April 28, 2017

Politics & Environment

Environmentalists


There are host of well-known environment groups that an educated individual can support, join and contribute. Political action is always required and is always frustrating. Effective political lobbyists have insights into human nature, communication skills and a good understanding of political processes.  Climate changes require intelligent, responsible politicians to act quickly and decisively to avert looming disasters. They are in short supply.


The University College London established the Policy Commission on the Communication of Climate Science. They wrote:” The Commission explored the role of climate scientists in contributing to public and policy discourse and decision-making on climate change, including how highly complex scientific research which deals with high levels of uncertainty and unpredictability can be effectively engaged with public and policy dialogue. The Commission also examined the insights that scientific research and professional practice provide into how people process and assimilate information and how such knowledge offers pathways for climate scientists to achieve more effective engagement. Finally, the Commission sought to identify the approaches that climate scientists can adopt to effectively communicate their messages and to make clear recommendations to climate scientists and to policy-makers about the most effective ways of communicating climate science.”


Politics is about the strategies of control and leadership of human groups. Humans have a deep tendency to form groups, to develop and defend boundaries and to treat outsiders as enemies. All groups have interests, privileges and costs of membership. All groups have hierarchies and competition for privilege and prestige. The effort to create tolerance and an ideal, egalitarian state counters these deep tendencies and probably will never be stable and enduring. Political groups advance the interests of their members, tending toward ideologies that oversimplify complex issues and average fears and beliefs so that a spectrum of individuals can belong.

Group Dialectics

Politics has revealed basic human tendencies that require understanding. The questions are: Why are their democrats and republicans, liberals and conservatives? Why doesn’t everyone have the same preference and come to the same conclusions, given most of the facts? Why isn't everybody nice? The conventional view of political opinion recognizes a spread of political preference from left to right. This metaphor is misleading at best. Political arguments are about the distribution of wealth and resources, the use of force and the regulation of individual activity. The dialectic can be traced back to root group dynamics and the ever-changing balance between self-interest and group interest, between belligerence and peaceful negotiation. Most scholars investigate local, specific examples of divergent tendencies, but a skilled negotiator must focus on root tendencies and understand political arguments in terms of a range of expressions of innate characteristics. In the simplest case you could argue that some humans are nicer, more generous and more tolerant than others. Some humans are irritable, unstable and belligerent. Some humans are sociopathic.

Failing Democracies

Democracies have carried politics to an advanced level of refinement or absurdity, depending on your point of view. An ideal version of democracy proposes that every citizen can advance his point of view and vested interests in a public forum. The ability to speak well is an essential skill to succeed in a democratic forum. Other essential skills are the ability to understand local issues and the ability to affiliate with and influence others. Politics in the best case is art of gathering information, skill in creating public policy, skill in speaking and having an aptitude for affiliation and negotiation.
As groups grow in size, ideal representative democracy becomes impractical. A few representatives take on the job of speaking, affiliation and negotiation. The transition from individual participation to group representation has numerous problems. Hierarchical organization prevails in human and animal societies. Elected politicians now are preoccupied with manipulating their constituents with all the techniques of propaganda, advertising and public relations.

Battersby reviewed the attempts to study the interactions of governments that hoped to achieve consensus and sustain cooperation. He quoted Hardin: “Ruin is the destination toward which all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest in a society that believes in the freedom of the commons. Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all.” It has proved to be a powerful idea.


To Hardin and others, the same grim logic was behind many of our biggest problems. Common resources, such as fisheries, forests, and even the air are threatened by selfish individuals and nations taking what they can, even though they know the resource will be wiped out if everyone does the same. Hardin’s solution was to cede our freedoms to the state, to be bound by “mutual coercion mutually agreed upon”. “`On the global stage, the greatest tragedy of the commons is climate change. Despite knowing of this looming threat, countries have delayed taking real action for decades, quarreling over costs and responsibility, failing to build trust, all the while continuing to pour greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Even in the wake of the Paris Agreement, the 2016 United States election has placed the status of a major player in doubt. Lacking any higher authority to rein in the selfishness of nations, are we doomed? “


“For the past three decades, countries have been trying to forge climate treaties based on voluntary national reductions in greenhouse gas emission. This works much like the classic cows-on-the-commons case that Lloyd described in 1833. The best outcome overall is if everyone cooperates, but each individual can do better for themselves by not joining in: let everyone else do the hard work of emissions reduction while I merrily pollute.

In game theory, this is akin to the prisoner’s dilemma: cooperation would be best overall, but you gain by betraying the other culprit (or resource competitor) no matter what they choose to do. Barrett’s experiments show that when real people communicate, they often start out in a spirit of cooperation, and many will make contributions to cutting emissions. But some opt out. Cooperators see these free-riders as depriving them of economic advantage; those cooperators start to drop out until soon none remain. Could this arrangement work better if we name and shame those who drop out, as the Paris Accord now promises to do via its pledge-and-review system? Dannenberg and Barrett have tested this idea with experiments too. It makes people promise more, but hardly alters their actual contributions. Tinkering with the game doesn’t help. “It was only in the last year that I finally understood the general point. “Countries are good at coordinating and bad at cooperating voluntarily.” 



USA Political Disaster


In 2017, the USA is suffering a political disaster with the election of Donald Trump as president. Mckibben summarized the new administrations anti-environmental stance: 

”President Trump’s environmental onslaught will have immediate, dangerous effects. He has vowed to reopen coal mines and moved to keep the dirtiest power plants open for many years into the future. Dirty air, the kind you get around coal-fired power plants, kills people. It’s much the same as his policies on health care or refugees: Real people (the poorest and most vulnerable people) will be hurt in real time. That’s why the resistance has been so fierce. But there’s an extra dimension to the environmental damage. What Mr. Trump is trying to do to the planet’s climate will play out over geologic time as well. In fact, it’s time itself that he’s stealing from us. What I mean is, we have only a short window to deal with the climate crisis or else we forever lose the chance to thwart truly catastrophic heating.

"Trump is trying to give gas-guzzlers new life and slashing the money to help poor nations move toward clean energy; he and his advisers are even talking about pulling out of the Paris accords. He won’t be able to stop solar and wind power in their tracks, but his policies will slow the pace at which they would otherwise grow. Other presidents and other nations will have spewed more carbon into the atmosphere, but none will have insured, at such a critical moment, that carbon’s reign is extended. The effects will be felt not immediately but over decades and centuries and millenniums. More ice will melt, and that will cut the planet’s reflectivity, amplifying the warming; more permafrost will thaw, and that will push more methane into the atmosphere, trapping yet more heat. The species that go extinct as a result of the warming won’t mostly die in the next four years, but they will die. The nations that will be submerged won’t sink beneath the waves on his watch, but they will sink. No president will be able to claw back this time — crucial time, since we’re right now breaking the back of the climate system. We can hope other world leaders will pick up some of the slack. And we can protest. But even when we vote him out of office, Trumpism will persist, a dark stratum in the planet’s geological history. In some awful sense, his term could last forever."


