Montag, 13. August 2007

Evolution of Religion - according to D. S. Wilson

David Sloan Wilson has a very important piece of critique of "The God Delusion" of Richard Dawkins. (Skeptic) "I recently attended a conference on evolution and religion in Hawaii that provided an opportunity to assess the state of the field." He gives a good overview of new research in the field. And he gives some very interesting informations about the ascetic ideals of the indian Janism (deutsch: Jainismus):

Jainism is one of the oldest and most ascetic of all the eastern religions and is practiced by approximately three percent of the Indian population. Jain ascetics filter the air they breathe, the water they drink, and sweep the path in front of them to avoid killing any creature no matter how small. They are homeless, without possessions, and sometimes even fast themselves to death by taking a vow of “santhara” that is celebrated by the entire community. How could such a religion benefit either individuals or groups in a practical sense? It is easy to conclude from the sight of an emaciated Jain ascetic that the religion is indeed a cultural disease — until one reads the scholarly literature.

It turns out that Jain ascetics comprise a tiny fraction of the religion, whose lay members are among the wealthiest merchants in India. Throughout their long history, Jains have filled an economic niche similar to the Jews in Western Europe, Chinese in Southeast Asia, and other merchant societies. In all cases, trading over long distances and plying volatile markets such as the gem trade requires a high degree of trust among trading partners, which is provided by the religion. Even the most esoteric (to outsiders) elements of the religion are not superfluous byproducts but perform important practical work.

For example, the ascetics must obtain their food by begging but their religion includes so many food restrictions that they can only accept food from the most pious lay Jain households. Moreover, the principle of non-action dictates that they can only accept small amounts of food from each household that was not prepared with the ascetics in mind. When they enter a house, they inspect the premises and subject the occupants to sharp questions about their moral purity before accepting their food. It is a mark of great honor to be visited but of great shame if the ascetics leave without food. In effect, the food begging system of the ascetics functions as an important policing mechanism for the community. This is only one of many examples, as summarized by Jainism scholar James Laidlaw in a 1995 book whose title says it all: Riches and Renunciation: Religion, Economy, and Society Among the Jains.

How then, is it possible to live by impossible ideals? The advantage for addressing this question to Jainism is that the problem is so very graphic there. The demands of Jain asceticism have a pretty good claim to be the most uncompromising of any enduring historical tradition: the most aggressively impractical set of injunctions which any large number of diverse families and communities has ever tried to live by. They have done so, albeit in a turbulent history of change, schism, and occasionally recriminatory “reform,” for well over two millennia. This directs our attention to the fact that yawning gaps between hope and reality are not necessarily dysfunctions of social organization, or deviations from religious systems. The fact that lay Jains make up what is — in thoroughly worldly material terms — one of the most conspicuously successful communities in India, only makes more striking and visible a question which must also arise in the case of the renouncers themselves.

Dienstag, 31. Juli 2007

Charles Lindbergh - a philosopher in life and death

Charles Lindbergh
An american reader of my german blog has asked me about the content of my german posts about Charles Lindbergh. Here I give some parts of my answer to him. My English is very bad. Sorry for this. If there is anyone out there, who would like to go through it and make it better, I would appreciate it very much. Mostly I'm interested to communicate content - and not to look for the best style. But I'm aware that this is not very polite.

It would take some time to translate into english everything I have written about Lindbergh on my blog. But if I learn about more interest into it, in the future I can try to write more about Lindbergh in english - if there is an opportunitiy for me. - As you can see: Mostly my thoughts about Lindbergh are based on the english literature.

But I can try to give you here a short account of my thoughts about Lindbergh.

1. Lindbergh died a very “philosophical” death

The first step for me was, that I was very impressed to learn in A. Scott Berg's biography about all what was going on in the days before the death of Charles Lindbergh. In my eyes he died like a "king". With a lot of philosophical souvereignty. And about this I was deeply impressed. And all my other questions stem from there: What sort of man was Lindbergh, that he was able to die with such an attitude? (With such earnestness and at the same time with such "coolness".)

