March 27, 2007

From Tony Wren:

Re: Traditional plant knowledge gives health boost: study (March 19): I was highly amused to see this item. Surely it is not news that traditional medicines work.

It’s such a familiar idea, which disappeared from European consciousness for only a couple of hundred years or so, but has been back for decades, surely. “Ex­act­ly how ma­ter­nal cul­tur­al knowl­edge pro­tects child health is un­known, but the re­sults high­light the im­por­tance of pre­serv­ing as­pects of tra­di­tion­al cul­ture as so­ci­eties adapt to glob­al­iza­tion”.

What does this mean?

Does it mean we don’t know exactly what medicines or practices the Tsimane use, or we don’t see how knowing about plants can make people healthier? The Tsimane might well say “Exactly how American doctors make people better is unknown”. This doesn’t make it a mystery. The therapeutic value of plants is well accepted in the West. But there must still be hundreds of important materials that we don’t know about yet, so yes, it’s important for this reason alone (and it’s of course not the only one) why traditional cultures must not give way to globalisation.

And it’s interesting that plant extracts are only fully “accepted” by Western science when they have been so refined as to bear little relation to the context in which they are found and used traditionally.

One identifiable chemical may become regarded as the “active ingredient” but this may not be as effective in isolation as in the context of the other ingredients found in the original material.

How long was it before we realised that iron was absorbed better taken together with folic acid?

And how much longer before we noticed that both are present in the foods traditionally associated with healthy blood?

From Edward N. Haas:

Re: Brain mishaps produce “cold” morality (March 21): Your article overlooks what may well be, by very far, the chief cause of “cold” morality. That chief cause is undue confidence in the consequence forecasting ability of one’s own puny little 4 pound brain. In my writings, I explain what that means so: You’re out hunting with a high-powered rifle on the side of a mountain. From your vantage point, you can look across a gorge and see men working with jackhammers on an opposite slope. You can also see that, unknown to them, they are about do dislodge a boulder which shall then roll down the mountain, crash into a school bus and kill dozens of children. Shouting can do no good, because the workmen cannot hear above the noise of the jackhammers. The same can be said of shooting at the ground around them. The only way to stop them and save the children is to shoot one of the workmen. Unfortunately, only the upper portion of each workman’s body is exposed; and so, that means you must shoot one of them in the chest or the head. Given the power of your rifle, that means you must kill one of the workmen.

Would you shoot? Most people reply yes. I then add: Seeing their fellow workman’s head burst asunder, the workmen run for cover; the boulder is not dislodged, and the bus goes its way unmolested. It tops the mountain, starts down the other side. Not far along its way, its brakes fail, the bus races downhill at breakneck speed, crashes into the back of another school bus, and the impact throws the both of them into the path of an oncoming tanker loaded with propane. The head on collision throws all 3 vehicles over the edge of the mountain, and their downward plunge lands them on the top of a school. A huge explosion of propane and gasoline then kills a thousand school children, dozens of teachers, and everyone in the three vehicles. If you could foresee that as a coming result of your act of shooting the workman, would you still shoot him? Most people then answer no but will often add: “That’s merely an unforeseeable unusual twist of fate.” That, though, is the problem, namely: When we try to base our decisions on what consequences our puny little 4 pound brains foresee, we all too often get suckered into a disaster which produces a result the exact opposite of what we sought to precipitate. Many a great literary work is based on that theme. Some realize that, and some do not.

Those who realize it will never turn to “cold” morality no matter what the condition of their brains, because they will say: “One must NEVER abandon that ancient well tried moral principle which tells us never to target the life of what is known or reasonably suspected to be human and innocent. That’s because our power to read the future is too flawed and shall all too often turn and bite us. Therefore, no matter what consequences our puny little 4 pound brains foresee, we will never trust them enough to kill an innocent person. Instead, we prefer to trust that the consequence-forecasting ability of that ancient, well-tried moral principle is far more reliable than that of our puny little 4 pound brains.” In short, rather than having anything to do with the condition of one’s brain, “cold” morality is strictly the result of an exceedingly ignorant and stupid ability to imagine that a puny little 4 pound brain can so reliably read the future as to produce more good than bad consequences by killing innocent people.