See The Environment by Stephen Gislason

April 15, 2017

Nuclear Warfare - The Biggest Global Threat

Gigantic threats to human existence are in the form of nuclear warheads attached to short and long range missiles. Confusion is common between the relatively safety and desirability nuclear reactors for energy production and bombs for destruction. It is possible to build safe reactors and dismantle bombs.

All environmental threats become insignificant when you consider the apocalypse that would be created by the use of atomic and hydrogen bombs. In 2017, Helfand et al expressed their increasing concern about the threat of war using nuclear weapons. ” After the end of the Cold War, the intense military rivalry between the Soviet Union and the United States/North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was replaced by a much more cooperative relationship, and fears of war between the nuclear superpowers faded. Unfortunately, relations between Russia and the United States/NATO have deteriorated dramatically since then. In the Syrian and Ukrainian wars, the two have supported opposing sides, raising the possibility of open military conflict and fears that such conflict could escalate to nuclear war. Speaking in January, when the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists announced that its Doomsday Clock would remain at 3 minutes to midnight, former US Secretary of Defense William Perry stated, "The danger of a nuclear catastrophe today, in my judgment, is greater that it was during the Cold War...and yet our policies simply do not reflect those dangers." His assessment was echoed 2 months later by Igor Ivanov, Russian Foreign Minister from 1998 to 2004. Speaking in Brussels on March 18 2016, Ivanov warned that "The risk of confrontation with the use of nuclear weapons in Europe is higher than in the 1980s."

Doomsday

My early life was dominated by three horrific preoccupations; the holocaust, the hydrogen bomb and the destruction of animals and their natural environments all over planet earth. By age ten, I knew in theory how to construct both fission and fusion bombs and knew how destructive they were. I would study civil defense maps showing the extent of destruction from hydrogen bombs of different strengths exploded above Canadian and US cities. Later, I took courses in nuclear physics and the medical management of radiation sickness. For many years, I belonged to organizations that protested the development of more nuclear bombs. If you asked me in 1970, I would have told you that I had little confidence in modern civilization and wanted to live away from urban centers and the madness prevalent in the world. For me, the natural world of coastal British Columbia was sane, rational and enduring. Here, I felt part of an ancient natural order that would continue even if humans departed. I could ignore, at least for awhile, the folly of self-destructive humans.

As a young man I was always reassured to know that Albert Einstein existed and joined millions of educated others in admiration of his intellect. In a review of Einstein's impact on human awareness, Brian Greene wrote:" Albert Einstein once said that there are only two things that might be infinite: the universe and human stupidity. And, he confessed, he wasn't sure about the universe. When we hear that, we chuckle. Or at least we smile. We do not take offense. The reason is that the name “Einstein” conjures an image of a warm-hearted, avuncular sage of an earlier era. We see the good-natured, wild-haired scientific genius whose iconic portraits—riding a bike, sticking out his tongue, staring at us with those penetrating eyes—are emblazoned in our collective cultural memory. Einstein has come to symbolize the purity an power of intellectual exploration."


Einstein revealed the stunning relationship of mass to energy in the famous formula, E=MC². The speed of light, C, is a large number so that a small amount of annihilated mass produces a large amount of energy. This equation explains the prodigious energy production of our sun and other stars. Einstein did not imagine man-made devices that suddenly convert mass to energy, creating gigantic explosions. The discovery of the neutron chain reaction in radioactive materials such as purified uranium suggested the possibility of a nuclear bomb. A physicist friend, Leo Szilard, had patented an atomic bomb design in 1934. He feared that Germany might construct nuclear weapons and encouraged Einstein to sign a letter to US President Roosevelt, warning him.


A second Einstein-Szilard letter was sent in March 1940 and led to the Manhattan Project in 1942, designed to produce nuclear bombs based on the fission of purified, radioactive uranium. Scientists from all over the US were recruited to purify bomb-grade uranium and to work out the details of a denotation system under the direction of physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer. The scientists had been highly motivated to end the destruction inflicted on the world by Germany and Japan. Their work lead to the sustained proliferation of nuclear weapons in the US, Russia and six other countries. The US tested at least 1100 nuclear weapons and continues to maintain the second-largest stockpiles of nuclear weapons in the world. Sensible humans were alarmed by the persistent belligerence of the US and the Soviet Union and sought to limit or abolish nuclear weapons. 


I called the blind proliferation of nuclear weapons Nuclear Weapon Insanity and proposed an international institution for the politically insane that could arrest and contain politicians voting for nuclear weapons. In 2017 there is an increasingly urgent need for such an institution.


Plutonium, the second fissile elements used to create nuclear explosives, is not found in significant quantities in nature. The production of plutonium started with the Manhattan Project and accelerated as nuclear reactors were built for weapons production. Plutonium is created in a nuclear reactor by bombarding. Uranium 235 with neutrons to produce the isotope 239 U, which beta decays becoming a neptunium isotope which again beta decays to 239 Plutonium. Uranium and plutonium are radioactive substances that release radiation – electrons, neutrons, alpha particles, X-rays and gamma rays.


When the bomb project began, scientists did not understand the health damaging effects of radiation. In the US, reckless if not cruel experiments were inflicted on naive “volunteers” to determine the effects of radiation on human subjects. Credit goes to the US Department of Energy who established the Office of Human Radiation Experiments in March 1994 to reveal the shocking story of radiation research using human subjects in the US.


The complete detonation of one kilogram of plutonium produces an explosion equal to about 20,000 tons of chemical explosive. Nuclear explosions produce blast effects, thermal radiation, ionizing radiation and delayed effects, such as radioactive fallout that can damage all living creatures hours to years after the blast. When a nuclear bomb is detonated on or near the Earth's surface, the blast destroys everything in a central zone, creating a large crater. A cloud of particles rises into the air and returns to the earth’s surface downwind as radioactive fallout.


An intense burst of thermal and gamma radiation travels at the speed of light in all directions. The flash of light is followed by a blast wave followed by hurricane-like winds. Humans who survive the direct blast can be injured in many ways. For example, gamma radiation exposure causes radiation sickness and death. Thermal radiation and secondary fires will cause burns in many of the blast survivors. Third-degree burns over 24 percent of the body, or second-degree burns over 30 percent of the body, will be fatal unless prompt, specialized medical care is available. Fallout consists of particles made radioactive by the explosion, distributed at varying distances from the site of the blast. The fallout is greater if the burst is close to the surface. The area and intensity of the fallout are determined by local weather conditions. Winds and rain distribute radioactive particles.

Areas receiving contaminated rainfall become "hot spots," with greater radiation intensity than their surroundings. Radioactive isotopes enter the soil, the groundwater and accumulate in rivers and lakes. Lower level radiation exposure received by people hundreds to thousands of miles from the blast center leads to delayed consequences such as cancer many years after exposure.