So, first, I thought, it is important to understand, what it had meant in those days to be a pioneer with planes: always risk of death. In this posting I refer mostly to a letter and other thoughts, that his wife Anne has written, when one of his best friends, Phil Love came to death by an accident on 4th June 1943. I think this is the most important part of the diaries of Anne between 1939 to 44, because here she speaks about things, Charles Lindbergh for himself seldom is speaking about: "Death is always side by side with you." - And she speaks about the meaning of friendship for Lindbergh that is formed in days when they lived with every-day possibility of death by accident.

2. His interest in science

And as a pioneer you know more about this than everyone else. But there is more. There is his interest into the science of Alexis Carrel. Here I hope to learn a lot new things from the forthcoming book "The Immortalists". (Amazon) They had a lot of philosophical discussions of which not very much is known to us yet (as it seems to me - I do not know the literature very well). But may be this new book has more about all that. It is at the one side his pragmatic attitude in thinking about life and death - like a pure materialist - and on the other side ... difficult! It has something to do with courageness, with the will to live, with his idealism. In simple words: To be aware of death gives you more conscienceness for life.

This easily sounds like a triviality. But I think, this is all, what Charles Lindbergh's life has to say to us. And if you see, that someone shows in his own life, what this insight means for him, everything has another looking. And all this we can find in another aspect of his life mostly: his three german wifes and his seven german children. This story is very new and full of surprisings. The new german book of Rudolf Schröck (2005) (Amazon) has a lot of content, non-german-speaking readers cannot be aware of. I have tried to give an overview about the most important content of this book in my german posting. But I have not the opportunity now, to repeat all that here. "Life will work it out" was one of Lindbergh's words and his german children are happy to have had such a father. They learned and know more about their father than his american children - this is often the impression you get, if you read this new book. And all this has shown (to me): Philosophy and life were one thing for Lindbergh.

For example it is very surprising to learn, that Lindbergh - according to the diaries of his wife - in 1941 (or so) said to her, that it is most impressiv, that a women who is handicapped (not inherited) can have children, that are not at all handicapped. And 20 years later he came together with two sisters in Munich and had children with them, who were handicapped (not inherited). His german children had often discussions with their mother about death. And his first german wife had the same attitude to death and her own death as Charles Lindbergh had. She died 2001 with very like the same souvereignty.

3. His three german families

And she had the same "will for life" and the same will to give birth to children - even in a world, that can give you only pessimistic outlooks. Lindbergh was disappointed about his wife Anne, when she said in 1946 or so, that she had enough children now. He always wished to have as many children as the Kennedy family had - or more. He spoke about 12 or so. This was his will for life and his longing for "immortality", I think. - But may be with the new book we will learn more about that.

I was disappointed about the autobiography of Lindbergh himself. I were not able to find there very much of what I had hoped for: A better understanding of his deeper personality. He makes a lot of very nice words. But I have learned more about his attitude towards life and death from his german children in the mentioned book of Rudolf Schröck.

So, this is only a "shorter version", of what I had to say yet about Lindbergh on my german blog. May be I will write more, if I have read the new book "The Immortalists".

Mittwoch, 4. Juli 2007

"On the Biological Sucess of Faith"

Michael Blume is engaged in the scientific study of religion. (Blume ) Now he has a new article about his thoughts and research: "Religion and Demography - On the Biological Sucess of Faith". (Blume)

I think, his work is a good beginning with this very important theme. But if you think some time about all this, you can recognize the reason, why traditional monotheistic religion is good for the reproductive sucess of the believers. Atheism as a broader movement in society is only 100 years old at the moment. What was the situation of Christianity 100 years after its beginnings? A roman historian like Tacitus, who lived in the 2nd century didn't know very much about this "jewish sect", the "Christians". At that time no one could forsee, that it would be exactly this and only this religious group between the broad religious pluralism of the Roman Empire, that would have the best reproductive sucess of the next 2000 years. This was the result of selection, of cultural and genetic individual and group selection processes of the next 500 years.

So, if there is no group between the very pluralistic "group" of modern atheists that has more children than the believers of monotheistic faith at the moment, than this could mean, that we are now in this selection process (cultural and genetic individual and group selection), that will establish in the next decades and centuries a new strategy of social life, in which non-monotheistic people will have enough children as well.

At least this is the goal a lot of people who are working in family politics and beyond in our days.

