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Tag Archives: power
Posted: January 14, 2017 at 8:56 pm
Ray Kurzweil is a genius. One of the greatest hucksters of the age. Thats the only way I can explain how his nonsense gets so much press and has such a following. Now he has the cover of Time magazine, and an article called 2045: The Year Man Becomes Immortal. It certainly couldnt be taken seriously anywhere else; once again, Kurzweil wiggles his fingers and mumbles a few catchphrases and upchucks a remarkable prediction, that in 35 years (a number dredged out of his compendium of biased estimates), Man (one, a few, many? How? He doesnt know) will finally achieve immortality (seems to me youd need to wait a few years beyond that goal to know if it was true). Now weve even got a name for the Kurzweil delusion: Singularitarianism.
Theres room inside Singularitarianism for considerable diversity of opinion about what the Singularity means and when and how it will or wont happen. But Singularitarians share a worldview. They think in terms of deep time, they believe in the power of technology to shape history, they have little interest in the conventional wisdom about anything, and they cannot believe youre walking around living your life and watching TV as if the artificial-intelligence revolution were not about to erupt and change absolutely everything. They have no fear of sounding ridiculous; your ordinary citizens distaste for apparently absurd ideas is just an example of irrational bias, and Singularitarians have no truck with irrationality. When you enter their mind-space you pass through an extreme gradient in worldview, a hard ontological shear that separates Singularitarians from the common run of humanity. Expect turbulence.
Wow. Sounds just like the Raelians, or Hercolubians, or Scientologists, or any of the modern New Age pseudosciences that appropriate a bit of jargon and blow it up into a huge mythology. Nice hyperbole there, though. Too bad the whole movement is empty of evidence.
One of the things I do really despise about the Kurzweil approach is their dishonest management of critics, and Kurzweil is the master. He loves to tell everyone whats wrong with his critics, but he doesnt actually address the criticisms.
Take the question of whether computers can replicate the biochemical complexity of an organic brain. Kurzweil yields no ground there whatsoever. He does not see any fundamental difference between flesh and silicon that would prevent the latter from thinking. He defies biologists to come up with a neurological mechanism that could not be modeled or at least matched in power and flexibility by software running on a computer. He refuses to fall on his knees before the mystery of the human brain. Generally speaking, he says, the core of a disagreement Ill have with a critic is, theyll say, Oh, Kurzweil is underestimating the complexity of reverse-engineering of the human brain or the complexity of biology. But I dont believe Im underestimating the challenge. I think theyre underestimating the power of exponential growth.
This is wrong. For instance, I think reverse-engineering the general principles of a human brain might well be doable in a few or several decades, and I do suspect that well be able to do things in ten years, 20 years, a century that I cant even imagine. I dont find Kurzweil silly because Im blind to the power of exponential growth, but because:
Kurzweil hasnt demonstrated that there is exponential growth at play here. Ive read his absurd book, and his data is phony and fudged to fit his conclusion. He cheerfully makes stuff up or drops data that goes against his desires to invent these ridiculous charts.
Im not claiming he underestimates the complexity of the brain, Im saying he doesnt understand biology, period. Handwaving is not enough if hes going to make fairly specific claims of immortality in 35 years, there had better be some understanding of the path that will be taken.
There is a vast difference between grasping a principle and implementing the specifics. If we understand how the brain works, if we can create a computer simulation that replicates and improves upon the function of our brain, that does not in any way imply that my identity and experiences can be translated into the digital realm. Again, Kurzweil doesnt have even a hint of a path that can be taken to do that, so he has no basis for making the prediction.
Smooth curves that climb upward into infinity can exist in mathematics (although Kurzweils predictions dont live in state of rigor that would justify calling them mathematical), but they dont work in the real world. There are limits. Weve been building better and more powerful power plants for aircraft for a century, but they havent gotten to a size and efficiency to allow me to fly off with a personal jetpack. I have no reason to expect that they will, either.
While I dont doubt that science will advance rapidly, I also expect that the directions it takes will be unpredictable. Kurzweil confuses engineering, where you build something to fit a predetermined set of specifications, with science, in which you follow the evidence wherever it leads. Look at the so-called war on cancer: it isnt won, no one expects that it will be, but what it has accomplished is to provide limited success in improving health and quality of life, extending survival times, and developing new tools for earlier diagnosis thats reality, and understanding reality is achieved incrementally, not by sudden surges in technology independent of human effort. It also generates unexpected spinoffs in deeper knowledge about cell cycles, signaling, gene regulation, etc. The problems get more interesting and diverse, and its awfully silly of one non-biologist in 2011 to try to predict what surprises will pop out.
Kurzweil is a typical technocrat with limited breadth of knowledge. Imagine what happens IF we actually converge on some kind of immortality. Who gets it? If its restricted, what makes Kurzweil think he, and not Senator Dumbbum who controls federal spending on health, or Tycoon Greedo the trillionaire, gets it? How would the world react if such a capability were available, and they (or their dying mother, or their sick child) dont have access? What if its cheap and easy, and everyone gets it? Kurzweil is talking about a technology that would almost certainly destroy every human society on the planet, and he treats it as blithely as the prospect of getting new options for his cell phone. In case he hadnt noticed, human sociology and politics shows no sign of being on an exponential trend towards greater wisdom. Yeah, expect turbulence.
Hes guilty of a very weird form of reductionism that considers a human life can be reduced to patterns in a computer. I have no stock in spiritualism or dualism, but we are very much a product of our crude and messy biology we percieve the world through imprecise chemical reactions, our brains send signals by shuffling ions in salt water, our attitudes and reactions are shaped by chemicals secreted by glands in our guts. Replicating the lightning while ignoring the clouds and rain and pressure changes will not give you a copy of the storm. It will give you something different, which would be interesting still, but its not the same.
Kurzweil shows other signs of kookery. Two hundred pills a day? Weekly intravenous transfusions? Drinking alkalized water because hes afraid of acidosis? The man is an intelligent engineer, but hes also an obsessive crackpot.
Oh, well. Ill make my own predictions. Magazines will continue to praise Kurzweils techno-religion in sporadic bursts, and followers will continue to gullibly accept what he says because it is what they wish would happen. Kurzweil will die while brain-uploading and immortality are still vague dreams; he will be frozen in liquid nitrogen, which will so thoroughly disrupt his cells that even if we discover how to cure whatever kills him, there will be no hope of recovering the mind and personality of Kurzweil from the scrambled chaos of his dead brain. 2045 will come, and those of us who are alive to see it, will look back and realize it is very, very different from what life was like in 2011, and also very different from what we expected life to be like. At some point, I expect artificial intelligences to be part of our culture, if we persist; theyll work in radically different ways than human brains, and they will revolutionize society, but I have no way of guessing how. Ray Kurzweil will be forgotten, mostly, but records of the existence of a strange shaman of the circuitry from the late 20th and early 21st century will be tucked away in whatever the future databases are like, and people and machines will sometimes stumble across them and laugh or zotigrate and say, How quaint and amusing!, or whatever the equivalent in the frangitwidian language of the trans-entity circumsolar ansible network might be.
And thatll be kinda cool. I wish I could live to see it.
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Posted: at 7:59 am
There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.
Evolution refers to change in a biological population’s inherited traits from generation to generation. Some believe that: all species on Earth originated by the mechanism of evolution, through descent from common ancestors. Evolution occurs as changes accumulate over generations. Charles Darwin recognized evolution by natural selection, also called “descent with modification”, as the fundamental process underlying all of life, whether viewed at a large scale above the level of species (macroevolution), in terms of formation of new species, changes within lineages, and extinction, or at a small scale within a species (microevolution), in terms of change in gene frequency. (Keep in mind that this entire page is based on the idea that something came from nothing. If any of this were true, we would be continually shifting in shape and “breed”. Humans were created separately when life began. (Genesis 1.)) In a nutshell, evolution by natural selection can be simplified to the following principles:
In modern genetic terminology, variability of traits in a population is the expression (phenotype) of heritable traits (genes), which at least on Earth are stored in DNA (or sometimes RNA or proteins). Variability of traits ultimately originates from mutation, and new combinations of genes are continually produced via recombination as part of sexual reproduction. The result of natural selection is adaptation, like a “hand in glove” fit between organism and environment. Evolution, defined in population genetics as change in gene frequency in a population, can be influenced by other processes besides natural selection, including genetic drift (random changes, especially in small populations) and gene flow (wherein new genes come into a population from other populations). In a sense, mutation is a creative process of expansion in which new possibilities come into existence (most of which don’t work so well), and this is balanced by natural selection, another creative process of contraction that reduces the possibilities to those that work best in a particular environment.
