June 2, 2012
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A few months back I watched a three part BBC documentary, entitled “The Code.” In this documentary Professor Marcus du Sautoy – the Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science – discussed and demonstrated how our world is underpinned by a myriad of patterns and rhythms, all of which inter-react and inter-relate to one another in sometimes obvious, but mainly not so obvious, ways… However, when we logically work through these anomalies via modes of mathematical inquiry, after much study (so as not to make assumptions based on pure inference alone) we can quite discernibly trace out the workings behind most of their seemingly undefinable methods of unfolding. Thus, through this penetrating gaze of mathematical scrutiny, we can tell a lot about the processes of the world in which we live… As well as how we ourselves – as biological systems that are also based on mathematical unfolding – relate to the world around us.
While my partner is undoubtedly not a fan of Professor du Sautoy – mainly because of what she calls his slightly fanatical slant on how everything mathematical is so utterly amazing and, thus, must be the ‘main’ (if not, only) reason why we are all here – I must say that I still rather enjoy the way he meditates upon complex mathematical subjects and, yet, still manages to bring across a deeply penetrating and intricate understanding about how many universal processes – most of which seem to have no obvious explanation – function and unfold around us and/or within us in such a way that even a layman could grasp the blatant consequence of what these little insights demonstrate to us about our place here in the cosmos.
Still, quirky mannerisms aside, there is one important point in particular that Professor du Sautoy decidedly highlights in this series… One that, at least for me, seems to conspicuously stand apart from the rest. Why? Because it is a finding that, in my eyes, shows us how important everyone’s perspective here on Earth actually is to everyone else, no matter how outlandish or wild it might sound or seem… Especially to those of us who are looking for an answer to something specific.
But, more to the point, what probably makes this point even more fascinating for me is the fact that… Perhaps if it is used wisely by us all, it might allow every human being to gain a more accurate and compassionate insight into many of the most important questions that we all have concerning our existence here on Earth… About what our consciousness actually is… Along with how we perceive ourselves via processes of mind in the daily experience of being human. I mean… What more ‘just’ and ‘ethical’ a way to achieve a better understanding about who we are, than to ask for every individual’s perspective on the subject… Doing so, regardless of how absurd it may sound to any one of us from our own perspective… ?
Sure… To some it might well sound like a recipe for total disaster… One that could only blur and obfuscate our vision of what unknown quantity might actually be… I mean, can you imagine the notion of a God in an atheist’s understanding of how the world came about? Or how Darwin’s ideas on evolution well might go down at creationist meeting? But, even so, this process of asking everyone their opinion never seems to throw the accuracy of any answer derived from this process out. In fact, only when every answer is taken into account, does the accuracy of such a method become clear. And, for me, it is this very fact that demonstrates how all encompassing this method might well be for providing answers to some of the most important questions we could ask.
Perhaps I would even go so far as to say that, because of the promise that this idea holds for finding many accurate interpretations to many of Life’s conundrums and anomalies (Gods, scientific facts, philosophical conundrums, legends, myths and all the more) for us all, we should perhaps be as aware of it as we are of anything that we hold in high esteem and/or regard… Because, by coming together and placing our views into a melting pot of difference, no matter how disparate these views might well seem when set against one another’s… We should always achieve an answer that would be more accurately reflective of what is the actual case… And, thus, when everyone’s view is taken into account, we should all also be able to relate to the answer better, knowing we’ve had a part to play in its unfolding. Thus, if we decide to at least understand this process a bit better, we might well be afforded a slightly better insight into how our world is created (in all aspects), as well as functions… And, so, will have everything to gain… And little to loose… !
This point, which I hope I have not blown too much out of proportion, is somewhat obviously and rather simply called the “Wisdom Of The Crowd.” And before I say any more on the subject, I will introduce this idea properly by presenting a clip from the documentary in question… One that demonstrates this phenomenon in action and the principles behind it.
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So… “The Wisdom Of The Crowd” refers to a process of taking into account the overall collective opinion of a group of individuals, rather than relying on a single expert to answer a particular question. Reason being that a large group’s aggregated answers to particular questions involving quantity estimation, general world knowledge, and spatial reasoning have generally been found to be as good as, and often better than, the answer given by any isolated individuals within the group. An intuitive and often-cited explanation for this phenomenon is that there is idiosyncratic noise associated with each individuals judgement – noise that stems from the varied and multifarious individual experiences that each person has had specifically in their lifetime – and so, taking the average over a large number of responses, usually goes some way towards cancelling the effect of this noise completely.
Bearing this point in mind… When I come across people (as I have done quite a bit of late) who clearly state that they are either atheist or religious, or whatever group it is that they feel they belong to concerning some form of ideology or another… And procure an answer to some question posed that befits – from their own self-imposed view of the world – a way of thinking that the rest of the world would be best advised to adhere to… I find myself somewhat stumped. Why? Because through all the various modes of investigation that each and every individual is presently embarking upon (or not embarking upon)… Whether through the pursuit of science at a university or in a research institute… Or by striving for enlightenment while sitting in a cave (as Milarepa once did)… Or even looking to express something of Life’s wondrous magic while painting picture after picture… The very act of trying to understand what it is that we actually are – and, thus, what should be doing in respect to the whole greater picture of universal understanding, for the betterment of all – can, and should only, be properly answered (in my humble opinion) by all of us together as One.
Regardless of all the disputes that have recently come to light between all the multifarious modes of varied understanding in this memetic world of ours (whether in the name of scientific reasoning or by way of religious practise) and all the pain and aggravation that these extremist opinions and views (views that seem to always exclude someone else’s view somewhere down the line) seem to cause… They matter not a damn without another person’s validation. And even though I have rarely heard people discussing the possibility that perhaps there could be a bit of truth in each and every one of our own individual views just as much as there may be truth in someone else’s views… Perhaps we might do well to begin to understand the role that our own opinions play within the crowd of people in which we live (a crowd that is fast becoming the largest here on Earth) and thus allow ourselves all a little more room to accommodate each other’s opinions into our own egocentric speculations, even if many do sound like they could be way out there.
Still, despite the positive implications that this normalising effect ‘might’ have for us all when directing us towards an all pervading truth (and I only say ‘might’), there is much to be careful of when considering an issue as complex as this… Just as Larissa Conradt notes in her article below, entitled “Collective Behaviour: When It Pays To Share Decisions.”
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Collective Behaviour: When It Pays To Share Decisions
Theory suggests that the accuracy of a decision often increases with the number of decision makers, a phenomenon exploited by betting agents, Internet search engines and stock markets. Fish also use this ‘wisdom of the crowd’ effect.
Having trouble making a decision? The reason is that you’re probably not sure which is the best option. You seldom have perfect information, so might make a bad choice. Sharing decisions with others can help, because several decision makers can pool their information, and also eliminate individual errors. Consequently, the risk of making a mistake and settling on a bad option often decreases with the number of decision makers. For example, in court cases, juries consisting of several people are supposed to make correct decisions more often than can a single judge. In humans, there are numerous examples of this phenomenon. In social animals, the same principle should apply, but empirical demonstrations are rare.
