Learning about Intents and Purposes.
The world is a big place and there is a lot to learn.
First we need to learn how to survive in the world.
Strangely, it turns out that it pays (for humans) to be nice. See The Art of Being Kind.
Indeed, the world is a tricky place. Just take a short look at the workplace.
Cristian Oersted explains some of the psychological mechanisms (at the workplace) in his book Lethal Management.
And Sally Bibb makes it abundantly clear, in the The Stone Age Company, that the workplace is a treacherous/tricky place indeed.
Obviously, it take minds to learn.
But that observation tends to make it all rather complicated, as we know
so little about how our minds really works.
See Unsolved Problems in NeuroScience.
Indeed, there is a lot we don't know, and so little we do know. See: There is a 67% chance that God exists.
Theilhard de Chardin thought there were intents and purposes
behind it all though.
That evolution itself might have a direction afterall. See: Theilhard de Chardin and Evolution.
Indeed, in order to figure it all out, we could use more advice and help from other people, including long dead people.
And, maybe that is coming. See: Life After Death with Virtual Avatars.
Learning is still a struggle through. Especially, with this ''Information Overdose Irrelevance''
we all get on the internet each day.
Indeed, exercising some control over how and what we think is becoming increasingly important.
See: Too Much Information.
And what about other people. What are they thinking? What are their Intents and Purposes?
What do they want to learn? Can we help each other make sense of it all?
Can we learn more (just) from reading their faces? See: Beautiful Faces,
Indeed, there is a lot to learn out there.
The Art of Being Kind.
Amazon review (4 stars out of 5)
of Stefan Einhorns book ''The Art of Being Kind''.
(A person who is kind is on the path to success).
According to Stefan Einhorn, a clever person is a kind person.
It is not like:
With adults, it often seems as though the concept of being ''kind''
is linked to behaviour, which is regarded as infantile or immature.
On the contrary, it is the other way around:
A kind person is seen as a bit ''backward'' or weak.
A kind person is wise. What we do to our fellow human beings,
we also do to ourselves.
Stefan Einhorns wise book then sets out to explain what kindness is, and how and why
we should try to be kind.
But understanding kindness might not be so easy...
Stefan Einhorn writes: ''Always letting others have their way is not kindness, especially if these
others are wrong, and the consequences of their actions are wrong.
Nor is it kindness to be spineless and letting yourself be exploited''.
Still, kindness is one of the core values that will determine how our lives
will play out.
Indeed, every time we encounter another human we encounter ethics.
What consequences will my actions have? Should I see my fellow
human being as an object or as an individual?
For some, this is a consequence of divine ''natural law'',
which means that good deeds get their reward, while bad deeds are punished
(In natural law, the thinking is that the ability to distinguish good from evil has been
instilled in us by the divine).
Stefan Einhorn doesn't say who is right. Actually, he seems
to saying that everyone might be right, and that the capacity to
be kind might have reached us in several different ways.
Others might claim that the capacity for ethical/moral thought
gives humans an advantage in the struggle for survival.
Cooperation is essential for human survival, and ethical thought helps
us cooperate better.
A third possibility is that it might all be a matter of social convention,
that we have agreed to treat one another well, because everyone gains
Anyhow, it is our conscience that tells
us what is right or wrong.
Psychopaths lack this tool, but fortunately they are in the minority.
Everyone else has that tool for guidance.
Unfortunately, sometimes we don't use use the tool.
The Milgram Experiment is an example of this. Here, Stanley Milgram
measured the willingness of (study)participants to obey an authority figure, who instructed them to perform acts conflicting with their personal conscience.
His experiment showed that approximately two-thirds of the participants were willing
to give electric shocks to others (shocks which they believed were extremely painful).
The willingness to administer electric shock to others was influenced
by how active the participants needed to be in delivering them
(Almost everyone participated, if they did not have to push the button
Interestingly, if several people taking part in the experiment had been
instrcuted to refuse to administer shocks, then the subject of the experiment
also refused (listened to his conscience...).
The scary implication is that totalitarian regimes can get people
to commit attrocities by telling them that they have to obey orders.
Stefan Einhorn is very adamant that being weak should not be confused with kindness.
An inability to say no or to defend ourselves and those around us
does not help anyone, and the end result will be negative.
Indeed, it will often take strength to stand up to an authority figure,
and do the kind thing - not administer an electric shock.
Indeed, it is a difficult world out there. And sometimes we are
not treated kindly. Sometimes we meet people who seem
nice enough, and yet we have the feeling that they don't really wish us well.
Stefan Einhorn describe such people as passive aggressive.
They are always friendly, they talk with a gentle voice, smile a lot.
Sometimes we ourselves might not be as kind as we wish we were.
But at the same time you have an uncomfortable feeling
that something is not right. - a slight feeling of aggression,
an intimation that they do not wish you well.
And you are probably right - you have met someone who is passive aggressive.
Passive aggressive people cover their anger with a layer of friendliness,
which gives them greater room to manoeuvre.
There might be quite a gap between how we want to act,
and how we act in reality.
Stefan Einhorn comes up with another study, this time
on students training to become priests.