It sure felt good when Earth was flat, Earth was the center of the universe, Earth was only about 6,000 years old, life on Earth originated as the handiwork of a supernatural creator, and when species were fixed and didn’t evolve. And it felt really good when humans were special, created separately from other life on Earth, not descended from a common ancestor. So what if understanding evolution revolutionized our entire worldview. Reality is overrated.
The word evolution (from the Latin e, meaning “from, out of,” and volvo, “to roll,” thus “to unroll [like a scroll]”) was initially used in 1662, and was variously used, including with respect to physical movement, describing tactical wheeling maneuvers for realignment of troops or ships. In medicine, mathematics, and general writing early use of the term referred to growth and development within individuals.; its first use in relation to biological change over generations came in 1762, when Charles Bonnet used it for his now outdated concept of “pre-formation”, in which females carried a miniature form (homunculus) of all future generations. The term gradually gained more general meaning of progressive change. In 1832 Scottish geologist Charles Lyell referred to gradual change over long periods of time. Charles Darwin only used the word in print once, in the closing paragraph of The Origin of Species (1859), and rather favored the phrases “transmutation by means of natural selection” and “descent with modification”. In the subsequent modern synthesis of evolution, Julian Huxley and others adopted the term, which thereby became the accepted technical term used by scientists.Although in contemporary usage the term “evolution” most commonly refers to biological evolution, usage has evolved, and the word also refers more generally to “accumulation of change”, including in many disciplines besides biology.
The idea that life has evolved over time is not a recent one, and Charles Darwin did not, in fact, come up with the idea of evolution in general. For example, ancient Greek philosophers, like Aristotle, had ideas about biological development. Later, in Medieval times, Augustine used evolution as a basis for the philosophy of history.
The first significant step in the theory of evolution was made by Carl Linnaeus. His leading contribution to science was his creation of the binomial system of nomenclature in lay terms, the two-part name given to species, such as Homo sapiens for humans. He, like other biologists of his time, believed in the fixity of the species, and in the scala naturae, or the scale of life. His ideas were consistent with the Judeo-Christian teachings of his time.
Erasmus Darwin, the grandfather of Charles Darwin, was the first scientist to whom credit can be given for something starting to approach modern concepts of evolution, as noted in his contributions to botany and zoology. His writings contained many comments (mostly in footnotes and side writings) that suggested his beliefs in common descent. He concluded that vestigial organs (such as the appendix in humans) are leftovers from previous generations. The elder Darwin, however, offered no mechanism by which he believed evolution could occur.
Georges Cuvier proposed a mechanism by which the fossil record could develop over time without evolution – which by now had come into usage as a term. His hypothesis, catastrophism, was that a series of disasters destroy all life within a limited area, and that living organisms move in to this newly opened area. This idea prefigures in some respects the 1970s hypothesis of ‘punctuated equilibrium’.
Lamarck was the first scientist to whom credit can be given for a theory of evolution. His idea centered on use and disuse, the concept being that the more an organism used a particular part of its body, the more developed that organ became within a species. It is sound only for individuals (e.g. a weightlifter will develop larger muscles over time, but will not pass this trait on to any children.) Nevertheless, modern research into epigenetics suggests that parents can induce some traits into their offspring by non-genetic inheritance, and that Lamarck was therefore not completely wrong.
By the first half of the 19th century, scientists had gathered a great deal of information on species, and had inferred that life on Earth had existed for a very long time, and that some species had become extinct. Natural selection was the first theory to provide a mechanism to explain those observations. Prior to the theory of natural selection, the concept that species could change over time had been proposed, but without a satisfactory explanation.[Who?]Alfred Russel Wallace and Charles Darwin came to the conclusion, independently, that competition for resources and the struggle for survival helped determine which changes became permanent and which traits were discarded.
The theory of evolution by natural selection, as we know it today, was published in a joint paper by Wallace and Darwin on 20 August, 1858, based on Wallace’s observations in the Malay Archipelago and Darwin’s observations over many years including those made during his voyage on HMS Beagle. Charles Lyell’s Principles of Geology, which suggested slow changes over very long periods of time, also contributed to the nascent theory. Darwin drew heavily on his knowledge of human experience in breeding domestic animals (artificial selection), particularly the varieties produced by pigeon breeders (Darwin was one himself), for his understanding of how variations could develop within a population over time. Darwin set out his theory (at the time, a hypothesis) of natural selection in his books On the Origin of Species and The Descent of Man.
For more information, see Non-Darwinian evolution.
Although natural selection was the first mechanism proposed in evolutionary theory (and remains the most common), other forms of selection play a part as well. The most notable of these is sexual selection, which occurs due to some heritable preference for a trait in breeding partners. Derivation of traits through this mechanism is driven by (usually) the female’s choice in mating partner rather than direct impact on fitness. Sexual selection often leads to the rise of features which would likely not occur under natural selection, such as the tail of a peacock or the long necks of giraffes.
It should be noted that sexual selection can be divided into two forms, distinguishable by who actually “makes” mating decisions. The first of these is intersexual selection, and in this form of selection the limiting sex (which is usually female) will choose a partner. The other form is intrasexual selection, or mate competition. In this form of selection, one sex (usually males) competes for “mating rights” to members of the other sex.
In addition to selection, other mechanisms have been proposed, most notably genetic drift. More controversial is the importance of symbiosis (which has been recognized in the case of the origins of eukaryotes). Universally rejected is Lamarckism or directed (rather than random) variations.
The eclipse of Darwinism is a phrase to describe the state of affairs prior to the modern synthesis when evolution was widely accepted in scientific circles but relatively few biologists believed that natural selection was its primary mechanism. Instead non-Darwinian mechanisms of evolution such as neo-Lamarckism, saltationism, or orthogenesis were advocated. These mechanisms were included in most textbooks until the 1930’s but were rejected by the neo-Darwinian synthesis theorists in the 1940’s as evidence had proven the role of natural selection in evolution.
The modern evolutionary synthesis is a union of ideas from several biological specialties, which attempts to explain how evolution proceeds. It has been accepted by many scientists. It is also referred to as the new synthesis, the evolutionary synthesis, the neo-Darwinian synthesis, or the synthetic theory of evolution. The synthesis was produced between 1936 and 1947 due to the reconciliation of Mendelian genetics with natural selection into a gradual framework of evolution. The synthesis of Darwinian natural selection (1859) and Mendelian inheritance (1865) is the cornerstone of neo-Darwinism.
Julian Huxley (1887 1975) invented the term, when he produced his book, Evolution: The Modern Synthesis (1942). Other major figures in the modern synthesis included R. A. Fisher (1890 – 1962), Theodosius Dobzhansky (1900 – 1975), Ernst Mayr (1904 – 2005), George Gaylord Simpson (1902 1984), and G. Ledyard Stebbins (1906 – 2000).
Over the past decade, new conceptions of evolutionary theory have emerged going under the umbrella term of the “Extended Synthesis,” which is intended to modify the existing Modern Synthesis. This proposed extended synthesis incorporates new possibilities for integration and expansion in evolutionary theory, such as Evo-devo, Epigenetic Inheritance and Niche Construction. Its proponents include Massimo Pigliucci, Gerd Mller, and Eva Jablonka. In 2008 sixteen scientists met at the Konrad Lorenz Institute in Altenberg, Austria, to propose an extended synthesis.
Evolutionary theory has at its core three main tenets, observations of patterns within nature. These three patterns were observed by both Darwin and Wallace, and they eventually gave rise to the modern theory of evolution by natural selection.
Darwin and Wallace both noted that populations display natural variability in form, physiology, and behaviour (phenotypic variability). For example, within a population, some members may be very large, some may be very small, and most may be somewhere in the middle. This natural variability is the fundamental source upon which natural selection acts.
Having observed that natural variability exists, early evolutionary biologists also noted that some of these variants endowed their possessor with some competitive edge over other members of the species, conferring greater survival or reproduction. Although at first the implications of this fact were unclear, the writings of Thomas Malthus spurred Darwin and Wallace to recognize that individuals that have traits that enhance their ability to survive and reproduce pass on these traits to subsequent generations. Differential fitness, also known as differential reproductive success, in essence, is the process by which traits that enhance survival and reproduction gain greater representation in subsequent generations.