Writing in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Ward et al. now show that larger shoals of fish not only make more-accurate decisions than do smaller shoals or single fish, but also make these decisions faster. In an elegantly designed experiment, combined with theoretical modelling, the authors gave mosquitofish, Gambusia holbrooki, a choice between a predator-free route and one that led past a predator model. A fish was more likely to make a correct choice (to avoid the predator model) the larger the shoal in which it swam. The size of this increase in accuracy was in close agreement with theoretical predictions. The effect did not arise because large shoals were more likely to contain one particularly clever ‘expert’ fish, which guided the others. In fact, individual fish did not differ much in their ability to make correct decisions and, moreover, were not even good at it. Thus, the authors have demonstrated a genuine ‘wisdom of the crowd’ (or, in biological terms, ‘many eyes’) effect (Fig. 1).
The increase in decision speed with shoal size is especially noteworthy, for two reasons. First, we typically expect a trade-off between decision accuracy and speed, so that decision speed decreases with increasing accuracy and vice versa. This is because more-accurate decisions usually require more information, and information gathering takes time. Second, we expect decision speed to decrease with the number of decision makers, because sharing decisions requires communication between decision makers and it seems plausible that this will also take time. Nevertheless, Ward and colleagues found that both decision speed and decision accuracy increased with the number of decision makers (that is, the number of fish in the shoal).
The reason that larger shoals managed to make not only more accurate but also faster decisions probably lies in the way information is communicated. Fish in shoals often move in a self-organized manner, whereby individuals react rapidly to the movements of close neighbours. Indeed, Ward et al. present convincing evidence that such a reaction to spatially close companions has a crucial role in the mosquitofish choice of route — pairs of fish within less than 6 centimetres of each other reacted very fast to each other’s movement changes; and a fish’s choice of route depended significantly on the average choice of close companions.
This simultaneous, self-organized system of ‘communication’ has two important features. One is that the speed with which information is exchanged is high and hardly decreases with the number of fish in the shoal. The other is that communication is decentralized: that is, information transfer can start from any shoal member. This means that overall decision speed depends crucially on the fastest decision maker(s) within the shoal. For stochastic reasons, a large shoal is more likely than a small one to contain a fish that, by chance, detects a predator relatively quickly, even if the fish do not differ in ‘expertise’.
In short, the higher likelihood of a shoal containing a fast decision maker, coupled with swift, decentralized information transfer, could explain the increase in decision speed with shoal size. However, such fast decision making usually also involves a cost, namely that of an increased risk of false positives. That is, if the fastest decision maker made a mistake (and ‘detected’ a predator that did not exist), this mistake could also be amplified, and the group might stage a costly ‘escape’ when none was necessary. The experiments of Ward and colleagues did not allow for such a situation — there was always one predator model present, and fish could either avoid it (true positive) or not (false negative). It remains to be seen whether accuracy and speed of decision making still increase together if fish are faced with a situation in which false positives are possible.
Fast and accurate decision making is highly desirable in many walks of life, for humans as well as animals. Ward and colleagues’ study shows that it can be achieved by sharing decisions widely and using a self-organized system of communication. This is, of course, exactly the strategy that has long been exploited by Internet search engines, and in this sense the mosquitofish of Ward and co-workers’ experiments are not that dissimilar from Google.
However, there are three caveats about the benefits of decision sharing. First, if the abilities of potential decision makers vary widely, it might still be better to listen to one ‘expert’. Second, there is the danger of information cascades, whereby decision makers no longer contribute independent information but instead amplify shared misconceptions. Finally, in many decisions, the goals of individual decision makers differ: that is, different members of the decision-making group favour different outcomes. In such a context, the sharing of decisions can have disadvantages as well as advantages. Although sharing might still increase the available information, it can also hand influence on the outcome to decision makers whose goals differ from your own. To date, surprisingly little is known about good decision-making strategies in these kinds of conflict situations.
by Larissa Conradt – the Department of Biology, School of Life Sciences, University of Sussex, Falmer, Brighton BN1 9QG, UK.
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I feel that Larissa Conradt’s article touches on a interesting tonic to my over zealous feelings about the general “Wisdom of the Crowd”… A wisdom that apparently belongs to the humans that have recently gathered here on Earth… As she points out with regards to “false positives” relating to the decision making of mosquitofish shoals when avoiding predators, there seems – at least for me – to be a very striking and obvious similarity that parallels our own human behaviour relating to climate change and how we react to it so as to avoid any certain catastrophic consequences.
Has mankind inadvertently stumbled into a dangerous media driven frenzy of misconstrued memetic deformities? A frenzy that seems to be propagated by the few decision makers who don’t really have all the facts at their finger tips and, thus, seem to lack the general knowledge needed to guide them away from assumptions that can only be based on pure inference alone… ? I dare say that this is a very important question that needs to be answered, especially in today’s global climate of well read and well educated, media savvy inhabitants. Why? Because many of these so-called decision makers are unwitting enough not to realise the power they weld with their writing and words. Nor do the majority of these people even realise that they are acting as decision makers for many of us… In fact, I am usually only too shocked to find out how many people make decisions based on these inadvertent decision maker’s opinions.
The most powerful of these inadvertent decision makers hold esteemed positions, such as writers and reporters, in the great publishing houses and corporations of our world (whether magazines, newspapers or even television) and, having graduated in the ideals of journalism and, thus, completely having missed out the immense importance of data-analysis and/or the psychology behind misconstruing evidence or even philosophical reasoning… They do the people of the world today the greatest disservice by merely amplifying shared misconceptions about whether or not important issues such as climate change and over-population should really be addressed with the urgency that we should… As I’ve said before, our human actions are indeed bigger than all the butter fly wings in the world flapping gently on the winds while procreating… And, as such, we are on the brink of irreversibly upsetting our world’s chaotic weather patterns beyond repair. Chaos is too sensitive to this kind of brunt outburst of carelessness.
Thus I would recommend that the findings of Ward’s research into the decision making behaviour of mosquitofish should be greatly encouraged and the findings be mirrored against mankind’s present decision making strategies to overcome any assuming notions based on inference alone and, so, steer us better into future times with the a more guided view to the “Wisdom of the Crowd.”
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To find out more about the BBC documentary called “The Code,” please click here.
Or to read more about “The Wisdom Of The Crowd,” please click here.
And to find out where I sourced the Nature article from, please click here.
August 24, 2011
In some ways it’s amazing… But in other ways, I wonder if I’m really surprised… ? I’ve been observing fractal patterns now for quite a few years in what many refer to as seemingly unrelated fields of occurrence i.e. hearing them in reverb simulations that I build within Max/MSP, OR while observing the patterns with which the Penicillium fungi grows on the bread that I want to avoid using in the toaster most mornings, through to markets and their ever shifting price-scapes… They’re everywhere. Yes… Everywhere.
They’ve even managed to naturally find their way into the experiential textures of my mind’s dynamic… Textures that the brain seems to weave together through strange attractor like eddies that occur between various nodes and hierarchical synaptic electrical discharges that fire so readily between various clusters within the brain’s overall structure… This in turn allows a type of consciousness to form i.e. myself, to perceive the material ‘aspects’ of the environment that I presently find myself in… ‘Aspects’ that are continually changing/moving/shifting. Most of these transformations are commonly seen as material changes i.e. day to night OR hot water turning into cold water… Changes that are forged from the same principles and materials i.e. atomic debris/fabric of the universe, that ‘I’ find myself a result of.
