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Posts Tagged ‘Protestant Reformation

“To be what you want to be: isn’t this the essence of being human?”*…

… Ah, but what does one– should one– want to be? Jules Evans, with a history of the transhumanist-rationalist-extropian movement that has ensorcelled many of technology’s leaders, one that celebrates an elite few and promises an end to death and taxes…

Once upon a time there was an obscure mailing list. It only had about 100 people on it, yet in this digital village was arguably the greatest concentration of brain power since fifth-century Athens. There was Hans Moravec, pioneer in robotics; Eric Drexler, pioneer of nanotechnology; Eliezer Yudkowsky, father of the Rationalist movement; Max More, father of modern transhumanism; Nick Bostrom, founder of Long-Termism and the study of Existential Risks; Hal Finney, Nick Szabo and Wei Dai, the inventors of cryptocurrency; and Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks. Together they developed a transhumanist worldview — self-transformation, genetic modification, nootropic drugs, AI, crypto-libertarianism and space exploration. It’s a worldview that has become the ruling philosophy of the obscenely rich of California.

It all started in Bristol, England. There, a young man called Max O’Connor grew up, and went to study philosophy at Oxford. But Max wanted more, more excitement, more life, more everything. He changed his name to Max More, and moved to California, where the future is invented. His dreams took root in the soil prepared by Californian transhumanists of the 1970s. Many of them were members of an organization called L5, dedicated to the colonization of space by a genetic elite — its members included Timothy Leary, Marvin Minsky, Isaac Asimov and Freeman Dyson, and its magazine was named Ad Astra — which was what Elon Musk named his school for SpaceX kids in 2014.

Max was also inspired by Robert Ettinger, an American engineer who argued that humans would soon become immortal superbeings, and we should freeze ourselves when we die so we can be resurrected in the perfect future. While doing a PhD at the University of Southern California, Max got a job at the Alcor Foundation for cryonic preservation, and in 1989 he started a magazine with his fellow philosophy grad, Tom Morrow, called Extropy: Journal of Transhumanist Thought. ‘Do you want to be an ubermensch?’ the first issue asked.

‘Ubermensch’ (overman or superman) is the German word used by Friedrich Nietzsche to describe the individual (male or female) who has overcome all obstacles to the perfection of him or herself…

A history and an explanation: “How did transhumanism become the religion of the super-rich?” from @JulesEvans11.

* David Zindell

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As we ponder the (presumptuous) preference for perfection, we might recall that it was (tradition holds) on this date in 1517– All Hallows (All Saints) Eve– that Martin Luther, a priest and scholar in Wittenberg, Germany, upset by what he saw as the excesses and corruption of the Roman Catholic Church (especially the papal practice of taking payments– “indulgences”– for the forgiveness of sins), posted his 95 Theses on the door of Castle Church.  Thus began the Protestant Reformation.

Martin Luther (source)

Today, of course, All Hallows (All Saints) Eve, is celebrated as Halloween, which is (if it is, as many scholars believe, directly descended from the ancient Welsh harvest festival Samhain) the longest-running holiday with a set date… and (usually, anyway) the second-biggest (after Christmas) commercial holiday in the United States.

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“There is a time for everything”*…

Five elements from a painted hanging depicting the Crossing of the Red Sea, Byzantine, circa second century. The Metropolitan Museum of Art

… and the time for the Word came later than many of us seem to understand…

The oldest scriptures that eventually became the Bible were created within an environment where no appreciable religious function was assigned to texts. The stories, proverbs, songs, and prayers dating from the ninth and eighth centuries bc that researchers have managed to reconstruct from the Bible are examples of literature rather than holy scripture. They evolved into scripture through a lengthy process.

What scholars call a “cult religion” was practiced in Israel and Judah in the period before the Babylonian Exile (586–538 bc). Religious observance centered on local shrines, and contact with the deity was maintained through sacrifices, votive offerings, and prayer. In the late pre-exile period, that is, the final decades of the seventh century bc, cultic activities in Judah came to be focused on a single temple in Jerusalem. The Bible portrays this process as part of the religious reforms undertaken by Josiah (2 Kings 22–23).

Of course, religious texts also had their place within this cult, but they did not play a key role in either its foundation or its normalization. Instead, like the religious paraphernalia in the temple, they simply formed one aspect of cultic activities…

Judaism only became a “religion of the book”—that is, one whose core entailed the study of sacred texts—following the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70. With the demise of the sacrificial cult of the temple, the faith shifted entirely to the study and celebration of the scriptures.