They were asked to go to another building to give a lecture
at short notice.
Live as you preach might not be that easy...
On the way to the lecture they passed a man who was leaning
forward and groaning (he had been placed by
The majority of the trainees chose to ignore the troubled man,
but a minoriy offered him their help.
A particular interesting aspect of this experiment
is that the subject of the lecture the trainees were asked to give.
It was about the Good Samaritan, the story of a man
ignored by several passersby - among them a priest -
until he is finally helped by a Samaritan.
Indeed, many things might be influencing how kind we are.
In another study participants are told that they have done either
bad or good (in a test). Afterwards, they are then asked to either donate money for charity or
help the researcher with a pile of books that has been dropped
on the floor.
In both cases the participants are most helpful and kind, when they
are themselves treated well.
It is easier to be kind if others are kind to you.
Still, being kind is key in most religions.
E.g. the Golden Rule is
a basic ethical principle in all of the major religions.
It basicly says that ''One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself'':
- Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful (Buddhism).
- Seeing oneself in all and all in oneself, one does not
injure others because that means injury to oneself (Hinduism, the Bhagavad Gita).
So, why should we do good? What are the advantages of doing good?
According to Stefan Einhorn, it is an important reason for living
an ethical life that it is in our innermost nature to be good.
If we do not choose to exist in this way we are living a false life,
we are breaking against our very nature.
According to Taoism, an ethical stance is the natural
way of living. To live in a righteous way is to
live in harmony with nature. Evil deeds depend
on a lack of knowledge, and clash with the harmony of the world.
The conclusions are evident: Forms of government which promotes
the rule of law, liberty and democracy - concepts which are
intimately connected to a comprehensive system
of ethics - commonly create better living conditions for their
citizens than dictatorships and totalitarian states which
lack a fundamentally ethical view of the value of human life.
There are many benefits of being kind. Stefan Einhorn summarize
arguments from evolution, behavioural science and religion -
and they all tell us that we have a lot to gain by being kind,
and nothing to gain by being evil.
The advantages stretches from increased chances of finding a partner
and reproducing our genes, to a happier and
more meaningful life, and possibly to a life after death.
If we want things to be different in our lives, more kind, then we need
to take responsibility for that. No one else can do it for us.
It is important to take time off now and again to think about
where we are, who we are and where we are going.
Finally, Stefan Einhorn reminds that we should not forget how
a good deed can spread out like ripples on a pond.
In the temple of Delphi there was an inscription in
gold letters above the door: Gnothi seauton -
Know thyself. Self-awareness is a precondition for
inner development, whether it is a matter of worldly or
We can do more than we think for others, and in this way
make our contribution to a better world.
And a good world is a much better place to live in
than a bad one.
Indeed, a very wise book by Stefan Einhorn.
Simon Laub (Let me Google that for you).
Cristian Oersteds book ''Lethal Management'' (In danish: ''Livsfarlig Ledelse'') is not
only a good read,
it also gives us a number of insights about the psychological principles that controls the work environment,
that might be very useful - out there in the work environment.
Inefficiency has always been a big concern in society.
In the early 20th century there was an ''Efficiency Movement'' that
Argued that all aspects of the economy, society and government were riddled with waste and inefficiency. Everything would be better if experts identified the problems and fixed them.
The concept covered mechanical, economic, social, and personal improvement.
Waste should be identified and eliminated, best practices should be developed and implemented.
Taylor was one of the intellectual leaders of the Efficiency Movement
and he summed up his efficiency techniques in the book ''The Principles of Scientific Management''.
Workers should follow precise procedures, which would then increase efficiency and
ultimately allow the workers to be paid more.
Obviously, many have been highly critical of Taylors methods. Thinking that the
obsession with efficiency allows measureable benefits to overshadow less quantifiable social benefits completely, i.e. leaving social values etc. behind.
Some are even more critical:
Calling special attention to one of Taylor's most famous statements, ''In the past the man has been first; in the future the system must be first,'' author Anthony Horvath argues that Taylor's contribution to the Progressive Era helped lay the groundwork for the Eugenics movement, which specifically did put the ''system'' first, and the individual last, with horrific results.
Even though Taylor was accused of dehumanizing society his techniques
were widely used anyhow. Still, his methods were never really successful.
Workers were never really engaged, committed or independent. Basicly,
everyone just wanted to get home as soon as possible.
The problem of motivation was not solved.
2014 - Now.
Obviously, the world has not stood still over the last 70 - 80 years.
And many methods have been developed to motivate workers to previously unknown levels.
Not without consequences though.
According to Christian Oersted, creativity and real innovation suffers. A lot of the highly motivated workers loses contact with what is really important in life and society, and just runs faster
and faster without creating the results society really needs.
In the end even the companies they work for suffers, just as society and families suffer under
many of the current management mantras.
Christian Oersteds book gives many examples of what is not so wonderful in the current work environment.
But, luckily, he also gives us some pointers to the work place of the future.
In tradional management workers were given orders, which they should then carry out, without asking any questions. If a worker is displeased he can just find another place to work.
