Note: This is a re-post from my other blog
An excerpt from AC Grayling’s book ‘The Meaning of Things’. A very interesting cultural analysis of Love in human society over a period of time:
It is no surprise that the feast dedicated to amorousness, St Valentine’s Day, anticipates the onset of spring by a few weeks, as if to help rouse human sensibilities from their winter hibernation. Romance perfumes the air in spring, flowers appear for the express purpose of being bunched into lovers’ tributes; chocolate manufacturers count their profits. Yet despite appearances, the kinds of love that are most significant to us are not those that fill novels and cinema screens. They are instead those we have for family, friends and comrades; for these are the loves that endure through the greater part of our lives, and give us our sense of self-worth, our stability, and the framework for our other relationships.
Romantic love, by contrast, is an episodic, usually short-lived, and often scorchingly vivid turbulence in our emotional histories. To judge by the attention it receives – not least in poetry and song, our parliaments for discussing the heart’s essentials – it is one of life’s profoundest experiences. Yet paradoxically, the official line is that apart from a few experimental feints in early adulthood, love’s true heights should only be experienced once, with lifelong bonding as the appropriate outcome. Anyone who claims to fall in love frequently is deemed irresponsible, and with some justification: for it is such a time-consuming, exhausting, ecstatic, painful transforming business that it requires a long recovery – in some cases, indeed, whole lifetimes.
Sober folk claim that falling romantically in love is not a good way to get to know someone, for Stendhal’s reason that we cloak the beloved in layers of crystal, and see a vision rather than a person for the whole period of our entrancement. On this view it is a delusional state, and the fact that it is short-lived is therefore good. Others think that romantic love is the only thing that allows us to burn through the layers that conventionally insulate people from one another, baring the soul of each to each, and making true communication possible – the kind that speaks the language of intimacy, not in words but in pleasures and desires.
This is far from the only difference of opinion about romantic love. Another debate rages over the question whether a propensity for romance is an essential human trait, or whether it is a social and historical construction, present in some periods and societies but absent from others. As this crucial question shows, romantic love is a scarcely understood phenomenon, not least because in modern times we have conflated it with features and expectations drawn from other kinds of love, which latter we have ceased to reflect upon as if their naturalness exempted them from consideration.
The Greeks had different words for love’s different manifestations. They spoke of agape, altruistic love (in Latin caritas, which gives us – but with what a cold ring – our word ‘charity’). They spoke of ludus, the playful affection of children and of casual lovers, and pragma, the understanding that exists between a long-established married couple. They spoke of storge, the love that grows between siblings or comrades-in-arms who have been through much together, and of mania, which is obsession. And they allied the latter with eros or sexual passion. They thought that love in all its forms was divinely inspired, in the case of the last by Aphrodite. But divine inspiration was not always welcome; manic eroticism, they said, was often inflicted as a punishment by the gods, and its unreasoning and distracting character interfered with what they most valued, namely intellect and courage. Both Plato and his pupil Aristotle, in their different ways, therefore placed friendship at the summit of emotional life, and consigned the love that craves bodily expression to a lower plane. For many Greeks ataraxia, which means ‘peace of mind’, was a great good that was always under threat from sexual love and its obsessions and jealousies, and that is why Sophocles applauded old age for releasing mankind from what he called the ‘tyranny’ of sexual desire.
In making these distinctions the Greeks showed an alertness to the fact that close relationships subserve a variety of ends. People need emotional satisfactions of many kinds, but chiefly those that stem from giving and receiving companionship, affection, and the affirmations of being liked and approved. People might occasionally enjoy solitude, but never loneliness; they need to feel connected and valued. All of the six loves of the Greeks are connections, and all but mania bring a sense of self-worth. In the Greek ideal, the best and strongest emotional bonds are those of friendship between equals. Romantic and erotic passion might be felt by a man for a boy or (not quite as acceptably) a woman, but this was a distraction, and too much of it was regarded as weakness.
The downgrading of relations with women had a long and unhappy influence in the West. In the Christian era – despite what is suggested by the medieval side-show of ‘courtly love’ as celebrated by troubadours – most marriages were economic and practical arrangements, with disparity in age, education and status making companionate marriage rare. It remained so until recent times: Thomas Hardy remarked that the reason men and women were unable to establish a genuine camaraderie even in his own day was that they associated with each other only in their pleasures, never in their labours.