Only if variation is heritable, will it confer an advantage into future generations. Although early evolutionary scientists did not have the benefit of modern molecular tools, they surmised that the source of variation must in part have a heritable basis, in contrast with variation expressed solely in response to different environmental conditions. In fact, one of the first predictions made by evolutionary theory was the existence of a heritable factor, now known to be DNA!
Thus the combination of phenotypic variability, differential fitness, and heritability of fitness define evolution by natural selection. Darwin and Wallace independently came to the conclusion that those organisms best suited to their environment would survive to produce more offspring. Therefore, the heritable factor responsible would increase in frequency within the population.
Evolutionary biology seeks to explain the following three broad patterns observable in all life.
Diversity is fundamental to life at all levels of organization: ecosystems, communities, species, populations, individuals, organs, and molecules.
According to the Genetic Variation Program arm of the National Human Genome Research Institute, about 99.5% of human DNA is the same from person to person. The other 0.5% accounts for a number of simple and complex traits we possess. There is tremendous genetic diversity within almost all species, including humans. No two individuals have an identical DNA sequence, with the exception of identical twins or clones. This genetic variation contributes to phenotypic variation – that is, diversity in the outward appearance and behavior of individuals of the same species.
Populations must adapt to their environment to survive.
Living organisms have morphological, biochemical, and behavioral features that make them well adapted for life in the environments in which they are usually found. For example, consider the hollow bones and feathers of birds that enable them to fly, or the cryptic coloration that allows many organisms to hide from their predators or prey. These features may give the superficial appearance that organisms were designed by a creator (or engineer) to live in a particular environment. Evolutionary biology has demonstrated that adaptations arise through selection acting on a population through genetic variation.
Species evolved along different paths from a common ancestor.
All living species differ from one another. In some cases, these differences are subtle, while in other cases the differences are dramatic. Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778) proposed a classification that is still used today with slight changes. In the modern scheme, related species are grouped into genera, related genera into families, and so on. This hierarchical pattern of relationship produces a tree-like pattern, which implies a process of splitting and divergence from a common ancestor. While Linnaeus classified species using similar physical characteristics, modern evolutionary biologists also base classification on DNA analysis, which can distinguish between superficial resemblances between species and those which are due to common ancestry.
Biological evolution results from changes over time in the genetic constitution of species. The accumulation of genetic variations often, but not always, produces noticeable changes in the appearance or behavior of organisms. Evolution requires both the production of variation and the spread of some variants that replace others.
Genetic variation arises through two processes, mutation and recombination. Mutation occurs when DNA is imperfectly copied during replication, or by changes in genetic material caused by such mutagens as radiation, leading to a difference between a parent’s gene and that of its offspring. Some mutations affect only one bit in the DNA; others produce rearrangements of, or changes in, large blocks of DNA.
Recombination occurs when genes from two parents are shuffled to produce an offspring, as happens in every instance of sexual reproduction. Usually the two parents belong to the same species, but sometimes (especially in bacteria) genes move between more distantly related organisms.
The fate of any particular genetic variant depends on two processes, drift and selection. Drift refers to random fluctuations in gene frequency, and its effects are usually seen at the level of DNA. Ten flips of a coin do not always (or even usually) produce exactly five heads and five tails; drift refers to the same statistical issue applied to the transmission of genetic variants across generations. Genetic drift is inverse to population size; that is, genetic drift has a greater effect on small populations than larger ones. For example, if a small part of a population becomes geographically isolated its members will develop new traits faster.
The principle of natural selection was discovered by Charles Darwin (1809-1882), and it is the process by which organisms become adapted to their environments. Selection occurs when some individual organisms have genes that encode physical or behavioral features that allow them to better harvest resources, avoid predators, reproduce successfully, and so forth, relative to other individuals that do not carry those genes. The individuals that have more useful (adaptive) features will tend to leave more offspring than other individuals, so the responsible genes will become more common over time, leading the population as a whole to become better adapted.
Through a variety of mechanisms, gene duplication can occur which gives rise to two identical genes in the genome. Since only one of these genes is necessary, the other gene can undergo mutations without having an adverse effect on the original function of the gene. These duplicated genes called paralogs can give rise to protein families with similar yet distinctly different functions. For example, the olfactory protein family consists of around 900 different smell receptors that all arose via gene duplication followed by unimpeded mutation.
The process that many people find most confusing about evolution is speciation, which is not a separate mechanism at all, but rather a consequence of the preceding mechanisms played out in time and space. Speciation occurs when a population changes sufficiently over time that it becomes convenient to refer to the early and late forms by different names. Speciation also occurs when one population splits into two distinct forms that can no longer interbreed. Reproductive isolation does not generally happen in one generation; it may require many thousands of generations when, for example, one part of a population becomes geographically separated from the rest and adapts to a new environment. Given time, it is inevitable that two populations that live apart will diverge by mutation, drift, and selection until eventually their genes are no longer compatible for successful reproduction.
Working alongside with natural selection (death and survival pressure), spatial evolution is caused by individuals with random variation that are selected nonrandomly by how fast they travel away from home populations. The faster the individuals, the faster the individual she or he mates with, leading to fast offspring. This is both behavioral and morphological. The individuals ‘race’ their way to become a distinct species. Examples of Spatial evolution are new. For example, Australian researchers have detailed a new mechanism of evolution that is not based on natural selection but rather on how populations of organisms, such as cane toads, move around.
Common descent explains the many shared features (homologies) of the majority of the organisms on the planet. There is an enormous amount of evidence that suggests all living organisms derived from a common ancestor long ago. For instance, all vertebrate embryos have the same body plan and look very similar in early development. We have the genetic code, which is all but identical in every known organism, from bacteria to humans. We have the shared presence of pseudogenes in similar species. All simians, including us humans, have an inactive gene, L-gulonolactone oxidase, which was originally used to synthesize Vitamin C. Then, we have the evidence for convergence, which explains relationships for all species, from fungal slime you find in shower stalls to sequoia. The tree of life between simple anatomical similarities is strikingly similar to a tree constructed from genetic molecular similarities. Then, there are others, including cool stuff like chromosome fusion, endosymbotic theory, retroviruses, Hox genes, and deep homology, oh my.
Considering all of this, evolution has the intricacy and the reality of quantum mechanics. But you don’t see unqualified people running around and decrying quantum mechanics, do you? Well actually you do, but opposition to quantum mechanics is widely considered fringe kookery, while opposition to evolution is treated by many people as a reasonable position.
So yes, in other words, evolution is a theory.
Evolutionary concepts can also be applied to non-biological processes. Universe formation, evolutionary algorithms in computer science and the development of languages are three such subjects. The study of etymology is one component of analyzing how languages have evolved, and parallels biological evolution (for example) in the way the same language diverges over time into two different languages when two populations that speak the same language become geographically isolated.
Another example of non-biological evolution is the evolution of technology and innovation, which, while being (mostly) intelligently-designed, is (mostly) not random. James Burke studied, authored books, and hosted television programmes on the evolution of technology through a historical context.
Models of cultural evolution, such as memetics, have been devised and applied over the years with varying degrees of success.
Somewhat confusingly, the word “evolution” is also used in some sciences in a way that has no relation to the biological concept whatsoever. When an astronomer speaks of “stellar evolution”, (s)he is taking about the changes that happen to a star over very long periods of time, as it progresses from gas cloud to protostar to main sequence star to post-main-sequence giant to stellar remnant. When a cosmologist speaks of “cosmic evolution”, (s)he is talking about the changes in the size/shape/nature of the universe over time, sometimes on very long time scales, and sometimes at very brief time scales (such as fractions of a second after the Big Bang). Neither of these uses of the word “evolution” has anything to do with populations, heritable traits, selection criteria, descent, or any of the other hallmarks of “evolution” as the term is used in biology.
Creationists consequently confuse the biological and non-biological meanings of the word “evolution” and they claim that the Theory of Evolution includes the origin of the universe and the origin of life. The biological theory of evolution as proposed by Darwin and others has nothing to say about either the origin of the universe or the origin of life on Earth, though some biologists have extended the theory to the very beginning of life.
There are a number of broad arguments creationists/anti-evolutionists make. Specific claims are examined at our common descent page. They’re mostly arguments born of a lack of understanding what evolution by mutation and natural selection actually is, though rarely they’re advanced by more savvy creationists as direct misrepresentations and distortions of the theory of evolution.