In modern management the manager is much nicer on the surface. There is a lot of flexibility in working hours, but the consequence is that private relations and work gets mixed up, and the worker is never really off duty anymore.
Stress, inefficiency, lack of innovation follows.
So, Christian Oersted tells us that we need a new kind of management system, where it is again possible
for a worker to understand, when an assignment is solved.
This should free resources to what
is important long-term for both the worker and the company (instead of having a culture with a lot of stressed out workers, and no innovation).
In traditional management, the manager was the one who knew best what to do.
Now, in modern management the manager is ignorant of what is going on, when it comes to the details of the tasks.
In the future Christian Oersted suggests that the manager should reclaim responsibility and be more curious as to how workers can be best used to solve the various tasks. Management should be more involved in setting the best team with the people they already have. Management should again be more about creating directions than persuading workers to take responsibility for tasks they do not really fully control anyhow.
In Japan they have the concept Karoshi, ''death from overwork'' (Easier understood, when you realize that work-life balance might not be that high on the agenda of certain large japanese companies, when these companies can send out commercials accompanied with songs like ''can you fight 24 hours for your corporation?'' [p. 45]).
But other cultures are not much different. In (northern) Europe and America people are
''absent but implicitly''.
Here, it is important to tell ourselves and others that we are busy.
That we are in demand, that our priorities (not spending time with family and friends, not growing spiritually etc.) are necessary.
I.e. you are a loser if you are not busy.
But obviously, you are also a loser, if you don't control and
set the priorities of your own life.
And, surprisingly (... not really...), as things begin to spin out of control for the worker, he becomes stressed.
Christian Oersted has some rather sad examples of this.
One person in middle management began to be more and more aggressive at work and at home. His short term memory became more and more impaired. And his behaviour towards other people was pretty horrible in this period
Probably, rather typical for stressed-out people...
Interestingly, praise can sometimes lead to burn out and stress.
When we get praise at work that might release dopamine, and a sensation of happiness and joy.
Workaholism might follow (''When your life turns to shit - concentrate on work'').
As the dopamine satisfiction is pretty shortlived, the workaholic must work more and more to regain the reward. He might not care that much about the company or the job, but might still be working ferociously to obtain praise and succes.
Christian Oersteds books goes into some detail with the company Enron. Among many other problems, Enron management had set up a way to rank and praise employees that caused workers to chase rewards over the wellbeing of co-workers, society and eventually also Enron itself. Some of the workers would eventually pursue even illegal activities in the hunt for praise and reward.
Instead of the carrot, the stick might also be used to make people work harder (Carrot and Stick).
In many companies management has introduced coaching to make workers perform better.
Actually, according to Christian Oersted, in companies like McKinsey they prefer to hire people, who has issues with self esteem. Intelligent people, but somewhat unsure of themselves and therefore often prepared to work extremely hard for rewards (position in the McKinsey system).
Likewise, pain can be used in coaching, if the coach asks questions like ''have you achieved everything you ever dreramed about''? - The answer will obviously almost always be no.
If people don't go for that, the coach can introduce the thought that ''what happens if one spouse grows and develops, and the other does not''?
Again, the conclusion follows immidiately that the worker must seek coaching (in order to grow and develop at least as much as the spouse).
His platform is burning and about to go down, with the conclusion that now
he must work harder, take more responsibility at work.
And, sure, the techniques are no longer isolated to the workplace, thay have
long ago crossed the line and have become very personal - there is something wrong
with the worker, and he is not using his full potential.
When people are told that they have endless potential, it should be no real surprise that
they end up feeling like failures. Christian Oersted mentions an experiment by Mark Lepper and Sheena
Lyengar set in a marmelade shop. When (in the shop) the shoppers could get free samples
from 24 different kinds of exotic marmalades. 3 % of the shoppers eventually bought something from the shop.
When the shop removed most of the marmalades, and only offered free samples from
6 marmalades something extraordinary happened. Now, 30 percent of the shoppers
had bought something,
With an endless list of possibilities we get confused and can't choose. With fewer options people can actually make decisions and move ahead.
The road ahead: Christian Oersted then moves on to describe the road ahead.
Here, it is not good enough that workers are either a) over-motivated and end up being burned out,
feeling empty, or that b) workers are constantly pressured (by coaches) to perform
better, or c) thrown out.
People should do what they are good at: According to Christian Oersted, it is rarely the individual worker that is something wrong with,
the problem is more often how he is used within an organization.
A good manager will try to set his team in a way that brings out the strength in the individual players.
According to one poll from Gallup (mentioned in Christian Oersteds book), ''the more hours
a worker spends doing what he is a good at, the less likely it is that he will be stressed,
worried, feel angry or sad'' (For more, see my notes on Positive Psychology).
Indeed, as a society we should be less concerned about what is wrong with us,
and more concerned about what we are good at.
And how we can contribute by doing more of that.
We should have more focus on how we make decisions: In order to be able to get to the best solutions it is important that everyone contributes
with their own wisdom, and is not silenced by group pressure.
People don't want to stand out - Christian Oersted gives various examples: At the company meeting everyone is silent, except for the occasional, quick telling glances. Noone dares to address the real issues.
