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Posts Tagged ‘Scopes Trial

“I don’t think necessity is the mother of invention. Invention, in my opinion, arises directly from idleness, possibly also from laziness – to save oneself trouble”*…

 

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Like all other animals, our species evolved by gradual processes of natural selection that equipped us to survive and reproduce within a certain environmental niche. Unlike other animals, however, our species managed to escape its inherited biological role and take control of its own destiny. It began to innovate, actively reshaping its way of life, its environment and, eventually, the planet itself. How did we do it? What set our species, Homo sapiens, apart from the rest?

Searching for just one event, a decisive change in culture or brain structure, would probably be a mistake. For more than 1.5 million years, archaic humans (earlier Homo species, such as Homo erectus) had been slowly diverging from the other great apes, developing a way of life marked by increased collaboration. They made simple stone tools, hunted together, might have cooked their food, and probably engaged in communal parenting.

Still, their lifestyle remained largely static over vast periods of time, with few, if any, signs of artistic activity or technical innovation. Things started to change only in the past 300,000 years, with the emergence of our own species and our cousins the Neanderthals, and even then the pace of change didn’t quicken much until 40-60,000 years ago.

What caused our species to break out of the pattern set by archaic humans? Again, there were probably many factors. But from my perspective as someone who studies the human mind, one development stands out as of special importance. There is a mental ability we possess today that must have emerged at some point in our history, and whose emergence would have vastly enhanced our ancestors’ creative powers.

The ability I mean is that of hypothetical thinking – the ability to detach one’s mind from the here and now, and consciously think about other possibilities. This is the key to sustained innovation and creativity, and to the development of art, science and technology. Archaic humans, in all probability, didn’t possess it. The static nature of their lifestyle suggests that they lived in the present, their attention locked on to the world, and their behaviour driven by habit and environmental stimuli. In the course of their daily activities, they might accidentally hit on a better way of doing something, and so gradually acquire new habits and skills, but they didn’t actively think up innovations for themselves…

The story at “Our greatest invention was the invention of invention itself.”

* Agatha Christie (who would surely have agreed that invention is also, sometimes, aimed at explaining ourselves to our selves… and sometimes simply at delivering delight)

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As we contemplate creativity, we might recall that it was on this date in 1925 that the trial of John T. Scopes in Scopes vs. The State of Tennessee (aka “the Scopes Monkey Trial”) began.

The State of Tennessee had responded to the urging of William Bell Riley, head of the World’s Christian Fundamentals Association, by passing a law prohibiting the teaching of evolution– the Butler Act.  In response, The American Civil Liberties Union offered to defend anyone accused of violating the Act.  George Rappleyea, who managed several local mines, convinced a group of businessmen in Dayton, Tennessee, a town of 1,756, that the controversy of such a trial would give Dayton some much needed publicity.  With their agreement, he called in his friend, the 24-year-old Scopes, who taught High School biology in the local school– and who agreed to be the test case.

The rest is celebrity-filled history, and star-studded drama.

Scopes in 1925

 

Written by LW

July 10, 2020 at 1:01 am

“No one leaves home unless/home is the mouth of a shark”*…

 

migrants

Migrants disembark from Royal Navy Ship HMS Enterprise in Catania, Italy, 23 October 2016

 

As the world’s ranks swell, population shifts have emerged as a major global challenge with potentially catastrophic implications. Endless debates over immigration rights have failed to produce the faintest hint of an acceptable solution. So perhaps an alternative approach would be to factor in an underlying basic law of chemistry. At the risk of gross oversimplification, what if we saw the flow of populations as the human equivalent of osmosis?

In high-school chemistry we learned that, in a container of water divided into two halves by a semipermeable membrane, uneven concentrations of salt resulted in movement of water from the more dilute side to the side of greater concentration. The greater the discrepancy in solute concentration, be it a salt molecule or a complex plasma protein, the greater the force to equalise the concentrations.

Now imagine the world as a giant vat subdivided into a number of smaller containers (nations) separated from each other by semipermeable membranes (borders). Instead of salt, provide each container with differing amounts of food, shelter and essential services. In this scenario, population flow from nation to nation will be a direct function of the degree of difference of goods, opportunities and hope.

This shift of populations isn’t just an ethical or metaphysical dilemma to be resolved at the level of ‘us’ versus ‘them’. It isn’t about the right to own land and enforce borders, or the relative worth of individuals versus groups. Instead, the pressures driving immigration should be seen as natural and unavoidable – like chemical reactions; from that perspective, a reduction in the gradients would be the only possible long-term solution…

Arguments for the rights of nations to control their borders are a huge step in the wrong direction. We need to take a hard look at the disruptive dynamics of inequality. If this simple fact of chemistry (that lesser flows to greater) can’t penetrate the predominantly impermeable minds of policymakers, welcome to a world of escalating chaos.