The ongoing manufacture of plutonium is one of the many features of political processes that ran amok after the Second World War. Sherwin summarized the nuclear insanity:” Armed with tens of thousands of nuclear weapons capable of being launched from land, sea, and air, the United States and the Soviet Union became prisoners of a cold war process that neither controlled. Locked into a nuclear arms race justified by national security, they increased their peril, diminished their economies, and promoted an international atmosphere of impending catastrophe. While each government held the population of the other hostage to annihilation, both engaged in conventional wars on the territories of other nations.


“Occasionally, as in the Berlin crisis of 1961 and the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, they pushed each other to the nuclear brink. Living in the nuclear bull's-eye became a way of life. How to prevent the nuclear system from becoming a way of death was the question that dominated the debate over nuclear weapons from their inception. Most responses to it promoted the nuclear arms race, including the massive retaliation doctrine, limited nuclear war plans, the concept of mutual assured destruction (mad), the Strategic Defense Initiative, and even the salt and start arms control negotiations.”

The scientists that opposed the development of nuclear weapons are examples of smart, pragmatic people who used a variety of strategies to advance human well-being. Einstein is the worlds’ best known scientist. According to Levenson, a producer of NOVA's Einstein Revealed, Einstein was the greatest of the great. In the last ten years of his life, Einstein warned against the extreme dangers of nuclear weapons He advocated nuclear disarmament and international cooperation. He proposed a world government that could enforce disarmament and impose negotiated settlements to disputes among nations.

Einstein joined some of the smartest, nicest humans on the planet in intelligent opposition to nuclear bomb development, tests that contaminate air, soil and water with radioactive materials. He believed that rational thinking could supersede the self-destructive features of human nature. In association with Bertrand Russell, the British mathematician and philosopher, a manifesto of reason was issued that remains a guide for nice and smart people who will continue to seek a peaceful planet. 

From Surviving Human Nature

By Stephen Gislason MD. The books is available as an eBook download. 

April 4, 2017

Cannabis: Expert Report Details Health Effects -- Good and Bad

Stoned

The growing acceptance, accessibility, and use of cannabis and its derivatives have raised important public health concerns ; 22 million Americans older than 12 years report current cannabis use ― the majority for recreational purposes. Twenty-eight states and Washington, DC, have legalized marijuana for medical use, and eight states and the District of Columbia allow recreational use.

The movement in Canada to legalize both medicinal and recreational use of cannabis was in part an attempt to eliminate the illegal trafficking of the drug. With criminal penalties in place, the police, courts and prisons at great cost were unsuccessful in suppressing the market for the drug. Other arguments for governments gaining the revenue that criminal organizations received were persuasive.

The problem, of course, is that cannabis-using citizens are drugged, dangerous drivers and are compromised in their learning, social interactions and employability. We already have a drugged society with at least half the population under the influence of mind altering drugs. Another group of psychotropic drugs will get lost in the great festival of brain dysfunction.

According to a 2017 report on the benefits and harms of cannabis from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NAS): their evidence suggests cannabis use is associated with the development of psychoses and schizophrenia, but may have benefits, including alleviating chronic pain and chemotherapy-induced nausea.

Cannabis use before the age of 25 years may impair brain growth and learning. The committee found moderate evidence of increased mania symptoms and hypomania in patients with bipolar disorder who use cannabis regularly, and there was evidence of an increase in the incidence of suicidal ideation and suicide attempts with heavy use. It also reported substantial evidence linking greater frequency of cannabis use and an increased likelihood of developing problem cannabis use, and that initiating cannabis use at a younger age increases the likelihood of problem use. Cannabis may pose risks, including a worsening of respiratory symptoms and more frequent bronchitis with long-term smoking, an increase in motor vehicle accidents, and low birth weight in offspring of maternal smokers. The committee also found an increased risk for cannabis overdose in children in states where the substance is legal. Cannabis may cause respiratory symptoms and more frequent bronchitis, an increase in motor vehicle accidents, and low birth weight in offspring of maternal smokers. The committee also found an increased risk for cannabis overdose in children in states where the substance is legal. (Alicia Ault Medscape January 13, ;2017 )


Researchers at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) are sounding the alarm over a possible increase in unknown cognitive and behavioral harms that widespread cannabis use may unmask. They stated: "Science has shown us that marijuana is not a benign drug. The morbidity and mortality from legal drugs is much greater than that for illegal drugs, not because the drugs are more dangerous but because their legal status makes them more accessible and a larger percentage of the population is exposed to them on a regular basis. The current normalization movement presses on with complete disregard for the evidence of marijuana's negative health consequences, and this bias is likely to erode our prevention efforts by decreasing the perception of harm and increasing use among young people, which is the population most vulnerable to the deleterious effects of regular marijuana use."
A clinical review conducted by NIDA director Nora Volkow, MD, points out that as legalization of the drug for recreational and medical use spreads, vulnerable populations, especially adolescents, are exposed to toxic effects of the drug. Dr Volkow explained that young brains are engaged in a protracted period of "brain programming," in which everything an adolescent does or is exposed to can affect the final architecture and network connectivity of the brain. Drugs are powerful disruptors of brain programming because they can directly interfere with the process of neural pruning and interregional brain connectivity. In the short term this interference can negatively affect academic performance. Long-term use can impair behavioral adaptability, mental health, and life trajectories. Emerging evidence suggests that adolescents may be particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of cannabis use. Several studies, for example, have shown that individuals who use cannabis at an earlier age have greater neuropsychological impairment and that persistent use of cannabis from adolescence was associated with neuropsychological decline from the age of 13 to 38 years. Cannabis use may cause an 'amotivational' state.(JAMA Psychiatry. 2016;73(3):292-297.




  • You can view the Brain Mind Center at Alpha Online. Understanding the human brain is essential to become a well-informed, modern citizen. Stephen Gislason MD, the author of the Human Brain, is a physician-writer who is good at making complex subjects more understandable. This is a book with important ideas, so be prepared to read and then keep the book as reference.

January 21, 2017

A tale told by an idiot signifying nothing

As an Outsider I would summarize the US political experience as: “A tale told by an idiot signifying nothing.”

I have reviewed my  description of Citizens Duties in Surviving Human Nature and wish to share it with fellow travelers who have an understanding of human social organization:

Citizen Requirements and Duties
The realist recognizes an unchanging human nature expresses all its contradictions in a turbulent, often violent and recursive manner. A knowledgeable realist will assume that governments are inherently unreliable. This is axiomatic and not just a critique of individual participants. A realist sees critically disputatious humans creating problems in every direction. More humans mean more problems.

Each citizen in a free, civil society does have a responsibility to protect his or her freedom and right to life by insisting on bottom-up solutions to problems. This means that the local community decides what is in its best interests; not a distant and autocratic authority.  When central authority becomes autocratic, it must be replaced. The easiest way to replace bad governments is to vote against politicians who formed the government.