Only, when it is safe will everyone join in.
So, decisions made by such kind of group-pressure is (obviously) rarely the best decisions, and should
We should consciously try to avoid setting people up to be stressed: If we get the precise amount of hours a task should take, and are precisely told what is expected of us, it is much easier not be stressed, than if we are just handed a task and told that ''now it is your task''.
If the pressure comes from within, then there is noone to say no.
Coaching should be curious and about giving useful task-specific feedback: In other words, it should not be too personal, designed to make people feel bad. It should be helpful in finding the ways an individual contributes most, without digging into (too much) personal issues or giving praise or reward (in order to get a certain result) with no regards for long-term consequences (for the person, society or the company).
Making society smarter and wiser is obviously not easy. But after reading Christian Oersteds book we don't seem to have any options. The alternatives are not acceptable. We simply have to up our game.
Simon Laub (Let me Google that for you).
The Stone Age Company.
The Stone Age Company.
by Sally Bibb.
Published by Marshall Cavendish Business in 2005.
''The Stone Age Company'' is an interesting and insightful
book about companies where things are not going well.
In the book, Sally Bibb lists one horrible bad management pattern
after another. But it is all pretty interesting,
as it quickly becomes abundantly clear that she knows
what might be able to fix some of the
widespread problems we hear about in the book.
Certainly, there are more than enough insights in this book to make it a good,
Bibb starts it out by telling us that
(in a ''Stone Age Company'') ''People must have managers
irrespective of how competent, experienced or confident they are''.
Which sounds pretty bad, and it doesn't become any better,
when she adds that (in ''the Stone Age Company'') ''if, at meetings,
everyone agrees it is usually because at least one
person is not saying what he really thinks''...
Indeed, such statements alone should make make managers from ''Stone Age Companies'' listen very carefully here.
Clearly, there are loads of things out there in the real world that could be much better: Appraisals (In Stone Age Companies) doesn't help because
''they usually make people even more demotivated than they were before''.
''Annual objectives are set, but usually becomes obsolete within weeks''.
Who knows, far more companies than we think (right now) might be living in a ''Stone Age World''.
Most of it obviously has to do with the people ''who set the tone'' out there in these companies.
Bibb explains that many problems typically begins when it is assumed
that people higher up in the hierarchy are ''better'',
in absolute terms. Which obviously makes everyone else less committed to
the success of the company.
Eventually, ''people will tell their partners whats wrong with the company,
rather than their boss''.
So, problems are not dealt with in such companies, as it is easier to be in denial.
Denial is afterall a useful protective mechanism, as the alternative
is to face up to difficult truths, and perhaps end up being
So, the focus in a ''Stone Age Company'' is always negative.
Managers will correct peoples weaknesses instead of
making the most of their talents.
The mechanism is that it
takes less thinking to look for failures than to look at
failure as a learning mechanism.
The perspective in a ''Stone Age
company'' is always short term instead of long term.
Which again means that mistakes are hidden. People
always agree with the boss even when he is clearly wrong.
There are no
new ideas, and most energy is wasted talking about problems with
colleagues, not with the boss who could actually have done something about it.
Sally Bibb writes: ''Organizational life is all about complaining
about those above you, and trying to gain power over those below
And the only reason that people stay in these companies is
that they are afraid that they will not be able dind a better job.
Who are promoted in such an environment?
Well, according to Sally Bibb, it is those who a) network with the right people, b) suck up to those
who are more powerful than themselves, c) do what the boss
wants them to do, rather than what is the right thing to do
and d) become the kind of people the boss wants to have
around (''pseudo-challengers'', people who gossips too much,
''yes people'' etc.).
The ''Stone Age Company'' is obviously also very likely to promote
''petty tyrants'', whose staff feel un-supported, because these
''petty tyrants'' spend most of their time critizing them,
and controlling them. Many managers in ''Stone Age Companies'' become people noone would like
to spend time with, unless they have to.
Still, Sally Bibb reminds us that it is not
impossible to change a ''Stone Age Company''.
But it obviously has very little to do with new ''initiatives'' (easily started
and easily forgotten).
No, it is clearly about creating
a workspace where people can find passion about what they
Indeed, people who have a higher purpose, do not find it difficult to
find commitment and spirit.
Perhaps it all a question about self-worth?
In the words of psychologist Sebastion Nybo: ''Udfaldet afhaenger af den grad af selvvaerd partnerne
(Outcome is determined by the level of self-worth the participants have).
Simon Laub (Let me Google that for you).
23 unsolved problems in neuroscience.
Wikipedia has a list of unsolved problems in neuroscience.
Apparently, the wiki-list is taken from the book 23 problems in NeuroScience, edited by Terrence Sejnowski and Leo van Hemmen.
Here the authors write:
To understand Hilbert's motivation, let us retrace his reasoning in the
introduction to his lecture entitled Mathematical problems:
And they have certainly come up with some striking and interesting problems.
History teaches the continuity of the development of science. We know that
every age has its own problems, which the following age either solves or
casts aside as profitless and replaces by new ones.