It’s amazing that ‘my’ five senses can somehow distinguish between these multifarious ‘aspects’ simply by observing the ever changing environmental interplay that unfolds in the world around me – and within me – allowing my body to cross-reference these abstractions (such as smell, sight, touch, taste, sound, etc…) into a functional braid of linear temporal registers that are plied together into a complex feedback loop of conscious awareness that correlates all of them into the fabric of experience. Through the natural evolution of this holographic image of universal dynamics – one that has been naturally selected for in most living organisms here on Earth in some manner or another – it’s pretty obvious that memetic evolution has given rise to – and certainly has benefited from – these unfolding fractal patterns of the mind, brain, body and environmental continuum… And, thus, so have I allowed myself – through much diligent study – to hang a myriad of meanings and socially accepted constructs onto the continuous flow of this biochemically experiential unfolding.
When I sit with this feeling, it seems very natural for everything to be just as it is… For us to be the way we are… Mortal, soft, delicate and changing… Prone to aging and death… Giving way to new progeny in an evolving loop of atomic re-awakening… And environmental readjustment/realignment… Suddenly it becomes okay to accept that one day I will die… And that my patterns of behavior will continue to ripple through the surrounding people I have met and the environment I once lived in, slowly being diluted, intermingling with other people’s activities, every evolving… Ever changing. Perhaps we don’t ever really die… ! Then I see that ‘I’ am not as free as many might imagine we are… Rather we are more willfully able to do whatever it is we choose to with the time we have here, acting within defined parameters of being… Operating to prolong our activities. I find acceptance in these limited modes… And I find true freedom in the limitless possibilities within my imagination. Just as chaos is limitless, and as the brain’s basis for functional ordering uses chaos to operate from… So I find myself not really being surprised that the universe ‘may’ have a fractal structure. When is see my lungs on a X-ray that had recently, there they are again… When I look at my arm closely and see the veins of blood flowing under my skin, fractal shapes come into focus… And I’m just amazed at the beauty of these patterns as they release their energetic uncoiling of potential energy into kinetic displays of wonder and marvel, spreading out over various timings into the delicately interconnected chaos of universal change.
So what I thought was originally surprise… Has in fact turned out to be more of a sense of discovery… A rediscovery of my connectedness… My roots… My interlinked existence to everything – absolutely everything – around me. In many ways it has been an important rediscovery for me because this feeling of interconnectedness seems to have been masked over, obscured from obvious sight, by the daily meanderings of advertising, fictional drivel (mainly in the form of film and pulp fiction), political discussion, religious debate, scientific enquiry and general distraction, all of which seem to come from the supposed “perks” of Western modern day living…
But, thankfully, while immersing myself in this tangled mess of experiential twine – mainly by reading many, many scientific journals/publications over the last fifteen or so years, ones that concern themselves with how universal structure and function came into being (whether on the astrological and/or microscopic levels OR within the dynamics of the mind, brain, body, environmental continuum) – I’ve been unwittingly reconnecting myself with this feeling of interdependence. While closely keeping my eye on how the present theories (yes, theories, in the plural, because there are many of them out there) are continually evolving and changing… I’ve been unintentionally observing another form of natural selection at work… Much like Darwin did. One that is occurring within our minds. And, on the whole, it’s doing exactly what any good evolving form/system does i.e. works through the plethora of memetic constructs that are being formulated from experience by scrubbing the obviously impractical and blatantly cumbersome theories, revealing only the ones that best fit the observations. Then, while subjecting these selected few to yet more stringent tests, each idea/theory is further developed… OR revealed to be a fraud. Eventually one idea/theory in particular is found… One that fits better than all the rest. One that can generate self-similar observed data by repeating the experiments over and over again. This idea/theory then becomes a sort of fact… One that can be expounded further into more developed and concise levels of understanding… Where each idea/theory can interconnect and interrelate to other seemingly unrelated areas of scientific inquiry. Time and again, further cross-referencing and testing ensues, scrutinizing each novel idea/theory/notion… If one doesn’t fit, it is then modified, tweaked, or reconfigured to work into the overall account produced thus far… OR EVEN, if an idea is so obvious, then the other areas might find themselves being revised. This continues ad-infinitum, moving even onwards into finer details… Heading towards the vanishing point of a complexity that knows no bounds… A sort tailor made fitting for a more concise scientific understanding that will never be found.
In fact… So to does the evolution of animal form work in much the same way… As Professor Armand Marie Leroi states, “Species give rise to other species, and as they do so, they change. The changes are minute and subtle, but given enough time, the results could be spectacular. And so they are!” So to do our mind streams change and evolve over time… Allowing us to see more clearly whatever it is we are looking at.
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What Darwin didn’t Know
Documentary which tells the story of evolution theory since Darwin postulated it in 1859 in ‘On the Origin of Species’.
The theory of evolution by natural selection is now scientific orthodoxy, but when it was unveiled it caused a storm of controversy, from fellow scientists as well as religious people. They criticised it for being short on evidence and long on assertion and Darwin, being the honest scientist that he was, agreed with them. He knew that his theory was riddled with ‘difficulties’, but he entrusted future generations to complete his work and prove the essential truth of his vision, which is what scientists have been doing for the past 150 years.
Evolutionary biologist Professor Armand Marie Leroi charts the scientific endeavour that brought about the triumphant renaissance of Darwin’s theory. He argues that, with the new science of evolutionary developmental biology (evo devo), it may be possible to take that theory to a new level – to do more than explain what has evolved in the past, and start to predict what might evolve in the future.
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As time has gone on, I’ve been fortunate enough to rediscover how similar basic patterns permeate almost every single aspect of our lives as human beings… This rediscovery – for me at least – occurred because I had the fortunate experience of studying many dynamical systems for musical analogy… That is, I studied them over and over again, looking at how to translate these natural never-ending patterns into sonic textures for art’s sake. When you see them, though, you begin to spot them everywhere you care to look. It’s almost like it’s so obvious that they’re there, just staring us in the face, that because of it, we just haven’t noticed them… They’ve always been there… In plain sight. So why would we notice them? In some ways it’s just like when the astronauts of Apollo 11 landed to the moon for the first time… When they got there, they couldn’t see any trace of the Earth around them anymore. Their home of a planet was now just a beautiful jewel hanging in the moon’s inky black sky, just out of their reach. Everything that they had taken for granted i.e. an abundance of air, all the trees, plants, life, all the oceans of water, our homes, the people they loved, movies, the abundance of food, animals, clouds, rain, wind, etc… They just weren’t there around them anymore… And it stood out like a soar thumb as to how fortunate they were to live on a planet that had all those things… Things that were so common on Earth. This voyage to the moon profoundly changed the way they i.e Neil Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin Jr and pilot Michael Collins saw the Earth afterwards. In fact it changed ever astronaut who ever went to the moon’s perspective… So that when they returned, they couldn’t help but wonder why people couldn’t see what they now could see so clearly i.e. how precious the Earth is and all the beings that live on it… How connected we all are to one another… To everything around us… How much we need our planet… And how futile all our wars and disagreements are in the greater scheme of everything.
