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Sun, 29 Jan 2023
The World for People who Think

Science of the Spirit


Tonic Intersectionality

race harmony hands interlinked tonic masculinity
© woraput/iStock
In the year 1989 Kimberlé Crenshaw introduced a new word to better articulate the overlapping nature of identity and its impact on how people relate to one another. As a prominent scholar of Critical Theory, Crenshaw noticed that discrimination laws weren't adequate in circumstances where discrimination was dependent on both gender and race. She was right of course. Laws meant to force people to treat everyone the same are difficult to enforce when what constitutes a protected class is very clear, let alone make determinations that consider the complex intersection between protected classes. This is a logical consequence of the fact that proving discrimination when it is directed towards a particular amalgam of these groups is nigh impossible, unless of course, you can read minds. The thing is, Crenshaw wasn't concerned about some random amalgam, as a self-described black feminist she was concerned about the intersection of discrimination against African American women specifically.

The classic example Crenshaw uses to illustrate this concept is the constructive discrimination against black female employees at General Motors in the 1970's who were fired under the auspices of a "last-hired-first-fired" seniority based provision in the company's labor agreement. The court recognized race and gender as protected classes under Title VII of the Civil Rights act, but expressed concern regarding the idea of creating new protected classes out of the various possible permutations of those already recognized. Judge Wangelin expressed his concern thus:
The prospect of the creation of new classes of protected minorities, governed only by the mathematical principles of permutation and combination, clearly raises the prospect of opening the hackneyed Pandora's box.


Near-death research slowly fills in the picture

© Unknown
In a survey article at Business Insider, Erin Heger points to several studies that shed light on what happens when we die.

She starts by referencing Julia A. Nicholson's recent account of her own NDE when she was 18, as a result of a near-fatal car crash:
"I didn't feel any pain but I heard voices around me. I could then hear my sister screaming, "She's dead, my sister is dead." So I believed that I must have died. I remember my sister, Allan, and John saying, "If you can hear us, move, or touch something," but I couldn't move at all.

"After I started to regain consciousness, I remember seeing the faces of the people that I loved flashing before my eyes. Every single face that appeared in my memory had something in common: they were the people that I loved and deeply cared about. I thought: I love all of these people, and I never got to tell them."

Nicholson survived to tell the story, of course, and — looking back — she reflects:
"Having a near-death experience caused me to have a sense of urgency to get things done, not knowing if my next minute alive would be my last. It also allowed me to live my life to the fullest, not worrying about other people's opinions or the fear of 'failure.'"
Near-death experiences are commonly life-changing events that provide evidence that the human mind is not simply a function of the body and appears, at times, to operate independently of it.


Brain area necessary for fluid intelligence identified

fluid intelligence
A team led by UCL and UCLH researchers have mapped the parts of the brain that support our ability to solve problems without prior experience -- otherwise known as fluid intelligence.

Fluid intelligence is arguably the defining feature of human cognition. It predicts educational and professional success, social mobility, health, and longevity. It also correlates with many cognitive abilities such as memory.

Fluid intelligence is thought to be a key feature involved in "active thinking" -- a set of complex mental processes such as those involved in abstraction, judgment, attention, strategy generation and inhibition. These skills can all be used in everyday activities -- from organising a dinner party to filling out a tax return.

Better Earth

Jordan Peterson against the spirit of totalitarianism

The article below was originally written for our Icelandic website at my request. The author knows Peterson well and has brought him over here twice for lecturing, with great success.

Gunnlaugur Jónsson is the founder and CEO of the Reykjavik Fintech Cluster. He is one of the founders of a startup called Veriate, whose mission is to transform discussions on the internet. His book on the banking system, personal responsibility and freedom, Ábyrgðarkver (The Little Book on Responsibility), was published in Iceland in 2012. He invited Dr. Jordan Peterson to deliver lectures in Reykjavik in June 2018 and June 2022.

* * * * *

I first became aware of Jordan Peterson over six years ago, when he publicly protested legislation designed to force people to use and memorize other people's made-up personal pronouns. I didn't get to know him personally then, but I followed what he posted online. Although his protest was important, it was not the most remarkable thing about him. His lectures in psychology had been available on YouTube for years and they were a treasure trove of musings, wisdom and knowledge.

2 + 2 = 4

Is life after death incompatible with physics?

Back in 2011, particle physicist Sean M. Carroll wrote a guest blog at Scientific American, dismissing the idea of life after death or the immortality of the soul. He began by responding to astrophysicist Adam Frank's reflections at NPR:
For myself I remain fully and firmly agnostic on the question. If ever there was a place where firm convictions seem misplaced this is it. There simply is no controlled, experimental verifiable information to support either the "you rot" vs. "you go on" positions.