In saying this, Hardy presaged a new ideal of love as a combination of romance and comradeship. This is something really new in Western civilisation. Both romance and friendship have always been ideals, but quite separately; and romance has taken very different forms at different times in history. Romantic-companionate love as we now view it received its definitive statement very recently indeed – in fact, at the hands of Hollywood in its golden age, between the 1930s and 1950s, in thousands of films of every genre. Of course, progress towards the acculturation of its ideals and norms had already begun in nineteenth-century literature, which established the now-familiar pattern: a couple fall romantically in love, and therefore commit themselves to an open-ended venture of exclusive cohabitation (marriage, or in more recent times its surrogates), with children in the garden and roses round the door. The standard denouement for a Victorian three-volume novel is the engagement of the hero and heroine in the last chapter. In Jane Austen earlier in the century, this terminus is reached by more reflective and sober means; not with high passion, not even with palpitations and breathlessness, save for a faint simulacrum of these in an early phase of each novel’s development, to show that Elizabeth is not indifferent to Darcy, say, or Fanny to Thomas. The courtship of Emma and Mr Knightley is quintessential Austen: a matter of mind and morals, of character and decision.
Not so by the time of Hardy. Love here takes the form either of mania or mature sexual passion. In Hardy’s prophecy of the newly emerging pattern, romance is not an end in itself but a step towards love of the other kinds – it becomes the porch to friendship, comradeship, the equal or near-equal partnership in life’s adventure. “When I look up, there you’ll be, and when you look up, there I’ll be,” says Gabriel Oak when he has gained Bathsheba at last, in a summary that would have curdled the passion of a medieval troubadour for whom romance was all in all, and domesticity its nemesis.
In opposition to the view that romantic love was invented by the troubadours, some argue that it is a universal phenomenon. To claim this is to take sides in the debate between ‘essentialists’ and ‘constructionists’. The former claim that romantic love is one of the four great, intrinsic, inescapable upheavals which define the human condition (the others are: being born, having children, and dying). The latter claim that although loving, in all its variety of objects and modes, is one of the central human emotions, how it is expressed is an historically determined matter. Both are right; for people have always fallen in love – which is to say become infatuated, desirous, obsessed in some degree; usually enough to lose sleep and to forget mundane tasks – but the expression of that state, the other forms of love it has been allied to, and the expectations nurtured by the parties to it, have been very variously conceived.
A Greek of classical antiquity might become passionate about a boy, but sex was not the only point, for the lover’s task was to educate his beloved in military and political ways, and help him in the early part of his career. In the love stories told by Plutarch the point was to illustrate the destructiveness of sexual mania – showing, for example, how the girl Aristocleia, and in another tale the boy Actaeon, were physically torn apart by competing suitors trying to snatch them away. Shakespeare’s lovers are also sexually manic; they can scarcely restrain themselves before a priest is found. Fielding and Richardson divide between them the uproarious tumble in the hay and the unremittingly threatened rape. Only with the increased education of women does the idea of a companionable love-life after erotic mania – indeed, initiated by it – come into focus, bringing other models to mind. Some are, once again, drawn from our earliest literature, as with Hector bidding his last farewell to Andromache – a scene touchingly drawn by Homer, who says the hero had to remove his helmet because its nodding plumes frightened his small son in Andromache’s arms. Another example is the marriage of Penelope and Odysseus, the pattern of sustained fidelity. Modern sensibility took these comradely marriages and added them to romantic infatuation as its proper sequel, and a kind of emotional economy was born: the passion, the friendship, the companionship, the partnership, the nurturing and the needing, that were once offered by different relationships, could now come in a single handy package marked Spouse.
But the modern combination of romance and comradeship which has thus become our ideal often proves an unstable mixture. The obsessive character of romantic and erotic love cannot be understood without reference to sex, nor sex without reference to gender. Sex is about physical urges and action, gender is about social and psychological categories; their failure to pair neatly is a fruitful source of trouble. Companionate love does not exclude sexual love, but its premises and aims are very different. It is about the shared project of what is in effect a small business – which is what a home, a household, is – purchasing and budgeting and managing other (usually small) people, and transporting and storing things, saving and spending, and dealing with problems, like illnesses and burst pipes. Gender differences, shaped and enhanced by social pressures, were thought to provide an apt division of labour for these tasks: the husband goes out to work, the wife tends the children and home. But that division, and even the gender differences themselves, have in recent years been bitterly questioned, the more so because – against feminist hopes and principles – science seems to suggest that in the competition between nature and nurture the former has an insistent and irreducible role in determining sexual behaviour and gender characteristics. Irenic feminists say that this does not imply strict determinism: as rational beings we can adjust biology in the direction of justice, as we do when we control our aggression and selfishness. But others accuse science of bias, saying that it tries to conceal behind statistics an historical conspiracy against women. There is a measure of truth on both sides.