One cannot determine the morality of an action on the basis of what consequences we can foresee. The only way to use consequences to determine the morality of an action is to foresee the sum total of all the consequences which shall ever follow from our action. However, if anything in life is supremely obvious, it is this:Our puny little 4 pound brains cannot possibly foresee more than an astronomically insignificant fraction of that sum total. Only an INFINITELY informed mind could possibly foresee that sum total. Only those intellectually decrepit enough to think otherwise ever turn to “cold” morality. Further details can be found in one or more of my 16 books available at many places on the internet.

Edward N. Haas
Pearl River, LA

From David Barclay:

Re: Paper takes swipe at bedrock law of physics (Oct. 14): The conservation of energy is based upon the assumption that no new energy is entering the universe, yet what would support the continuance of physical structure if it is not an underlying force of energy which is continuously increasing?

A difficult question it would seem, as no one to date has an answer.

Physicists can turn up their noses and choose to look the other way, but in doing so they merely degrade their own professional status.

Even Einstein considered the existence of an underlying force, whereby gravity might not itself be a force of any kind, but simply a response to this undiscovered underlying force.

An accelerating underlying force would be the inherent energy source of all physical structure, which would be focused to the center of each unified field system.

Therefore we might discover that energy does not radiate at all, but is firmly focused to the center of each unified field system. So the structure of an atom would represent a simple differential in the underlying energy of each atom.

This would suggest that the ratio of energy per unit of mass was not the same for all elements and that single atoms of different elements would have different ratios of energy per unit of mass, whereby the accepted relationship of energy and mass could better be described as a general rule, but not the final answer.

Furthermore we might discover that the less massive elements had the higher ratios of energy per unit of mass, as the least massive elements would provide less resistance to the acceleration of the underlying force affecting their form and function. On the basis of this we might realize that hydrogen had the highest ratio of energy per unit of mass for any known element and why hydrogen was a critical component of any life process.

Hardly a subject for the rolling of eyes and snotty remarks considering that our modern science is not exactly sure what energy is in the first place.

David Barclay

March 17, 2007

From Bill Bucolo:

Re: “Mafia” behavior noted in birds (March 5): So, accepter warblers have more offspring, but I wonder if the progeny of rejecter warblers is a hardier, more independent and stronger bird than that of accepters? And if that particular strain of offspring is more likely to also reject parasitic cowbird eggs? And if fighting warblers beget warblers more inclined to fight, I wonder if being the strongest warbler is best after all, since their more combative presence may purturb combative cowbirds more, resulting in even more ransacked nests? I would like to think that whether with people or birds, those who stand up to bullies (or mafia) pay a dear price, but really win in the end.

From Stefano Ruia:

Re: Probe to explore deepest known sinkhole (March 8): Zacaton cenote is not the deepest sink-hole in the world submerged by water. The “Merro Hole,” very close to Rome, Italy, is deeper: two years ago a ROV has reached 1, 300 feet and the bottom is still deeper. A geologist of University of Rome (Giorgio Caramanna) is working with collegues working in Zacaton on a scientific project. Just this month Jim Bowden (the explorer mentioned in your issue) is arrived in Italy to have a look at the Merro Hole.

From Timo Budarz:

Re: Rats can reflect on their knowledge, study finds (March 8): I imagine it might be made more clear in the full-text version of the study, but isn’t there an obvious alternative conclusion than the one mentioned? What about the rats choosing option 3 (which was represented as backing out after reflection) in cases where both signals were perceived as equal duration by the rodents? No reflection is required, only a discrimination. Long signal, choose it, no long signal (two roughly equal ones), choose option 3. I imagine at least half of your readers realized this potential flaw in the interpretation.

From yousa ybe us@yah oo .com:

Re: Angry God, angry people (Feb. 28):

“To the ex­tent re­li­gious ex­trem­ists en­gage in pro­longed, se­lec­tive read­ing of the scrip­tures, fo­cus­ing on vi­o­lent ret­ri­bu­tion to­ward unbe­liev­ers in­stead of the over­all mes­sage of ac­cept­ance and un­der­stand­ing,” wrote Bush­man, “one might ex­pect to see in­creased bru­tality.”

What proof is there that the “overall message” is one of acceptance and understanding? This is simply Bushman’s prejudiced presumption.

From April Pedersen: Junk science at World Science

I’ve never seen such a ridiculous collection of junk science in my life. What a load of hooey. Fish with logic? Birds with grammar? Empathy in mice? A strain of perpetually “happy” mice? a “trust hormone”? Scientist have lost their minds. What a bunch of idiotic crack pots. These nutty scientists justify such stupid research by promising it may help “humans” someday. Wrong. It’s all pointless trash. I bet you think people are nothing but gene & hormone controlled apes, where everything we do has a hard-wired, evolutionary explanation.