Often creationists ask how likely it is that all this complex life could have come about by random chance. They suggest that since individual events, such as the abiogenetic formation of proteins, emergence of RNA, organization of unicellular into multicellular organisms, etc., are purportedly so highly improbable that the entire chain events culminating in the existence of even a single complex organism could not have happened as described. Therefore, God did it. As creationism is largely a program of negative apologetics (e.g. an attempt to show a claim that is viewed as contrary to Christian faith is internally inconsistent or irrational according to the Christian perspective), arguments such as this are in essence arguments from incredulity with the proponent denying a fact (in this case the statistical probability that such and such essential event will have occurred) in order to draw the unsupported conclusion that some other cause (the Christian God) was at work.
The implied argument that a god or “designer” was at work is itself fraught with more untenable problems. Putting aside that the illusion of design is itself problematic, and assuming for the sake of argument that “design” is even identifiable in biological systems, if “random chance” is inadequate to account for some outcome, one is simply making unsupported assertions to contend that it is more probable that a designer was at work. If the causes are “designers” about which nothing is known, if they are capable of doing anything, if it is not known how or why they act, if it is not known when they acted (or will act), or if it is not known what they did (or did not, or could, or would), the causes are not enough to account for the results. If so, “design” in this sense is indistinguishable from random chance.
Nonetheless, evolution by natural selection isn’t a random process. While genetic mutations may appear randomly, the natural selection of specific traits to produce a statistically significant allele (gene variation) frequency in a discrete population of organisms is highly deterministic. If a gene aids survival with respect to any particular environmental stressor, then it is selected by means of the survival and reproduction of the individuals carrying that gene and perpetuates in the population of organisms. If the trait is detrimental to survival, it will leave organisms vulnerable to a particular environmental stressor and through attrition lower the frequency of the allele(s) contributing to that trait in the subject population.
Many creationists hold erroneous beliefs about evolution such as that which is expressed by the statement “I accept microevolution, but not macroevolution.” (This is the position of YEC nincompoop Kent Hovind.) Microevolution is supposed to be evolution that doesn’t result in a new species, and macroevolution is supposed to be evolution that does lead to a new species. This argument is akin to someone saying that while one believes that wind can sometimes erode rock, one doesn’t believe it can change the rock’s shape. Micro- and macroevolution describe the same process, but with a difference in operational time. If one accepts microevolution, they must also accept macroevolution, since the former inevitably leads to the latter if given a long enough time period and the separation of breeding isolates. One cannot simply accept one and not the other. In biology, macroevolution is a broad subject of which speciation is only one part. This argument against speciation may be an attempt by creationists to reserve the power to produce a species for God alone.
Some creationists have abandoned the attempt to deny that new species can appear (and disappear) by natural means, in favor of drawing a barrier, not between species, but between baramins (also known as “kinds”), some sort of collection larger than species. To date, there has not been given any indication of just what sort of a thing a baramin is, what is the nature of the barrier between baramins, or how one might detect the barrier (or suspect its non-existence) in any particular case, other than the uninformative “baramins are those things that present a barrier to evolution.”
Irreducible complexity is a fancy name for the “watchmaker” argument. In a nutshell, irreducible complexity describes an organ (or other facet of a living thing) which the ideology’s supporters claim could not have evolved in small gradual steps. It is claimed to be so complex that it cannot be reduced into other parts. In fact, every example of irreducible complexity Behe and others have come up with has been shown to not be irreducibly complex (for example, the incremental stages towards the “irreducibly complex” human eye that are found in the sight organs of other living organisms).
For any theory to be accepted as scientific it must be falsifiable. In other words, it must be capable of making statements which could theoretically be disproved. Evolution’s opponents claim that the theory of evolution does not have this property, although this claim can be easily rejected. Theoretically, evolution could be falsified if scientists discovered an organism so complex and unique, with absolutely no explainable path as to how it could have evolved. Such an organism has not been found. Similarlyand ironicallythere are the demands made by some creationists that they be shown, say, a dog giving birth to a cat before they’ll accept evolution. Such an event, if it occurred, would falsify (or at least strongly challenge) evolution, since speciation doesn’t happen in a single generation and modern animals don’t evolve into other modern animals.
Sometimes the phrase “evolution is only a theory” will be heard. This phrase rests on the common use of “theory” to mean what scientists call a “hypothesis,” i.e., is something that is possible but not proven. Science, however, uses “theory” in a much different sense, namely as a testable model of the manner of interaction of a set of natural phenomena, capable of predicting future occurrences or observations of the same kind, and capable of being tested through experiment or observation. This sets it at a significantly higher level of reasoning than “wild and unproven guess,” which is what is implied when this argument is mentioned. Also unlike “wild guesses”, scientific theory is among the best explanations for phenomena, and scientists who successfully create new theories will often be famous. As Sheldon Cooper once said, “Evolution isn’t an opinion, it’s fact.” Note that creationists don’t say that gravity is “only a theory.” And if anyone says you can’t directly observe evolution, send them to Professor Lenski.
Strictly speaking, evolution is something that happens in the world of life, and should be distinguished from a theory of evolution, which is (according to the above definition) a model of how evolution occurs. Thus evolution bears the same relationship with a theory of evolution as flight with a theory of flight, or sound with a theory of sound, or planetary motion with a theory of planetary motion. This is often expressed in the saying that “Evolution is both a theory and a fact”, that is to say, the word “evolution” can refer not only to the process (the “something that happens”), but also to a fact that it is observed under such-and-such circumstances, and to a theory that is involved with the process (“how it happens”, “what the consequences are of it happening”).
One creationist claim is that there is a lack of support for evolution among scientists. This claim has for example been articulated, “Interestingly, ever since Charles Darwin’s book The Origin of Species was published in 1859, various aspects of the theory have been a matter of considerable disagreement even among top evolutionary scientists.” To counter this claim one need only note that scientists’ disagreements are about details over the way that evolution functions – and not about the historical fact of it.
Many simulations of evolution (of digital creatures) towards some goal exist. Some of the best are documented here:
In which creatures made of nodes and muscles frantically try to run to the right. Code publicly available; run it online!
In which randomly generated octagons with wheels frantically try to drive to the right. Run it online! Code not publicly available; explanation available.
Or, “Evolution IS a Blind Watchmaker”. Watch a bunch of gears, ratchets, clock hands, and springs frantically try to accurately tell time, and simultaneously disprove the watchmaker analogy. Code publicly available.
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Posted: at 7:58 am
Many different areas make up the practice of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). In addition, many parts of one field may overlap with the parts of another field. For example, acupuncture is also used in conventional medicine. In the U.S., CAM is used by about 38% of adults and 12% of children. Examples of CAM include:
Traditional alternative medicine. This field includes the more mainstream and accepted forms of therapy, such as acupuncture, homeopathy, and Oriental practices. These therapies have been practiced for centuries worldwide. Traditional alternative medicine may include:
Body. Touch has been used in medicine since the early days of medical care. Healing by touch is based on the idea that illness or injury in one area of the body can affect all parts of the body. If, with manual manipulation, the other parts can be brought back to optimum health, the body can fully focus on healing at the site of injury or illness. Body techniques are often combined with those of the mind. Examples of body therapies include:
Diet and herbs. Over the centuries, man has gone from a simple diet consisting of meats, fruits, vegetables, and grains, to a diet that often consists of foods rich in fats, oils, and complex carbohydrates. Nutritional excess and deficiency have become problems in today’s society, both leading to certain chronic diseases. Many dietary and herbal approaches attempt to balance the body’s nutritional well-being. Dietary and herbal approaches may include:
External energy. Some people believe external energies from objects or other sources directly affect a person’s health. An example of external energy therapy is:
Mind. Even standard or conventional medicine recognizes the power of the connection between mind and body. Studies have found that people heal better if they have good emotional and mental health. Therapies using the mind may include:
Senses. Some people believe the senses, touch, sight, hearing, smell, and taste, can affect overall health. Examples of therapies incorporating the senses include:
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Posted: at 7:55 am
Z-Wave is a wireless technology that literally puts the power of controlling and monitoring your home in the palm of your hand. By installing Z-Wave technology, your regular household appliances such as lights, thermostats, sprinklers and more transform into smart appliances. Z-Wave products communicate wirelessly and securely and can be accessed and controlled remotely. Z-wave allows you to access and monitor most appliances inside your home regardless of where you are. Enerwave has a large selection of Z-Wave products that all work together to ensure that you find the best products for your home.