Something similar is going on in science now… Over the last year or so I’ve been coming across many publications wherein scientists are seemingly wanting to let go of some of their earlier preconceptions about how the textbook ideals – one’s which their contemporaries wrote down with absolute certitude for their students to learn from – concerning universal flow and other areas of scientific interest, don’t really quite fit with what these students are actually observing in the “real world…” And along with how they are having to “pull-out-of-the-hat” seemingly bizarre concepts, such as dark matter, in order to balance their predecessors equations… Many are beginning to feel that it’s time to evolve again. Thus it can be noticed that many of the new generation of scientists are looking for novel ideas to re-evaluated what they have learned… And as the models get more and more complex, so to do we see that complexity needs to be better understood… Revealing many types of fractal structures and all sorts of non-linear dynamics residing within the natural flow of universal unfolding.
As I have mentioned before in several blogs contained in this website… Until fractal/chaotic dynamics are properly introduced and included into the equations of physicists, chemists, biologists, psychologists, etc… There will always be a thin vale of mist that detaches their efforts from discovering the true order of things. For, until this time, discrepancies and vague approximations on how universal flow actually functions will cloud the depth of understanding that lies waiting to be seen beneath this mist.
Saying that… There are those who are already daring to go beyond… As Francesco Sylos Labini clearly demonstrates with his intuitive proposition below… The universe may have a fractal structure…
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Largest Cosmic Structures ‘Too Big’ For Theories
Space is festooned with vast “hyperclusters” of galaxies, a new cosmic map suggests. It could mean that gravity or dark energy – or perhaps something completely unknown – is behaving very strangely indeed.
We know that the universe was smooth just after its birth. Measurements of the cosmic microwave background radiation (CMB), the light emitted 370,000 years after the big bang, reveal only very slight variations in density from place to place. Gravity then took hold and amplified these variations into today’s galaxies and galaxy clusters, which in turn are arranged into big strings and knots called superclusters, with relatively empty voids in between.
On even larger scales, though, cosmological models say that the expansion of the universe should trump the clumping effect of gravity. That means there should be very little structure on scales larger than a few hundred million light years across.
But the universe, it seems, did not get the memo. Shaun Thomas of University College London (UCL), and colleagues have found aggregations of galaxies stretching for more than 3 billion light years. The hyperclusters are not very sharply defined, with only a couple of per cent variation in density from place to place, but even that density contrast is twice what theory predicts.
“This is a challenging result for the standard cosmological models,” saysFrancesco Sylos Labini of the University of Rome, Italy, who was not involved in the work.
The clumpiness emerges from an enormous catalogue of galaxies called the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, compiled with a telescope at Apache Point, New Mexico. The survey plots the 2D positions of galaxies across a quarter of the sky. “Before this survey people were looking at smaller areas,” says Thomas. “As you look at more of the sky, you start to see larger structures.”
A 2D picture of the sky cannot reveal the true large-scale structure in the universe. To get the full picture, Thomas and his colleagues also used the colour of galaxies recorded in the survey.
More distant galaxies look redder than nearby ones because their light has been stretched to longer wavelengths while travelling through an expanding universe. By selecting a variety of bright, old elliptical galaxies whose natural colour is well known, the team calculated approximate distances to more than 700,000 objects. The upshot is a rough 3D map of one quadrant of the universe, showing the hazy outlines of some enormous structures.
Coagulating dark energy
The result hints at some profound new physical phenomenon, perhaps involving dark energy – the mysterious entity that is accelerating the expansion of space. Dark energy is usually assumed to be uniform across the cosmos. If instead it can pool in some areas, then its repulsive force could push away nearby matter, creating these giant patterns.
Alternatively, we may need to extend our understanding of gravity beyond Einstein’s general theory of relativity. “It could be that we need an even more general theory to explain how gravity works on very large scales,” says Thomas.
A more mundane answer might yet emerge. Using colour to find distance is very sensitive to observational error, says David Spergel of Princeton University. Dust and stars in our own galaxy could confuse the dataset, for example. Although the UCL team have run some checks for these sources of error, Thomas admits that the result might turn out to be the effect of foreground stars either masking or mimicking distant galaxies.
“It will be essential to confirm this with another technique,” says Spergel. The best solution would be to get detailed spectra of a large number of galaxies. Researchers would be able to work out their distances from Earth much more precisely, since they would know how much their light has been stretched, or red-shifted, by the expansion of space.
Sylos Labini has made such a map using a subset of Sloan data. It reveals clumpiness on unexpectedly large scales – though not as vast as these. He believes that the universe may have a fractal structure, looking similar at all scales.
A comprehensive catalogue of spectra for Sloan galaxies is being assembled in a project called the Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey. Meanwhile, the Dark Energy Survey will use a telescope in Chile to measure the colours of even more galaxies than Sloan, beginning in October. Such maps might bring hyperclusters out of the haze – or consign them to the status of monstrous mirage.
by Stephen Battersby
Journal reference: Physical Review Letters, DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.106.241301
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For some continued viewing on the subject, please watch the following BBC documentary entitled, “The Secret Life Of Chaos”.
The Secret Life Of Chaos
Chaos theory has a bad name, conjuring up images of unpredictable weather, economic crashes and science gone wrong. But there is a fascinating and hidden side to Chaos, one that scientists are only now beginning to understand.
It turns out that chaos theory answers a question that mankind has asked for millennia – how did we get here?
In this documentary, Professor Jim Al-Khalili sets out to uncover one of the great mysteries of science – how does a universe that starts off as dust end up with intelligent life? How does order emerge from disorder?
It’s a mindbending, counterintuitive and – for many people – a deeply troubling idea. But Professor Al-Khalili reveals the science behind much of beauty and structure in the natural world and discovers that far from it being magic or an act of God, it is in fact an intrinsic part of the laws of physics. Amazingly, it turns out that the mathematics of chaos can explain how and why the universe creates exquisite order and pattern.
And the best thing is that one doesn’t need to be a scientist to understand it. The natural world is full of awe-inspiring examples of the way nature transforms simplicity into complexity. From trees to clouds to humans – after watching this film you’ll never be able to look at the world in the same way again.
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To find out where I sourced this article from, please click here.
Just the other day I remembered something that I had done recently, which was to make a vegetable stew for a friend… A friend who is not very well presently. And, as far as I can remember, it was a hearty vegetarian dish… A speciality of mine that I learnt how to make after I came out of university, when I found myself with a bit more money than I had usually been used to… What better way to spend it, I thought, than on fresh vegetables and good wine. In fact, it was this good old vegetarian combination of a leek and potato soup, sprinkled liberally with organic pearl barley and fresh herbs, that frequently put me straight on the path again after many a long, winding, fun-filled a weekend down in Glastonbury town. But then… That’s just what I recall.
Because, when I spoke to my partner about the food I had made after she went to deliver it over to our ill friend a few days back, she had told me how our ill chum had mentioned that the soup was ‘really good.’ In fact, she mentioned that she couldn’t believe that a vegetarian soup could have tasted so good! However, just after hearing that, my partner mentioned that she told our unwell friend that it wasn’t a vegetarian dish at all… In fact, she had said that it contained some lamb in it too. So I suddenly began to think that perhaps I had put some lamb in the soup, just especially for our ill friend, who certainly wasn’t a vegetarian… !?
However, when I began to piece together the parts in my mind of what I remembered about making the soup i.e. we had had lots of organic leeks and potatoes which needed to be used at the time, along with the fact that I knew a vegetarian brew would be better for our unwell friend than a meaty dish, as well as we were out of mutton for the moment… I found myself remembering something totally different to what I had been told.