Samstag, 16. Juni 2007

"Race" - A good overview of the debate

Razib Khan has once more a very good post about "race" (Gene Expression) concerning a discussion at the middle-left journal "The New Republic". A commenter, P.G. Hiat "Gene Expression" has made this posting there, that I think is worth reading, because it gives a good overview of the debate:

Dienstag, 12. Juni 2007

"Race, Religion and Inheritance" - A discussion at Durham University

In the last post, we had an article about The Institute of Advanced Study at Durham University discussing "Race, Religion and Inheritance". Here is now the official report on their website:
On 26th April 2007 Durham University publically launched its Institute of Advanced Study by hosting a debate on Race, Religion and Inheritance at Durham Castle.
One topic that has emerged from the Institute's inaugural theme, 'The Legacy of Charles Darwin' concerns the relationship between classification and responsible knowing. Is it possible to develop means of classifying that are not divisive, harmful, or exclusionary, and especially among the human races and faith systems?
In the April 26 round-table debate, the Institute's interest in classification turned to the question of whether classes are pre-given, whether human taxonomy is hard-wired. This was a question of fundamental public interest, in the context of current controversies relating to the origins of racial and religious beliefs. We are seeing the resurgence of biological readings of race and racial difference, the rise and rise of religious fundamentalism, and growing bi-centennial public interest in the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade. These controversies – and possible solutions relating to religious and racial tolerance and understanding – hinge around the unresolved problem of whether differences of behaviour, disposition, and affect are inherited, and if they are, through what kind of evolutionary mechanism.
The panel of distinguished speakers included:
John Hedley Brooke (IAS Fellow, Professor of History of Science at the Ian Ramsey Centre, Oxford University, and author of the prize-winning book Science and Religion: Some Historical Perspectives); Madeleine Bunting (Author, Guardian columnist, and recipient of the Race in Media award by the Commission for Racial Equality in 2005); Robin Dunbar (Professor of Evolutionary Psychology at the University of Liverpool, Fellow of the British Academy and author of The Human Story);John Dupré (IAS Fellow, Philosopher of Science at Exeter University, Director of the ESRC Centre for Genomics in Society, and author of the celebrated book The Disorder of Things); Anthony P Monaco (Professor of Human Genetics and Director of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics, Oxford University)
The debate was chaired by Durham University's new Vice-Chancellor, Professor Christopher Higgins.A full transcript and video recording of this event will be available in due course.Last modified: 17th May 2007
It would be of special interest to have more information about this discussion.

The population genetics of inborn religious traits

At Gene Expression I cannot find anything about this (Medicalnewstoday). Are they sleeping?

What Makes A Racist? And Other Provocative Questions
At The Institute Of Advanced Study Debate, Durham University, April 26, 2007

Some of the world's finest scientists, writers and evolutionary thinkers are converging on Durham for a major event which will examine provocative questions relating to fundamental human beliefs and spirituality.

The debate, to be hosted by the University's pioneering think tank, the Institute of Advanced Study, will debate two key issues: 'Are we born racist or do we become racist?', and 'Is religion inherited or acquired?'.

The event will be chaired by Durham University's new Vice Chancellor, world-renowned scientist and evolutionary geneticist, Professor Chris Higgins, and discussions will be stimulated by a round table of leading experts in their field.

Professor Ash Amin, Director of the Institute of Advanced Study, outlined the inspiration for the event:

"9/11, the wider war on terror, and the intensifying clash of world civilizations are reinforcing essentialist understandings of human difference and recognition. We are seeing the resurgence of biological readings of race and racial difference, the rise and rise of religious fundamentalism, and growing skepticism towards secularist and socially negotiated principles of living with difference.

"These shifts, as well as possible solutions relating to religious and racial tolerance and understanding, hinge around the unresolved problem of whether differences of behaviour, disposition, and affect are inherited, and, if they are, through what evolutionary mechanism?"

Prof Amin added: "The panel aims to confront thinking in genetics and evolutionary psychology on the carriers and nature of inherited traits and on the speed with which beliefs become part of the inherited human hardwiring."

