+ The rise of Islamic creationism. This is a fascinating piece of the rise of the evolution vs. creationism debate in Islamic countries. How does Christian creationism affect Islamic creationists? Will this affect the place of Islamic science education internationally? It's going to be very interesting to see what happens... what happens when you have two theories for creation. How would you decide between the two on scientific grounds? And then there is the relationship of Evolution to the West.
I've recently read a few science articles that mention how miserable the life of our early ancestors were: short, brutal and full of fear. However, if I've read Stumbling on Happiness correctly, we really have no idea what would make us happy as them--perhaps if we had their lives we would be equally happy or even more, even if that life was shorter, more violent and (seemingly) more uncontrollable. Perhaps all those things we avoid today would be very things that our ancestors would say made life thrilling, exciting, wondrous and worthwhile.
Furthermore, most animals today (unless they are domesticated) live, well, like animals. Perhaps the deer has to run from the mountain lion every day of its short life, but it's also developed physically all the muscles and skeleton to do this so well. When humans talk about happiness they often provide this sage advice: Do what you do best. Do what you were meant to do. Find out what you are great at, what makes you happy, and keep doing that to your potential for the rest of your life. If that is true happiness, then almost all animals must be filled with happiness almost all of the time.
In fact, as in the case of the predator and prey, life is game in which the teams are nearly perfectly matched--it's like playing in the ultimate super bowl match every day of your life. And how could that not be fun?
Law of Politics: The more politics polarizes the more powerful moderates become. (See 538 article on Lieberman) Being a moderate is a gamble--you may not get the full base support (money) but if you can survive you get invited to the White House and your face on every news website, instant fame... like Sen. Olympia Snowe. Those who play nice with the party can only dream to have such attention.
Perhaps this works like a natural check-and-balance in the political world. The more extreme the divide, the more powerful the moderates, which neutralizes the extremes. However, there might be curious correlative law: Without partisans compromisers would never get anything done!
The research found a dramatic improvement in ethical behavior with just a few spritzes of citrus-scented Windex. "Basically, our study shows that morality and cleanliness can go hand-in-hand." ...but it's not clear from the study... does Windex make you better or citrus?
I just ran across this chart on the NASA web site. First, you might notice, there are a lot of extra-solar planets discovered. You might also notice that the majority of the planets are Jupiter-size or larger. That's mostly because the technology we have is not fine enough to find many earth-sized planets yet. The crazy thing, though, is that most of these Jupiter planets are about as close to their stars as the Earth. That's odd, but perhaps not surprising that we found them first since they go around their stars fast (thus we see their orbital effects more quickly).
All that said, this chart puts habitable planets / the habitable zone at 1.0 AU, about where the earth is in our system. But certainly all those stars are not around stars exactly like ours, of the same size and age. If the size of their sun is much brighter than ours than the habitable zone is way farther away. If their sun is dimmer than it is closer. Furthermore, as stars grow older they grow brighter and therefore the habitable zone shifts outward. (Billions of years in the future Earth will no longer be in the habitable zone and will turn into a hellish Venus, while Mars will enter the habitable zone more comfortably.) And we haven't even mentioned if they are in binary system which would also shift the zone.
Of course, I suppose this chart would make sense if they have only been searching for planets among stars that are the same size, age and type as ours--which might be true. I think that's unlikely, though, given that only 7% of stars in the universe are Type G stars like ours. Every star has a different habitable zone and that zone shifts during the lifetime of the star--so I think is chart is worthless, NASA!
+ Sadly difficult to find, but lots of great SETI lectures are available.
You know how some computers have an option to move your computer 'back in time' in order to undo catastrophic changes to your hard drive? Do you think in the future we will be able to do that with our brains? What would life be like with an 'undo' option--at least for memories? Is experience always good or would you get rid of certain memories in order to improve your life?
“It must be our prediction that all Higgs producing machines shall have bad luck,” Dr. Nielsen said in an e-mail message. In an unpublished essay, Dr. Nielson said of the theory, “Well, one could even almost say that we have a model for God.” It is their guess, he went on, “that He rather hates Higgs particles, and attempts to avoid them.”
This malign influence from the future, they argue, could explain why the United States Superconducting Supercollider, also designed to find the Higgs, was canceled in 1993 after billions of dollars had already been spent, an event so unlikely that Dr. Nielsen calls it an “anti-miracle.”
The other history: Women astronauts of the 1950s."Women are lighter than men, requiring less fuel to transport them into space. They’re also less prone to heart attacks, and Lovelace considered them better-suited for the claustrophobic isolation of space."