The following list of precepts is an outline of how a free society should operate:

1. Diversity among individuals and groups is good. Local control is good. Distant control is bad. Competition is good. Monopoly is bad. 

2. Rational thinking and free access to information are good. Dogmatic belief is bad. Propaganda and coercion are bad. Freedom of speech is good.

3. Religious beliefs are properties of local groups and individuals. Tolerance for different beliefs may sometimes be good. Imposition of personal beliefs on others is bad. Obedience to charismatic and dogmatic leaders is very bad.

4. Support for equal rights is good. All claims of superiority and special privilege are bad. Equality of opportunity and equal treatment under the law is good. Special rights and privileges to minority groups for any reason is bad, even if the minority group appears to be privileged or disadvantaged.

5. Some, but not unlimited redistribution of money and resources is good. Economic constraints on or punishment of successful, creative people and innovative groups is bad.

6. Private property, the protection of privacy and security of the home are all good. Violation of the sanctity of the home is bad. Government surveillance and interference in the private lives of individuals is very bad.

7. Intelligent regulation of the public behavior of citizens is good. Unregulated policing is bad.

8. Domestic activity of military forces is extremely bad, except for disaster management

9. Free and permissive education is good. Science is essential.  Autocratic education is bad.

10 Protecting and restoring the natural environment is good. Harming the environment is bad.

11. Controlling population growth is good. Unregulated reproduction is bad.

12. Community support of children with generous provision of food, shelter, nurturing communities, health care and liberal, scientific education is essential.


November 15, 2016

nationalism, protectionism, selection and discrimination

US president Obama warned against "a crude sort of nationalism’ taking root." He, like many other smart and responsible humans, fails to understand human nature. The tendency to prefer small groups and to protect boundaries that separate our group from others is an innate feature of humans and is not going to disappear. Obama stated:“We are going to have to guard against a rise in a crude sort of nationalism, or ethnic identity or tribalism that is built around an us and a them, and I will never apologize for saying that the future of humanity and the future of the world is doing to be defined by what we have in common, as opposed to those things that separate us and ultimately lead us into conflict.” The beginning of his big mistake is the suggestion that ethnic identity and tribalism are recent constructs, add-ons  that can be changed.  Ethnic identity and tribalism are innate and create societies rather than the society  creates ethnic identity and tribalism.  I review the basic truths in my book Human Nature:

 Selection, Discrimination

The fantasy of egalitarian democracy is out of step with nature and the reality of human behavior.  We have recognized that group membership is all important to humans. You recognize familiar humans who speak and act like yourself as members of your group. In a crowd you notice humans who display small differences in speech, costume and behavior. Most often these small differences are the basis for shunning or ignoring the “strange” humans. In the most rigid groups, everyone wears the same costume, repeats the same polite language, with the same intonation and behaves in a predictable, ritualistic manner. 

We have recognized that racial and ethnic boundaries exist but obvious boundaries are not required for discrimination. The ideal of an egalitarian society is to recognize the merit of individuals; to allow social mobility based on learning and achievement; and to protect individual expressions by social policy and law, but human nature does not change. Group preferences and boundaries that separate groups can always be identified.

Every group, large or small, invents selection processes to sort humans by age, gender, appearance, ancestry, intelligence, aptitudes, skills, accomplishment and other variables. You can invent rules against sorting, but selection will continue because it is natural and important. In every human life, every day, a selection process is at work. Discrimination refers to noticing differences and making choices based on evaluating differences. One of the trends in neuroscience involves understanding  how decisions are made. You could argue that detecting and responding to differences is a universal strategy in animal brains.  Humans are good at detecting differences and make millisecond decisions that have a lasting influence on their subsequent decision-making procedures. The kind and degree of difference is always in flux and depends on prior learning, context and social status.
Discrimination is a deeply embedded property of the human mind that is expressed in almost every human behavior we might consider. However, discrimination as a popular topic is often a misinterpretation of the normal activity of noticing and acting on differences. In popular debates, discrimination is treated as an aberration. Terms that end in “ism” and “ist” are often used to describe discriminating people in a derogatory manner. Thus anyone with a different ancestry who disagrees with you becomes a racist. This is not to argue that noticing differences is always positive. It is to argue that humans base a lot of their decisions on noticing differences. In a positive mode, the description “a discriminating shopper” identifies human who notices differences in design and quality of manufacture, choosing high-quality products rather than cheap ones.

Every creature who is hatched or born on planet earth faces a series of tough tests to find out if he or she has the right stuff to survive. Nature is not kind to individuals who do not make the grade. Animal populations consist of healthy, smart members because everyone else died or was eaten.
 Humans have an unusual ability to protect their young, sick and disabled members so that strong, healthy members increasingly devote more of their time, money and energy helping the less fortunate. This altruistic option in human groups, however, does not alter the tough and persistent competition among humans for resources, mates, money, prestige and security. In every aspect of human life, there is a selection process operating. The selection of members for special status or privilege involves tests to find out who has the right stuff. Humans are constantly evaluating each other. Humans quickly notice differences in appearance and behavior, automatically sorting the people they meet into convenient categories. Humans respond strongly to physical characteristics and react negatively to others who differ in appearance, size, shape sex or color.

Humans are built to respond differently to different characteristics.  This discriminatory tendency is innate, not a matter of choice or learning. The details may be learned but the tendency is innate and is not going to disappear. There is an odd discrepancy between the realities of rigorous, persistent selection processes in nature and the pretense that everyone has the same ability and should have the same opportunity to succeed at any endeavor they fancy. The Miss America pageant is not egalitarian and only one young beauty is selected from thousands of beautiful young woman who enter beauty contests in their own states. The athletes who compete in Olympic Games are selected from a large population of athletes in the home countries. These highly selected individuals from over 200 countries compete to discover who is best in the world. Only one in each sport will win a gold medal. The selection of one from many is basic to human society. Many-to-one is the rule of hierarchy and every society generates a hierarchal distribution of rights and privileges, even societies based on the principle of equal opportunity for all.

The term Homophily describes the tendency of humans to associate with others similar to themselves. The preference bias is innate but its expression is influenced by many variables such as ethnic origins, age, gender, level of education and by exposures to others with different backgrounds. Currarinia et al found, for example, that in American high schools: "Asians exhibit the least preference bias, valuing friendships with other types as much as friendships with Asians, whereas Blacks and Hispanics value friendships with other types 55% and 65% as much as same-type friendships, respectively, and Whites fall in between, valuing other-type friendships 75% as much as friendships with Whites. Meetings are significantly more biased in large schools (>1,000 students) than in small schools (<1,000 students), and biases in preferences exhibit some significant variation with the median household income levels in the counties surrounding the schools."[i]
An ideal civil society attempts to reduce negative discrimination, struggling against the innate tendency. The idealists who seek a permanent solution for discrimination will be disappointed. Racial and ethnic boundaries, at least in the ideal model, are undesirable and are suppressed by social policy, law and the good will of citizens. All societal constructs are ephemeral and only change local circumstances briefly. We would like to believe that in Canada selection processes employed in business and education are fair and not discriminatory. There is an important distinction between discrimination before the fact of performance and after the fact of performance.
If an individual is judged before he or she has a chance to take the test - that is unfair. If discrimination occurs after the tests based on performance measurements, then that is fair and necessary for a society to operate.