On one crucial point, gender determinism has seemed to some men to explain a major source of trouble in monogamy. It is, they claim, that heterosexual relationships have always been shaped in the interests of women, who control and ration the amount of sex in them. If this is true, it would be natural enough; women have to be mindful of the fact that, in the form of pregnancy and childbirth, their potential investment in sex is far greater than a man’s. Safe and effective contraception is a very recent amenity, and old habits and needs die hard. It is for this reason, perhaps, that prostitution has been such an effective and long-standing friend to marriage, despite the hypocrisy that has usually surrounded it. One measure of the generally unsuccessful nature of modern romantic-companionate love is the high rate at which the relationships based upon it fail. Divorce in the contemporary West runs at forty per cent – for unmarried couples the rate is higher – and many of the marriages that survive do so at a high cost of compromise by one or both partners. Blame is variously assigned, often to causes that come down to maleness. Some writers extrapolate from Freudian theory the view that men suffer a psychological ‘wound’ caused by separation from their mothers and their inability (in some writers, notably Sheila Sullivan in Falling in Love, their ‘humiliating inability’) to give birth and suckle. They claim that this alleged wound explains everything women deprecate in men, chief among them emotional immaturity, lack of communication about feelings, proneness to infidelity, latent or active misogyny, and – at the extreme – aggression. And they cite these, in turn, as what derails the project of equal romantic comradeship.
Even without its dubious Freudian underpinning, this is improbable stuff, and no man will recognise what has been called ‘the harsh anomie of masculine existence’ as accounting for his behaviour in relationships. The problem, far more plausibly, lies elsewhere: in society’s endeavours to manage, constrain, deny, re-route, prohibit, channel and manipulate sexual passion and romantic love. It is the dead hand of oppressive institutions – principally religions – which explains why love can be a problem: which it only is when rationed and starved, as it is in the ‘family values’ dispensation of monogamy and restrictive attitudes to sexual expression and variety. When rationed and starved, eros becomes destructive, prompting the moralisers, in their wisdom, to ration and starve it more. And thereby hangs many a long tale, as novels and films in their thousands show. If the modern experiment of romantic-companionate love is to succeed, it has to be freed from the institutional arrangements made centuries ago for a quite different kind of relationship – the practical-economic model of Christian monogamy – in which neither romance nor companionship was the most important thing.
It is both a pun and a truth to say that the subject of love has always been left to amateurs to explain. There is no science of love because it is too various and protean to fit a theory. People attempt love as climbers attempt Everest; they scramble along, and end by camping in the foothills, or half-way up, wherever their compromises leave them. Some get high enough to see the view, which we know is magnificent, for we have all glimpsed it in dreams. And that is what the feast of St Valentine is about: the dream of love. Life would be bitter indeed if the dream never became reality, or if the main experiences of love in our lives – storge, pragma, ludus, agape – were not enduring and stabilising enough to save us when the storms of eros and mania sweep over us – bringing bliss, and leaving havoc in their wake.
We often come across statements from traditionalists like “Our ancestors knew this long back, and our scientists have come to know about it now” whenever some significant scientific discovery or proposition has been made. This happens a lot in India, where people’s pride of Vedic knowledge often clouds its scientific veracity. In this article, we are going to identify some aspects of these claims where understanding of nature was given already in the scriptures
First of all, we need to understand that I am referring Vedas, Upanishads and Vedanta as ‘Scriptures’ as they were works of revelation, communicated or “revealed” by some supernatural agency. Works like Surya Siddhanta (Author unknown), Aryabhatiya (Aryabhatta), Pancha Sidhanta (Varahamihira), etc., are not scriptures as they were not “revealed” but were derived from logic-based and evidence-based rational methodology
1. The adjective “Vedic” is a misnomer
Not every scholarly work made in India in the ancient and medieval periods is “Vedic”, or sourced from scriptures. Whatever mathematics regarded as contribution of India to the world was done by Indian mathematicians like Aryabhatta, Varahmihira, Brahmagupta during post-Vedic period. Moreover, there was a great contribution from Jain scholars to Indian mathematics, and so it is very unfair, if not insulting, to use the “Vedic” qualifier for these.
