And it’s a global warming buzz again

Climate change. The subtle, drip by drip change which we are not evolutionary wired to detect. The steady pace at which mankind set out to turn its destiny upside down by implementing its thirst for progress – or the mere instinctive drive to develop solutions which prove to ameliorate our contingencies – both interpretations of the tale of recent civilisation suffer from the spell of another inbuilt bias, that of shortsightedness. While the magnitude of the first atomic explosion awakened the global awareness of technology’s blind and ruthless potential for destruction, the steady rate at which global emissions raised since that very occurrence has summed up to a total of 85% of total human carbon production1)http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2017/07/climate-change-earth-too-hot-for-humans.html. Fortunately, science is an auto-corrective enterprise and headline’s prestige does not protect one from severe critique. Climatefeedback.org just released a fact-check of NYMag’s article, rating its scientific credibility as low (-0,8): “Our review simply addresses the scientific accuracy of the article. The reviewers found that some statements in this complex article do misrepresent research on the topic, and some others lack the necessary context to be clearly understood by the reader. Many other explanations in the article are correct, but readers are likely left with an overall conclusion that is exaggerated compared to our best scientific understanding.”. We are sufficiently trained to recognise the perils of civilisation when hit by shocking events, but much less accustomed to parse upcoming threats which grow slowly, and therefore silently.

Show me hundred of thousands of corpses, burned by the American nukes on Japanese soil, and I’ll tell you there’s something wrong there, fast and assuredly. Tell me about the thousands of people who died out of heat in a hot summer, add up the statistics for future impact of ocean acidification, or even the likelihood of trapped viruses in the Arctic ice to spread back into the world2)http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2017/07/climate-change-earth-too-hot-for-humans.html… and I’ll likely find a way out of that intricate web in order to justify the tiniest of my current habits, not to change any of them.

 

On Saturday 9th, July 2017, the NY Times Magazine went out with an article which hit my Nuzzel feed with over 31 sharings. “It’s a rare occurrence, given how rarely I breed my Twitter network.”, I thought. The day after, dozens of articles – from The Atlantic, to Mashable and Grist – not to count tweets and Facebook posts, flooded the Internet with vivid answers. The widest response?

if you’re trying to motivate people, scaring the shit out of them is a really bad strategy.3)http://grist.org/climate-energy/stop-scaring-people-about-climate-change-it-doesnt-work/

 

Trauttsmandorff Gardens, Italy 2015.

Many have called into question the veracity of data which have been reported, as if the author needed an extra pump to inflate his apocalyptic outlook. I’ll leave those to environmental journalists and experts, as going through tables, papers and citations isn’t really my thing. David Wallace-Wells made my conscience shake up quite a little, and made me reflect on what am I currently doing to actively engage with the problem. I am a student who looks just average with respect to carbon emissions (a 0.3x compared to the average American – but many know that a US citizen has a 3x ecological footprint than a European one. CarboTax evaluator enticed me with a feeling of environmental superiority before I actually realised that its values have been tailored for the average American citizen.) A sort of anti-radical-chic claim and a little bit of social pressure made me abandon vegetarianism in favour of modest meat consumption. I am not studying to become a software or hardware developer, nor a biotechnology researcher, so I won’t come up with resolving technological innovations. I am not headed toward journalism either, if that means covering the latest news about environmental issues, periodically swinging between a benign optimism after an encouraging discovery and a desolated pessimism following the umpteenth out-of-target environmental report.

That article made me much more aware of the complexities of the environmental problem4)As soon as one is able to lift himself out of the equivalence “global warming = rising sea levels”, then one has made significant progress toward a bare understanding of complexity and interdependence. Among the many cascade effects of which I could not think of, cited in the NYmag article, you would find that a higher concentration of carbon dioxide reduces cognitive capacities; that an increase in heat is correlated with an increase in crime and war rates – though that assertion has produced much controversy on the web; that global warming dynamics have been proposed as a ‘filter effect’ to explain the Fermi paradox., and of how much we cannot allow ourselves to take any solution for granted. Enthusiasm and trust in the scientific and technological progress should not make us blind to the possibility that viable options to address the problem may lie in a too distant future5)Who is prone to similar setbacks would understand the enthusiasm with which I turned to cellular agriculture and artificial meat (The man from Utopia: story of a win-win ethical mindset), only to discover after a few months that is not going to be that easy.. Popperian physicist David Deutsch would call out such a judgement as pessimistic philosophy – that is, to deceive ourselves into believing that no solution is available. I believe that technological progress has been shown to be such a powerful tool, that combined with necessity, no metaphysical reason should forestall success; when the lives of present and future generations (not to mention current environmental catastrophes) are at stake though, we should come up with solid plans, and not allow ourselves to slip into the comfort of technological hopes.