The deep significance of certain problems for the advance of mathematical
science in general and the important role that they play in the work of
the individual investigator are not to be denied. As long as a branch of
science offers an abundance of problems, so long is it alive; a lack of problems
foreshadows extinction or the cessation of independent development.
As for systems neuroscience, why add more, if mutatis mutandis, it has all
been said so clearly a century ago? The same text, with ''mathematical science''
replaced by ''systems neuroscience'', applies to the twenty-first century.
The complexity of the brain and the protean nature of behavior remain the
most elusive area of science and also the most important. There is no single
brilliant individual who could serve as the David Hilbert of systems neuroscience,
so we have invited twenty-three experts from the many areas of
systems neuroscience to formulate one problem each...
Among them the problem of consciousness, perception, learning and memory, neuroplasticity in the brain, how and why did the brain evolve, free will, sleep, how cognition and decision-making works, how language is implemented in the brain, what are the neural causes of mental diseases, how can the brain control movement and is thinking really computationally?
Consciousness: What is the neuronal basis of subjective experience, cognition, wakefulness, alertness, arousal, and attention? How is the "hard problem of consciousness" solved? What is its function?
(That list) should keep people occupied for a while ...
Perception: How does the brain transfer sensory information into coherent, private percepts? What are the rules by which perception is organized? What are the features/objects that constitute our perceptual experience of internal and external events? How are the senses integrated? What is the relationship between subjective experience and the physical world?
Learning and memory: Where do our memories get stored and how are they retrieved again? How can learning be improved? What is the difference between explicit and implicit memories? What molecule is responsible for synaptic tagging?
Neuroplasticity: How plastic is the mature brain?
Development and evolution: How and why did the brain evolve? What are the molecular determinants of individual brain development?
Free will, particularly the neuroscience of free will.
Sleep: Why do we dream? What are the underlying brain mechanisms? What is its relation to anesthesia?
Cognition and decisions: How and where does the brain evaluate reward value and effort (cost) to modulate behavior? How does previous experience alter perception and behavior? What are the genetic and environmental contributions to brain function?
Language: How is it implemented neurally? What is the basis of semantic meaning?
Diseases: What are the neural bases (causes) of mental diseases like psychotic disorders (e.g. mania, schizophrenia), Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, or addiction? Is it possible to recover loss of sensory or motor function?
Movement: How can we move so controllably, even though the motor nerve impulses seem haphazard and unpredictable?
Computational theory of mind: What are the limits of understanding thinking as a form of computing?
Simon Laub (Let me Google that for you).
There is a 67% chance that God exists.
According to Stephen Unwin (See Guardian article).
Irwin thinks we should just start from the assumption that God has a 50/50 chance of existing, and then factor in the evidence both for and against the notion of a higher being.
In his calculations he includes things like recognition of goodness, which makes the existence of God more likely, countered by things like the existence of natural evil, which makes the existence more unlikely.
Apparently, Irwin uses Bayesian inference:
G is the hypothesis we are trying to calculate (given new evidence). E is the new evidence that
will affect the hypothesis. The factor
represents the impact of E on the probability of G.
P( G | E ) =
P(E | G) P(G)
Unwin thinks we should consider 6 pieces of evidence: Recognition of goodness, existence of moral evil, existence of natural evil, intranatural miracles, extranatural miracles (resurrection), and religious experiences.
And off we go:
E = Recognition of goodness:
Irwin thinks this has a high impact factor. I suppose he can't set it to anything higher than
2 here (Afterall, the overall probability can't be higher than 1).
So, lets try with a 1.75 impact factor:
P( G | E ) = 1.75 * P(G)
P( G | E ) = 1.75 * 0.5 = 0.875
We now have a value for P( G | E).
But Unwin doesn't stop here. He then uses this as his new estimate for P (G ),
and is now ready for another iteration.
I.e. given the new evidence we can now update P(G) = 0.875, and can use the Bayesian equation
again with another piece of evidence.
E = Existence of moral evil can't be good, so lets give that an impact factor of 0.2.
Updating the equation we now have P( G | E ) = 0.175
E = Existence of natural evil must also be pretty bad, so lets give that an impact fact of 0.1.
Updating the equation we now have P( G | E ) = 0.0175
E = Intranatural miracles must be good. Lets say 1.3 good.
Updating the equation we now have P( G | E ) = 0.02275
E = Extranatural miracles (resurrection) very good, lets give that a 10.
Updating the equation we now have P( G | E ) = 0.2275
E = Religious experiences must also be good, so lets that an impact factor of 3.
Updating the equation we now have P( G | E ) = 0.6825
Which is even higher than Unwins estimate.
But I guess I cheated with the numbers ...
Simon Laub (Let me Google that for you).
Theilhard de Chardin and Evolution.
Understanding who we are, where we came from, and
where we are are going, is clearly important to all thinking people.
Many find answers in science or in religion,
but few makes a lot of effort trying to combine the answers.
Here, Teilhard de Chardin is a fascinating figure, because he tried
so very hard to reconcile science and religion.
Theilhard felt a calling to the church and joined the Jesuits at a very young age.
Despite of his later conflicts and heartache with the church and the Jesuits, over his ideas about religion and evolution, he never considered leaving the Jesuit order.
