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Tronyn's 20 Year Prediction Challenge
Tronyn asks:

But I do say this: what do you, and anyone else who is reading: actually EXPECT in the next twenty years. What do you really expect.
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Well 
not that he should listen to me specifically, and of course part of education is knowing who to listen to (or take seriously) and why (aka real critical thinking). the main point of that is that this attitude is the opposite of viewing knowledge, especially science, in a denialist manner. I don't want to go door to door promoting science (lol at the image; "have you heard the good news? the earth is 4.5 billion years old?"), I just think every society ought to encourage education or at least a pro-knowledge attitude as much as it ican. 
Math, Biology, Maybe History Need To Be Fun 
And maybe one day in the future it will be.

I made this a few weeks ago:

http://quake-1.com/docs/opengl/solar1.png

http://quake-1.com/docs/opengl/solar2.png

And you navigate around. That's kind of a lite engine I made with many similarities to a subset of Quake functionalit.

Of the very few people who have tried in real life, they find it rather enjoyable and spend longer messing around with it than I usually want

(I'm thinking, ok, you've seen it, quit navigating the solar system and trying to find Pluto ... )

I think math, science and biology get an F in the area of inserting themselves into the public consciousness.

In the 1950s when Sputnik occurred, it changed the world and made science and scifi popular for 20-30 years. 
Very True 
while I blame corporate interests and well-organized religious fundamentalists for trashing intellectual subjects like science, math, history, etc in public, I definitely don't let intellectuals off the hook, many of them are publicly funded, and popularization is extremely important: if you can't explain to the public why you are taking their money then why should you get their money. Carl Sagan (one of my heroes) said in The Demon Haunted World, that many scientists thought of popularization as either a waste of time or even "fraternizing with the enemy." My god what a ridiculous, ACTUALLY elitist attitude. I firmly believe that the average person could find science, history, etc fascinating, if it were presented in an interactive, jargon-free, less technical way. So on this last post, 110% agreement.

I like the model you made too. For me looking at stuff like that shows how local our ideas, all the way to basic concepts like up and down, really are. 
... 
I have most of Carl Sagan's books. But the best one was one I saw on bookcase one time and borrowed (well, I still have it so ...) and it was from the early 1960s if I recall.

He predicted planet atmospheres and we hadn't even been into space back then (no probes, etc).

Due to a complete lack of data, he projected and explained the likely atmospheres describing what would and would not likely be in them due to chemical reactions, escape <insert right world> ... does planet have right gravity to retain each molecule, etc.

It was unreal.

However, in time I have concluded Carl Sagan's points-of-view on religion were incorrect. I was not easily persuaded out of a finalistic Carl Sagan-like view of religion, but it was through more science and questions.

Rather there are some very large unknown factors in play in more advanced scientific ideas and theories that are definition of reality level altering.

These aren't even the "good" ones:

http://www.physorg.com/news126955971.html
http://www.21stcenturysciencetech.com/articles/time.html
http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/80beats/2010/08/26/scientist-smackdown-are-solar-neutrinos-messing-with-matter/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ren�_Descartes 
Well 
I thought Sagan was one of the least "dogmatic" pro-science public intellectuals of the last 30-40 years (as opposed to say, Dawkins - who I think is a great if imperfect communicator). Maybe you've read more Sagan than I have but I think of him as a person who never took a stance on things he didn't know enough about to judge, including cutting-edge issues in physics and astronomy.

In my view, Sagan, and others like him (say Hawking now, who just recently said no God need be invoked to explain the origin of the universe, or Krauss who goes further) can talk about how bizarre these questions are, and acknowledge that they have no clue at all, but none of that legitimizes religion in any form. Every religious thought we have now was thought thousands of years ago.

But in science, and any other investigative enterprise (say journalism, math, history, archaeology, philology, etc) there is presumably some progress. Today's religious people haven't learned anything above what their old-testament-writing, knuckle-dragging forebears "knew." Or if they have they've learned it from secular progress ie the enlightenment.