The more recent “Vedic Mathematics” published in 20th Century which has tricks to do elementary arithmetic calculations is neither Vedic not Mathematics, and its claim that “there is no part of mathematics, pure or applied, which is beyond their jurisdiction” is superfluous and ridiculous.
“Vedic astrology” is also one such misnomer, and there is no mention of any kind of star-divination (Jyotisha) in the Vedas. Horoscope-based astrology is more of a Hellenistic influence in post-Vedic period in India, and wasn’t “revealed” to the Aryans. So, Hindus don’t need to feel astrology as some kind of Vedic baggage they need to carry as part of their religious faith. If they still feel it as cultural baggage that needs to be followed, refer this post where I criticized the blind practice of tradition that becomes irrelevant and dangerous over a period of time
2. Terseness of Scientific literature
Since old Babylonians, people have been sensible enough to use a crisp, unambiguous and direct writing style for scientific information they have discovered. The reason behind this is obvious, that if I were looking for some scientific information, I would want it without any ambiguity and to-the-point. If there’s something mentioned which is cryptic, indirect and ambiguous, it’s more likely to be mysticism and fantasy than science. This is a good rule of thumb anyone can use in everyday reading. We know claims from traditionalists that verses from scriptures mention String-theory dimensions, Mass-Energy equivalence, Big Bang, Black Holes, Speed of light and so on. We also have the claim that Quran mentions lot of scientific information, for instance, development of the human embryo during pregnancy.
If we look at these type of claims, all of them make use of farfetched and cherry-picked interpretations of verses from scriptures forcing them to be conclusive with the discovery made. This is done with so much enthusiasm and pseudo-sincerity that when dimensions in String theory had changed from 10 to 26, the Vedic interpretation also changed from 10 to 26. Also, the verses under consideration of these claims, in fact never literally mention any information as observed in nature, and they refer to something else when looked at the proper context. We can only bridge the verse and information from the discovery made, but cannot arrive at the discovered fact from the verse using logical reasoning.
Simply put, someone with basic trigonometry knowledge can prove Sin^2(x)+Cos^2(x)=1, but a kid who has learned numbers cannot start with 1 and show that it is equal to Sin^2(x)+Cos^2(x) due to the lack of knowledge of trigonometry in the first place. It’s only due to the presupposition of information, that scriptures can be interpreted into agreement.
Apart from this, one thing to be noted here is that, myths in scriptures don’t actually mean anything. When the Upanishads say everything has come from Brahmanda, it doesn’t mean anything. But when there is a scientific claim that the universe could’ve originated from a miniature energy source via Big-bang, there are some 100 parameters to measure, validate and refine the claim. Scientists don’t pull speculations out of their asses, and they have sound rational basis to do so. And the method of falsification filters any unreasonable speculations over a period of time.
For eg., our knowledge on what could’ve happened during and just after the Big bang has been refined so much by now, that the substrate from which everything came out can simply be void of any matter or energy but just have quantum fluctuations, and in that case, the claim of genesis from Brahmanda, which is an infinite energy source, becomes completely false. Don’t be surprised if some Art of Living or Inner-engineering fellow comes up with a new definition of Brahmanda or cites a different verse altogether. Apparently, god works in mysterious ways and talks in a lot of tongues with ambiguity.
Moreover, mere information (like development of human embryo or speed of light) is useless for science and humankind, unless the method in which that information can be obtained and validated is mentioned. What am I going to do with a Time-machine if I don’t know how to operate, customize, improve and build it? I can only clean it, put it in a museum and worship it if I am stupid enough.
On a lighter note, unless god wants to impress people by making a show-off of the information he knows, there is no point to any of these claims and interpretations from “revealed” scriptures.
3. Exaggeration of ancestors’ lifestyle
It is a popular notion that our ancestors were very smart, enjoyed excellent health ever in the history of humankind, had far superior technology than we have now, and were pure by body, pure by heart, pure by soul, and so on. The perspective of “Us-Them” is a false and idiotic dichotomy, especially to look at progress and technology. Well, if they had far superior technology than us, or at least as good as us, they would’ve definitely had printing presses, and had easily passed-down all their discoveries and technology to the future generations.