(And) unlike many other Christians, Teilhard de Chardin did not find any conflicts between his beliefs and science.
To Theilhard, God is a God of change and all creation is in a constant flux of change, until it all reaches a point of union, which he called the Omega Point. Admirers sees Teilhard as a pioneer, who explains evolution in religious terms, whereas critics sees Teilhards view of nature as just another kind of pantheism
(the belief that the universe/nature is identical with divinity).
Amir D Aczels book about Theilhard de Chardin (that I have only given 3
stars, because I think it lacks passion, even though it is an ok read)
gives us a little of the background that Theilhards thinking springs from,
and many details about Theilhard de Chardins life.
Using the books themes and Wikipedia (as a source for further details)
the following highlights emerges:
It starts innocently enough with Carl Linnaeus (1707 - 1778) and his system to classify plants and animals.
Everything is observed carefully and
grouped into categories based on their characteristics.
Species is defined as a group of individuals so similar that
to one another that they can breed and produce fertile offspring.
There are seven major categories in the system - from largest to
smallest they are: Kingdom, phylum, class, order, family,
genus and species.
The human family is Hominidae, our genus is homo and
our species is Homo sapiens.
Linnaeus changed the way we think about the world,
by showing that animals belongs to families that share certain
It follows that all living things is related to other living things.
His system doesn't say anything about evolution.
It was only later Darwin arrived on scene and The Orgin of Species (1859)
established that all species of life have descended over time from common ancestors,
and that populations evolve over the course of generations through a process of natural selection.
Not exactly, James Usshers (1581 - 1656) view.
As the archbishop of Armagh, Ireland, he had deduced in 1650 that creation took
place at nightfall, October 23, 4004 B.C.
Obviously there were other problems. Actually, it might not be that important to us if creation took place a thousand or a billion years.
It is probably far more important whether creation is perfect and everlasting, or whether it is in constant flux and with ''errors'' along the way.
Many heated debates have followed. Best known today is the 1860 Oxford Evolution debate.
Bishop Wilberforce opened the debate with a long speech about evolution
and creation, and then turned to Huxley (''Darwin's Bulldog''): ''If we are all
descendants of apes, then on which side, his fathers or mothers
was Huxley descended from an ape?
Huxley replied that he would not be ashamed of his ancestry. He would only be
ashamed to be connected with a person who used great gifts
to obscure the truth. Better to be related to an ape than a misguided bishop.
Later, in 1925, Darwins theory was put on trial in America, in one of the most famous court cases in history.
Known as The Scopes Trial, and referred to as the Scopes Monkey Trial, a high school teacher, John Scopes, was accused of violating Tennessee's Butler Act, which made it unlawful to teach human evolution in any state-funded schools.
The defense used stories from the Bible to suggest that the Bible could not be used as a scientific book, and should not be used in teaching science.
An area of questioning involving the book of Genesis followed. Including questions such as if Eve was actually created from Adam's rib, where did Cain get his wife, and how many people lived in ancient Egypt.
The ''biblical'' side thought the purpose was ''to cast ridicule on everybody who believes in the Bible'', which got the reply that ''We have the purpose of preventing bigots and ignoramuses from controlling the education of the United States''.
In a heated exchanged on ''where Cain got his wife'', the audience was told that ''we
should leave it to the agnostics to hunt for her''.
In the end Scopes was found guilty and fined $100.
At the time, the majority of christians denounced evolution.
So, perhaps the result was not surprising, in all its silliness.
And it was on that background Theilhard de Chardin tried
so very hard to reconcile science and religion.
To Theilhard, much of scripture should be taken allegorically
rather than literally, and he saw no conflict between
embracing evolution and at the same time practicing his religious beliefs as
a devout priest. Physical laws can explain the physical universe,
evolution can explain the arrival of humans.
In his vision, evolution was actually finalistic, advancing towards
the spirit, explained only by the spirit.
Postulating at the beginning, because
it postulates at the end, a transcendent God.
Obviously, this is orthogenesis, the idea that evolution occurs in a directional, goal driven way, also known as convergent evolution.
(To him) evolution was not ''random''. On the contrary, there was divine presence underlying.
And to many (religiously inclined) that gave a ray of hope, even in the middle of
random, purposeless evolution. Man might not be
the center of the universe, but man is something like an ascending arrow of the great biological synthesis.
In the end, in Teilhard's view, evolution will culminate in the Omega Point, a sort of supreme consciousness. Layers of consciousness will converge in Omega, fusing and consuming them in itself. The concentration of a conscious universe will reassemble in itself all consciousnesses, as well as all that we are conscious of. Where each individual facet of consciousness will remain conscious of itself at the end of the process.
Obviously, this vision is far beyond anything science can speak of,
but apparently, at least it doesn't anger the church anymore.
Ratzinger, then pope Benedict, commented on Theilhard de Chardin
during a summer vacation:
Toward the end of a reflection upon the ''Letter to the Romans'',
the pope said, ''It's the great vision that later Teilhard de Chardin also had: At the end we will have a true cosmic liturgy, where the cosmos becomes a living host''.