Robert A. Burton considers climate change, economic inequality, political imbalances and other “reasons to move,” as he suggests a more productive way to think about one of this era’s most pressing challenges, one that can be mitigated and made more humane, if not avoided: “Like the chemical process of osmosis, migration is unstoppable.”

* Warsan Shire

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As we focus on reducing the gradients, we might recall that it was on this date in 1925 that the Butler Act, prohibiting the teaching of evolution in Tennessee classrooms, became law… paving the way for the Scopes “Monkey” Trial.

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Anti-Evolution League at the Scopes Trial, 1925

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Written by LW

March 21, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Reality is broken”*…

 

Paperclips, a new game from designer Frank Lantz, starts simply. The top left of the screen gets a bit of text, probably in Times New Roman, and a couple of clickable buttons: Make a paperclip. You click, and a counter turns over. One.

The game ends—big, significant spoiler here—with the destruction of the universe.

In between, Lantz, the director of the New York University Games Center, manages to incept the player with a new appreciation for the narrative potential of addictive clicker games, exponential growth curves, and artificial intelligence run amok…

More at “The way the world ends: not with a bang but a paperclip“; play Lantz’s game here.

(Then, as you consider reports like this, remind yourself that “We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.”)

* Jane McGonigal, Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World

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As we play we hope not prophetically, we might recall that it was on this date in 4004 BCE that the Universe was created… as per calculations by Archbishop James Ussher in the mid-17th century.

When Clarence Darrow prepared his famous examination of William Jennings Bryan in the Scopes trial [see here], he chose to focus primarily on a chronology of Biblical events prepared by a seventeenth-century Irish bishop, James Ussher. American fundamentalists in 1925 found—and generally accepted as accurate—Ussher’s careful calculation of dates, going all the way back to Creation, in the margins of their family Bibles.  (In fact, until the 1970s, the Bibles placed in nearly every hotel room by the Gideon Society carried his chronology.)  The King James Version of the Bible introduced into evidence by the prosecution in Dayton contained Ussher’s famous chronology, and Bryan more than once would be forced to resort to the bishop’s dates as he tried to respond to Darrow’s questions.

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Ussher

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Written by LW

October 23, 2017 at 1:01 am

“ANT: model to cite in front of a spendthrift”*…

 

We tend to think of ants, and other social insects such as bees and termites, as busy little workers, but it turns out some of them may actually be quite lazy.

A study (paywall) conducted by researchers at the University of Arizona observed five colonies of Temnothorax rugatulus—a common ant species found across western Canada and the United States—and tracked their movements for three random days over a three weeks. Before they began their observations, they painted certain ants so they could track their individual activities. The team recorded five-minute videos of the colonies at four-hour intervals, and categorized the type of work they were doing at a given time.

They were surprised to find that almost half of the ants were actually fairly inactive throughout the day. While their counterparts busied themselves with nest-building or foraging, these ants were “effectively ‘specializing’ on inactivity,” according to the paper…

More at “Scientists say many worker ants are actually super lazy.”  See also, “News: Ants Don’t Actually Work that Hard.”

[Image above, from here]

* Gustave Flaubert, Dictionary of Accepted Ideas

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As we learn by example, we might recall that it was on this date in 4004 BCE that the Universe was created… as per calculations by Archbishop James Ussher in the mid-17th century.

When Clarence Darrow prepared his famous examination of William Jennings Bryan in the Scopes trial [see here], he chose to focus primarily on a chronology of Biblical events prepared by a seventeenth-century Irish bishop, James Ussher. American fundamentalists in 1925 found—and generally accepted as accurate—Ussher’s careful calculation of dates, going all the way back to Creation, in the margins of their family Bibles.  (In fact, until the 1970s, the Bibles placed in nearly every hotel room by the Gideon Society carried his chronology.)  The King James Version of the Bible introduced into evidence by the prosecution in Dayton contained Ussher’s famous chronology, and Bryan more than once would be forced to resort to the bishop’s dates as he tried to respond to Darrow’s questions.

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Ussher

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Written by LW

October 23, 2015 at 1:01 am

Darkness, fallen…

On the heels of North Korea’s unsuccessful “satellite launch,” a look at “the land of the morning calm” (AKA The Hermit Kingdom) from the altitude their rocket failed to achieve…

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The bright dot halfway up the Western coast is the capital, Pyongyang… one of the (very) few spots in North Korea with access to appreciable amounts of electricity.

Other photos from above here and here.

As we spend a day in fear of trembling, we might send locquatious birthday greetings to lawyer and civil libertarian Clarence Darrow; he was born on this date in 1857.  Darrow’s most famous court appearances were probably his defenses of Leopold and Loeb (the “thrill killers” who murdered Bobby Franks in 1924) and of John T. Scopes (where Darrow argued Scopes’ right to teach evolution against William Jennings Bryant in what came to be known as “the Monkey Trial”); he was an early leader of the ACLU.

 You can only protect your liberties in this world by protecting the other man’s freedom. You can only be free if I am free. (source)

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