And it was not until that stage that the concept of the Bible as a complete, authoritative collection of texts arose. Its texts had almost certainly been in religious use before this, but alongside many other documents. A strict dividing line between biblical and nonbiblical literature did not exist at that time, since there was as yet no such thing as the Bible. And so the belief system of Israel and Judah changed gradually over the course of the first millennium bc from a cult religion to a religion of the book…

Scripture before the Bible: “Becoming a Religion of the Book,” an excerpt from The Making of the Bible: From the First Fragments to Sacred Scripture by Konrad Schmid and Jens Schröter in Lapham’s Quarterly (@laphamsquart)

* The Bible, Ecclesiastes 3:1

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As we tackle the text, we might recall that it was on his date in 1538 that Pope Paul III excommunicated King Henry VIII of England. The reasons were many: First, Henry had illegally married his new wife Anne Boleyn and left his former Queen Katherine of Aragon. Then he had proclaimed himself head of the Church of England, denying the papal primacy. He disbanded English monasteries and appropriated much of their assets.

The original bull of excommunication had been issued on 30th August 1535, but the excommunication had been suspended in the hope that Henry would mend his ways. When Henry sacked St. Thomas Becket’s shrine, the Pope decided to act.

The break with Rome was, at first, largely political (and personal). But as the years passed, the theology and liturgy of the Church of England became markedly Protestant, especially during the reign of Henry’s son Edward VI, largely along lines laid down by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer. Under Mary, the process was reversed and the Church of England was again placed under papal jurisdiction. But Elizabeth reintroduced the Protestant religion (albeit in a more moderate manner).

The structure and theology of the church was a matter of fierce dispute for generations. The most violent of these disputes, the English Civil Wars, ended when the last Roman Catholic monarch, James II, was deposed and Parliament employed William III and Mary II jointly to rule in conjunction with the English Bill of Rights in 1688 (in the “Glorious Revolution“), from which emerged a church polity with an established church (The Church of England) and a number of non-conformist churches whose members suffered various “civil disabilities”– until these were removed many years later. A substantial but dwindling minority of people from the late 16th to early 19th centuries remained Roman Catholic in England. Their church organization remained illegal until the Relief Act of 1829.

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“Learning never exhausts the mind”*…

As regular readers know, each year Tom Whitwell shares a list of the more intriguing things he’s learned over the year; happily, 2021 is no exception…

10% of US electricity is generated from old Russian nuclear warheads. [Geoff Brumfiel]

The entire global cosmetic Botox industry is supported by an annual production of just a few milligrams of botulism toxin. Pure toxin would cost ~$100 trillion per kilogram. [Anthony Warner]

Wearing noise cancelling headphones in an open-plan office helps a little bit — reducing cognitive errors by 14% — but actual silence reduces those errors by one third. [Benjamin Müller & co]

Until 1873, Japanese hours varied by season. There were six hours between sunrise and sunset, so a daylight hour in summer was 1/3rd longer than an hour in winter. [Sara J. Schechner]

48 other fascinating finds at: “52 things I learned in 2021,” from @TomWhitwell.

* Leonardo da Vinci

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As we live and learn, we might recall that it was on this date in 1545, in response to the Protestant Reformation, that the Council of Trent (Concilium Tridentinum) was convened by the Roman Catholic Church. Its work concluded in 1563; and its results were published in 1564, condemning what the Catholic Church deemed to be the heresies of Protestants.  The embodiment of the Counter-Reformation, The Council of Trent established a firm and permanent distinction between the two practices of faith.

200px-Concilio_Trento_Museo_Buonconsiglio
Council of Trent (painting in the Museo del Palazzo del Buonconsiglio, Trento)

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“Custom is the great guide to human life”*…

Which graph to use for which type of data

The r/coolguides page on Reddit has lots of fun and useful stuff to browse through from guides on wilderness survival to vintage instructions about talking on the telephone. I hope I never actually need to refer to the one about “how to make seawater drinkable”, but I do think it’s a good skill to know, just in case I find myself stuck in a rubber boat with Tallulah Bankhead and William Bendix. I have similar feelings about the “Circles of Hell in Dante’s Inferno” guide, but it’s probably wise to have it on hand, just in case I need it as a map one day… 

Source (see also here for a different map of Dante’s Hell)

Guides– lots of guides. Via Boing Boing.