Maybe, we will all be friends in the end.
Simon Laub (Let me Google that for you).
Life After Death with Virtual Avatars.
Newsweek (29.08.2014) has an interesting article about the company Eterni.Me.
Apparently, the people behind the company envisions a
future in which it is easy to talk to deceased family members. They plan to distill
all the information available online about you in the form of emails, Facebook updates etc. And
will use that to make a virtual avatar that will mimic your appearance
At the Eterni.Me site they tell us:
Eventually we are all forgotten.
CEO of Eterni.Me Mr. Ursache believes that technology will inevitablely bring the past closer to the present.
But what if you could be remembered forever?
What if, more than that, they (the people you leave behind) could really interact with your memories,
as if they were talking to you in person?
Simply become Immortal!
At Eterni.me we plan to collect almost everything that you create during your lifetime, and process this huge amount of information using complex Artificial Intelligence algorithms.
Then a virtual YOU is generated, an avatar that emulates your personality and can interact with, and offer information and advice to your family and friends, even after you pass away.
His audacious goal is to create a library of a full generation of people,
to preserve the knowledge of humanity for eternity.
And before anyone laughs, it should be noted that the business case is there.
Facebook has already 30 million accounts of dead people. With 8000 Facebook
users dying every day.
The potential is there.
Simon Laub (Let me Google that for you).
Too Much Information is the Plaque of our Times.
In the same issue of Newsweek (29.08.2014) there is also a good article about the ''information overdose irrelevance'',
we all battle each day on the internet.
Indeed, the internet should have led to widespread enlightenment, a sort of infotopia.
Sadly, it hasn't. Instead TMI - too much information - now plagues us all.
Knowledge is the stuff we seek, but insight is rare in the frenetic dust storm of the internet.
Some are even more pessimistic:
In a study of the digital age, author Nicholas Carr tells us that
the internets cacophony of stimuli short-circuits our minds,
and prevents us from thinking deeply or creatively.
Our brains are turned into simple processing units, information in and out.
With no overview, and no meaning.
So: We should really all start learning how to exercise some control over
how and what we think. Being conscious enough to choose what we pay attention to,
and how we construct meaning from experience.
And we should probably start right away...
Simon Laub (Let me Google that for you).
Amazon review (4 stars out of 5)
of David Perretts book ''In Your Face''.
(The New Science of Human Attraction).
''In Your Face'' is an engaging read about the biology and psychology behind facial beauty.
Filled with many interesting insights from neuroscience and evolutionary psychology about beauty and human attraction.
Sure, historically beauty has been the domain of poets and artists. Nevertheless, studying
beauty with scientific methods turns out to be a lot of fun.
Indeed, perhaps science knows just as much about beauty as the poets?
Perrett tells us that the brain has ''only'' a few millions cells dedicated to faces
(and hundreds of thousands to analysing any given view of the
face). Indeed, given that our brains are composed of hundred of billions of cells this
is obviously just one brain center out of many. But, still worth a study, especially
given the importance we give to faces.
Like for other brain centers, the realization that the brain includes dedicated face-recognition systems came from strange symptoms described in medical journals over the past fifty years. Indeed, still, lots of our understanding of how the mind works comes from experiences people
have in everyday life, after they have suffered damage to a part of the brain.
Females process male faces differently in different phases of the menstrual cycle.
Indeed, understanding the processing of faces in the mind is what Perretts book
is all about.
In one experiment Perretts research team gave women five pictures of
men who range in masculinity. The women would then tell who they fancied the most,
and where they were in their menstrual cycle. To the teams amazement there was an increase in the level of masculinity preferred
during the most fertile period of the cycle.
Perrett interprets this as an attraction to men who will produce
strong healthy kids in times of high fertility, whereas in the non-fertile phase
a more feminine looking man is preferred. Which can be seen
as a drive to get a friendly, helpful husband
who will be faithful and supportive.
(It gets worse) Asking couples about their happiness and commitment to one another,
certain (disturbing) pattern emerges. Women tend to be equally happy
with their partner throughout the menstrual cycle - But the level of commitment they feel to their partner goes up and down, and they are least committed when they are at their most fertile.
Attractive faces means a lot in our world. Still, it is often difficult to decide how attractive a face is.
Processing faces is obviosuly a big task. Especially, judging faces in connection with looking for a partner is something that takes a good deal of thinking. There are an awful lot of qualities to consider:
A sense of humour, wealth, future earning potential, fame, intelligence etc.
Humour might help keep the bond between partners tight, and create a good
environment for kids. High intelligence makes for bright kids that can prosper and
reproduce. Fame gives more earning power, and eventually money that pays the bills.
Humans do juggle many more parameters than other species.
Certainly, in Perretts description, things does seem
much simpler in other parts of the animal kingdom: Before sex, a female chimpanzee will require only interest. She will start parading in front of the male she chooses, and if there is interest, there is sex without a need for further negotiations. A female bird of paradise will sit back,
pull out her scorecard, and require males to do a perfect dance
for her. The winning male will be the one with the best dance.