The third possibility is that the test is unfair. Many debates arise when the fairness and appropriateness of tests is questioned. Schools generally have established tests and standards that sort students by intelligence, aptitude and accomplishment. IQ tests sort student by sampling their mental skills, which means sampling aspects of their brain function with specific tests of cognitive ability.
Well-educated humans know about the distribution of qualities, characteristics, goods and privileges in human populations.  Biologists understand that the distribution of observable characteristic follows the distribution of genes in a population.  A "normal distribution” is a bell-shaped curve, with most scores in the middle range and a few at each end, or "tail," of the distribution. A standard deviation is a measure of distance from the mean or average value; one standard deviation below the mean is at the 16th percentile; one standard deviation above the mean is at the 84th percentile-- this is a big difference. Two standard deviations from the mean mark the 2nd and 98th percentiles (a bigger difference). Three standard deviations from the mean mark the bottom and top thousandth of a distribution. In medicine, the distribution concept is valuable and is used in daily practice to evaluate test results and to make prognostications.

The main idea is that all human characteristics are distributed and, no matter what human feature you are considering, you will find some individuals with more and some with less. In medicine, two standard deviations from the mean on a test result is described as "normal" on the assumption that 98% of the population cannot be abnormal.  This assumption is often reasonable, but may be misleading if the distribution of a characteristic is skewed in a given population.


From Human Nature by Stephen Gislason



[i] Sergio Currarinia, Matthew O. Jackson, and Paolo Pind. Identifying the roles of race-based choice and chance in high school friendship network formation. PNAS March 16, 2010 vol. 107 no. 11 4857-4861

October 28, 2016

Future of Human Rights

Future of Human Rights

Michael Ignatieff in his essays about human rights reviewed the recent and not encouraging history of the human rights movement in the world. Human rights are abstract and largely invented. Analysis of the feasibility and the methodology of human rights needs to be grounded in a clear understanding of human nature. Ignatieff asks the question that lies at the heart of my philosophical inquiries: “If human beings are so special, why do we treat each other so badly?” 

Ignatieff argues that human rights is the language of defending one’s autonomy against the oppression of religion, state, family and group. The proper emergence of rights is from the bottom up, from individuals who insist that the group they belong to respect the rights of each member, as an individual. Almost by definition, rules imposed from the top-down, by a moral or political authority insisting that all obey the rules imposed is not human rights. He reminds us that “human rights come to authoritarian societies when activists risk their lives and create a popular and indigenous demand for these rights, and when their activism receives consistent and forthright support from influential nations abroad.”

Humans require regulation using a system of rules that are an external form of behavior coding. External regulation can evolve and improve by creating and maintaining stable social and political structures in a democratic infrastructure. Democracies are, however, unstable and vulnerable to internal dissolution as much as external attack. Democracies require elaborate internal rules and surveillance to prevent subgroups from achieving control over critical functions such as the money supply, police, courts and military forces. Subgroups are always competing for resources and control so that no civil society can be considered stable and enduring without an energetic and educated population of activists who are prepared to defend freedoms and privileges on a daily basis. Paranoid governments such as US administrations, develop elaborate spy networks inside the country that includes collecting data from phone calls, emails, and internet postings. In the worst case, governments imprison, torture, and kill citizens who are critical of the government and participate in protests.


To recall our fundamental truths: at the level of the largest organizations, small groups decide on policy and procedures that effect many nations, even the fate the entire species. The tendency to impose universal rules and policies from the top down is likely to fail because individuals and small groups cannot understand the diverse needs, values and beliefs of large numbers of humans. World-wide policies will tend to fail since they emerge from limited understanding, and ignore the tendency for humans to relate most strongly to the values and beliefs of their local group. World government is an oxymoron.


Whatever we value about civilized human existence - culture, knowledge, social justice, respect for human rights and dignity must be practiced anew and stored as modifications of each person's neocortex. Success at humanitarian efforts within a society reveals that portion of human attitudes, beliefs and behavior that can be modified and/or are supported by innate tendencies. Failure of moral authority reveals the extent to which innate negative tendencies prevail no matter how diligent the effort to modify or suppress them.

Human destiny as a species still lies with the programs in the old brain that offer only limited empathy and understanding and insist on the priority of survival at any cost. Individuals can transcend the old programs by diligent learning and practice but individual effort and learning does not change the genome, so that their can be no enduring human rights without the persistent and relentless initiation of new humans into a rational and compassionate world order. This, of course, is so far an impossible goal to achieve. You can then argue that if only 5% of the human population is not properly initiated they will have the power to destroy the civil order accomplished by the more reasonable 95% unless they are vigorously constrained, depriving them of their human rights.

From Surviving Human Nature by Stephen Gislason

Zen Buddhism

Zen Buddhism

Zen Buddhism is well known in Europe and North America even though it involves an obscure and difficult philosophy. Zen psychology contradicts common assumptions and doctrines. The practices found in Zen have evolved through several cultures in India, China and Japan. Zen can be considered a highly refined but tough and "bare bones" school of self-development that insists on a sustained and disciplined practice of meditation. Some would argue that Zen teaching is “pure Buddhism” as taught by the Buddha himself. In contrast to European philosophy and psychology, Zen discourages preoccupation with one's own story. If you keep a dairy, it could contain pictures of nature, little poems and drawings. Zen and science go well together.

Zen teaching takes a surgical approach to the cognitive lesions created by clinging to the past, egotism and the misuse of language: idle speculations, false story-telling, casemaking, memes and dualistic thinking. While dialectical processes of the brain appear to be built in and natural, a world view based on dualism distorts or conceals the seamless meshwork of events in the really real world. I would argue that paranoia is impossible in a proper Zen mind because there are no terrorists, there is no conspiracy, there is no blame, there is no danger, and there is no fear. Stories that blame others for the way you think and feel have no value and no one will listen to them. The government is not responsible. You are responsible. I am responsible. Everyone is responsible.

Zen developed in China and manifests the work ethic of Chinese peasants who were pragmatic and lived close to nature. Suzuki contrasted the Chinese as "the most practical people” with the Indians who tend to be “visionary and highly speculative... subtle in analysis and dazzling in poetic flight.” Suzuki stated: ”the Chinese are children of earthly life, they pod, till the soil, observing social duties and developing the most elaborate system of etiquette. He contrasted the Indian Mahayana Sutras that burst with multiple deities, kaleidoscopic colors, fantastic exaggeration and magical, supernatural powers attributed to the Buddha and Bodhisattvas, with the more grounded Chinese Sutras that contain Confucian principles; the superior man never talks about his magical powers nor does he refer to supernatural events.