I don't think I know everything, I'm aware that I know a tiny amount. Sagan to me was extremely humble in exactly that way. But anyone with a basic knowledge of science still knows ENOUGH to know that ancient cults, are based on factually inaccurate information.

This is what scientologists actually believe, said South Park. Would I be too much of a Saganist, to laugh along with Parker and Stone at that belief rather than reserving judgment on whatever that psycho Hubbard wrote? Evidence is the only way to win, and I don't know is a great, and often the only appropriate, answer. Sagan was never a finalist! Most of his ideas were speculative and he admitted it. But there's a huge difference between informed speculation, and dogmas enforced by social pressure (ie religion).

Sorry for the length. 
Another Angle 
I think the major religious texts were made specifically to help people avoid making the same mistakes in the past.

Stories of doing wrong and the consequences.
Stories of doing right and being punished by your fellow man, but ultimately persevering.
Stories of wise rulers.
Stories of unjust rulers.
Stories of weak selfish people who will hurt other people.

I think they were made by wise people specifically to help people.

Specifically to make them think. To reason. To see the value in morality. To teach them the foundations of right and wrong. To see to value of compassion.

Anyone can misuse benign and enlightened ideas. This isn't new in the world. 
Well 
AFAIK the Old Testament and the Koran are both pretty crazy and sadistic.
I love mythology, as literature the Old Testament is great, it's really creepy and fucked up (the Abraham story, the Passover story, the story of Job, etc), but I would not under any circumstances call the foundational texts of any western religion/monotheism "enlightened." 
In The Context Of The Times. 
Certainly the Old Testament is quite a bit harsh. That being said, in Israel do they still do "an eye for an eye"?

The Old Testament was definitely enlightened for its time. Prior to the Old Testament, the "king" was not held accountable to the same standards as the subjects.

The Old Testament was the first written body of laws that also applied to the "king". It was not for the peasants, but for everyone.

This was, according to historians a radical idea in those times.

The Code of Hammurabi was the first set of written laws according to historians and introduced the idea of a set body of laws; this preceded the Old Testament. There are some similarities to Hammurabi's Code and the Ten Commandments, one can easily come to the conclusion that the Ten Commandments was inspired or possibly derived from the former.

In the context of modern times, the Old Testament is very harsh.

The Koran may just be common best practices of the time transcribed to writing for that part of the world. Perhaps better, more clear and more fair.

I would like to point out that the oldest parts of the world, presumably Africa and the Middle East, have larger cultural challenges because they have multiple thousands of years of cultural history. And in climates that do not require too much effort to survive.

So you have a possible nature versus nurture cultural issues that perhaps are more of a factor than any belief system present. Solely attributing behavior to a belief system in such parts of the world is possibly inherently unfair and maybe not entirely scientific. 
Oh Man 
as an amusing side note, I just looked up "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live" and found a Christian aplogist who claims, "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live - If there had been no witches, such a law as this had never been made. The existence of the law, given under the direction of the Spirit of God, proves the existence of the thing." Amusing line of reasoning.

I think that the Old Testament and the Koran were both harsh within their cultural context. Hell, Muhammed BEGAN by preaching tolerance, and then when he got power he changed his tune and became intolerant, so clearly the idea of religious tolerance was around in his context. The OT contains what we would now call war crimes, even genocide, as well as slavery; I find myself incapable of believing that no one in that region during the period the OT was written had any better ideas on ethics than those. 
True By Evidence? 
In the 1960s, you had spankings in school in maybe most of the civilized world. Mao starves 20 million Chinese.
In the 1920s, even in the West I think corporal punishment might have existed in places (like whippings). What do you think Stalin did to his people, btw?

Late 1870s, hangings for horse theft in the USA.

You do know the native americans scalped people, right?

Middle 1840's, in Charles Dicken's "more gruel please" inspired England you had literally "chimney sweeps" --- children (male) given away at ages like 5 to 8 years old who would literally go down chimneys to to clean them. Most would become fatally ill and die at an earlier age.