What needs to be kept alive are the standards of inquiry and conversation among people – that is the best way we have to address complex matters, when in fact our instinctive reaction may just be that of closing the gates and keep reasoning the way we are used to. That, in fact, has been the first reaction I had after reading the NYMag article, and I totally subscribe the view6)Not that I need to endorse something which has been shown by much psychological research: first of all, the popular work of Thaler and Sunstein, Nudge. that fear isn’t the best strategy to address change, especially if issues are complex and need our logical brains to be tackled. Aka keep the flight-or-fight mode as far as you can.

 

I resolved to accentuate the role of science not in a naïve attempt to give consistency to desirable sci-fi scenarios, but rather to counter the perception of science as an obscure force which aims at changing behaviours and imposing new rules out of undecipherable amounts of data. The recent Italian vaccine debate exemplifies how one cannot take scientific literacy for granted – not even among European countries, albeit Italy’s poor performance is well-known.7)http://www.oecd.org/pisa/keyfindings/PISA-2012-results-italy.pdf Denialism is driven by aversion to change, but it is happy to take a stance against science every time it can. Just as opposing overt scientific consensus for unclear (or sometimes even too clear) reasons is immoral, not trying to stop that trend is equally dishonest. “If you see fraud and don’t shout fraud, you are a fraud”.8)http://www.fooledbyrandomness.com/

Trauttsmandorff Gardens, Italy 2015.

In the past, I repeatedly thought of carbon dioxide extraction – alongside with special bacteria who would eat plastics, or ideally carbon dioxide itself – as one of the most technological promises to solve global warming. There is some consensus9)http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2017/07/climate-change-earth-too-hot-for-humans.html around the fact that even stopping carbon emissions today, would not be enough to reverse the trend; it is, therefore, likely that by lowering carbon concentrations to pre-industrial levels, we could definitely have managed the issue. Some researchers even suggest that carbon extraction is economically more viable (and therefore more likely to be implemented) than substituting fuels altogether, thereby giving some extra buffer space for proper conversions to be actualised. So my research actually began by tapping “carbon extraction from air” on my keyboard, and it showed among the very first search results a site that has within its “popular post” parade two articles on “working” magnetic motors. It is hard for me to believe how my browser’s research history could have eventually been infected with alike woo-woo contents. That was definitely not what you could call a ‘scientific blog’, not even a remote one; still, they were enthralled so much by technoenthusiasm (they call themselves The Green Optimistic) that it turned into denialism: you can’t possibly talk of magnetic motors in the XXI century.

Finding the news about carbon extraction among such unscientific babble made me think that there is an opposite side to denialism. I felt as though I had been prone to cultivate big hopes too – the belief in a feasible and dream-like solution for global warming – against the real pains of climate change. Just as articles critical of doomsday-like approaches predicted, fear could well turn into denialism.

Unjustified optimism bears similar byproducts too. The point is that only a method like the scientific one – in its broadest possible sense, which includes confrontation, fact-checking and fallibilism – makes us less vulnerable to similar pitfalls. It is inevitable, and vital for our creativity, that we cut the world off at some point and start to build stuff on our own; but we need to keep an eye on what happens outside, and always be willing to change our mind in presence of better explanations. That, in essence, is the frail ideal of rationalism: it does not work as a law, it just seems to be the best way we have to tackle problem-solving.