David Hume

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As we find our way, we might recall that it was on this date in 1523 that the Parisian Faculty of Theology fined Simon de Colines for publishing the Biblical commentary Commentarii initiatorii in quatuor Evangelia by Jacques Lefèvre d’Étaples, a “guide” to the four Gospels. Lefèvre d’Étaples, a theologian and a leading figure in French humanism, whose work anticipated the Protestant Reformation, was frequently ruled heretical– though he remained within the church throughout his life.

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“There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact”*…

Distortions and outright lies by politicians and pundits have become so common that major news outlets like the Associated Press, CNN, BBC, Fox News,and Washington Post routinely assign journalists and fact-checkers to verify claims made during stump speeches and press briefings. The motivation to uncover falsehoods and misleading statements taken out of context is laudable. But when it comes to real-world complexities, the trouble is that people often see different things when looking at the same event, a phenomenon repeatedly documented by psychologists.

Laboratory studies reveal that, when shown a video of a group of protesters, people see either a peaceful protest or an unruly mob blocking pedestrian access, depending on their sociopolitical beliefs. The world outside the lab shows similar biased perception: For example, 68 percent of Republicans consider the videotaped demonstrations in Portland, Ore., Kenosha, Wisc., and New York City to be riots, versus only 30 percent of Democrats, according to a Fox News poll released in September. Journalists and fact-checkers are human beings subject to the same psychological biases as everyone else—and their analyses of what constitute “facts” is affected by their own political and ideological values, resulting in what psychologists term selective perception.

Fact-checkers’ decisions have significant consequences for debates about fake news that cannot be overstated. Researchers have studied the cascading cognitive effects of misinformation, and their findings are relevant to current concerns about fake news and to the limitations of fact-checking. Misinformation can be insidious; it can seep into the unconscious mind and influence beliefs and behaviors long after we have forgotten its source or the evidence invoked to support it. Under laboratory conditions, a selection of objective facts and complete fabrications can be presented, and researchers can then examine the spread of misinformation about these facts and whether and how this spread results in false beliefs.

Unlike a pristine laboratory setting, however, the world of politics is messy, and there can be deep disagreements about the facts themselves, as the above contradictory claims illustrate. When it comes to partisan fact-checking about complex issues—which describes much of the fact-checking that takes place in the context of political news—the truth as stated is often the subjective opinion of people with shared political views.

One path to a solution is “adversarial fact-checking.” Fact-checking is often done by teams of two or more journalists rather than by a single person. We propose that political claims continue to be aggressively fact-checked, but by teams of individuals with diverse sociopolitical views; for example, by pairing fact-checkers from major liberal and conservative news sources. This would add little, if any, cost. The media should abandon fact-checkers’ pretext of objectivity and political disinterest and instead acknowledge their sociopolitical leanings in much the way that NPR tries to pit pro and con points of view in political coverage…

Having each side’s fact-checkers checked by the other side’s fact-checkers could lead to an infinite regress toward an uncertain truth. But this is preferable to belief in a truth that may not exist. Adversarial fact-checkers would debate the same “evidence” and ensure a balanced presentation of the facts. This may not guarantee that fact-checkers will agree or even that readers will discern the truth. But it will reveal the sometimes-tenuous nature of fact-checkers’ claims and the psychological context in which human cognition unfolds—and this would be a meaningful barrier to the spread of fake news and the creation of false beliefs among voters.

One notes that the Hegelian suggestion above assumes that fact-checkers from each side would be actively seeking to overcome their personal biases, to determine an “objective” truth… that only unconscious– not conscious, weaponized– biases are the issue.

Still, it’s certainly true that at least some fact-checkers aim to get closer to the truth, even as their biases can shroud the very truth they seek: “The Psychology of Fact-Checking.”

* Sherlock Holmes, in Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Boscombe Valley Mystery”

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As we clean our lenses, we might recall that it was on this date in 1517– All Hallows (All Saints) Eve– that Martin Luther, a priest and scholar in Wittenberg, Germany, upset by what he saw as the excesses and corruption of the Roman Catholic Church (especially the papal practice of taking payments– “indulgences”– for the forgiveness of sins), posted his 95 Theses on the door of Castle Church.  Thus began the Protestant Reformation.

Martin Luther (source)

Lest in this this pandemic-attenuated moment we forget: today, All Hallows (All Saints) Eve, is celebrated as Halloween, which is (if it is, as many scholars believe, directly descended from the ancient Welsh harvest festival Samhain) the longest-running holiday with a set date… and (usually, anyway) the second-biggest (after Christmas) commercial holiday in the United States.

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