You probably don’t believe in free will. Love is just oxytocin, remorse is yet another hormone, as is creativity, patriotism, pride, humility, and a fondness for Country Western music. On top of this, “researchers” are shamelessly anthropomorphizing animals, saying birds have grammar, rats laugh, baboons mourn the dead like we do. What a load of dung!

Let’s see an animal join the Red Cross. Let’s see an animal fight for civl liberties. Let’s see an animal laugh at the punch line of a joke or cry tears of sorrow during a sad movie. Or weep at a wedding. Or even have a wedding. Or a divorce. Or play a game of chess. Or Scrabble. Or write a letter to the editor. Or wonder where the universe came from. I’m SICK of scientists always trying to reduce people down to genes and instincts while elevating animals to our levels. I’m sick of it.

March 05, 2007

From Frank & Esther Schierenberg:

Re: Angry God, angry people (Feb. 28): The article may have a point, but the conclusion:

“To the ex­tent re­li­gious ex­trem­ists en­gage in pro­longed, se­lec­tive read­ing of the scrip­tures, fo­cus­ing on vi­o­lent ret­ri­bu­tion to­ward unbe­liev­ers in­stead of the over­all mes­sage of ac­cept­ance and un­der­stand­ing,” wrote Bush­man, “one might ex­pect to see in­creased bru­tality.”

is an atheist response and therefore sectarian. It’s the kind of opinions scholarly exposition tries to avoid.

“Acceptance and understanding” is not the answer, but “agreed upon and universally accepted and unchangeable behavioural standards” is the answer. Every eventual behavioural excess stems from people “accepting and understanding” every and all kinds of behaviour sans limits, including Hitler.

Christ and his legacy is just one of many similar attempts to forge a universally accepted standard of behaviour, a set of courteous rules for the game of life. I. e. Christ wants us to love our enemies, not kill them.

From Joan Covici:

Re: Angry God, angry people (Feb. 28): I want to say how pleased I am that you published this. It has long been my contention -- especially since having support from Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion -- that the angry God model has over shadowed Jesus’s “love thy neighbor,” “forgiveness,” and the Ten Commandments “thou shalt not kill.”

I am an atheist (coming out of the closet), but the fundamental religious groups in my state think of nothing but whipping children, killing in general, and revenge. We need to point to where this is largely coming from.

Joan Covici
Dallas, TX

From Itzhak Shechtman:

Re: Death from across the galaxy (Feb. 27): I draw your attention to my paper “Is the universe teeming with super civilizations? which appeared in the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society, Vol. 59, No. 7, July 2006, pp. 257-261. As its title suggests, it deals with the effects very strong stellar (as well as terrestrial) cataclysms - including GRB’s - can have on life in the universe, and arrives at the optimistic conclusion that the universe is probably teeming with super civilizations.

Itzhak Shechtman
Nesher, Israel

From Ram Radhakrishnan:

Re: Death from across the galaxy (Feb. 27): In as much as the gamma ray beams sterilize everything on their path, it is also possible that some of the “off-axis” radiation might cause genetic mutations, positive and negative across habited planets along the way. These cones of radiation may in fact be responsible for the birth of prodigies as well as those with genetic defects. Due to lensing effects, the beams may even tighten and collimate to reach greater distances, spanning intergalactic space and reach say, planet earth, cutting a narrow swatch across the surface, drastically altering the future of those along the center line! This may even explain the “punctuated” nature of evolution here on planet earth. In the future, it may be possible through advanced GIS systems to correlate the spatial & temporal incidence of disease with known gamma ray bursts.

From David Topper:

Re: Angry God, angry people (Feb. 28): you used an image from Michelangelo’s Sistine Ceiling as an example of an angry God. But the specific image from the chapel is of God creating the Sun and planets, and hence his stern look is NOT of anger but of determinism and the sheer work required to make and direct these celestial objects to their appointed places and paths in space. In short, your have made a poor choice of an image accompanying your article.

David Topper
University of Winnipeg
Winnipeg, MB
R3B 2E9 Canada

March 04, 2007

From D. Hutzler:

Re: Angry God, angry people (Feb. 28): This was a great, eye-opening article. The world greatly benefit from religious modifications toward moderation. It is unfortunate that the masses blindly follow the teachings of devious leaders.