Plasma rockets are currently being tested--this could be a whole new age in space.
India recently found water on the moon--but did you know an astronomer also found water with organic compounds on an asteroid as well? So we have water on the moon, water on asteroids, water on one of Jupiter's moons, water on Mars. Water seems to be pretty plentiful in the universe.
In many ethical arguments people will appeal to human dignity. In debates about abortion people claim the dignity of every human life and argue that this is both inalienable and also might lead to erosion of human dignity. In debates about animal rights some worry that to give animals too many rights would lower/damage or be an affront to human dignity. Humans have a dignity that animals do not and to do x for animals would be to either threaten or otherwise defame humans.
First of all, the worry is unclear and undefined. Will a society that lowers the dignity of human life turn into a cannibal society? Will a society that lowers the dignity of human life turn you into hamburger meat? Perhaps we use this term dignity interchangably with value. A person's value is their dignity.
Nevertheless, to do something against someone's dignity is something different than doing something against someone's value. There may be many things that I value--value very much--but to offend someone's dignity is to cause them shame, embarassment, public humilitation.
For most of human history it was a given that it was really men who had to worry about their dignity. A man has honor, perhaps by simply being born a man, and he has to keep that honor and protect it, act according to it, and if it is threatened he must defend it. It is something everyone has but it can also be damaged, harmed, lost. And a man without his dignity is no man at all.
So I suggest here that 'human dignity' is really a masculine ideal blown up to cover humankind. The feminine counterpart to human dignity in ethical debates is human compassion. Human compassion is the motherly compassion--the feeling we get when anything small and fuzzy cries out for help, the immediate reaction to protect and defend the weak and innocent against harm. This feeling is neglected in most philosophical thought experiments, which usually begin with 'someone's got to die, who's it going to be?'
The masculine response to compassion is to explain that we need to make sure it doesn't get out of hand. Compassion is okay but it's mostly irrational. It's spontaneous, without thought, and driven to excess. It leads you to attach yourself to animals and minorities and the disabled much too quickly. The great threat is that you might love something more than it is capable of understanding. You might treat your dog like it's a human--which is highly irrational and very undignified. Human compassion always means lowering yourself, often physically--to the level of a dog or a child, to babble like a baby. Very undignified and not properly hu-man.
Compassion is always the hardest case to make in society because it is so openly criticized for being too soft, too kind, too idealistic, too emotional. It is beneath us to stoop so low. Even many religious people who are very compassionate, very generous will argue that humans have dignity that draws a line between our species and all others. To cross that line would be to become defiled, undignified--it's offensive to think of our lives with animals, as we if were somehow equals.
Like the dignity of man, this idea of human dignity is not something that humans actually have by nature. It must be reinforced by society. To lose one's dignity is to lose one's honor, which is something that happens socially, among others. It is to lose one's face among one's peers. Dignity is, historically, the very force that keeps people from having compassion for others. It is our appeal to dignity that stifles compassion as too beneath us. The threat is that we will become unclean or else seen by others as not 'man enough.'
The reason why we keep human dignity (human rights) is that we feel it protects, or at least identifies, the lines that people should not cross. The strangely troubling thing about human compassion is that it is flighty--it's here in a moment and then gone. We cannot appeal to it in every human being. Human dignity, if agreed upon as a community, can enforce shame (sanctions). Sanctions mean, 'you should be ashamed before your community.'
Humans have rights, our most powerful leverage in society. And the mainstream animal welfare movement is for 'animal rights.' Of course, animals do not have obvious rights and therefore not natural ones. Humans will never give animals rights because animals aren't men. As long as we attempt to give animals dignity we will get nowhere because the idea of dignity is by its nature a conservative, protective move. Compassion, on the other hand, is expansive--it grows. It grows from adult to child, white to black, human to animal.
Why does human dignity need to be defended? Why cannot it be simply assumed? Why are we afraid going 'too low,' of showing too much compassion? Who are we offending, who are we ashamed before but ourselves?
[And for those who are Christians, who believe that one day you will stand before God and give an account for your actions, what do you think Jesus will say? "You spent way too much time taking care of those sparrows. God doesn't care if sparrows go extinct, or about protecting those lillies in the wetlands (I mean, they are only more beautiful than all of Solomon's splendor.) What a total waste of your time." Do you think Jesus would be offended that you stooped so low as to care for the least of the least of these? Is Christianity about expanding human compassion or protecting human dignity?]