 

So, what about those who accuse David Wallace-Wells of leaning “very hard on the EXTINCTION PORN angle, and almost not at all on the BUT HERE’S WHAT WE DO angle”10)https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2017/07/is-the-earth-really-that-doomed/533112/? The Drawdown project seems really the most promising place to start from: 100 available solutions, ranked by magnitude of impact and economic feasibility, to cut carbon emissions and reach point drawdown – that is, when air concentration of carbon dioxide and other dangerous gasses would begin to decrease. I regret to say that carbon extraction is among the “coming attractions”: it is not yet a fully-developed technology. Drawdown’s aim is to point at available solutions, and it is valuable, for it does not leave room for unnecessary techno-panic (would that magic trick see the light before Apocalypse catches us?). So if hardware feasibility is not the real problem, what is? Economic sustainability. Just as windmills did not become affordable simply out of a greater demand, though, but also as technological improvement made materials and design fitter and cheaper. Innovation never stops.

Even though conspiracists mostly like to think in Marxist terms – there is always some financial, crooked aim behind every problematic issue – we should acknowledge that when problem-solving intercepts business solutions, then even addressing climate change seems more doable than it was, when the only viable answers were cutting down expenses and rates of consumption. Welcome the economic slice of the cake. Technology developed on a small scale within university labs has a chance to bear impact only if it is taken up by businesses around the world. Extracting carbon from the air into nanofibers looks like a true promise in that direction. Among recarbonisation strategies, a company is currently offering a solution to extract carbon dioxide in order to produce “clean fuels”. Carbon extraction research has been around since 1999 at least, but it is only through market tests that we could see its scalability.

There is more to add to the pile of economic impulses. Unsurprisingly, yet powerfully influencing our behaviour, much of the status narrative is carbon-driven. Tesla is a rare bird. International job positions are more influential than local ones; private jet flights are among the most evident status-symbols… oh, did I mention that most touristic destinations are hours of flight away? Almost needless to say, every rung of the ladder implies a greater ecological footprint (let alone nerdy revolutionaries who create wealth with little more than a laptop). If we believe, as Milton Friedman did, that human creativity is at least partly driven by its willingness to earn a bigger slice of the cake, and that the only way to climb the social ladder requires higher and higher material investments, then we need to change the narrative and reframe success as positively contributing to global warming issues.

 

In the end, what should one do about global warming? How do we avoid getting back to business as usual, to episodic criticisms on politics’ ineptitude at tackling the problem? Aren’t we, simple citizens, entitled to receive one, simple, accomodating instruction that we can work into our daily routines, while keep moving with our lives?

Trauttsmandorff Gardens, Italy 2015.

Moving to a plant-based diet might be the single best choice which rests entirely on our own 11)http://www.drawdown.org/solutions/food/plant-rich-diet. Offsetting your carbon emissions might be the next option12)Effective altruists, with their distinct scrupulousness, have tried to detect the single best action that would bring the most positive impact on global warming and recommend giving to Cool Earth. But lots of other solutions wait social collaboration to be implemented, and if I had to take away one thing from this little journey, it is the cognition that isolated actions do not suffice.

When one hears about the best solution to address climate change, it is desirable that a spark of skepticism arises: how does one decide what the “best solution” is? Still, we cannot allow that metaquestion to fade into rock-solid immobilism. I believe that attempts at building a frame to solve that puzzle should be praised with delight and scientific curiosity, knowing that we are not dealing with a quest for an immutable answer nor for the silver bullet, but rather with a nest of competing, and often mutually enriching frameworks to fill pragmatic schedules on how to proceed.

Here is where philosophy might finally becomes a piece on the board. It is of extreme importance and astounding actuality that we abandon representational theories of truth and standards which speak of objectivity as something that could not be achieved for metaphysical reasons, which doom us to paralysing skepticism. Theoretically expunging Cartesianism will bear practical consequences as well.13)American pragmatism is, among philosophical traditions, that which took extra care to point at Cartesianism as an untruthful view, and proceeded to engineer clever alternatives.

References   [ + ]