ZigBee is an open global wireless network which provides the basis for the Internet of Things (IoT), by allowing both smart, and simple products to work together. ZigBee is a low cost, low power, energy efficient wireless mesh network which gives you the power to connect and control almost all of the products in your home. By installing ZigBee technology, it will automatically improve your comfort, and safety. It not only allows you to remotely control your home, it also keeps you safe by alerting you of smoke levels, carbon monoxide and even water leaks. Enerwave offers a wide variety of ZigBee products to bring simplicity and relaxation into your life.
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Posted: January 8, 2017 at 7:56 pm
Are you looking for an opportunity to be inspired?
Are you wanting to be part of a community of like-minded people who are committed to making a difference in the world?
Are you ready to feel more empowered in your day-to-day life, relationships and career?
Then look no further. WYI’s Personal Empowerment Program (PEP) is for you!
What is PEP?
When is PEP?
The next Personal Empowerment Program will be held on the Mornington Peninsula, Victoriafrom Friday 2nd December to Monday 5th December, 2016.
All participants are responsible for making their way to Melbourne city, transfers to the venue will be arranged if needed. We recommend arriving in the Melbourne city the night before the program begins and departing late in the evening of the final day (or the following morning, if possible). Further details will be provided on acceptance of your registration.
How much does it cost?
Entry to the Personal Empowerment Program is subsidised for recently returned WYI program participants*. The full fee for the four-day program is $950.
All participants are required to pay a $200 registration bond on acceptance of their registration to secure their place at PEP. This bond is non-refundable if a participant cancels their attendance after 1st November 2016. For more information please contact the PEP Coordinator at email@example.com
* If your WYI Overseas Program ended in July 2016 or later your subsidised fee for PEP is the $200 Registration Bond. If your WYI Overseas Program ended in June 2016 or prior and you have not attended PEP your Registration Bond of $200 will be refunded to you after your completion of the program. As of 2017 all WYI participants will be required to pay a minimum of $200 to attend PEP.
What is included?
Three nights accommodation, all meals and all activities will be covered during program. This includes all course materials and access to qualified coaching professionals and trained PEP staff. Attendees will need to arrange their own transport to and from Melbourne city, transfers to and from the venue from Melbourne city will be provided if needed.
So what you waiting for? Places are limited, complete the online registration to reserve your place now!
It will be the best investment you make for yourself all year.
Please contact the PEP Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions.
Glenda Fraser, PEP Participant 2015
“I appreciated so much my opportunity to come to PEP. I was more than amazed by the program. it was such a privilege being amongst so many volunteers and being in an environment where our only purpose was to bring the best out of and acknowledge the best in everyone. I found the universality of the power of good alive and well at PEP, where true and enduring values were the overwhelming theme, and much love and acceptance was generated, It was a powerful experience, one I hope never to forget.
Thank you PEP and WYI. – Glenda Fraser, PEP Participant 2015″
Caitlin Murphy, Past Participant 2011
“PEP was a powerful force: a process of waking up and returning to authentic connections. It was a meeting of so many incredible people with energy and drive that kick-started an inner fire in many of us. There was such openness and potential in everyone, and a creative element to the program that was very special. read more
I now feel much more peaceful, balanced and healthy; I feel ready to live passionately and bravely. I can start to trust the way I want to live. I now feel more comfortable in my own skin. I feel I respect myself more, and I respect others’ development. I now feel I have the potential to act and to engage freely with others. I now feel part of a powerful movement of change, and take comfort in the fact that many others are driven by the same conviction. I feel resilient and alive.
Sarah Abrahamse, Past Participant 2010
To be honest I spent a great deal of the weekend being overwhelmed about what was going on around me. I tried my hardest to soak up all I could in terms of ideas, stories, experiences and lessons learnt from others by relating or comparing them to my own. I found that the gathering of like minds allowed incredible growth in a very subtle way. I truly believe that together we created a powerful force, a force that is hard to explain, a force that can really only be felt, a force that despite distance, despite the immensity of issues of the world we were considering, despite the unclear solutions, despite it all, a force that remains. What occurred within those four days will always be evident; our force will continue to develop as we continue to feel empowered. It is through this force that I find hope. I find comfort in the fact that our legacy is not over. I find comfort in the idea that I believe in the people I met, I believe they are powerful, and the fact is that through these beliefs I find strength which enables me to also believe in myself.
One of the most beautiful things I took away from this experience was the ability to embrace diversity. We all entered at different stages on our journey, throughout our time together we experienced different emotions, had our own realisations and dealt with things in our own way. People are unique. So often we forget how imperative that concept is. I found myself in the company of like minded people yet I still felt like my own person. I was on my own journey, but I was not alone. This idea highlighted that we all need each other in our simplest form in order to exist. The program highlighted my favourite concept from Africa, ‘Ubuntu’- I am what I am, because of who we all are, I am because we are. We affirm our humanity when we acknowledge that of others. My humanity is caught up and inextricably bound in yours. I feel so privileged to have been a part of this program, to be apart of a family, a force, a movement that ignites my passions and gives me hope.”
Aimee Pitt, Past Participant 2010
“Friendship, challenge, love, fear, liberation: such small words that bring forth such intense memories of my time at PEP. I went simply because I wanted to catch up with like-minded people and learn some leadership skills. Surpassing all expectations, these things were only two of the many things I gained. I wasn’t prepared for the soul battering experience I received, and for that I am blessed. Although only lasting for several days, WYI’s Personal Empowerment Program is the climax to the most life changing journey I have ever been on. All the lessons I learnt about myself on my OAP were tested and solidified. Things that I had “known” for years were finally given meaning and understood. Self doubts that I’d been living with since I was a child were brought to the surface and eliminated. There were tears, there was laughter and above all there was empowerment. I am now in a position to take charge of my life and overcome fear- the cage that binds us all. I now fully realise that challenges are what helps the soul grow. The more vulnerabilities and dreams I make public, the more I inspire others to push their own boundaries and discover hidden strengths. I am responsible, I am powerful; I am the change. And so are you. Led by the most inspiring, generous people I have ever met, the Personal Empowerment Program is an opportunity you don’t want to miss.”
Posted: January 6, 2017 at 10:47 pm
In a racist ruling that primarily functioned as a way to disarm black residents while protecting white Southern paramilitary groups, the Supreme Court held that the Second Amendment applied only to the federal government. Chief Justice Morrison Waite wrote for the majority:
The most frequently-cited Second Amendment ruling in U.S. history has been United States v. Miller, a serious but challenging attempt to define the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms on the basis of how well it serves the Second Amendment’s well-regulated-militia rationale. As Justice James Clark McReynolds wrote for the majority:
In a 5-4 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court decidedfor the first time in U.S. historyto strike down a law on Second Amendment grounds. Justice Scalia wrote for the narrow majority:
The first salient feature of the operative clause is that it codifies a ‘right of the people.’ The unamended Constitution and the Bill of Rights use the phrase ‘right of the people’ two other times, in the First Amendments Assembly-and-Petition Clause and in the Fourth Amendments Search-and-Seizure Clause. The Ninth Amendment uses very similar terminology (‘The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people’). All three of these instances unambiguously refer to individual rights, not ‘collective’ rights, or rights that may be exercised only through participation in some corporate body …
We start therefore with a strong presumption that the Second Amendment right is exercised individually and belongs to all Americans.
The opinion the Court announces today fails to identify any new evidence supporting the view that the Amendment was intended to limit the power of Congress to regulate civilian uses of weapons. Unable to point to any such evidence, the Court stakes its holding on a strained and unpersuasive reading of the Amendments text; significantly different provisions in the 1689 English Bill of Rights, and in various 19th-century State Constitutions; postenactment commentary that was available to the Court when it decided Miller; and, ultimately, a feeble attempt to distinguish Miller that places more emphasis on the Courts decisional process than on the reasoning in the opinion itself …
Until today, it has been understood that legislatures may regulate the civilian use and misuse of firearms so long as they do not interfere with the preservation of a well-regulated militia. The Courts announcement of a new constitutional right to own and use firearms for private purposes upsets that settled understanding, but leaves for future cases the formidable task of defining the scope of permissible regulations …
The Court properly disclaims any interest in evaluating the wisdom of the specific policy choice challenged in this case, but it fails to pay heed to a far more important policy choicethe choice made by the Framers themselves. The Court would have us believe that over 200 years ago, the Framers made a choice to limit the tools available to elected officials wishing to regulate civilian uses of weapons, and to authorize this Court to use the common-law process of case-by-case judicial lawmaking to define the contours of acceptable gun control policy. Absent compelling evidence that is nowhere to be found in the Courts opinion, I could not possibly conclude that the Framers made such a choice.