The Way of Zen 

I first encountered Zen Buddhism as a teenager in the form of Alan Watts book, the Way of Zen.Watts had a lasting impact on my understanding. Watts introduced the idea that language determined thought and misrepresented what is really going on. Watts stated: “…man is always in danger of confusing his measures with the world so measured, of identifying money with wealth, fixed conventions with fluid reality. But to the degree he identifies himself and his life with these rigid and hollow frames of definition, he condemns himself to the perpetual frustration of one trying to catch water in a sieve.”

Watts also introduced the Tao, wu wei and the value of emptiness – all heretical concepts in the West. The Tao pointed to the natural way; the way of the natural mind and nature.The Taoist might be a sage in the forest who sat by a stream and conversed with birds. Wu wei means something like not doing, not acting, not making. Wu wei points to an insight into the way of the mind that is embedded deeply in Zen. Wu wei has at least two roots. The first root is a pragmatic assessment of the human condition. Human action is often un-necessary, wasteful and destructive. Why make hydrogen bombs when you could be sipping tea in a Zen garden?

Desires are often unattainable. Criticism and hate is invented and harmful. Ownership of things and people brings worry, frustration and ultimate loss. Why strive for all this stuff when happiness is your goal and sitting quietly by a stream brings happiness?

The second root is insight into the processes of the mind. All creativity is spontaneous and needs space; emptiness is valuable because it permits movement. The emergence of new forms of thought and experience require spaciousness in mind. Cluttered minds are not creative. So do nothing, empty the mind, be quiet and appreciate the natural world.

Zen is paradoxical, self-contradictory and iconoclastic, as exemplified in the following discourse:

Dako came to the Zen Master and said: I am seeking the truth. In what state of mind should I train myself to find the truth? The Zen master said:  There is no mind, so you cannot put it in any state.There is no truth so you cannot train yourself for it.

Dako asked: If there is no mind to train and no truth to find, why do you have these monks gather before you to study Zen?

The Master replied: But, I haven’t an inch of room here, so how could the monks gather? I have no tongue so how could I call them together or teach them?

Dako in frustration exclaimed: How can you lie like this?

But if I have no tongue to talk to others, how can I lie to you? asked the master.

Dako said sadly I cannot follow you. I cannot understand you.

 I cannot understand myself said the Zen master.

From Religion for the 21st Century by Stephen Gislason

Killing an Innate Tendency

Killing an Innate Tendency

The Clinton administration launched an attack on people in Texas because those people were religious nuts with guns. Hell, this country was founded by religious nuts with guns. Who does Bill Clinton think stepped ashore on Plymouth Rock? “ P. J. O'Rourke
Human males are predators and naturally express the skills and interest in hunting and killing prey.  Men in the United States commit 85.53 per cent of simple assaults, 87.31 percent of aggravated assaults and 88.5 percent of murders. Women may play a supportive role in by encouraging their men to hate and to kill. Women participate in the construction and maintenance of hatred and can play a decisive role in initiating and sustaining lethal conflicts among men.  Men compete over women and often kill each other to gain an advantage or to revenge sexual trespass. Men and women conspire together to attack and kill rivals to gain property, prestige and ostensibly to protect their lives and property. Anne Campbell observed: ”For males, status and toughness where this quality is a determinant of status is a route to desired resources, including females. Males seek public recognition of their status and  trivial altercations can result in homicide when an opponent's acts are interpreted as a public challenge to a man's honor and when to back down is to accept that dishonor.” 
Anthropologist, John Patton studied the Achuar, a tribe in the Ecuadorian Amazon who have a high murder rate. In the 90’s after the introduction of guns, killings increased; 50% of the males die from shotgun blasts.  The Achuar associate killing with prestige. They value the warrior who has strategy, skill, valor, willingness to fight and lack of hesitation in battle. There is a striking similarity between an Aschaur tribe in the Amazon and a street gang in Los Angeles or New York and an army platoon in any country you choose. Patton suggests that men have a keen sense of whom they can and cannot trust in the event of a conflict: "You want to be part of a group that is big enough to beat the other guys or at least be a threat to them, yet not so big that you can't keep everyone fed. Friendships are forged according to who can offer whom or what, as a sort of insurance policy.” 

Mind-boggling Violent. 


Herbert wrote: “Life in the United States is mind-bogglingly violent. But we should take particular notice of the violence brought down on the nation’s women and girls each and every day for no other reason than who they are. They are attacked because they are female.
 A girl or woman somewhere in the U.S. is sexually assaulted every couple of minutes or so. The number of seriously battered wives and girlfriends is beyond the ability of any agency to count. There were so many sexual attacks against women in the armed forces that the Defense Department had to revise its entire approach to the problem. We would become a saner, healthier society if we could acknowledge that misogyny is a serious and pervasive problem, and that the twisted way so many men feel about women, combined with the easy availability of guns, is a toxic mix of the most tragic proportions. 
Guns and killings are broadcast to everyone everyday in the USA. Children learn how and what to shoot, were and when to place bombs and practice their killing skills with video games. Bob Hebert, wrote in a New York Times review:” I do think that millions of American adults have lost all sense of what are appropriate forms of play for children and teenagers. And the country as a whole behaves as though there is no real-world price to pay for a culture that has so thoroughly desensitized us to violence that it takes a terror attack or a series of suburban sniper killings to really get our attention… The biggest-selling video game over the last couple of years has been a PlayStation 2 game called Grand Theft Auto III. It actually carries a voluntary "M" rating, which means it's not recommended for kids under 17. But younger teens have no problem buying "M"-rated games, and they love the various incarnations of Grand Theft Auto. This is a game in which all boundaries of civilized behavior have vanished. You get to shoot whomever you want, including cops. You get to beat women to death with baseball bats. You get to have sex with prostitutes and then kill them. (And get your money back.) The game is a phenomenal seller. At close to $50 each, millions of copies are sold annually.” 


From Surviving Human Nature by Stephen Gislason


Impermanence Often Wrongly Described as Plasticity

Impermanence Often Wrongly Described as Plasticity

Everything changes. The largest chunk of uncertainly is impermanence. There are constant paradoxes and contradictions built into our brain function. We must be alert to notice and respond to changes but, at the same time, attempt to be stable and consistent. Our visual system is designed to notice minute changes but ignores most of the movement around us to create the illusion of a stable world in consciousness. Growth, development, and aging are the main expressions of predetermined impermanence that combines DNA programming with environmental opportunities and hazards. You could argue that brain growth and development changes are most vigorous in the first 20 years of life; later, after a brief period of relative stability, degenerative changes take over, accelerating with advancing age.