1. http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2017/07/climate-change-earth-too-hot-for-humans.html. Fortunately, science is an auto-corrective enterprise and headline’s prestige does not protect one from severe critique. Climatefeedback.org just released a fact-check of NYMag’s article, rating its scientific credibility as low (-0,8): “Our review simply addresses the scientific accuracy of the article. The reviewers found that some statements in this complex article do misrepresent research on the topic, and some others lack the necessary context to be clearly understood by the reader. Many other explanations in the article are correct, but readers are likely left with an overall conclusion that is exaggerated compared to our best scientific understanding.”
2, 9. http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2017/07/climate-change-earth-too-hot-for-humans.html
3. http://grist.org/climate-energy/stop-scaring-people-about-climate-change-it-doesnt-work/
4. As soon as one is able to lift himself out of the equivalence “global warming = rising sea levels”, then one has made significant progress toward a bare understanding of complexity and interdependence. Among the many cascade effects of which I could not think of, cited in the NYmag article, you would find that a higher concentration of carbon dioxide reduces cognitive capacities; that an increase in heat is correlated with an increase in crime and war rates – though that assertion has produced much controversy on the web; that global warming dynamics have been proposed as a ‘filter effect’ to explain the Fermi paradox.
5. Who is prone to similar setbacks would understand the enthusiasm with which I turned to cellular agriculture and artificial meat (The man from Utopia: story of a win-win ethical mindset), only to discover after a few months that is not going to be that easy.
6. Not that I need to endorse something which has been shown by much psychological research: first of all, the popular work of Thaler and Sunstein, Nudge.
7. http://www.oecd.org/pisa/keyfindings/PISA-2012-results-italy.pdf
8. http://www.fooledbyrandomness.com/
10. https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2017/07/is-the-earth-really-that-doomed/533112/
11. http://www.drawdown.org/solutions/food/plant-rich-diet
12. Effective altruists, with their distinct scrupulousness, have tried to detect the single best action that would bring the most positive impact on global warming and recommend giving to Cool Earth.
13. American pragmatism is, among philosophical traditions, that which took extra care to point at Cartesianism as an untruthful view, and proceeded to engineer clever alternatives.

Redeeming appreciation

Has that indisputable realisation of fooling yourself ever crushed you? Feynman famously put that in plain view: “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool.”

This time, a painful awakening struck me while reading How to win friends and influence people – I’ll post a book review in a few weeks and try to explain what got me to that worrisomely titled book, and why a philosophy student would ever dare to read pop and self-help genre. There is a need to justify my readings in a way, even though I consider the act of choosing them to be wildly personal.

So, the chapter dealt with how precious the act of sincere appreciation is for the development of relationships. You know, those kind of plain truths abhorred by deviant intellectuals. I was not reading with voracity, neither was I calmly absorbed by Carnegie’s anecdotes – I was judging with subtle contempt. Since I deem curiosity towards one’s feelings to be one of the most fruitful sources of self-understanding, I drilled down to find its possible source. Reminiscent of the days of Vedantic digestions, here came the argument, clear and daunting at the same time, against being kind:

I won’t make any compliment to you, because I don’t want to inflate your ego. You know, people change, and if you get attached to the nice things I tell about you, you will suffer when they’ll end. Therefore, I won’t be responsible for that bubble burst.

“Oh well, listen to this yogic-like, patently misanthropic, line of reasoning!”, I told myself. Where did that come from?

In those circumstances, one looks for reasons to reshape his narrative. That is both a creative and a discovering practice, I believe, for on one hand he engages in a kind of self-reeducation to refine his habitus, while at the same time he looks for reasons that he still holds and may need revision. Honing one’s thinking passes through the recognition that we believe our logic to be ultimately sound and noble; it is as though the perception of what’s good changes while we operate on that aleatory stuff – Aristophanic clouds – named thoughts.

The creative act came into play with a recognition that sounds fearsome for those who aim at influencing others: I don’t have any control over what other people decide to do with my words. Sure, I can and should strive to present them in a way that would most likely elicit the response I’d like to be causing; ultimately though, acts of speech or writing aren’t unilaterally powerful, they are rather made so by people who listen and act on them. But then, what about compliments? How are they going to inflate someone’s ego? The only way I can make sense out of this nowadays connects with being responsible, i.e. that making insincere praises may in fact contribute to overstate the self-perception of the recipient, with following (possible) delusion. That is not entirely straightforward either: if adopted as a Kantian maxim, I may avoid to incite a young boy from even trying to do karate, because I don’t see a potential Bruce Lee within him – and that is bad. The thing is, we know so little about each other at first sight that we would not dare to speak for years before we would be able to utter anything of profound honesty, and the fact that we eventually get to know each other proceeds from those very approximate conversations. The whole idea of knowing how to back up every word with justifications (something that Schopenhauer would have considered absurd and false, being rationality a mere consequence of will) sounds as a mere pretension, and brutally ignores the open nature of conversations – if they are deemed to be called so.