Posted: December 11, 2016 at 10:49 pm
A Japanese H-IIB rocket carrying the HTV cargo ship blasts off from the Tanegashima Space Center, kicking off a four-day mission to deliver equipment and supplies to the International Space Station.
A powerful rocket carrying a Japanese HTV cargo ship streaked into orbit Friday, kicking off a four-day trip to the International Space Station to deliver 4.3 tons of supplies and equipment, including a set of powerful new batteries for the labs solar power system.
The Mitsubishi Heavy Industries H-IIB rockets hydrogen-fueled LE-7A main engine and four solid-fuel strap-on boosters ignited with a spectacular rush of flame at 8:26:47 a.m. EST (GMT-5; 10:26 p.m. local time), quickly pushing the 174-foot-tall booster away from its seaside launch pad at the picturesque Tanegashima Space Center.
Climbing directly into the plane of the space stations orbit, the rocket smoothly accelerated, leaving the rocky coast of Tanegashima Island behind as it shot away on a southeasterly trajectory.
Fourteen minutes later, the H-IIBs LE-5B second stage shut down and a minute after that, the HTV Kounotori cargo ship was released to fly on its own.
If all goes well, the spacecraft will catch up with the International Space Station early Tuesday, pulling up to within about 30 feet and then standing by while Expedition 50 commander Shane Kimbrough and French astronaut Thomas Pesquet, operating the labs robot arm, lock onto a grapple fixture.
From there, the HTV will be pulled in for berthing at the Earth-facing port of the forward Harmony module.
The HTVs pressurized compartment is packed with 5,657 pounds of equipment and supplies, including 2,786 pounds of food, water, clothing and other crew supplies, 1,461 pounds of station hardware, 925 pounds of science gear, 344 pounds of computer equipment, 77 pounds of spacesuit equipment and 62 pounds of Russian hardware.
Mounted on a pallet in the supply ships unpressurized cargo bay are six 550-pound lithium-ion batteries that will replace 12 aging nickel-hydrogen power packs in one of the stations four sets of solar arrays. Three more HTV flights will be needed to ferry up the remaining three sets of batteries needed by the stations other arrays.
The HTVs arrival will be a relief to NASA, coming less than two weeks after a Russian Progress supply ship carrying 2.5 tons of equipment and supplies was destroyed during launch Dec. 1 after a malfunction of some sort in the Soyuz boosters upper stage.
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blew up on a launch pad in Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Thursday. It was set to launch Saturday but was completely destro…
That failure came three months after a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket exploded on the launch pad at Cape Canaveral during a pre-launch test on Sept. 1. The Falcon 9, which is used to launch SpaceX Dragon space station supply ships, is not expected to resume flights until January, and its not yet clear when the next Dragon might be launched.
NASA managers say the station currently is well stocked with critical supplies and that the Progress failure will have minimal impact on lab operations. But the HTVs arrival will be a welcome milestone, especially the delivery of the new batteries.
The station gets most of its power from four huge sets of rotating solar arrays, two on each end of a long truss. Each set of arrays relies on 12 nickel hydrogen batteries to provide electricity when the station is in Earths shadow and out of direct sunlight.
The pallet carrying the six new batteries will be pulled out of the HTVs unpressurized cargo bay by the stations robot and moved to the right side of the power truss. The batteries will be robotically installed at the base of the inboard starboard 4, or S4, set of arrays, which feed power channels 1A and 3A.
Nine of the older batteries will be attached to the cargo pallet as the replacements are installed. The pallet eventually will be moved back into the HTV, which will burn up in the atmosphere when the cargo ship re-enters around Jan. 20.
The remaining three retired batteries will be attached to adapter plates beside the new batteries where they will remain in long-term storage. Two spacewalks will be required in January to install the adapter plates and complete the battery replacement work.
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Japan launches cargo ship to space station – CBS News
Posted: at 7:54 am
Liberty, in philosophy, involves free will as contrasted with determinism. In politics, liberty consists of the social and political freedoms to which all community members are entitled. In theology, liberty is freedom from the effects of “sin, spiritual servitude, [or] worldly ties.”
Generally, liberty is distinctly differentiated from freedom in that freedom is primarily, if not exclusively, the ability to do as one wills and what one has the power to do; whereas liberty concerns the absence of arbitrary restraints and takes into account the rights of all involved. As such, the exercise of liberty is subject to capability and limited by the rights of others.
Philosophers from earliest times have considered the question of liberty. Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (121180 AD) wrote of “a polity in which there is the same law for all, a polity administered with regard to equal rights and equal freedom of speech, and the idea of a kingly government which respects most of all the freedom of the governed.” According to Thomas Hobbes (15881679), “a free man is he that in those things which by his strength and wit he is able to do is not hindered to do what he hath the will to do” (Leviathan, Part 2, Ch. XXI).
John Locke (16321704) rejected that definition of liberty. While not specifically mentioning Hobbes, he attacks Sir Robert Filmer who had the same definition. According to Locke:
John Stuart Mill (18061873), in his work, On Liberty, was the first to recognize the difference between liberty as the freedom to act and liberty as the absence of coercion. In his book Two Concepts of Liberty, Isaiah Berlin formally framed the differences between these two perspectives as the distinction between two opposite concepts of liberty: positive liberty and negative liberty. The latter designates a negative condition in which an individual is protected from tyranny and the arbitrary exercise of authority, while the former refers to the liberty that comes from self-mastery, the freedom from inner compulsions such as weakness and fear.
The modern concept of political liberty has its origins in the Greek concepts of freedom and slavery. To be free, to the Greeks, was to not have a master, to be independent from a master (to live like one likes). That was the original Greek concept of freedom. It is closely linked with the concept of democracy, as Aristotle put it:
“This, then, is one note of liberty which all democrats affirm to be the principle of their state. Another is that a man should live as he likes. This, they say, is the privilege of a freeman, since, on the other hand, not to live as a man likes is the mark of a slave. This is the second characteristic of democracy, whence has arisen the claim of men to be ruled by none, if possible, or, if this is impossible, to rule and be ruled in turns; and so it contributes to the freedom based upon equality.”
This applied only to free men. In Athens, for instance, women could not vote or hold office and were legally and socially dependent on a male relative.
The populations of the Persian Empire enjoyed some degree of freedom. Citizens of all religions and ethnic groups were given the same rights and had the same freedom of religion, women had the same rights as men, and slavery was abolished (550 BC). All the palaces of the kings of Persia were built by paid workers in an era when slaves typically did such work.
In the Buddhist Maurya Empire of ancient India, citizens of all religions and ethnic groups had some rights to freedom, tolerance, and equality. The need for tolerance on an egalitarian basis can be found in the Edicts of Ashoka the Great, which emphasize the importance of tolerance in public policy by the government. The slaughter or capture of prisoners of war also appears to have been condemned by Ashoka. Slavery also appears to have been non-existent in the Maurya Empire. However, according to Hermann Kulke and Dietmar Rothermund, “Ashoka’s orders seem to have been resisted right from the beginning.”
Roman law also embraced certain limited forms of liberty, even under the rule of the Roman Emperors. However, these liberties were accorded only to Roman citizens. Many of the liberties enjoyed under Roman law endured through the Middle Ages, but were enjoyed solely by the nobility, rarely by the common man. The idea of inalienable and universal liberties had to wait until the Age of Enlightenment.
The social contract theory, most influentially formulated by Hobbes, John Locke and Rousseau (though first suggested by Plato in The Republic), was among the first to provide a political classification of rights, in particular through the notion of sovereignty and of natural rights. The thinkers of the Enlightenment reasoned that law governed both heavenly and human affairs, and that law gave the king his power, rather than the king’s power giving force to law. This conception of law would find its culmination in the ideas of Montesquieu. The conception of law as a relationship between individuals, rather than families, came to the fore, and with it the increasing focus on individual liberty as a fundamental reality, given by “Nature and Nature’s God,” which, in the ideal state, would be as universal as possible.
In On Liberty, John Stuart Mill sought to define the “…nature and limits of the power which can be legitimately exercised by society over the individual,” and as such, he describes an inherent and continuous antagonism between liberty and authority and thus, the prevailing question becomes “how to make the fitting adjustment between individual independence and social control”.