But that never happened. I’m not saying our ancestors didn’t pass down any information to us: It’s just that the method of communication has been getting refined since olden times. The way how Babylonians and Egyptians have shared their history is more complicated compared to how the Holy Roman Empire did, and the way we know about a more recent event like World War II is far less ambiguous, and is direct and academic. It’s nonsense to think that ancient civilizations like the Indus Valley or aboriginal tribes in Sri Lanka had sophisticated technology capable of something like air flight. We don’t have any stone tablets from the past that have blueprints of at least a printing press. Why would any civilization invent the best technology ever, and then choose not to pass it down to their children?
Also, it is a matter of common reasoning to understand that technology always improves over a period of time, and the technology our ancestors had in 2000 BCE was superior to that in 5000 BCE and the technology we have now is far superior to that in 1990 CE; As a matter of fact, we have a technological acceleration now. We have become better in fighting against diseases than our ancestors: We even eradicated smallpox and are on our way towards a climax with polio, we improved our life-expectancy, ventured into extra-terrestrial space, and our understanding of life and the universe improved by leaps and bounds compared to what we had 100 years back. Politically, we have come to the stage where genocide is categorically immoral, war is frowned upon, equality and liberty rule over everything else, and are recognizing other species as an equal part of nature with us. We need to keep this in mind while understating the achievements of the current generation and overstating those of our ancestors.
In conclusion, we should stop demoralizing ourselves by undermining our generation’s progress and contribution to human history, and make efforts towards improving the things around us in a better and useful way. Misinterpreting and improperly understanding our ancestors’ knowledge and contribution is an insult to the fact that we are building on the progress and technology fundamentally laid down by them. We have to give them the due credit for what they have done to us, uphold the spirit of Scientific progress and constructively work for ourselves and the future generations.
Vedic Mathematics – http://www.tifr.res.in/~vahia/dani-vmsm.pdf
The surprising decline in violence (Ted talk) – http://tinyurl.com/ak7tco5
Scientific Progress – http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/scientific-progress/
Commemorating today’s Mayan un-Doomsday, we might want to look at some actual doomsday scenarios that pose an existential risk to Civilization, Humans and planet Earth. First of all, not all phenomena pose a threat in the long run, and out of those not all lead to an existential risk to Humankind and Earth. The below grid shows us how various threats can be categorized into Scope of risk depending on their Severity
Here, point to be understood is that we tend to either overestimate or underestimate various phenomena as threats due to our cognitive biases which make humans fall short of unbiased rationality. Even if we know what all factors are involved, it could prove very difficult to forecast and estimate the risk involved in those, especially of Anthropogenic threats, due to our methodological limitations. For eg., we cannot accurately estimate risk due to Nuclear war as international relations and technology rapidly change all the time, and calculation in conjunction of both might prove limited. Threats posed by Nature are relatively constant, though new threats can always be discovered, and prediction models for these are comparatively better.
Nevertheless, we have quality studies on lot of phenomena and some have been identified as existential risks for Civilization, Humankind and Earth. They can be summarized as follows:
We have come a long way in understanding a lot about Solar system, Milky way and our surrounding galaxies (Humans have observed galaxies as far as 13.75 Bn light years away), and we have estimated some risks coming from outside Earth
- Meteorite Impact – Asteroids with a 1 Km diameter have impacted the Earth on average once every 500,000 years. The Chicxulub crater, which was theorized to be responsible for extinction of Dinosaurs 65 Mn years ago, was roughly 10 Km in diameter. There is a forecast that in 1.4 Mn years, the star Gliese 710 is expected to cause an increase in the number of meteoroids in the vicinity of Earth by passing within 1.1 light years of the Sun and perturbing the Comet cloud around the sun, with a 5% increase in the rate of impact on Earth. This is supposed to be a serious disaster for Earth
- Sun becoming a Reg Giant – As part of its stellar life-cycle, Sun would eventually become a red giant in about 5 Bn years, and in this process, becomes thousands of times more luminous and losing roughly 30% of its mass. After just over 1 Bn years from now, the extra solar energy input due to these changes will cause Earth’s oceans to evaporate and the Hydrogen from the water to be lost permanently to space, with total loss of water by 3 Bn years from now. Earth’s atmosphere and lithosphere will become like that of Venus. Over another billion years, most of the atmosphere will get lost in space as well, ultimately leaving Earth as a desiccated, dead planet with a surface of molten rock.