Furthermore, that projection on outside egos may well be a bitter reverse-engeneering: we may avoid praise not to lower our perception of self, as if appreciation was a scarce resource to keep for oneself, ignoring how it actually creates value only through sharing.

 

Then comes the discovering part. When I tell anyone something nice, I create a small, little bond: what would I do with it? Responsibility violently represents itself, entering from the backdoor. After I praised my neighbour’s raincoat (what a colorful, cut to fit raincoat you have!), I don’t have any obligations toward him. Fears of obligations turn out to be far-reaching projections, that short-sighted distancing from the present moment which has been so well described by many: it is as though one is preparing himself for the eventuality of that relationship to turn bitter, to catch oneself wishing of never having admired that raincoat. Mental acrobatics on display.

There was some meat to the bone, in the end – I felt right away that I had to ruminate on a last remark:

by complimenting someone, you are picking her out of the crowd.

The attentive reader has noticed that I switched to the feminine pronoun, but anyone really can use the sex to which he (she/they/them) is predominantly attracted to. I feel that appreciation toward someone I like is somewhat more complex and muddled, and being someone who hates gaffes (working on that), I find myself overthinking about the next sentence. Needless to say, spontaneity goes to the drain. You look like you’re lying, when in fact you are nervous. Being truthful is an ability that needs to be trained… by acting truthfully: as Aristotle rightly put in his Nicomachean Ethics, there is no virtue without virtuous action. In fact, in linking praises with truthfulness I assume that the best sketch of sincerity saves us right from the start, by placing ourselves among people who positively respond to who we are, rather than to who we want them perceive us to be. There is a sophistic objection here which sounds somewhat like this: how do you pull allegedly true and secondary selves apart? Leaving philosophical responses aside, each of us usually has a grip on what “true self” means to her, or at least has observed how behaviour has changed in response to those words; I deem that ordinary meaning to be clear enough to cut through the objection, for this little excursus at least.

We act in the world and produce consequences – willing or not, polarising people around us. If you care enough, let them decide on impressions of a strivingly sincere individual, so that you won’t take part in dynamics to which you don’t belong. This is the best I would wish for everyone.

 

I probably have skipped dozens of opportunities to show genuine appreciation and feel happy about that, not to mention those who missed that act of kindness at the receiving end. But that’s not the end of it. As those of you who know my nerdy side may have understood, I try to help myself with technology as well. Just set up a new journal entry – “showed sincere appreciation” – on the habit tracker Way of Life, yes, now on my way to bring a thin slice of additional kindness to the world around me.

Diversity: the ultimate collective edge

Become such as you are, having learned what that is. (Pindar)

 

One can hardly deny to himself the need of saying something. On one hand, one probably cares more about what he says than what he doesn’t. Presumably, the energy he puts into uttering those very words should be of some importance to his survivorship.

On the other hand, we all know very well how much we don’t say in order to make our lives better or easier. We refrain from judging people too harshly, because we want them to stick around. We may avoid to tell our friend how his breath smells bad, because we don’t want to hurt him. In most cases, though, we know that we will have to speak up, at some point – so why delaying every word to the future?

 

If you are intellectually honest enough, you know that what you say is going to resonate just with a few, not with everybody. This recognition makes philosophers’ work all the more challenging. The philosopher is, in the end, after some kind of universal truth. And yet philosophical practice involves constant debating and reasoning, so that none of your fellow speakers would think as you do.

Some philosophers embrace a relativistic stance, and are happy to elaborate less-than-universal claims. Socrates was held by Plato to be the humblest man who has ever lived, the man who knows to know nothing. In spite of Plato’s portrait, Aristophanes and Nietzsche have called Socrates out as profoundly dogmatic.

It really seems that in order to make a difference, you need to talk to someone, and this is not loose business-talk. Aiming at communicating with everyone usually ends up to talking to no one. Even those leaders whose success builds upon appealing to what is common in every of us – think of Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela or the Dalai Lama, who championed the principles of humanity, rationality and compassion – don’t get along without enemies. In fact, it almost seems that the foe’s harshness is proportional to the hero’s success.