In the absence of said information we are all free to believe as we like but, I would argue, it behooves us to remember that truly "public" knowledge on the subject — the kind science exemplifies — remains in short supply.

Carroll was having none of that!
I have an enormous respect for Adam; he's a smart guy and a careful thinker. When we disagree it's with the kind of respectful dialogue that should be a model for disagreeing with non-crazy people. But here he couldn't be more wrong.

Adam claims that there "simply is no controlled, experimental[ly] verifiable information" regarding life after death. By these standards, there is no controlled, experimentally verifiable information regarding whether the Moon is made of green cheese. --SEAN M. CARROLL, "PHYSICS AND THE IMMORTALITY OF THE SOUL" AT SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN (MAY 23, 2011)


Pre-schoolers, puppets and promise: More evidence kids are smarter than you think

bunny rabbit puppet
© elenacastaldi77 / Getty Images
If you are breaking a promise to a child, be sure to have a solid reason.

Pre-school children can tell the difference between a reasonable explanation and cop out when it comes to breaking promises.

In a paper published in Cognitive Development, psychologists from Duke University in the US studied the responses of 64 children, aged three to five, after animal puppets promised to show them a cool toy - and then failed to do so.

Afterwards, the puppets either gave a good excuse for going back on their word ("I had to help my friend with his homework"), a bad excuse ("I wanted to watch TV"), or no explanation at all.


We are at a metaphysical nexus

Back in the 1930s, the British philosopher R. G. Collingwood developed an idea that would puzzle — even anger — his colleagues. Some, like his friend T. M. Knox, even went so far as to suggest that Collingwood's later ideas might have been the product of a deteriorating mind caused by illness.1

What was it that people had such a hard time wrapping their heads around, perhaps even to this day?

Simple. Collingwood believed that when it comes to metaphysics, we should give up our ambition to finally, one day, arrive at the truth. Instead, he held that the metaphysician's job was to uncover and describe the historical evolution of metaphysical thought, including the logic inherent in these developments. While he saw value in the formulation of philosophical systems, he was convinced that they will never be able to pass the test of time and can never be considered true (or false).


Pope Benedict on intelligent design and the dangers of Darwinian materialism

Pope B
© Unknown
Pope Benedict XVI
Recalling the legacy of Pope Benedict XVI, I will always appreciate the fact that he recognized the dangers of Darwinian materialism, perhaps most strikingly in the homily he delivered at his installation in 2005.
"We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God."
But Benedict spoke clearly on the subject on other occasions as well. Almost lost by the mainstream media were two statements about intelligent design, in contrast to Darwinian evolution. First was a 2006 homily in Regensburg that was eclipsed in the news by his other, more famous address there that mentioned Islam. The second statement was made later that year in Verona, as covered by the Vatican Information Service (VIS).

Comment: See also:


Religion is different

Mapping evolution of moralizing religion in Afroeurasia 6000 BCE - 1800 CE

Mapping evolution of moralizing religion in Afroeurasia 6000 BCE - 1800 CE
Social life of human beings was utterly transformed during the Holocene. Agriculture, large-scale organized warfare, elites, rulers, bureaucracies, writing, and monumental architecture evolved independently in many world regions at markedly different times. These are truly universal features of complex human societies. Moralizing religion is different.

I recently finished writing a chapter for the Seshat History of Moralizing Religion in which I summarize the statistical patterns from the data that the Seshat project gathered on moralizing supernatural punishment/reward (MSP). You can read more about this project, data, and results in this academic publication. The main thrust of this research was on testing rival theories attempting to explain the evolution of MSP (it is summarized in this blog post). But today I want to write about the historical geography of MSP. I've put together this infographic, based on the Seshat data, which depicts the evolution of MSP in time and space.

Comment: See also:


Are plants conscious? Science writer says yes

Venus flytrap
© Unknown
Annaka Harris, a science writer focusing on neuroscience and physics and the author of Conscious: A Brief Guide to the Fundamental Mystery of the Mind (2019), challenges us to reflect on two points:
1) In a system that we know has conscious experiences — the human brain — what evidence of consciousness can we detect from the outside?

2) Is consciousness essential to our behavior?
The editor notes, introducing an excerpt from the book:
"But how sure can we be that plants aren't conscious? And what if what we take to be behavior indicating consciousness can be replicated with no conscious agent involved? Annaka Harris invites us to consider the real possibility that our intuitions about consciousness might be mere illusions."