1799 French Revolution. Guillotine mania.

1600s. Bloody Mary? The Spanish in the Americas. Pizarro?

Middle Ages. The punishments were brutal. Kings and other nobles were ruthless.

And this isn't even going to back that far. Rome. Sparta. Persia. Ghengis Khan. Pyramids. The Vikings.

War used to be rather normal for every corner of the world until maybe as recently as the 1950s. Much of the third world has stabilized by now, except some parts of Africa.

Peace is a relatively recent development in history. 
Get A Room You Two 
Arguing about this kind of stuff is so futile, especially using an indirect impersonal medium like the internet. 
... 
I wasn't under the impression we were arguing. I wasn't. Just expressing alternate views. I will say conversing with Tronyn has forced me to articulate things I really wouldn't have been able to explain well prior to this thread. 
Yeah 
I think of this as a discussion rather than an argument. notably we've been jumping from topic to topic and agreeing on many of them. I find this interesting, it's not hurting anyone.

I'd just like to say, that the French Revolution, was awesome.

Also just because war is a universal human phenomenon, all kinds of good ethical ideas (such as "not war"!) have come out of various places where bad things were happening. Thankfully, despite the media (24/7 news channels and the fact that you can see footage of civilians being shot and beheaded online) human violence seems to be decreasing, or at leasat that's the argument in Steven Pinker's new book which I haven't read yet.

I guess my general point is, Muhammad was largely a bad guy in the context of his own time, as were many of the Old Testament patriarchs. We're talking David Koresh types here, fanatical but unfortunately charismatic patriarchal men who hear voices, stockpile weapons, bully their followers and encourage hatred of outgroups. These guys were conquerors. It's not like war was absent from ancient Greece or China, but people in those places were able to articulate ethical ideals light-years ahead of most of monotheistic tradition. 
Ingroups / Outgroups 
First, I'm not sure whether or not you can factually make the statement that Muhammed was a "bad guy" in his time and in his part of the world. Versus the idea that improved ethics and consistency. Accounting to accounts, he freed a huge number of slaves and promoted such.

The in-group/outgroup angle is an interesting one. What were the ethics and behavior of out-groups in that region at the time. Were they better or worse than Islam?

And a better question: in times long gone past, perhaps written religions are superior to unwritten ones? Perhaps there is a superior angle to a "single way to do things that is known" versus unwritten religions with only general ideas.

And is literacy better than illiteracy? Not that the common man in those days would be literate. But in many cultures, written holy books increased the need for literacy and the development of written language.

In commoner Europe, to the best of my recollection of history, it was the Bible that was used to spread literacy especially after Gutenberg and the printing press. And the Bible was the main literacy teaching tool in pre-1900s United States.

I think of history in many ways as something less to judge and more to learn from.

I feel negative judgment is often a result of failing to take into account other factors or reframing modern environments unto the past.

But moving forward, how can alter behavior towards outgroups in modern times where it is a problem? It is perhaps the main issue in our world. 
Some Thoughts 
Muhammed was a warlord who built an empire, I guess it's possible he was better than other warlords at the time, but I kinda doubt it. Not that everything he did was bad.

The issue of written religions vs unwritten ones - basically, ones with a theology/dogma/institutional establishment, vs pagan ones that are basically just folklore and oral tradition - is super interesting. Folk-religions certainly can lead to some crazy practices (killing witches, thinking people are, or you can, use magic for things, head-hunting, heh, etc), and certainly the Catholic Church did keep classical learning alive in the Middle Ages (so did the Muslim empire of the time), when it might have died out due to all those illiterate barbarians taking everything over.