Bacoli, 2012

 

What you say influences what you will do afterwards. You’d be either reliable, either controversial; some will respect you as being trustworthy, and enemies would build up any controversies to attack your integrity. Some will praise your controversy, and judge it as a firm trait of character. Obama gained his respect while conspiracy theorists questioned his birth certificate. Trump obtained the presidency by being coherently ruthless.

There are two ways in which you would deal with the critic: either you care about her opinion, either you don’t. Academics won’t be concerned about what the layman thinks; they sink into peer-reviews and journals, with a kind of partisanship which supports their point, no matter what the opponent is going to argue. Yet people will question exactly that predisposition: the distance from the intellectual and the layman inflates a bubble that bursts every now and then, with visible consequences. Take the democratic blindness to social tension in the last U.S. Presidentials. Take economists who rely on models that disrupt entire industries.

people won’t be able to work productively without that kind of narrowed attention. If a stranger drops a nasty comment on your recent book page or article, you probably don’t want to care about him. You want to keep in mind who your recipient is, and leave out all the rest. Yet we all, little pieces of the world, need to fit together. Somehow. We share common needs: a shelter to chill out, a market to shop at, a dear one to hug. Your book and my blog article and Alex Jones’s broadcast speak to different people, while sharing common language and internet access. Biologists celebrate and protect biodiversity as the main ecosystem’s productivity boost:1)http://www.globalissues.org/article/170/why-is-biodiversity-important-who-cares at a superficial glance, you may like the idea of avoiding fights between lions and gazzelle by removing bit cats. Undeniably, though, one species wouldn’t be there without the other. Humans too have a biodiversity of their own. History has shown that every attempt at reducing it – mass-murders, indian reservations, you name it – has made us complexively poorer.

We all need to feel right, most of the time. Overwhelmed by cognitive dissonance, we wouldn’t go much far. It feels like I could be wrong just little by little, even though I may make up my mind ten times in a lifetime. And at least in some points of the reasoning chain, I would look for additional reasons to support what I’ve meditated upon. To be right, in the end. But this kind of cynical, skeptical talk of rational reasoning shouldn’t dismiss one from trying his best in pursuing his truth of expression. Being aware to try on different beliefs with biased tendencies will ultimately make our thinking less partial.

We want to own our stories, so that they ultimately make sense. We want them to be as coherent as they can be. And if you are the kind of person who doesn’t trust much her guts – who feels insicure and undervalues her worth – then you may take refuge in psychology, revert to the Dunning-Krueger effect2)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning%E2%80%93Kruger_effect and reclaim your smartness.

 

Don’t you think gems cannot be found in business TV series as well. As Bobby tells to Taylor in Billions,

Sometimes you catch yourself watching all the people like they are another species.

So you retreat behind your aquarium walls, watching.

But you don’t realise, Taylor, that glass, it’s not a barrier, it’s a lens.

It’s an asset. It is what makes you good.

You see things differently. That’s an edge.3)http://www.sho.com/billions/season/2/episode/2/dead-cat-bounce

 

We all have a little bit of a Taylor within ourselves. We see things differently.

And that’s an edge, for everybody.

References   [ + ]

Budding philosophers’ techy tools

I just had to get through the entrance philosophy exam here at Ca’ Foscari University. Every sophomore knows it to be a mere formality. Freshmen, of course, don’t. They grapple for some time with the nightmare of learning 100 Greek philosophy terms, until they ask some older students, or simply don’t give a darn about the exam. I fell in neither of these groups. I just wanted to make it as fast as possible, and to possibly have fun while doing it.

 

Memory can be bitchy – it can get you in serious problems when you need them least. Like most people, I find it useful to attach as many mental links to a concept, so that I have multiple gateways to access it. If some of the pathways shut down, due to stress or anything else, it is good to have plan B, C, and D.

With a little array of tools, I got away with it.

 

First: AnkiApp.

You can find countless AnkiApp decks online, especially for language learning, and upload them in your desktop app. Since there was no available philosophical dictionary, I set up one on my own.

 

The fun – and productive – part is to create some wildly customised cards. Insert the text, some pictures, even audio tracks.

 

Once you have everything set up, it is easy to review them all with just a click, and get a marvellous, colourful score. Improving one’s grade day by day has been an useful way to track my improvement.

This way, you always have control over what you know, and what you don’t.