England and following the Act of Union 1707 Great Britain, laid down the cornerstones to the concept of individual liberty.
In 1166 Henry II of England transformed English law by passing the Assize of Clarendon act. The act, a forerunner to trial by jury, started the abolition of trial by combat and trial by ordeal.
In 1215 the Magna Carta was drawn up, it became the cornerstone of liberty in first England, Great Britain and later, the world.
In 1689 the Bill of Rights grants ‘freedom of speech in Parliament’, which lays out some of the earliest civil rights.
In 1859 an essay by the philosopher John Stuart Mill, entitled On Liberty argues for toleration and individuality. If any opinion is compelled to silence, that opinion may, for aught we can certainly know, be true. To deny this is to assume our own infallibility.
In 1958 Two Concepts of Liberty, by Isaiah Berlin, determines ‘negative liberty’ as an obstacle, as evident from ‘positive liberty’ which promotes self-mastery and the concepts of freedom.
In 1948 British representatives attempt to and are prevented from adding a legal framework to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. (It was not until 1976 that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights came into force, giving a legal status to most of the Declaration.) 
The United States of America was one of the first nations to be founded on principles of freedom and equality, with no king and no hereditary nobility. According to the 1776 United States Declaration of Independence, all men have a natural right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. But this declaration of liberty was troubled from the outset by the presence of slavery. Slave owners argued that their liberty was paramount, since it involved property, their slaves, and that the slaves themselves had no rights that any White man was obliged to recognize. The Supreme Court, in the Dred Scott decision, upheld this principle. It was not until 1866, following the Civil War, that the US constitution was amended to extend these rights to persons of color, and not until 1920 that these rights were extended to women.
By the later half of the 20th century, liberty was expanded further to prohibit government interference with personal choices. In the United States Supreme Court decision Griswold v. Connecticut, Justice William O. Douglas argued that liberties relating to personal relationships, such as marriage, have a unique primacy of place in the hierarchy of freedoms. Jacob M. Appel has summarized this principle:
I am grateful that I have rights in the proverbial public square but, as a practical matter, my most cherished rights are those that I possess in my bedroom and hospital room and death chamber. Most people are far more concerned that they can control their own bodies than they are about petitioning Congress.
In modern America, various competing ideologies have divergent views about how best to promote liberty. Liberals in the original sense of the word see equality as a necessary component of freedom. Progressives stress freedom from business monopoly as essential. Libertarians disagree, and see economic freedom as best. The Tea Party movement sees big government as the enemy of freedom.
France supported the Americans in their revolt against English rule and, in 1789, overthrew their own monarchy, with the cry of “Libert, galit, fraternit”. The bloodbath that followed, known as the reign of terror, soured many people on the idea of liberty. Edmund Burke, considered one of the fathers of conservatism, wrote “The French had shewn themselves the ablest architects of ruin that had hitherto existed in the world.”
According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary of Politics, liberalism is “the belief that it is the aim of politics to preserve individual rights and to maximize freedom of choice”. But they point out that there is considerable discussion about how to achieve those goals. Every discussion of freedom depends of three key components: who is free, what are they free to do, and what forces restrict their freedom. John Gray argues that the core belief of liberalism is toleration. Liberals allow others freedom to do what they want, in exchange for having the same freedom in return. This idea of freedom is personal rather than political. William Safire points out that liberalism is attacked by both the Right and the Left: by the Right for defending such practices as abortion, homosexuality, and atheism, by the Left for defending free enterprise and the rights of the individual over the collective.
According to the Encyclopdia Britannica, Libertarians hold liberty as their primary political value. Libertarian philosophers hold that there is no tenable distinction between personal and economic liberty that they are, indeed, one and the same, to be protected (or opposed) together. In the context of U.S. constitutional law, for example, they point out that the constitution twice lists “life, liberty, and property” without making any distinctions within that phrase. Their approach to implementing liberty involves opposing any governmental coercion, aside from that which is necessary to prevent individuals from coercing each other. This is known as the non-aggression principle.
According to republican theorists of freedom, like the historian Quentin Skinner or the philosopher Philip Pettit, one’s liberty should not be viewed as the absence of interference in one’s actions, but as non-domination. According to this view, which originates in the Roman Digest, to be a liber homo, a free man, means not being subject to another’s arbitrary will, that is to say, dominated by another. They also cite Machiavelli who asserted that you must be a member of a free self-governing civil association, a republic, if you are to enjoy individual liberty.
The predominance of this view of liberty among parliamentarians during the English Civil War resulted in the creation of the liberal concept of freedom as non-interference in Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan.
Socialists view freedom as a concrete situation as opposed to a purely abstract ideal. Freedom involves agency to pursue one’s creative interests unhindered by coercive social relationships that one is forced to engage in in order to survive under a given social system. From this perspective, freedom requires both the material economic conditions that make freedom possible alongside the social relationships and institutions conducive to freedom. As such, the socialist concept of freedom is held in contrast to the liberal concept of freedom.
The socialist conception of freedom is closely related to the socialist view of creativity and individuality. Influenced by Karl Marx’s concept of alienated labor, socialists understand freedom to be the ability for an individual to engage in creative work in the absence of alienation, where alienated labor refers to work people are forced to perform and un-alienated work refers to individuals pursuing their own creative interests.
For Karl Marx, meaningful freedom is only attainable in a communist society characterized by superabundance and free access, would eliminate the need for alienated labor and enable individuals to pursue their own creative interests, leaving them to develop their full potentialities. This goes alongside Marx’s emphasis on the reduction of the average length of the workday to expand the “realm of freedom” for each person. Marx’s notion of communist society and human freedom is thus radically individualistic.
“This also is remarkable in India, that all Indians are free, and no Indian at all is a slave. In this the Indians agree with the Lacedaemonians. Yet the Lacedaemonians have Helots for slaves, who perform the duties of slaves; but the Indians have no slaves at all, much less is any Indian a slave.”
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Posted: at 7:41 am
Jason Brennan opens the second chapter of Libertarianism: What Everyone Needs to Know with the question: How do libertarians define liberty? He answers his question by distinguishing between two major kinds of liberty: negative liberty and positive liberty. Negative liberty, Brennan explains, signifies an absence of obstacles, impediments, or constraints. Positive liberty, in contrast,
is the power or capacity to do as one chooses. For instance, when we talk about being free as a bird, we mean that the bird has the power or ability to fly. We do not mean that people rarely interfere with birds.
Negative liberty is the absence of obstacles; positive liberty is the presence of powers or abilities.
Brennans bird does not serve his purpose; it is a poor example. When we speak of being free as a bird, we dont usually mean what Brennan claims we mean. To be free as a bird suggests more than the power or ability to fly. It also suggests that the exercise of that ability is not hindered by external constraints. The fantasy of being free as a bird is linked to the desire to be free from external constraintsor, as Brennan puts it in his account of negative liberty, to act in the absence of obstacles.
The connection between the ability to fly and negative freedom is expressed in these famous lyrics from The Prisoners Song:
Now, if I had the wings of an angel, Over these prison walls I would fly.
When we speak of a bird as being free to fly, we assume that the bird in question has not been confined in a cage. We would not normally speak, for example, of a caged canary as being free to fly. This way of speaking suggests that a bird can exercise its ability to fly without external constraints, such as by being locked in a cage. The notion of negative freedom is, at the very least, an implicit presupposition of all such examples.
Of course, a caged bird may be free to fly around inside his cage to some extent, just as a human prisoner in solitary confinement may be free to walk within the confines of his tiny cell. Such cases illustrate the fact that negative freedom, or liberty (the terms are normally used interchangeably), may exist in varying degrees. But to say that a prisoner possesses the positive freedom to walk merely because he possesses the power or ability to walk (as Brennans bird is said to be free to fly in virtue of its ability to fly) is to use the word freedom in a peculiar way.
According to the positive conception of freedom (as summarized by Brennan), the fact of imprisonment would not even diminish a prisoners freedom to walk, so long as he remains able to walk. Even a prisoner bound tightly in chains would still be free to walk in the positive sense, provided he retained the ability to walk. When we say that a chained prisoner is not free to walk, we mean that he is constrained and therefore lacks the negative freedom to walk as he chooses, not that he lacks the power or ability to walk per se.