My view of the Catholic church's role in the middle ages, at least in the earlier middle ages, is more positive than average I suspect. They were trying to get really violent superstitious tribes of people to settle down, stop raiding/warring, and unite into bigger political units; they also promoted some ethical ideas that were ahead of the warrior-style ethic many of these tribes had. In the later middle ages it's a different story though, it became a massive corrupt bureaucracy trying to control power politics on the entire European continent and beyond, and then there was all that Inquisition stuff: lol like the KGB that office quickly got such a horrible reputation that it had to keep changing its name; the office's current name is "Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith" and, you guessed it, just like Putin used to work for the KGB or whatever they were calling themselves, that Inquisition office is exactly where Ratzinger used to work. 
Uncommonness Should Be Studied/appreciated 
Muhammed was an orphan with -- by accounts of history --- better ethics and started as a merchant.

He ended up having tens of thousands of followers within this own lifetime. These followers were attracted in large part of his idea of ethics.

Certainly, this is not common in history and quite unusual. I don't think such achievements can easily be dismissed.
---
Spanish Inquisition was in part in solidify control over Spain and weed out past traitors or enemy sympathizers. Probably at least as imperfectly done as French efforts looking for Nazis after WWII and shaving women's heads and whatever else they did.

The Spanish Inquisition was the aftermath of Christianity reclaiming Spain which had been taken over for a century or 2 by the Moors (Muslim control of Spain). In particular, the Spanish Inquisition targeted Jewish people who may have profited during Moor rule and were indifferent to the whole Christianity/Islam issue. 
Catholic Church In Middle Ages 
More of a political body/empire than anything else, as far I can tell.

I'm not saying this is "wrong". Someone has to have power and provide stability to the people.

People do not do well in a power vacuum.

And in the modern world, it appears that the top minds in control of Western policy (the think tanks and secret societies of the powerful wealthy people that make western policy) abhor the results of a power vacuum and the effects on those people who suffer as a result.

And it is kind of cool that Western thought and said power brokers look for ways to reduce human suffering. I like the idea that humanitarian concerns are major consideration in policy. 
Ingroups / Outgroups Continued 
Isn't part of the problem with the ingroup/outgroup thing:

To outgroup: "Your culture sucks"
To outgroup: "And your beliefs suck too"
To outgroup:"And the people your culture admires suck too too"

Is that kind of thinking helpful if that kind of thinking is what "got us into the mess in the first place"?

Does society solve outgroup friction by using more outgroup friction?

Maybe it does. Or maybe there are other ways. Or maybe at this time it really is beyond human ability to control.

But I can make the argument that this is no more enlightened or intellectual than what we already have. 
Ingroup/Outgroup Add ... 
To outgroup: "And I will define your outgroup by taking worst behaving members of your outgroup and then calling that 'normal' for your outgroup" 
Yeah 
I know how Muhammed started. I wish he would have stayed that way - a peaceful, tolerant merchant who wanted to reform local religion. At first he never even said there was only one god he just emphasized the primacy of the one god he was talking about over other ones. I don't think ethics so much as political advantages attracted people to Islam, at least not after he became a warlord. It's like Christianity in Europe, the church made the benefits of joining (ie a bureaucracy to collect taxes, write law codes, etc) clear to barbarian rulers who then converted for political rather than ethical reasons.

Like I said I'm not bashing the church in the middle ages, and I certainly don't think that warring barbarians would have been better; I'm not an anarchist and I think that you need a state of some kind (on the political spectrum I ended up being about -6 and -6), and hell even if you don't want one you're going to get one, the question is just of what kind. Power vacuums resolve themselves, the question is just how nasty the resulting social hierarchy is.

Re: ingroup/outgroup. Of course cultures need to negotiate. Still, too much negotiation leads to the west bartering away its own values in exchange for... what? Sharia is one example. Many western citizens are so (correctly) sorry for the imperialistic excesses of the past that they are willing to sanction almost anything in the name of tolerance (for example, http://standpointmag.co.uk/node/2042/full). In my view, culture stops where human rights begins. I can and do appreciate the literature, philosophy, history, architecture, art, legends, technologies, etc, of other cultures, but I think things like free speech, women's rights, democracy, etc, are up for negotiation about 0 %. There's such a condescending double standard going on too. When fundamentalist Mormons practice polygamy and underage marriage, the cops raid them. When fundamentalist Muslims do the same, suddenly the attitude is "it's just their culture" as if "well they aren't from the west, so they can't be expected to know any better." That kind of "tolerance" is condescending. 
Hehe 
Well, first I agree.