Certainly this wasn’t the first time that a minor discrepancy such this had presented itself to me in a social context… In fact, with almost everyone I know (including several people I do not know), I have – at sometime or another – come across some type of incongruity in how we all remember certain things. Whether ‘why’ we remember something differently to someone else is because of the inherent difference in the way we each understand things i.e. because we have had different experiences to each other, and therefore different views about things; OR whether it is because someone might we have loaded a question that begs us to remember something that didn’t necessarily occur (something about which we will hear more about in a minute)… The fact remains that these inconsistencies pop-up more frequently than many of us usually care to notice.
In fact, I sometimes wonder whether there is ever any particular ‘point’ that two people – each standing in a slightly different position to the other and, thus, viewing the ‘point’ from another slightly different perspective – could ever completely agree upon? No doubt I’d like to once again to draw your attention to the opening chapter in Bertrand Russell’s book, entitled “The Problems Of Philosophy…”
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IS there any knowledge in the world which is so certain that no reasonable man could doubt it? This question, which at first sight might not seem difficult, is really one of the most difficult that can be asked. When we have realized the obstacles in the way of a straightforward and confident answer, we shall be well launched on the study of philosophy — for philosophy is merely the attempt to answer such ultimate questions, not carelessly and dogmatically, as we do in ordinary life and even in the sciences, but critically after exploring all that makes such questions puzzling, and after realizing all the vagueness and confusion that underlie our ordinary ideas.
In daily life, we assume as certain many things which, on a closer scrutiny, are found to be so full of apparent contradictions that only a great amount of thought enables us to know what it is that we really may believe. In the search for certainty, it is natural to begin with our present experiences, and in some sense, no doubt, knowledge is to be derived from them. But any statement as to what it is that our immediate experiences make us know is very likely to be wrong. It seems to me that I am now sitting in a chair, at a table of a certain shape, on which I see sheets of paper with writing or print. By turning my head I see out of the window buildings and clouds and the sun. I believe that the sun is about ninety-three million miles from the earth; that it is a hot globe many times bigger than the earth; that, owing to the earth’s rotation, it rises every morning, and will continue to do so for an indefinite time in the future. I believe that, if any other normal person comes into my room, he will see the same chairs and tables and books and papers as I see, and that the table which I see is the same as the table which I feel pressing against my arm. All this seems to be so evident as to be hardly worth stating, except in answer to a man who doubts whether I know anything. Yet all this may be reasonably doubted, and all of it requires much careful discussion before we can be sure that we have stated it in a form that is wholly true.
To make our difficulties plain, let us concentrate attention on the table. To the eye it is oblong, brown and shiny, to the touch it is smooth and cool and hard; when I tap it, it gives out a wooden sound. Any one else who sees and feels and hears the table will agree with this description, so that it might seem as if no difficulty would arise; but as soon as we try to be more precise our troubles begin. Although I believe that the table is ‘really’ of the same colour all over, the parts that reflect the light look much brighter than the other parts, and some parts look white because of reflected light. I know that, if I move, the parts that reflect the light will be different, so that the apparent distribution of colours on the table will change. It follows that if several people are looking at the table at the same moment, no two of them will see exactly the same distribution of colours, because no two can see it from exactly the same point of view, and any change in the point of view makes some change in the way the light is reflected.
For most practical purposes these differences are unimportant, but to the painter they are all-important: the painter has to unlearn the habit of thinking that things seem to have the colour which common sense says they ‘really’ have, and to learn the habit of seeing things as they appear. Here we have already the beginning of one of the distinctions that cause most trouble in philosophy — the distinction between ‘appearance’ and ‘reality’, between what things seem to be and what they are. The painter wants to know what things seem to be, the practical man and the philosopher want to know what they are; but the philosopher’s wish to know this is stronger than the practical man’s, and is more troubled by knowledge as to the difficulties of answering the question.
To return to the table. It is evident from what we have found, that there is no colour which preeminently appears to be the colour of the table, or even of any one particular part of the table — it appears to be of different colours from different points of view, and there is no reason for regarding some of these as more really its colour than others. And we know that even from a given point of view the colour will seem different by artificial light, or to a colour-blind man, or to a man wearing blue spectacles, while in the dark there will be no colour at all, though to touch and hearing the table will be unchanged. This colour is not something which is inherent in the table, but something depending upon the table and the spectator and the way the light falls on the table. When, in ordinary life, we speak of the colour of the table, we only mean the sort of colour which it will seem to have to a normal spectator from an ordinary point of view under usual conditions of light. But the other colours which appear under other conditions have just as good a right to be considered real; and therefore, to avoid favouritism, we are compelled to deny that, in itself, the table has any one particular colour.
The same thing applies to the texture. With the naked eye one can see the gram, but otherwise the table looks smooth and even. If we looked at it through a microscope, we should see roughnesses and hills and valleys, and all sorts of differences that are imperceptible to the naked eye. Which of these is the ‘real’ table? We are naturally tempted to say that what we see through the microscope is more real, but that in turn would be changed by a still more powerful microscope. If, then, we cannot trust what we see with the naked eye, why should we trust what we see through a microscope? Thus, again, the confidence in our senses with which we began deserts us.
The shape of the table is no better. We are all in the habit of judging as to the ‘real’ shapes of things, and we do this so unreflectingly that we come to think we actually see the real shapes. But, in fact, as we all have to learn if we try to draw, a given thing looks different in shape from every different point of view. If our table is ‘really’ rectangular, it will look, from almost all points of view, as if it had two acute angles and two obtuse angles. If opposite sides are parallel, they will look as if they converged to a point away from the spectator; if they are of equal length, they will look as if the nearer side were longer. All these things are not commonly noticed in looking at a table, because experience has taught us to construct the ‘real’ shape from the apparent shape, and the ‘real’ shape is what interests us as practical men. But the ‘real’ shape is not what we see; it is something inferred from what we see. And what we see is constantly changing in shape as we, move about the room; so that here again the senses seem not to give us the truth about the table itself, but only about the appearance of the table.
Similar difficulties arise when we consider the sense of touch. It is true that the table always gives us a sensation of hardness, and we feel that it resists pressure. But the sensation we obtain depends upon how hard we press the table and also upon what part of the body we press with; thus the various sensations due to various pressures or various parts of the body cannot be supposed to reveal directly any definite property of the table, but at most to be signs of some property which perhaps causes all the sensations, but is not actually apparent in any of them. And the same applies still more obviously to the sounds which can be elicited by rapping the table.
Thus it becomes evident that the real table, if there is one, is not the same as what we immediately experience by sight or touch or hearing. The real table, if there is one, is not immediately known to us at all, but must be an inference from what is immediately known. Hence, two very difficult questions at once arise; namely, (1) Is there a real table at all? (2) If so, what sort of object can it be?
It will help us in considering these questions to have a few simple terms of which the meaning is definite and clear. Let us give the name of ‘sense-data’ to the things that are immediately known in sensation: such things as colours, sounds, smells, hardnesses, roughnesses, and so on. We shall give the name ‘sensation’ to the experience of being immediately aware of these things. Thus, whenever we see a colour, we have a sensation of the colour, but the colour itself is a sense-datum, not a sensation. The colour is that of which we are immediately aware, and the awareness itself is the sensation. It is plain that if we are to know anything about the table, it must be by means of the sense-data — brown colour, oblong shape, smoothness, etc. — which we associate with the table; but, for the reasons which have been given, we cannot say that the table is the sense-data, or even that the sense-data are directly properties of the table. Thus a problem arises as to the relation of the sense-data to the real table, supposing there is such a thing.