I may seem to be nitpicking here, and so I might be if not for Brennans attempt to incorporate positive liberty into libertarian theory. As he puts it (p. 27):
Until recently, most libertarians tended to argue that the only real kind of liberty is negative liberty. The believed the concept of positive liberty was confused. For a long time, the status quo was that libertarians and classical liberals advocated a negative conception of liberty, while left-liberals, socialists, and Marxists advocated a positive conception of liberty.
Brennan assures us that the status quo has begun to change: Recently, though, many libertarians have begun to accept both negative and positive liberty.
When contemporary libertarians say they want a free society, they mean that they want both (1) a society in which people do not interfere with each other and (2) a society in which most people have the means and ability to achieve their goals.
I confess to being unclear about the identity of the many libertarians who embrace positive liberty; but judging by Brennans subsequent mention of a book he co-authored with David Schmidtz, he appears to mean neoclassical liberals. In his recommended readings at the end of his book, Brennan lists four authors (including himself) under the heading Neoclassical Liberalism.
Now, there are probably a few more neoclassical liberals roaming the halls of academe, and I wont quibble over how many libertarians it takes to qualify as many libertarians. But when Brennan moves from many libertarians to his much broader statement about what contemporary libertarians supposedly believe about positive liberty, I must question his sense of proportion.
Consider Brennans next statement: Until recently, most libertarians rejected the concept of positive liberty. Until recently? Admittedly, I am not as active in the libertarian movement as I once was, but I doubt if I missed a sea change in regard to what most libertarians (including conventional classical liberals) think about the notion of positive liberty.
Brennan is again exaggerating the influence of his band of neoclassical liberals. A handful of academic philosophers does not a movement make.
Lets proceed to the more substantive problems in Brennans account. Why was the notion of positive liberty traditionally rejected by libertarians? According to Brennan, libertarians thought that if positive libertyunderstood as the power to achieve ones endscounted as a form of liberty, this would automatically license socialism and a heavy welfare state. Since they opposed socialism and a heavy welfare state, they rejected the concept of positive liberty.
This explanation is neither accurate nor fair; traditional libertarian objections to positive liberty were far more sophisticated than Brennan would have us believe. I will cover some of those objections in my next essay. For now, we should try to understand what the point of all this is. Why, for instance, do we find Brennan (p. 28) asking this loaded question: Why do many libertarians now accept positive liberty? Brennan explains:
Contemporary libertarians tend to embrace positive liberty. They agree that the power to achieve ones goals really is a form of liberty. They agree with Marxists and socialists that this form of liberty is valuable, and that negative liberty without positive liberty is often of little value.
Permit me to be blunt: contemporary libertarians, on the whole, tend to embrace no such thing. They do not agree with Marxists and socialists on this matter. On the contrary, they tend to argue that positive liberty is not a form of liberty at all, if by form we mean to suggest that positive and negative liberty are two species of the same genus. Rather, as Murray Rothbard wrote in Power and Market (p. 221), freedom pertains to interference by other persons. The word, in a social context, refers to absence of molestation by other persons; it is purely an interpersonal problem.
I see no evidence to indicate that the mainstream of libertarian thinking has changed substantially from this description of liberty given in 1773 by the American clergyman Simeon Howard:
Though this word [liberty] is used in various senses, I mean by it here, only that liberty which is opposed to external force and constraint and to such force and constraint only, as we may suffer from men. Under the term liberty, taken in this sense, may naturally be comprehended all those advantages which are liable to be destroyed by the art or power of men; everything that is opposed to temporal slavery.
According to this approach, negative liberty (the absence of coercive interference by others) is itself the fundamental means by which individuals are enabled to pursue their own values as they see fit. Brennan doesnt disagree with this assertion, as we see in his remark (p. 29) that protecting negative liberties is the most important and effective way of promoting positive liberty.
Thus, a commitment to positive liberty does not license socialism; it forbids it. Marxists say that positive liberty is the only real liberty. This real liberty is found in market societies, and almost nowhere else.
Brennan obviously wishes to turn the notion of positive liberty against socialists and other advocates of expansive governmental powers; whether his efforts are successful is a problem I shall take up at a later time. For now I wish only to point out that everything Brennan wants to say could easily be said without dragging in the notion of positive liberty at all. What we have here, in my judgment, is a type of political correctness run amok.
Will socialists, seduced by Brennans endorsement of positive liberty, see the light and agree that free markets are the best means to attain their cherished goal of positive liberty for everyone? As the old saying goes, there are two chances of this happening: fat and slim. By needlessly incorporating positive liberty into libertarian theory and, even worse, by claiming that negative liberty without positive liberty often has no value, Brennan has opened the barn door so wide as to admit all manner of anti-libertarian proposals.
Brennan appeals to historical fact to support his claim that free markets are the best way to achieve positive liberty. He would have gotten no objection from me if he had simply said, as Murray Rothbard put it in Power and Market (pp. 221-22), that it is precisely voluntary exchange and free capitalism that have led to an enormous improvement in living standards. Capitalist production is the only method by which poverty can be wiped out. But this straightforward claim wasnt good enough for Brennan, who succumbed to the desire to put old wine in a new libertarian bottle labeled positive liberty.
In short, Brennans attempt to incorporate positive liberty into libertarian theory accomplishes nothing more than to transform a strong argument for free markets into an argument that is perilously weak.
Anyone concerned with historical fact needs to understand why the notion of positive liberty proved so destructive to the negative liberty defended by classical liberals and libertarians. This will be the subject of my next essay.
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Negative and Positive Liberty | Libertarianism.org
Posted: December 7, 2016 at 8:02 am
What was the Pro-Slavery or West India Lobby?
In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the production of sugar in Britain’s West Indian colonies saw money pouring into Britain. The sugar production came to be controlled by a small circle of wealthy planters and merchants.
By the 1670’s, London had became the centre of colonial decision-making and the West Indian planters, living in England, formed an association with the London merchants and agents responsible for colonial legislation. By 1733, the West India Lobby had grown to included associations from all the principle trade cities (Bristol, Liverpool, Glasgow, and London). Together, theynurtured ties with members of both houses of Parliament and eventually a number became MPs.
Once the planters became part of the government, they had the opportunity to influence policies that affected the colonies. The rise ofthe sugar industryalso saw therise of the Transatlantic Slave Trade and, with it, attempts by individuals to create a similar influence on the governmental economic policy, in line with slave trader interests.
Those involved in the industry eventually controlled a considerable proportion of Britain’s wealth. The money from the plantations also generated commerce and shaped the British economy, as new banks and financial institutions developed. The planters and merchants invested in industry and the profits they made allowed them to build stately homes in the countryside and have enough wealth to acquire immense political power.
Many absentee’ plantation owners and merchants involved in the Slave Trade, rose to high office as mayors or served in Parliament.William Beckford, for example, the owner of a 22,000 acre estate in Jamaica, was twice Lord Mayor of London and, in the mid to late 1700’s, over 50 MPs in parliament represented the slave plantations.
For 200 years, supporters of the Slave Trade were successful in opposing any opposition. The lobby won major concessions from the British government and proved tough opposition to the abolitionists.
What tactics did they use?
The West India Lobbyused very similar tactics to the anti-slavery lobby (see Campaign Section). They wrote pamphlets and other literature arguing that the Slave Trade was necessary and, in fact, beneficial to the Africans. They lobbied parliament and produced witnesses to testify to parliament. They had the power and wealth to buy votes and exert pressure on others.
They also used delaying tactics, for example, suggesting the need for further time or investigation, before consideration of the issue by the House, or supporting compromise solutions. On April 2nd 1792, when Wilberforce again brought a bill calling for abolition, Henry Dundas, as home secretary, proposed a compromise solution of gradual abolition’ over a number of years. Although this was passed by 230to 85 votes, the compromise was seen as little more than a clever ploy by the pro-slavery lobby. Gradual, in their view, meant never.
Another response to attacks by the anti slavery lobby was to show themselves as reformers, by revising slave codes and offering improvements to conditions. In 1823, for example, pressure for total abolition saw the Government outline a reform programme, drawn up in close consultation with the committee of West Indian Planters and Merchants, known as the amelioration programme’. The committee was chaired by an influential absentee plantation owner, Charles Ellis.
The programme involved revising the laws which regulated the number of hoursenslaved peoplecould work and the food they were provided with. It gaveenslaved peoplebasic legal rights, including the right to own property, and also provided for religious instruction. The idea was for a legally-regulated abolition of slave status, over an unspecified time period. Although the programme led to some improvements in conditions, by the early 1830’s, many had still not implemented these changes.
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