Too often, I am an unwilling victim of television news nonsense and plasticity is a current favorite topic. Brain damaged survivors are shown with plausible mental abilities, as if their example refuted neuroscience beliefs. The term plasticity has crept into neuroscience jargon and should be erased from the vocabulary. I am not aware of the source of plastic metaphor and can only assume that it refers to a material that can be coaxed into different shapes by heat and pressure using a variety of machines. I cannot see any connection between the malleability of plastic and the constant flux that characterize brain function.


Even smart, educated humans participate in these media delusions. For example, I was surprised to read a report by Allison Gandey from a meeting of the American Academy of Pain Medicine that revealed basic ignorance among a group of smart professionals. She stated: " Some suggest the discovery of neuroplasticity is the most important breakthrough in neuroscience since the revelation of the brain's basic anatomy. Proponents say the brain is pliable and can alter its structure and function. " One MD even admitted:" We used to think the brain was wired after about the first 3 years and what you had was what you got and you work within that because there was no chance of changing it. If on top of that the brain was damaged, you had to live with that damage. Neuroplasticity says that's not so — the brain is changing all the time."

It is true that the brain is changing all the time, but it is not true that this is a discovery or a breakthrough. It is also not true that lost function is easy to recover. While it might be true that limited recovery of function is possible after brain injury, it is more true that loss of function tends to be permanent after the initial recovery in the first few months. You might consider that some physicians are lost souls with erroneous assumptions and unrealistic fantasies, but then, I also read rather naïve comments about plasticity in the neuroscience literature.


A big problem we have is that while the world around us changes, we also change and the biggest changes occur in our brain. The idea of one personality remaining stable over many years is actually absurd, but we are tempted to believe in an enduring self. An astute observer will notice that each day brings forward a series of different personalities within one body. I call these personalities eigenstates. The self is not one entity but rather consists of a collection eigenstates that serve different needs, roles and capabilities. Some eigenstates are built it others are learned and remain open-ended, evolving with changing circumstances. '


Neurons and glial cells are the brain cells that a manifest all the properties of mind. The study of neurons could be considered ne plus ultra, the quantum mechanics of biology. Neurons come in different shapes and sizes but have the common property of constant changes receiving and sending information. Neurons conduct discrete signals as electro-chemical pulses, known as action potentials or “spikes.” The signal passes from one neuron to another by the secretion of chemical neurotransmitters in synapses. There are trillions of synaptic junctions in the human brain. Learning occurs at least in part by changes in the number, strength and kind of synaptic connections.


Learning, in the best case, is adaptive impermanence that requires changes to brain structure and function. We will consider, for example, that learned movements are generated from dynamic cortical maps based on fields of activity that converge and diverge in complex patterns. Over time, the pieces of the map change with learning and practice, so that the construction of cortical connections is always in flux. This impermanence allows us to learn at all stages of life, to adjust to changing environments and, to some extent, to work around disabilities that arise from brain injury and disease.


Sleep is a transformative time of day. Cortical neurons are active, reviewing events of the day. During slow-wave sleep, the cortex disconnects from other parts of the brain and concentrates on memory consolidation. The emergent properties of the sleeping brain are unpredictable. You could argue that the events of each day will alter the brain during sleep and a new person wakes in the morning.

From Neuroscience Notes by Stephen Gislason MD

Democracy and Control of Citizens


Democracy and control of Citizens

We have recognized that humans in groups larger than 150 require an external form of behavioral regulation that is ephemeral and must be renewed continuously. The invention and enforcement of rules occur within hierarchical organizations that, by their own nature are autocratic and self-serving. Citizens living in democracies must prevent subgroups with vested interests from achieving control over critical functions such as the money supply, police, courts and military forces. Subgroups are always competing for resources and control so that the freedom promised in an ideal democracy cannot be considered stable and enduring. The preservation of democracies requires an energetic and well educated population of activists who are prepared to defend freedoms and privileges on a daily basis. The preservation of freedom in democracies also depends on a well educated and dedicated population of civil servants who can administer complex infrastructures competently and honestly.

Elected politicians are seldom competent administrators and must depend on senior civil servants for management skills. One weakness of democratic governments is that personnel and policies are in constant flux because of the instability of political processes. This weakness is also strength since truly democratic elections can shuffle the deck so that power bases, among both elected official and civil servants are disrupted at regular intervals. The trade-off is less competent administration in favor of less dictatorial government. The greater evil is clearly the emergence of a powerful government that assumes dictatorial powers and cannot be opposed or displaced. 

Another weakness is that governments grow large and unmanageable. Bureaucratic inefficiency, indifference and incompetence is well known and tolerated only because there is no obvious alternative. In Canada, optimism and idealism is sometimes expressed as compassion for refugees and a willingness to welcome immigrants from all over the world. While the result has been mostly positive, newcomers are sometimes hostile to Canadian culture, disregard laws, engage in criminal activity and dream of taking over the country sometime in the future. Group identity and affiliations established early in life tend to endure and will often override later alliances established after immigration. The tendency in Canada is for immigrant groups to maintain their native language and traditions and to resist assimilation into Canadian culture. A host society has limited capacity to assimilate newcomers. When this capacity is exceeded, the newcomers change the society more that the society changes the newcomers.

Canada, like the USA and many European countries has become mosaic of different ethnic groups with the separate, sometimes incompatible, traditions, languages, beliefs, values and goals.

From Surviving Human Nature by Stephen Gislason

Virtual Realty , Smart Phones, Internet Addiction

 Virtual Reality, Smart Phones, Internet Addiction

Electronic machines have a strong appeal and create new possibilities for users. Children adapt quickly to video games and hand held devices that beep, display characters and images. Hand-eye coordination skills develop quickly. Some children display astonishing speed interacting with video games but become frantic and robotic in this connection with electronic virtual reality. You can argue that electronic games are perverse machines since they occupy time and attention in a virtual reality that might be better spent enjoying and cultivating the real world. Television has been declared a perverse machine for the same reason – a virtual reality replaces the real world and sedentary viewers may become fat, sick and confused.

No Education in Video Games

Lewin observed that:’ New media products for babies, toddlers and preschoolers began flooding the market in the late 1990's, starting with video series like "Baby Einstein" and "Brainy Baby." But now, the young children's market has exploded into a host of new and more elaborate electronics for pre-schoolers, including video game consoles like the V. Smile and handheld game systems like the Leapster, all marketed as educational. Despite the commercial success, though, a report released yesterday by the Kaiser Family Foundation, "A Teacher in the Living Room? Educational Media for Babies, Toddlers and Pre-schoolers," indicates there is little understanding of how the new media affect young children - and almost no research to support the idea that they are educational… In 1999, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended no screen time at all for babies under 2, out of concern that the increasing use of media might displace human interaction and impede the crucially important brain growth and development of a baby's first two years. “
The growing dependence on smart phones and video games among teenagers and young adults is a very destructive trend in human development supported by a rapidly expanding multibillion dollar commerce. 