- Mercury colliding with Earth – There are simulations that show that Mercury (5000 Km diameter) has a 1% chance of its orbit becoming unstable due to Jupiter’s gravitational pull, and could possibly result in collision with Earth within the lifespan of Sun
- Andromeda galaxy colliding with Milky way – Andromeda is 2.5 Mn light years away and is moving towards our Galaxy (Milky way) at 110 Km per second. It is estimated that it would collide with Milky way in 4 Bn years, and the collision could eject Solar System into an eccentric orbit altering its shape considerably
Other threats from Space include Nebulae passing through Milkyway which would change Earth’s atmosphere drastically, Dangerous Solar Flares, and Near-Earth Supernovae that could explode within 100 Light Years distance from us increasing Gamma ray radiation coming onto Earth
These are the risks coming from within Earth that would pose a threat to Human civilization and life
- Ice Age – Ice ages on earth typically occur between 40,000-100,000 years. Currently, we are living in interglacial period with the last glacial expansion 10,000 years ago after which all civilizations evolved. A future Ice Age would have a serious impact on civilization because vast areas of land (mainly in North America, Europe, and Asia) could become uninhabitable. It would still be possible to live in the tropical regions, but with possible loss of humidity and water
- Supervolcanic Eruption – The Toba Supereruption, happened around 70,000 years ago was the most recent supereruption which created about 6-10 year-long Volcanic Winter and possibly created a bottleneck in Human evolution with human population reduced to 10,000 or even a mere 1000 breeding pairs. Although not at this near catastrophic level, Volcanic eruption of Mount Tambora(1816 AD) has thrown enough pyroclastic debris and other material into the atmosphere to partially block out the sun and cause a volcanic winter. Such an eruption in future might cause the immediate deaths of millions of people several hundred miles from the eruption, and perhaps billions of deaths worldwide, due to the failure of the monsoon, resulting in major crop failures causing starvation on a massive scale
- Global Pandemic – This is a less predictable scenario where evolution of extremely virulent pathogens can pose heavy risks for the survival of human civilization. For example, if HIV were to mutate and become as transmissible as the common cold, the consequences would be disastrous. There are numerous historical examples of pandemics that have had a devastating effect on a large number of people, which makes the possibility of global pandemic a realistic threat to human civilization.
These are the risks primarily due to Human activity on Earth, and these are the widely studied risks so far, and can be controlled by changing our individual lifestyle and global policy
- Technology out of Control – Improvements in Biotechnology can take pandemic, chemical warfare to an extreme; Advancements in Nanotechnology can give rise to uncontrolled self-replicating robots; Improvements in Artificial Intelligence can produce unfriendly AI, all of which pose a serious threat to human civilization. We have various organizations established to study and direct these technologies into a safe direction
- Global Warming – This is perhaps the most popularized threat to humans, life and ecosystem. There are some significant forecasts like Himalayan glaciers disappearing by 2350 AD resulting in famines, which affects half of world population; Agricultural land degradation which is at 40% now, would worsen giving rise to major food crisis all over the world; Deforestation would result in jeopardized biodiversity, disappearance of Polar Ice caps and desertification of Tropical regions, posing serious threat to human civilization. These outcomes are primarily based on Human choice and efforts are being made for Policy reform, Eco-communalism and Great Transition for better sustainability
- Peak oil – This is a scenario where maximum petroleum extraction is reached, and no viable alternate sources of energy can be used. This would result in a crash-down of agricultural production leading to mass starvation
Apart from the above, there are other threats like Evolution of Superbacteria that is resistant to antibiotics, Overpopulation leading to ecological and economical collapse, Reduction/Extinction of Pollinating agents like bees resulting in the loss of most flowering plants and as a consequence a large number of agricultural crops, Epidemics on Food crops like Ug99 steam rust in Wheat
Learning more about these viable Doomsdays would definitely take away the imagination from an uninspiring Doomsday coming from numerical limits of the Mayan calendar, and make these more creative and poetic, if not realistic. If you ask me, more Facebook spam should be created for these possible threats and more awareness needs to be brought wherever human activity can alter their course. Although Earth won’t be around for more than 2 Bn years at the maximum, it doesn’t mean that Humans can be irresponsible and mess things up and leave a disaster for future generations to live. We don’t want our children to have more diseases, unsafe drinking water, famines or floods