 

 

Second: Kumu.io

Kumu is a valuable free service to create mental maps. There may be thousands of similar services out there; however, what I wanted to point out is how mind-mapping has helped me. Linking words together made wonders for a faster memorisation of semantical cross-references, and made me feel more comfortable during the oral test.

 

 

I told you I had fun to pull off this little exam.

As cliché as it may sound…free your own creativity! These pictures speak to me, not necessarily to everyone. I ended up remembering many words not because of images themselves, but because of the effort I put in looking for suitable images, and because of their particular structure.

Some are classic, even elegant:

 

Some are a bit more esoteric:

Not everyone knows that Shivait yogis yell “Bholenath!” before lighting up their chillum.

What matters is that you remember words, associations have to strike you right in the face!

 

Some are just little pieces of childish graphics:

 

And others are simply plain weird… but who cares, if you succeed to memorize?

 

Truth: a matter of usefulness?

Truth will set you free, they say. And freedom is usually deemed as good vibe.

We feel OK when there is no threat hanging over our heads. Evolution tells us that we have been programmed to feel good when we get out of trouble. When we feel safe, we feel good. That’s what emotions are done for: to make us recognise whether situations help us survive or not.

As our brain developed, we started to extend our evolutionary need of pattern-recognition to give meaning to seemingly unexplainable phenomenon: why does the sun rise at morning? Why do we have two legs and two arms? Why do we die?

 

Let’s make a stupid, innocent example: if my belief in aliens will suffice at making my existential fear a little lighter – we are not alone in the universe! – that may be an evolutionary advantage: I’ll feel more confident – I’ve understood something of the world! – and better equipped for the ultrasocial human environment. I may talk about my new discovery with such boldness, that I’ll eventually become a leader (before rejecting such hypothesis, think about any politicians’ champaign promises). I’ll have a lot of women to choose from – and who doesn’t like that? That will help the credence pass on to others, and become a shared evolutionary advantage.

Google Images

 

In such view, a belief is truthful in proportion to how useful it is, given usefulness to be the property of something to rise the likelihood of survivorship.

What’s the usefulness of believing in aliens, compared to that of those who don’t? What are the belief systems that support their claims, and what meaning do they assume under an evolutionary standpoint?

People who don’t believe in aliens are likely to be quite empiricists and skeptics, and their version of a useful belief system will probably be that of the scientific method, which has showed to be of great convenience over the last centuries: think of telephones, airplanes, and Sex and the City.

Those who believe in aliens, will probably be those who won’t look for detailed evidence for their account of the natural world. They are less likely to come up with great technological breakthroughs, but they will nevertheless share a long history of belief, which has shown to work pretty well for quite a long time – since the first Neanderthals buried their conspecifics. They may claim that belief helps to bond people, as religions have shown to be an evolutionary advantage for those communities which ended up being more close-knit. And their ultimate weapon will be the functioning of the brain itself – a rather attested belief-machine.

 

It is evident that we are facing a false problem. The issue is not whether to believe or not in general; it is undeniable that we could not make sense of the world without an ultimate, far from 100%-proven, set of theories. Belief is a slightly misleading word, as the Oxford Dictionary defines it as “An acceptance that something exists or is true, especially one without proof.” What we are talking about here is a way of making sense of the world. The hard work has to be done to account for explanations that are useful and those that are not.

Let’s simplify and draw a line between a naturalistic and a supernatural framework.

Everybody will agree upon the fact that naturalism made us look deeper into physics and chemistry and biology, and a lot of modern facilities are a mere byproduct of their advance. Not so obvious may be to consider that after Nietzsche declared the death of God, people looked away from religion to find intellectual and existential meaning, but did not give up entirely on supernatural sophisms. The quest for ESP hasn’t ceased to exist; people spend a bagillion bucks on lottery – and if God is no more a subject of their prayers, luck took His (or Her) place; not to mention the surge of astrology, the popularisation of karma and the like, and the assault of alternative medicine.

 

The point is that our society is as it is – and it has therefore proved to be evolutionary resistant, at least up to this point, as full of naturalists and skeptics as of superstitious.

Social experiments as Communism have shown how dangerous might be to blindly get rid of religious belief. We still haven’t produced a society that exclusively relies on a genuinely naturalistic approach.

