December 2004 Archives

Jared Diamond on Environmental Collapse

December 29, 2004

Go read Jared Diamond's (author of Guns, Germs, and Steel) report in Harper's Magazine, The last Americans: environmental collapse and the end of civilization. Then donate a few dollars to the Red Cross or other aid agencies working in South Asia (tangentially connected, but it must be said). From the report:

One of the disturbing facts of history is that so many civilizations collapse. Few people, however, least of all our politicians, realize that a primary cause of the collapse of those societies has been the destruction of the environmental resources on which they depended. Fewer still appreciate that many of those civilizations share a sharp curve of decline. Indeed, a society's demise may begin only a decade or two after it reaches its peak population, wealth, and power.

Who Deserves Human Rights?

December 21, 2004

More to the point, who is human, and what is normal? And, can a computer have "human" rights? These are deep philosophical questions with real-world (or potential real-world) application, as shown in How About Not 'Curing' Us, Some Autistics Are Pleading (NY Times) and in Man and the Machines (Legal Affairs). And what about animals that possess "theory of mind?"

I Want to Be Like Bill; Religious Anti-Environmentalism

December 15, 2004

Updated 12/19. This Friday (12/17/2004) will be the last broadcast of Now with Bill Moyers on PBS, a fantastic show that takes journalism seriously and brings insightful — and sometimes harrowing — news to its viewers. I have often found myself unable to watch Now, knowing that what Moyers uncovers would only ruin my weekend (by usually confirming already held fears or introducing new ones). But like Moyers himself, I am an optimist in the end — I refuse to give in to despair at the condition of the world. Do you remember those "I want to be like Mike" Gatorade commercials with Michael Jordan? Well, I don't want to be like Mike. I want to be like Bill.

Call for Greater Oversight of Governmental Science Policy

December 8, 2004

Home-brew letter to Senators Dayton and Coleman and Representative McCollum bemoaning the executive branch's handling of science-related policy and suggesting greater Congressional oversight for protection of consumer and environmental rights. If you too are concerned with federal scientific policy making, then please feel free to copy the letter below (and modify as desired) and send to your senators and representative.

The Web of Life, a Review

December 5, 2004

In The Web of Life: A New Scientific Understanding of Living Systems, Fritjof Capra attempts to present a synthesis of systems models as a new (and improved) way of looking at life. While scientists will often speak of paradigm shifts within a field — for instance from Newtonian to relativistic physics, or Lamarckian evolution to the Darwinian kind — it is rare that they attempt to link these individual shifts to a wider movement. It is probably rarer still that they attempt to create the overarching paradigm, as opposed to simply documenting it.

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