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But beside all the differences in perception (which are part of the game of ‘delusion’ that we all so regularly take part in), along with the minor distortions in memory that we all – myself included – incorporate into our minds’ cycles… I still get a bit concerned when I notice someone remembering something in such a way that really disfigures what actually happened… AND I especially abhor it when I notice this type of disfiguration occurring in relation to questioning someone else’s integrity, such as in court of law, or with a police investigation, etc… Or worse still, when it scared face surfaces in the relation to international conflicts where thousands of people are dying and/or being made to suffer over some dispute about who was there first, or who owns what, or who wants what… !?!?
In fact, so as to avoid making any such blunders myself, I have gotten into a habit of continually checking my own memories with what I hear going on around me, cross referencing them with other memories I have had and/or even with memories that other people voice, so as to assimilate them together into a census that allows the facts to flow in a honest continuity – of sorts – with the facts, situations and temperaments of all those involved. And, if I ever find myself unable to deduce whether some type of accusation is within natural accord with a particular setting and with the people involved, I will usually refrain from commenting either way, as I believe it is better to be quite than unduly partake in another’s impeachment. I – for one – know that I am far from perfect.
And that especially goes for all types of propaganda perpetrated by any type of media dissemination i.e. radio, television, newspaper, internet, etc… Modern psychology has shown those, who care to listen to it, that our minds are so open to suggestion… And in order to guard against being misled into actions that give rise to disputes or civil unrest, even wars, we need to know everything we can about how our own mind/brain/body/environmental continuum works, so as to avoid slipping into dangerous habits of being/living… Because if we slip into these habits, habit’s that can never be justified with any certitude or credulity other than their own belief systems and egocentric views about why something might be right OR even wrong… Then we’re prone to persecuting the people who are innocent… And not addressing those who are, in fact, guilty… Even if it is all of us.
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Mind Changers – Elizabeth Loftus & Eye Witness Testimony
Elizabeth Loftus is the highest-ranking female in the list of top 100 psychologists. She’s gained world-wide renown for her experiments showing that memory, far from being an accurate record, is influenced by subsequent exposure to information and events and is re-constituted according to the biases these create.
Claudia Hammond meets the creator of several classic experiments, who broke new ground with the filmed simulations of road accidents she showed to subjects in the 1970s. These studies revealed that witness reports of the same incident varied according to the wording used by the questioner, giving rise to the development of the ‘cognitive interview’ – witness-led it avoids questioner-bias. Loftus’ work has changed the way witnesses are dealt with throughout the legal system.
Having shown that existing memories can be altered, Loftus was inspired to try to implant a whole false memory by the rise in cases of ‘recovered’ memories of violence and abuse in childhood. Her ‘Lost in the Mall’ and ‘Bugs Bunny’ studies proved that she could – in 30% of subjects – make them believe something that had never happened was part of their childhood history.
Loftus has inspired much work in the field of memory, including that of Barbara Tversky, on how memory reflects the spin put on a story.
Lorraine Hope, of Portsmouth University, has used the Cognitive Interview to develop the Self-Administered Interview (SAI), trialled by Greater Manchester Police. Steve Retford of their Major Incident Team is convinced of its benefits.
Loftus’ former friends and teachers at Stanford – Gordon Bower, Lee Ross and Brian Wandell – remember a fun-loving and forceful young woman, while Gillian Cohen reviews her influence in the UK.
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To find out where I sourced this BBC documentary from, please click here.
Or to find out more about Bertrand Russell, please click here.
April 4, 2011
So here it comes… We’re about to look at why the idea/concept of a ‘self’ could be one of the greatest human delusions of all time. I know… It’s a pretty tall order. But still, it’s one that has been slowly changing the way I view things here on this wondrous home of a planet over the last few months. But before I share with you my journey – one that demonstrated to me how the seemingly obvious certitude of an ‘I’, or my ‘self’, might really be only a flawed assumption, which in turn became an illusion bourn from grammatical syntax – I would like to introduce another story… One that lays out the ground work between the two extremes of certainty and uncertainty, making evident that any definite human knowledge is, at its core, not a definite as we’d sometimes like to think… And, thus, all certitudes that we might presume or cling to become subject to uncertainty.
The story here is about an Austrian logician, who, despite his untimely death, still remains to this very day a great hero and inspiration to me. His name is Kurt Friedrich Gödel (b. 1906, d. 1978)… His ideas were revolutionary in the field of logic and shook the foundations of mathematics, providing insights into the limitations of what can be known. In fact, I believe some of his insights might also demonstrate – in a parallel sort of way – how what we think we know about our ‘selves’ might actually not be what is the actually case… In fact, it might go one step further and demonstrate something rather unexpected. But I digress…
For the moment, I would simply like to leave you with this great BBC radio documentary, narrated by Melvyn Bragg, that clearly and elegantly describes the life and work of Kurt Gödel, a great friend and college to the late Nobel prize physicist, Albert Einstein.
Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorems
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss an iconic piece of 20th century maths – Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorems. In 1900, in Paris, the International Congress of Mathematicians gathered in a mood of hope and fear. The edifice of maths was grand and ornate but its foundations, called axioms, had been shaken. They were deemed to be inconsistent and possibly paradoxical. At the conference, a young man called David Hilbert set out a plan to rebuild the foundations of maths – to make them consistent, all encompassing and without any hint of a paradox.
Hilbert was one of the greatest mathematicians that ever lived, but his plan failed spectacularly because of Kurt Gödel. Gödel proved that there were some problems in maths that were impossible to solve, that the bright clear plain of mathematics was in fact a labyrinth filled with potential paradox. In doing so Gödel changed the way we understand what mathematics is and the implications of his work in physics and philosophy take us to the very edge of what we can know.
With Marcus du Sautoy, Professor of Mathematics at Wadham College, University of Oxford; John Barrow, Professor of Mathematical Sciences at the University of Cambridge and Gresham Professor of Geometry and Philip Welch, Professor of Mathematical Logic at the University of Bristol.
To find out where I sourced this documentary from, please click here.
Or to find out more about Melvin Bragg, then please click here.
To read more about Gödel’s proof, then please follow this link to a brilliant article from Science magazine, entitled “Separating Truth from Proof in Mathematics”.
February 23, 2011
June 24, 2010
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by Carl G. Jung (1952)
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The great events of world history are, at bottom, profoundly unimportant. In the last analysis, the essential thing is the life of the individual. This alone makes history, here alone do the great transformations first take place, and the whole future, the whole history of the world, ultimately spring as a gigantic summation from there hidden sources in individuals. In our most private and most subjective lives we are not only the passive witnesses of our age, and its sufferers, but also its makers. We make our own epoch.
by Carl G. Jung (1934)
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Another classic book from Dr Carl Gustav Jung. This is must read for anyone searching for a better understanding about who and what they really are… And how to better relate to others in the social sea of diverse personality types that are found here, and abound here, on Earth.