Lastly, there is a philosophical touch to all these apocalyptic scenarios. When Earth is eventually sent into abyss, nothing in the universe would try to save it or whatever left on it. As Carl Sagan says in Cosmos, “The universe seems neither benign nor hostile, merely indifferent to the concerns of such puny creatures as we are”
Singularity Institute – http://singularity.org/
Center for Genetics and Society – http://geneticsandsociety.org/
More Research – http://theconversation.edu.au/
1 Light year = Distance traveled by light in 1 year = 10 Trillion Km (Approximately)
This post sources from Issac Asimov’s essay “The Relativity of Wrong”. You can read it for the background and context
Scientific method, as popularily misunderstood, doesn’t see the world in absolute “right” and “wrong”. It tries to come up with Hypotheses or Models which try to explain phenomena happening around us and predict events happening with presumptive conditions, using Mathematical framework. A good scientific model should be falsifiable i.e., should mention how it can be proved wrong, should be testable against the postulates with experimentation, consistent with observation of earlier experiments, and if possible, extendible and mathematically economical. So, the property of “wrongness” itself is a desirable feature in any good scientific model, or in other words, a good scientific model is a model which can be proved wrong
Doesn’t this sound paradoxical, that we come up with “wrong” models to try discovering the “truth” behind the things around us? Well, that’s why we need experiments to verify the predictions done by these models, and to validate their postulates, and disprove them in their falsifiability tests. Once the model passes these bare minimum steps, it becomes a Scientific Theory, and is ready to be tested against other competing Theories for a greater understanding of the phenomenon. This cycle goes on and on, until some observation comes up that is inconsistent with the Theory and gets disproved, if cannot be modified. In a nutshell, scientific method tries to choose the “better theory” among the ones proposed till date that is consistent with the observations. This is a basic explanation of how scientific method is, and the individual steps in this process have been so intensively refined over a period of time that some of them are independent areas of study now
Now, what is the merit of this type of process? It’s simple – we improve our experiments and gather new data all the time, and we either need to have a facility to extend our existing theories to fit the new data, or completely throw out the theory if it’s fundamentally inconsistent and start working on a new one. In any case, we need to change our understanding all the time as we improve our quality of experimentation, and become lesser and lesser wrong. We cannot have an all-correct theory that cannot be changed, or shouldn’t be changed, and keep thinking it is the correct explanation and stop at that. This is the only way in which we can improve our understanding and be progressive in our journey of finding the “truth”
So, how does scientific community reconcile abandoning an existing theory and welcome a new one, if it seems so stupid to be wrong till then, and start supporting another theory, which is likely to be proved wrong in future? Let me give you an example for this – Newton’s theory of Gravitation, which had been very popular and established for almost 200 years until precession of Mercury’s orbit was observed. Newton’s theory couldn’t be modified to fit this observation, and Einstein’s General theory of Relativity was able to explain this phenomenon, and it was accepted, abandoning Newton’s version. However, at normal conditions, General Relativity’s equations get reduced to Newton’s theory, effectively validating the old theory as relevant for calculations. Same is the case with Special Relativity and Newton’s laws of motion, and lots of other theories which have superceded their previous counterparts. As Asimov writes,
In short, my English Literature friend, living in a mental world of absolute rights and wrongs, may be imagining that because all theories are wrong, the earth may be thought spherical now, but cubical next century, and a hollow icosahedron the next, and a doughnut shape the one after.
What actually happens is that once scientists get hold of a good concept they gradually refine and extend it with greater and greater subtlety as their instruments of measurement improve. Theories are not so much wrong as incomplete.
This can be pointed out in many cases other than just the shape of the earth. Even when a new theory seems to represent a revolution, it usually arises out of small refinements. If something more than a small refinement were needed, then the old theory would never have endured.
This is the very essence of scientific method, and new theories are improved on the subtler aspects compared to the old ones. “Wrong” is always relative in scientific study, and it’s foolishness to assume that scientific theories are immutable facts like religious scriptures, and that abandoning a theory for a better one makes both theories equally wrong. Rather, as Asimov points out, “in a truer and subtler sense, both need to be considered incomplete”