And second, I think it only looks like the "West" is bartering away anything, just mulling over how best to play the chess game subtly.

If an advanced civilization has the sophistication of a human, and a less advanced one the sophistication of a dog ...

Often the human will trick the dog with a treat. Often the dog does not notice and eventually the human will have the dog trained.

Which is why the West continually moves the goal posts. And eventually, the West only rarely feels the need to monitor.

Look at how China is rapidly evolving. It has been a slow bumpy ride with more bumpy rides in the future, but China has been progressing perhaps far faster than would have been imagined in the times of Tiananmen Square. I bet hosting an Olympics helped them too. 
What If He Did Stay That Way? 
"I know how Muhammed started. I wish he would have stayed that way - a peaceful, tolerant merchant who wanted to reform local religion."

What if he did stay that way and his intent was to better his fellow humans for that time and place?

What if as he was more experienced and learned more about human nature, had to add other factors into the equation.

Muhammed, first off had to be a very intelligent man. He also had to have progressed to be very wise. Likewise, he had to have arrived to great insights into human nature, and the limits taking culture into context.

He had a pretty good understanding of religion for his time and place and a pretty good grasp of regional history. Both of which I think in modern times we are pretty unclear about.

And clearly his intentions were benign and helpful. And meant to educate and to teach. And it is clear from history, he sought to further the conditions of slaves and by his example encourage freeing them.

He also clearly sought to moderate outgroup thought, painting other monotheistic religions as brothers --- while not the same as an in-group -- offers respectful consideration of these outgroups.

And perhaps it is the destiny of belief systems to eventually become rigid and regressive when maybe at first they were actually meant to be progressive and reformist.

But that is the past. Change is the one constant in this world. 
Heh 
"tricking the dog with a treat" I found this analogy very funny. Islamic cultures have had less time to evolve than Christian/post-Christian ones, it's a younger religion (Christianity 1300 years into its history wasn't all that peaceful either), but I don't think the west is manipulating the middle east in that way. We unfortunately just pick to be allies with Saudi Arabia but Iran is this big threat; one's Shiite and the other's Sunni but they're both oil-rich fundamentalist governments that oppress their own people. I guess it's become a cliche to bitch about oil dependency but it's not like every western government hasn't known about it and done next to nothing about it for 3 or 4 decades.

It looks to me like, whereas Soviet Russia tried to liberalize their politics but their economy stayed a command economy until it fell apart, China has liberalized their economy to make sure the same thing doesn't happen to them, but they haven't really liberalized their politics. Maybe they will one day. The fact that the economies of China and India are rising seems like great news to me, I understand both countries still have a huge amount of poor/oppressed people but at least it's getting better. 
PS 
this may be extremely cynical but I suspect that next to nothing will continue to be done on issues like pollution, climate change, the environment, etc, for the next two decades. I don't know that short-term election cycles in western countries actually even make it possible for governments to implement long-term plans that require a shared sacrifice in standard of living, that could easily just get them kicked out next election, to say nothing of all the money corrupting the political process away from doing anything useful. 
The West Earned Its Freedoms 
Through hundreds of years of forcing our own leaders to capitulate. French Revolution, American Revolution, Magna Carta, the Civil Rights movement, Civil War, Fall of the Berlin Wall, etc.

Enough so that it is part of Western culture on a personal level.

That's why we do human rights commission, attach strings to humanitarian efforts, have Hillary Clinton go scare third world countries like Syria.

I think that it is a mistake to underestimate Western culture. But even more than that, it is part of Western culture's plan that you mistakenly will think you can do so.

Dog: "I can take that treat. There are no strings attached to that treat. Hey look, I won."

The West: "You are supposed to think you won. That's the point of my stick and carrot game. You did exactly as I intended *and* you think you won." 
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