Using Nassim Taleb’s vocabulary, Nature-the-Big-Stressor still has to prove that a society exclusively made by naturalists is a better one.

As a promoter of rational thinking and Bayesian reasoning, I advocate that naturalism is the direction we should take, for the amount of evidence gathered until now supports this view of the universe.

How can I pretend that naturalism is the most useful one? Well, if an asteroid is going to destroy the Earth, and our only chance of survivor will be that of intercepting it with H bombs, than naturalism may be a concrete cause for the survivor of our species.

On the other hand, if the industrial revolution is going to bring about an unbearable global-warming, naturalism and technological advance won’t be celebrated as much as they are now.

 

Which of those scenarios are the most likely? How do we weight those probabilities? Can we even base our ontologies on such a slippery concept as probability?

A bayesian approach to science establishes that 100% truth can’t be reached: in the spectrum of overall probabilities, evidence will only shift the likelihood of one view over the other as new information becomes available.

Quantum mechanics takes probability a little further. Classical mechanics claims that, given exact information, the state of any object could be determined in an exact way – being technological advancement the only obstacle to its experimental measurement. In quantum mechanics, the prediction of a state can be nothing more than a “superposition” or a wave function – a probability density function of its possible positions. Here is how Sean Carroll describes the deal:

When we say that a quantum state is a superposition, we don’t mean “it could be any one of various possibilities, we’re not sure which.” We mean “it is a weighted combination of all those possibilities at the same time.” 1)Carroll, S. (2015) The Big Picture (Dutton) p.163

If probability is so deeply ingrained in our understanding of reality, it’s not such a crazy idea to rely on it to plan our future.

 

Poetic naturalism has been put forward by Carroll in his The Big Picture, to account for a comprehensive explanation of the universe. Its main feature is to establish physics as the fundamental theory, and every other property we observe, such as life, consciousness and morality, as emergent properties of the fundamental stuff the universe is made of. In it’s poetic essence, it describes those properties as useful ways of talking about specific matter configurations, for portraying something as “red” is much more useful (to us) to make sense out of that configuration, instead of listing all of its physical, minute characteristics. The fundamental explanation would always be available – at least in principle, given that perfect knowledge of its state could be obtained – but we get along much better with a new vocabulary.

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Interestingly, Carroll addresses the issue of believers and non-believers in the last part of the book, dedicated to the problem of morality:

The important distinction is not between theists and naturalists; it’s between people who care enough about the universe to make a good-faith effort to understand it, and those who fit it into a predetermined box or simply take it for granted. 2)Carroll, S. (2015) p. 430

He counts on caring as the main feature to define what a human being is; at that point, ontological differences of their belief systems become of second-order importance. The hint is that if we become too obsessed with the debate, we may forget to find a way of enhancing our human experience here on planet Earth. Each of these frameworks bring about certain consequences – as the physical inquiry made our lives easier through technological breakthroughs, and supernatural beliefs accounted for our evolution, and still do 3)for the role of supernatural beliefs in cooperative dynamics, see Boyd, B. (2009) On the Origin of Stories: Evolution, Cognition, and Fiction (Harvard University Press) pp.307-309 . My hope is that we would be able to get along even better, without the help of any sort of supernatural belief. Only time, though, will sort out how the story will end. If we’ll lack to develop a new kind of caring to suffice for our existence (avoiding nuclear wars and the like), the debate will simply disappear with us.

We can argue about usefulness as a proper, true way of talking about the world. Utilitarianism has its own fallacies, since quantitative moral approaches aren’t sound to everyone, and can’t therefore aspire to constitute an objective ground. However, we can’t help but framing our beliefs so that we will be able to live on, and thus experience a tomorrow.

Poetic naturalism such as previously described won’t take any stance in favor of any kind of moral theory; it will instead promote a conversational approach as fundamental, for we are those who get to decide how to meaningfully talk about this unique feature of the universe, called human being.

References   [ + ]

1. Carroll, S. (2015) The Big Picture (Dutton) p.163
2. Carroll, S. (2015) p. 430
3. for the role of supernatural beliefs in cooperative dynamics, see Boyd, B. (2009) On the Origin of Stories: Evolution, Cognition, and Fiction (Harvard University Press) pp.307-309