Archive for March, 2010

Evolution, creationism, intelligent design & the huge lack of proof for any of it.

Or more accurately:

Evolution, creationism, intelligent design and the huge lack of proof —as far as any layman can understand— for any of it.

I recently read a Guardian article by Oliver Burkeman about how the way we live our lives now may have an effect on the longevity of our descendants. However, the article was interestingly couched in the Evolution versus Creationism debate and it sparked my interest. Burkeman describes the incident in 1960s Maryland, at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in which, having found a day missing, thousands of years in the past, one of the astronomers remembered a passage from the bible where Joshua asks God to stop the world for a day, which God —being the thoroughly good egg that he is— obliged. This, of course, proved the existence of God and his omnipotent powers of creation and, indeed, cessation.

So the Adam & Eve thing—and I understand this may be opening a can of worms here so feel free to correct my patchy knowledge. God creates a man (simples) and a woman (no mean feat) and everything’s wonderful until Lilith (the woman) wouldn’t ‘lie beneath him’. I’m lead to believe that this is both metaphoric and literal. So she gets packed off for having to much free thought and possibly a more exciting view of sex than St. Peter (the alcoholic woman-hater responsible for the transcript of some stories passed down orally—chinese whspers, anyone?— for 200 years that regular folk call ‘the Bible’). So God, not wanting the only man alive to be lonely or possibly for the purposes of procreation, makes Eve from one of Adam’s ribs, conveniently giving Adam the option to blow himself should Eve decline (at her own peril, evidently). Anyway, skipping to the end part, Eve persuades Adam to eat the apple of knowledge, God throws his toys out of the pram and exerts his almighty autorita to kick them out of Eden. At which time the only man and woman created stumble ashamedly into a village full of people, who probably also had clothes on.

‘Nough said.

Now, the Big Bang Theory (which is explained in great yet understandable detail here), that’s science, right? (As opposed to psyience perhaps). We’ve all heard of e=mc2,but to the lay person, the average joe who is not so good at maths or algebra, let alone physics or astrophysics, it’s about as much mumbo jumbo as Adam & Eve. Of course, there’s Evolution too. Dinosaurs and such. But seriously, for the layperson, that too is a lot to get your head around. A rather amusing video regarding what is termed ‘the Atheist Delusion’ is here. It puts in perspective the whole debate, assuming it doesn’t offend you first.

Natural selection is simpler. As Oliver Burkeman puts it:

In the way it’s generally understood, the whole point of natural selection – the so-called “modern synthesis” of Darwin’s theories with subsequent discoveries about genes – is its beautiful, breathtaking, devastating simplicity. In each generation, genes undergo random mutations, making offspring subtly different from their parents; those mutations that enhance an organism’s abilities to thrive and reproduce in its own particular environment will tend to spread through populations, while those that make successful breeding less likely will eventually peter out.

…From two elementary notions – random mutation and the filtering power of the environment – have emerged, over millennia, such marvels as eyes, the wings of birds and the human brain.


Not any more, apparently. Research has now shown that the relationship between genes and the environment is not actually one-way, i.e. genes produce random mutation>  the mutation is either suited to the environment and stays or unsuited to the environment and gets the boot. As David Shenk points out, according to new research, it is two-way. Environments can shape genetics too, such as the viruses that make up part of the human genome.

And here again we have a lot of confusing evidence that as laypeople it becomes hard to understand. It comes down, perhaps, to who you trust, what makes the most sense to you, the individual. After that, it’s just getting on with it. However, in the light of the studies mentioned in the Burkeman article, it’s worth remembering that the effects your environment has on you does not extend just to you. Stressed chickens whose abilities are impaired breed chicks with those impaired abilities, even when they’re raised without stress.

In the words of David Shenk:

If a geneticist had suggested as recently as the 1990s that a 12-year-old kid could improve the intellectual nimbleness of his or her future children by studying harder now, that scientist would have been laughed right out of the hall.

Not so now. Although on the brightside, your grandchildren won’t have these traits/impaired abilities as they are only affective of the first subsequent generation.

So think happy thoughts:):-

Dr Atkinson on James Bulger case: “under-12s can’t be criminals” …Say what now?

A Times Online article this morning talks about the new Children’s Commissioner’s view that children under the age of 12 should not be prosecuted for any crime.

Preposterous? Damn straight it is.

The Times’ interview with Dr Maggie Atkinson centres on the James Bulger/Jon Venables/Robert Thompson case.

There’s several conflicting points here:

Blood shouldn’t generally leave the body, it’s a primal knowledge. Blood is bad. Kids should know right from wrong.

However, kids are very unlikely to know right from wrong if they aren’t raised morally by parents.

But then again, in this case, the victim was kicked, beaten with an iron bar, bottom-half stripped, stoned with bricks and genitally mutilated. His body was then laid on a railway track, his head weighed down by rubble for a train to disguise what the 11-year-old murderers had done. His body was cut in half by a train.

If they didn’t know it was wrong, why try to disguise it?

Dr Atkins also believes that teenagers are too often vilified. “If you have to go all the way to giving out an antisocial behaviour order, you have failed, because you haven’t given positive activities to that person.”

‘Positive activities’?

It is still a tough call. Children don’t appreciate life as much, perhaps, as many adults do and there have been success stories of child rehabilitation following serious crimes (in this case bludgeoning an old lady to death). Is the ‘need’ for harsher sentences actually a need to satisfy society’s blood lust?

Conversely, if you don’t know right from wrong by age ten, will you ever? Even in an irresponsible household where children can watch any film, play any game, there is always the pervading understanding that murder, rape and torture are wrong.

So perhaps the parents should be held accountable and the children moved to foster care? The problem here is that there is a lot of negative stigma regarding foster care and that has to come from somewhere. (NB: the problems with children in the care of the social system is a whole other kettle of fish and too long for this post)

Lock them up and throw away the key?

No. What’s the point? Suffering? Not with colour TVs, playstations and duvets. Prison should be like the gaols of old: cold cells, thin blankets, tiny windows, suspension of state benefits. Although obviously, in the name of human rights, the odd run around the yard would be in order.

Prison overcrowding? Capital punishment for the guilty-without-doubt, un-rabilitatable, serial offenders of serious crimes such as rape, murder and torture. Frees up some space and some money that could go in to the rehabilitation of individuals who do have a shot at reform, like children.

…though perhaps not all children.

Some things, some acts, are beyond reform.

Myths & folktales: the prototypes of all narratives? [short version]

The short version…

By simple virtue of the placement along the human temporal spectrum of the oral telling and retelling of myths, folktales and fairytales prior to that of written retellings, that they are the prototypes and origins of all narrative. There was speech before there was writing and therefore contemporary narratives, immortalised in all their media and versions, must have as their prototypes the myth, fairytales and folktales ‘of old’ as that is, historically, where our concepts of storytelling, the structures and links therein, derive from. However, the full gamut of narratives cannot be reduced down to the theoretical models of Propp, Lévi-Strauss or even Todorov because they were not formulated in the face or light of modern and postmodern narratives. Moreover, as Barthes describes above (1975), narrative is extremely diverse and many contemporary narratives are deliberately constructed to deviate from exactly the conventions that theorists have sought to map.

The long version…

…is on my uni assignments page, here.

MIT’s wearable computer project[ion]

This is a video of ‘No.6’, mentioned in the iBoobs post below. The full article can be found here. Pretty kwl… :):-

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