Most people confuse “self-knowledge” with knowledge of their conscious ego personalities. Anyone who has any ego-consciousness at all takes it for granted that he knows himself. But the ego knows only its own contents, not the unconscious and its contents. People measure their self-knowledge by what the average person in their social environment knows of himself, but not by the real psychic facts which are for the most part hidden from them. In this respect the psyche behaves like the body with psychological and anatomical structure, of which the average person knows very little too. Although he lives in it and with it, most of it is totally unknown to the layman, and specific knowledge is needed to acquaint consciousness with what is known of the body, not to speak of all that is not known, which also exists.
What is commonly called “self-knowledge” is therefore a very limited knowledge, most of it dependent on social factors, of what goes on in the human psyche. Hence one is always coming up against the prejudice that such and such a thing does happen “with us” or “in our family” or among friends and acquaintances, and on the other hand. one meets with equally illusory assumptions about the alleged presence of qualities which merely serve to cover up the true facts of the case.
In this broad belt of unconsciousness, which is immune to conscious criticism and control, we stand defenceless, one to all kinds of influences and psychic infections. As with all dangers, we can guard against the risk of psychic infection only when we know what is attacking us, and how, where and when the attack will come. Since self-knowledge is a matter of getting to know the individual facts, theories help very little in this respect. For the more a theory lays claim to universal validity, the less capable it is of doing justice to the individual facts. And theory based on experience is necessarily statistical; that is to say, it formulates an ideal average which abolishes all exceptions at either end of the scale and replaces them by an abstract mean. This mean is quite valid, though it need not necessarily occur in reality. Despite this it figures in the theory as an unassailable fundamental fact. The exceptions at either extreme, though equally factual, do not appear in the final result at all, since they cancel each other out. If, for instance, I determine the weight of each stone in a bed of pebbles and get an average weight of 145 grams, this tells me very little about the real nature of the pebbles. Anyone who thought, on the basis of these findings, that he could pick up a pebble of 145 grams at the first try would be in for a serious disappointment. Indeed, it might well happen that however long he searched he would not find a single pebble weighing exactly 145 grams.
The statistical method shows the facts in the light of the ideal average but does not give us a picture of their empirical reality. While reflecting an indisputable aspect of reality, it can falsify the actual truth in a most misleading way. This is particularly true of theories which are based on statistics. The distinctive thing about real facts, however, is their individuality. Not to put too fine a point on it, one could say that the real picture consists of nothing but exceptions to the rule, and that, in consequence, absolute reality has predominantly the character of irregularity.
taken from “The Undiscovered Self” by Carl G. Jung
To learn more about Carl Gustav Jung, please click here for a BBC radio documentary about his life and work.
OR to view a most informative video concerning his life’s work, with rare interview footage of Jung himself, please click here.
AND… The first three people to send me an E-mail will receive a free copy of this book. All you have to do is click here and enter the address you’d like the book to be delivered to… And it should be with you in about two weeks time!
June 10, 2010
June 9, 2010
April 18, 2010
Just the other day I was having a discussion with someone in a recording studio – they know who they are – about why I was a vegetarian. And during this Q & A session, which felt more like a grilling about why I didn’t eat meat anymore, I seemed to detect a general lack of any consideration towards animals in general, and whether they really had any of their own feelings – just as we do – and whether they were conscious, as sentient beings tend to be. After much debate, my “adversary” – for want of a better word – proclaimed that animals just “didn’t have feelings like we, as human beings, did.” The blatant proclamation of this apparent ‘fact‘ somewhat took me aback and left me pondering about what the great Taoist, Chaung Tzu, once wrote concerning the happiness of fish…
On The Happiness Of Fish
Zhuangzi and Huizi were strolling along the dam of the Hao Waterfall when Zhuangzi said, “See how the minnows come out and dart around where they please! That’s what fish really enjoy!”
Huizi said, “You’re not a fish — how do you know what fish enjoy?”
Zhuangzi said, “You’re not me, so how do you know I don’t know what fish enjoy?”
Huizi said, “I’m not you, so I certainly don’t know what you know. On the other hand, you’re certainly not a fish — so that still proves you don’t know what fish enjoy!”
Zhuangzi said, “Let’s go back to your original question, please. You asked me how I know what fish enjoy — so you already knew I knew it when you asked the question. I know it by standing here beside the Hao.”
After I asked the individual in question what exactly made them say this with such certainty – a certainty that was almost as though it had been experienced first hand on some direct level – they replied that it was obvious from the way in which animals reacted in general to everyday situations. It was at that point that I relayed my own experience with just how the bizarre and egocentric view that human beings have on the world can allow them to make errors beyond recourse, and how this usually arises from their general lack of ability to accurately place themselves in another sentient beings “hooves,” let alone another human’s shoes. In fact, I went so far as to give them a link to a website called “Choose Veg!” so that they could see some of the types of treatment/slaughter/culling that deprive the animals of their lives and gave mankind their much treasured meat for their plates.
While it’s certainly not a pleasant site/sight… And there is no doubt that a scare mongering of sorts is going on here… I still know that the images are not too far from the truth of the matter. Having seen this “rant” about animal cruelty, I felt obliged to write a comment upon the website that had directed me to this shrine for our malicious, greedy murder for flesh…
Thankfully the types of farms that treat animals this way are rarely found in the UK now, if at all. Big up the British Farming Standards! But still, there “might” be a few around… Especially when it comes to battery chickens. So you never really know.
Thus… If you’re concerned – and can’t give up meat – you can always choose to buy your meat from private farms that look after their animals a lot better i.e. they keep smaller numbers of animals and so can leave them “free-range”, as well as provide them with better, more humane care because they look after them on a more intimate “one on one” basis… Many of the animals on private also have names, like you might give to your pet cats, dogs, horses, gerbils, etc… Still the images within “Choose Veg!” speak volumes about mankind’s detached and cruel treatment of animals for the meat industry! Having worked in an abattoir myself for just under two weeks – back in 1994, in between leaving school and going off to uni – I got a taste for what murder was like. And boy did it freak me… I simply couldn’t dig the thought of working in the meat trade after seeing the way animals were slaughtered (not killed, but slaughtered) for our food. So i quit 10 days after starting, which meant I wouldn’t get paid a penny for the hours I’d worked, as you had to be there for a month at least in order to get your first pay cheque. But after what I saw, that didn’t bothered me in the slightest…
While I didn’t become a vegetarian immediately, it planted certain seeds of awareness into my mind about where the meat on my plate came from… Not to mention, it made me rethink completely about what I was putting into my body i.e. meat laced with adrenaline and other stress steroids… But it wasn’t until about a year and a half ago that I became a fully fledged vegetarian. Then, meat went right off my agenda. After all, you are what you eat! And I certainly wasn’t cruel…
Having said all that, if you can work in an abattoir and still eat meat – and there are many who can – then fair play to you. But please do be aware, death is still death. In old hunter gatherer times, people used to have a very different relationship with their food i.e. they used to hunt them and, thus, respected their prey’s cunning and stealth during the hunt. One was almost intimately entwined with their food, either growing it directly or hunting it in the forests and on the planes of mother Earth. Our ancestors treated their kill with respect and decency… In some ways, it was a fair game to play back then i.e. either catch/kill your food or it got away and you starved. But as we’ve lost contact with our ancestor’s ways, so we’ve forgotten what and who our food really is… And so we no longer see their alive, awakened bodies writhe with the taught sinews of their lives as we equal their own desire to live and exist while hunting them… And so what these animals means to us presently, as well as where they came from, beleaguers our own narrow “windows view” of the world through man’s own egocentricity. Many of us who understand our deep connection to these fenced in “creatures,” who are passive and so easily subdued in their fenced in fields, see them as nothing more than animals to fill our gut. But there are many, many more who don’t even connect the languidly grazing cows in a summer British pasture with the meat that goes on their plates, let alone the processes that kill them…
To be honest, I certainly can’t see that the methods being employed to kill animals in abattoirs getting any better in the near future, that’s one thing for sure i.e. a shot of morphine to knock them out before hand? Erm, not a chance!!! So if you’re going to carry on eating meat, then why not do so conscientiously, and at least ensure that the animals you’re eating have had as happy and healthy a Life as they can here on Earth i.e. they’re free to roam fields, they get some loving from the farmers to whom they belong (even the ability for a sentient being to belong to someone reminds me of the slave-trade that we abolished), they’re well looked after (they have easy access to animal health care i.e. a vet), they’re fed well and naturally i.e. not force fed like Foie gras OR Veal… RATHER than living in cramped, over crowded barns, with under nourished diets and a strong dose of drugs to get them up to weight… Again, this all too readily reminds me of the appalling conditions from the “concentration camps” that the persecuted had to endure before being killed during the second world war. Nobody dug those, i can tell you!!!