For humans, things are a bit more complicated. Here faces are terribly important. Not just in terms of getting a good mate,
I.e. having an attractive face promotes
a higher income, so you will be less stressed out by money problems.
People with good looks stay in education longer. Because teachers
are not immune to beauty, and they may be more supportive to
attractive pupils. This encouragement will then help the pupils find school
rewarding. And the higher education will end up giving the attractive people
access to higher saleries. Beauty leads to money in the end.
Can we tell what a person is like just by looking at a face?
(Sometimes) we might think of ourselves, as we are on the inside.
But in reality our selves are strongly linked to
our physical body, in particular our face. ''The face is the soul of
the body'', as we know from Wittgenstein.
Sure, some cultures might try to change facial appearances pretty radically. Indeed, any part of the face that can be modified has been modified by some culture
or another. The necks of Karen-Padaung women in Thailand are lengthened
using neck rings, lips of Mursi women are enlarged with plates etc.
Still, despite of the distractions, most of us assume that there is indeed a strong link between a face, and health and personality of the person the face belongs to.
And Perretts book gives some support for that view:
- Faces and Health.
Health is obviously very important, - and important in many ways.
When we are talking about partners, they certainly need to be healthy for a relationship to prosper.
Small things like head lice is not a big problem, but there may also be more serious things like
sexually transmitted diseases that can make a partner sterile
or mad (syphilis).
What we really want to know is how this person in front of us will
fare in the long run?
We want be able to make a cost/benefit analysis
and work out whether the person is worth our commitment.
But can we really get this health information from a face?
I.e. we want a partner not only to look healthy. But to be healthy.
Studies show that symmetry and looking healthy go together.
The body is a large construction site, and symmetry is more difficult
to make than asymmetry, which could be caused by all sorts of
problems in supply and quality of ''building materials'' to the body.
According to Perrett, there are many claims for the positive effects of symmetry in the scientific literature.
There have been reports that men with symmetrical bodies have a higher IQ, run faster, dance and sing better, are less depressed etc. All to be taken with a pinch of salt. Still, there might be some truths behind these exaggerated claims.
Certainly, having a very unsual face is associated with illness,
but only if the face is conspicuously unusual.
Generally speaking, asymmetrical faces are only slightly less healthy, according to Perrett.
Still, many other things can also be found, just by looking at a face.
It is possible to estimate the weight of a person just by looking at the face.
I.e. overweight is a serious problem, and is shown in the face.
And there is more...
Looking at the skin gives away many clues about a persons health.
Skin with an even pigmentation is good. As it looks
healthiest. Bad patches of skin is what makeup artists cover up on a daily basis.
And men with a healthy skin are likely
to have more symmetrical faces - i.e. they tend to be more attractive.
Higher levels of oestrogen is good (in a women), when people judge female faces, as it is associated with faces
that looks healthier and more feminine.
If our skin looks old or just old for our age,
then perhaps our bodies too have aged (too much).
The skin is then
an indication that we may have less time to live than others with
younger looking skin.
Indeed, looking young for your age is probably a good thing,
as this would suggest more years left.
Slow facial aging reflects a more robust constitution
all around. Indeed, the best predictor of survival and longevity is
not how many many birthdays someone has clocked up,
but how old body tissues are, in biological terms.
- Faces and Character.
Many people think they can tell character from a persons face.
The book certainly shows that face reading is alive and well...
to a degree.
(But) most people are simply not very good at reading all of the clues in a face.
Indeed, some aspects of personality are just not written in the face,
despite popular belief. E.g. sexual orientation is not written in.
And some personality traits are there in the face, but only subtly.
E.g. for both mens and womens faces, people can tell the difference between composite, blended images of
extroverts and introverts.
The average accuracy is not very good though (only 60 percent
in identifying extroverts faces). But some people are excellent at
reading these facial clues, getting over 90 percent right when shown extroverts-
introverts pairs, while other do no better than chance.
It all gets very problematic when all of these characteristics are combined
in the same face. Imagine drawing your dream partners facial expressions,
deciding just how much warmth, assertiveness, sexiness, competitiveness, easy-going-ness,
extroversion, maturity, responsibility etc.
you would want in that face. Deciding whether one face is more assertive than another might be possible, but
making a face with all of the desired characteristics from scratch does seem
And then in the end, the face you would really like, on your dream
partner, might really be one having features
close to your own family members...
A study from Poland has revealed that
there is clear relation between male face shapes, to which a given woman was attracted,
and the face shape of her father. Interestingly, it was only
true for daughters who have had had a good relationship with their father
during early childhood.
Certainly, human faces are enormously interesting to humans.
And we can spend forever looking at faces (See my Faces of Florence page).
What is he or she really like - given that face?
Consider the speculations around the true identity and character of Mona Lisa. That mysterious smile, what does it really mean?
Currently, the consensus of art historians is that the painting depicts Lisa del Giocondo.
Still, after reading Perretts book, my own guess is that Mona Lise is really a composite of many women -
and that is why she smiles so mysteriously.
Could anyone make such a picture back in 1503?
Well, Leonardo probably could.
A very interesting book about a very interesting topic.
Simon Laub (Let me Google that for you).