools, you can use those tools to get ahead a little bit more. This gives you a double advantage over those who have neither. But then your better tools give you an even bigger advantage because you can use them to make even better ones!

The aboriginal people didn’t lose anything (knowledge of science and technology), they never advanced to it. To say that theirs is an example of what happens when a society turns to spiritism or lacks God is unfair because it doesn’t compare apples-to-apples. One society had a set of advantages that contributed to its development that the other lacked. Had they both had the same set of conditions, that would be fair. Or what if it were the other way around? What then?

Compare this to the Answers in Genesis version – societies had technology but lost it, whereas Jared Diamond’s version is that everyone started off on an equal footing (of having nothing) but some moved ahead much quicker. There was nothing to lose.

This model fits much better with the available evidence than the one proposed by Answers in Genesis.

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This week, I was reading on The Associated Press that they recently discovered 100 new terracotta warriors over in China.

A member of an archaeology team unearths a terracotta warrior at the excavation site inside the No.1 pit of the Museum of Qin Terracotta Warriors and Horses, on the outskirts of Xi'an, Shaanxi province, June 9, 2012. It is the first time that shields have been unearthed during an excavation. A large number of the terracotta warriors and horses bear traces of burn marks, which are suspected to have been caused by Xiang Yu, a military leader who rebelled against the Qin Dynasty (221 BC - 207 BC), according to local media. REUTERS/Stringer (CHINA - Tags: SOCIETY) CHINA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN CHINA

If you don’t know what the terracotta warriors are, it’s okay.  When I first went to China in 2008, I had never heard of them before.  White people are usually familiar with European culture and history but we know very little about far east Asian cultures other than Chinese people eat with chopsticks and the Japanese make good cars and electronics.

Anyhow, the terracotta warriors were in the 1970’s by a Chinese peasant digging a well not too far from the city of Xi’an.  He discovered a bunch of buried stone carvings of Chinese fighters.  They were built by the first Chinese emperor over 1600 years ago.

The thing about the warriors is that there are tons of them, and they are life size.  They are literally taller than I am and each one is different than the other.  You can see their faces and each of them is unique to the individual soldier; no copying-and-pasting!  It’s unreal just how much time and effort they put into them. It’s theorized that the all of the warriors are facing east (I think) in order to stand guard in a certain direction in order to repel invaders.

When I got there and saw the warriors, I was blown away. “Wow, why have I never heard of this?” I took a bunch of pictures there but I lost my camera in the city the next day.

This discovery is cool because archaeologists have discovered 110 new warriors.  That sounds like a lot but they already have at least 1000 and they aren’t even finished digging yet.  Some of them are color statues which adds another element of coolness to it.

If you ever visit China, you need to visit the terracotta warriors near Xi’an.

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