But if you’re the type of person who cannot speculate about the death of the animals you munch on for nourishment without feeling sick to your stomach… Or cannot talk about such cruelty without feeling repulsed and disgusted about the way your meat might have been treated… OR if you couldn’t kill, let alone catch, prey… Well… In my humble opinion then you probably shouldn’t really be eating their flesh now, should you… Food for thought, eh?
Despite what I’ve just written about… I’m a realist. I know there will be people who still will eat meat. So for the UK meat eaters reading this blog who might want to know more about how they can ensure that the flesh that they buy comes from “properly” – see above – treated animals, then please see below for some handy sites to visit. After all, if you choose to buy your meat ONLY from farms that look after their animals i.e. “farm assured produce”, then you’re effectively using your pound/dollar/euro to vote for better animal welfare. Now there’s a comforting thought, eh?
British Farming Standards info:
2) Red Tractor
However, if you’re already off meat and wondering what else you can do to stop animals from being exploited by their human “masters,” – chortle – then why not consider quitting all dairy products? There are plenty of milk alternatives, such as oat milk, rice milk, almond milk, or the common soya milk.
Either way… I don’t condone animal exploitation. For me, animals are sentient beings. They all have their own type of awareness and intelligence. Who are we to say whether they have feelings or not? We have already seen within the pages of these here blogs how “blinkered” our own points of view can sometimes be… AND just how prone we all are to optical, audible and other perceptive illusions. I mean, if we’re this prone to making errors about perceiving our own environment, then how certain can someone be about whether animals have feelings or not!? Surely if you find disturbing the idea of a highly advanced alien culture – who have levels of awareness that seem to stretch majestically beyond our own perceptive abilities – coming down from outer-space and milking humans for some nutrient in their blood, keeping them trapped in cages, riddled with wires and pacified like we do many animals… Justifying their cause on the simple fact that We – as humans – are apparently not sentient enough OR capable of the types of intelligence that our alien counterparts are… Well, then I would like to recommend that you should seriously reconsider the relationship you have with the meat that you eat.
I remember a rhyming verse I heard recently when someone was telling me about the Haitians and their current plight in Haiti after the earthquake:
“Human beings are part of a whole,
Of one essence and one soul
If one is afflicted with pain,
The others will be uneasy and feel the same,
If you have no sympathy for human pain,
Then the title ‘human’ you cannot claim.”
When I initially heard this I saw the deep truth behind its simple facade. And just recently, having read an article on mirror neurones that human beings have in their brains i.e. the areas for compassion and understanding one another’s emotions and actions, I wondered… Surely it would be equally as fit to replace the italicised word “human” for “animal?” This is lest we aim to truly become the autistic Life forms of evolution’s algorithm here on mother Earth…
But perhaps you see evolution as the driving force for life. Survival of the fittest, using the weak for their own needs and gain… Natural selection kills of the weak and leaves only the strong. And perhaps you feel that if advanced aliens did come down from outer-space to “milk” our human bodies of their nutrients… Well, this is again survival of the fittest and, so, is perfectly acceptable. But if this is all there is to Life i.e. use and enslave, then why do we as human beings hold the ideal of freedom above all others?
If you’re still somewhat having difficulty seeing how similar we are to other sentient beings… And thus are at a loss as to what I mean… And perhaps you feel that you want to know more on the subject… Then there is a gentleman who has thought long and hard about all of this. In fact he has written several deeply penetrating and insightful books on the subject, all of which I would highly recommend anyone and everyone reads at some point in their lives. His name is Dr Jonathan Balcombe.
Animal pain and stress, once controversial, are now acknowledged by legislation in many countries, but there is no formal recognition of animals’ ability to feel pleasure. Jonathan Balcombe — his books and his writings — debunk the popular perception that life for most is a continuous, grim struggle for survival and the avoidance of pain. Instead he suggests that creatures from birds to baboons feel good thanks to play, sex, touch, food, anticipation, comfort, aesthetics, and more.
Combining rigorous evidence, elegant argument and amusing anecdotes, leading animal behavior researcher Jonathan Balcombe proposes that the possibility of positive feelings in creatures other than humans has important ethical ramifications for both science and society.
Danger-junkie orangutans in Borneo climb dead trees and destabilize them until they begin to fall. They scream with excitement as they cling to the falling tree. Just before the tree hits the ground the orangs leap to another tree or vine, narrowly escaping death. Researchers call this peculiar behavior snag-riding and liken it to bungee jumping for monkeys. While no one can ask orangutans if they enjoy the same adrenaline rush as a person playing an extreme sport, one animal behaviorist sees this monkey fun as a bit of harmless thrill-seeking.
A growing number of scientists agree that animals are conscious and capable of experiencing basic emotions, such as happiness, sadness, boredom or depression. A few scientists even see the possibility for higher animal emotions like love, jealousy and spite.
Scientific literature, dating back to Charles Darwin, is dotted with examples of animals loving life, but rarely does the scientific community allow such musings. In fact, only one scientist is looking at the eat-or-be-eaten animal kingdom as a place where fun and mischief define the in-the-moment lifestyle of most animals.
To quote Dr Balcombe directly…
“I do feel very strongly that our current relationship with animals represents what the Hopi Indians would call koyaanisqatsi: life out of balance.”
And it is here that I would like to present an enlightened interview with Dr Jonathan Balcombe, which touches pertinently on animal rights, animal welfare and aspects of human consciousness and some of the various perceptive stances that We – as human beings – have about the world around us. I believe that once we can begin to see through our own deeply egocentric view of the Earth, We will be able to move forwards into new realms of behaviour that allow us to become “Shepherds” of the Earth, rather than plunderers and usurpers of this treasure that we call Life.
To find out more about Dr Jonathan Balcombe’s important work regarding animal rights, please visit his website by clicking here.
AND to find out where I sourced this interview from, please click here.
FOR more information about animal rights, please click here.
EVEN to read more about the ethics behind animal rights, please visit the BBC’s home page regarding animal welfare by clicking here.
PLUS… If you’d like to read about how science is trying to “grade” the facial expressions of mice while they are subjected to pain, in order to see if there is a common/universal language for mammalian expression, then please click here.