Dougherty reviewed some of the current trends (2016): “In a recent survey by Common Sense Media, a nonprofit research group, half of teenagers said they watched TV while doing their homework, while 60 percent said they texted and three-quarters said they listened to music. About three-quarters of United States teenagers have access to a mobile phone, according to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center. Most go online daily and about a quarter of them use the Internet “almost constantly. Those numbers have created a growing advertising market and fortunes for apps like Snapchat and Instagram, which is owned by Facebook. This year companies are projected to spend $30 billion on in-app advertising in the United States, roughly double what they spent in 2014, according to eMarketer, a research company. But even though these services all have the same core functions — find friends, post pictures, send messages — teenagers juggle them constantly, developing arcane customs for what to post where and ditching one app for another the moment it becomes uncool. To manage their identities in and obligations to this world in their pockets, they adhere to rules that have somehow been absorbed and adopted by their peers. App makers fear this kind of juggling the way TV networks fear DVRs. Each time someone leaves one app for another, there is a chance that user will never come back. And since apps make money only when users are plugged in and absorbing ads, the number of monthly users is less important than how many users they get each day — and how long they stay.” (Conor Dougherty. App Makers Reach Out to the Teenager on Mobile NYT Jan. 1, 2016)

High Tech Stupidity

The real question is what humans really want? A better real world is a good answer. A better real world would be more natural, cleaner, safer, and more stable. A better world might be achieved, but not by the people who are preoccupied watching TV and playing videogames. Children are not well-served by television, movies, video games and games played with computers. Good parents face an increasing task of limiting virtual reality experiences and keeping children in the real world. While considerable effort has been made to rate television shows and movies and a few parents restrict access to violence and sex shows, the average child is hooked on virtual reality, is physically inactive, gaining weight, and not gaining a useful perspective on what is really going on out there in the real world.

The term virtual refers to the replacement of a real person or event with a substitute. "Virtual reality" has come to mean a computer-generated environment that is a facsimile of a real environment. You can create the illusion that you are walking around in a room by displaying pictures on a computer monitor and computer games routinely simulate three dimensions in two. If you wear the visual display as wrap around goggles, you can improve on the visual experience of a three-dimensional space, but the display is far from convincing. Movies often create virtual realities and virtual characters are proliferating.
Loose talk, fantasy, paranoia, violence and terror have become commonplace in movie and television plots that place computers and robots at the center of some fantasized machine takeover of the world. The people who write these scripts apparently do not understand computers very well and understand the intelligence of living creatures even less. A realist will note that there are no independently intelligent machines and there are no prospects for "intelligent machines" except in some vague fantasy. The only intelligence found in machines is human intelligence put there by people who design and program the machines.
Computer generated "virtual realities" are limited and limiting but there is increasing evidence that at least some children prefer these virtual realities (VR) and withdraw increasingly from the real world (RW) if they have a choice. In VR you try to create a hermetic world that is more predictable and mostly under your control.

Every environment that humans build is a step in the direction of creating an ultimate virtual reality. The living room equipped with drapes and a television set with remote controller is the most common virtual reality machine. You close the drapes to tune out the real world; with remote controller in hand, in the tradition of the most powerful person in the universe, tune into the virtual reality of videospace. With the push of a few buttons, you can skim the video envelope surrounding planet earth and adjust the picture and volume to your liking. What you experience is another matter.

Videospace is full of gossip, fantasy, noise, confusion and violence. The worst of human behavior seems to receive the most attention. While it is challenging to exaggerate human perversity that actually exists in the RW, television VR programs often succeed. Perversity is amplified, exaggerated and sustained beyond any reasonable notion of entertainment or artistic license. You can argue that humans are unrealistic about all the virtual realties they create. Illusions of security and comfort are routinely accepted even when a VR is manifestly dangerous. The car is a virtual reality machine. Inside a new luxury automobile you are in a dream space; you feel comfortable, secure and in control. A new car is hermetic and the designers have thought of many comforts and conveniences.

You carry this sense of hermetic perfection with you as your drive and may not comprehend that in 60 seconds your luxury vehicle could be transformed into a pile of rubble and you could be seriously injured or dead. Children are notably unrealistic about the dangers of driving cars. If they are trained on virtual cars in video space, they will become dangerous drivers. You could argue that they will develop superior hand-eye coordination and should be technically better drivers, but the flaw is that they have no sense of how the real world operates, have practiced aggressive and dangerous driving and have poor judgment about the hazards they face and the hazards they impose on others.\

Teaching Violence with Videogames


Bob Hebert, wrote in a New York Times review :” I do think that millions of American adults have lost all sense of what are appropriate forms of play for children and teenagers. And the country as a whole behaves as though there is no real-world price to pay for a culture that has so thoroughly desensitized us to violence that it takes a terror attack or a series of suburban sniper killings to really get our attention… The biggest-selling video game over the last couple of years has been a PlayStation 2 game called Grand Theft Auto III. It actually carries a voluntary "M" rating, which means it's not recommended for kids under 17. But teens have no problem buying "M"-rated games, and they love the various incarnations of Grand Theft Auto. This is a game in which all boundaries of civilized behavior have vanished. You get to shoot whomever you want, including cops. You get to beat women to death with baseball bats. You get to have sex with prostitutes and then kill them. (And get your money back.) The game is a phenomenal seller. At close to $50 each, millions of copies are sold annually. The latest version, Grand Theft Auto, Vice City, is expected to be one of the biggest sellers this Christmas…”

The curious aspect of future technology fears and fantasies is that all the problems in the real world are sometimes discussed and then ignored. Even the most advanced countries today have aging infrastructures, ready to collapse at any moment. We are dependent on machines that depend on aging infrastructures that are inadequate in the best case. Electricity, telephone, cable communications and the internet are carried by wires on poles that fall down easily, pushed by a little wind or shaken by earth tremors. Even if TV networks keep broadcasting, viewers may not have enough clean water to drink or food to eat.
While we do not need space exploration, we need better technology to build a more stable and friendly infrastructure close to home. Parents must ask: What do children really want? Do they want more distraction and entertainment in virtual reality or do they want a real life in the real and healthy world?

The problems of bad food and eating excesses are embedded in the virtual reality of television and all other marketing media. The supermarket is a virtual reality that presents real food along with packaged, processed and junk foods. Again parents are confused and easily lose perspective on what is the correct food to feed children. Children, of course, responding to television advertising and store displays, demand and usually receive the wrong foods. I think it is necessary for parents to fully comprehend the two pronged assault on their children’s well-being; bad information and bad chemicals combine to produce disturbed or sick children. Normal is not normal.

Lewin, T. See Baby Touch a Screen but Does Baby Get It? New York Times. December 15, 2005. Hebert,B. The Gift of Mayhem. New York Times. Nov 28 2002.

From Surviving Human Nature    By Stephen Gislason


Politics & Environment

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