The April 26 event is part of a programme organised by the Institute of Advanced Study, whose theme for 2007 is the Legacy of Charles Darwin. On the same day, the eminent Darwin scholar Professor Michael Ruse from Florida State University will give a public lecture that will take on the various critics of evolutionary theory and will argue that 'Darwinism' remains the jewel in the crown of science.

The IAS, which opened last October, is becoming one of the major global centres of interdisciplinary study. It gathers together world-class scholars, intellectuals and public figures from around the globe and across all disciplines, to address topics of major intellectual, scientific or public and policy interest. Future annual topics will include Modelling, and Being Human.

One of the panel members at the April 26 event, Professor John Brooke, a science historian at Oxford University and an IAS fellow, will be contending the notion that our religious beliefs are 'hard-wired'. He said: "We should not seek to isolate some peculiar religious susceptibility and try to account for it in terms of the latest voguish science.

"Rather I would see the capacity for a religious response to the world as simply an extension of the perfectly normal capacities that make us human. I am thinking of our capacity for fellowship with others, of our ability to express a sense of gratitude for the fact that we exist at all, and a capacity to empathise with those who suffer."

Other panellists are the Guardian columnist, Madeline Bunting; Professor Robin Dunbar, an evolutionary psychologist at Liverpool University; John Dupre, Professor of the Philosophy of Science at Exeter University; Professor Anthony Monaco, Director of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics at Oxford University.

Sonntag, 27. Mai 2007

The Sogdians in China II

The comments on "Gene Expression" give some more information. My own:

And the very informed comment by John J. Emerson, a specialist in Chinese history:

Samstag, 26. Mai 2007

The Sogdians in China

National Geographic has a new article about the genetical studies concerning the Sogdian leader Yu Hong in a Tang-chinese grave. (Studium generale)

Yu Hong was a "Sogdian". Dienekes had some links to the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, which had more information about this people and about this grave.

I have made some studies about the Sogdians in the last weeks. (Studium generale) The Sogdians came mostly from Samarkand and the rich and economically whealthy "Sogdiana". Roxana, the first wife of Alexander the Great was a sogdian princess. The Sogdians were mostly rich traders (caravaniers) between Korea and Byzanz. And they made a lot of politics in this area. They had communities in the Tarim-area and far beyond.

In the chinese art of the Tang area often you can find pieces that shows "Foreigners", "Westerners". Mostly they were Sogdians. Often they are shown as comedians, dancers, musicians. They made several religions spread in East Asia (Buddhism, Manichaeism and others).

In China they have now found several graves of Sogdian leaders. Often they were mandarin's and had high positions in the chinese administration.

Over on my german blog I have more information (and some pictures and english links) about them. (Studium generale) And "Gene Expression" has something.

Donnerstag, 24. Mai 2007

"Evolutionary biology's version of e = mc2"

Here is a little piece of Lee Alan Dugatkin about his newest book concerning the evolution of altruism. (Huffingtonpost)

As long as there have been scientists, they have been interested in goodness. Why are some people good, and others not? In fact, we can cast the net more generally, and ask about goodness in nonhumans, as well as humans, and examine whether the process of evolution by natural selection can explain such actions.

I talk about this at length in my new book, The Altruism Equation: Seven Scientists Search for the Origins of Goodness (Princeton University Press, 2006), but here is a condensed version of the story. Evolutionary biology's interest in goodness can be traced back at least as far as Charles Darwin. (...)

It would take almost a hundred years before a shy, reserved, and brilliant British biologist named William D. Hamilton would settle all the arguments about blood kinship and altruism with a nifty little mathematical equation.

Hamilton, an evolutionary biologist by training, came at the question of altruism and blood kinship the way that an economist would; indeed his Ph.D. in biology was done in part at The London School of Economics. He began by defining three terms─the genetic relatedness between individuals (labeled r), the cost of an act of goodness (c), and the benefit that a recipient obtained when someone was nice to him or her. Then, using some eloquent--in fact, beautiful-- mathematics, in 1963, Hamilton found that altruism and blood kinship are not linked by an all-or-nothing relationship. Instead, what is now known as "Hamilton's Rule" states that altruism evolves whenever r times b is greater than c. In other words, if the cost of altruism is made up by enough genetic relatives receiving benefits, then altruism spreads; otherwise it does not. Phrased in the cold language of natural selection, relatives are worth helping in direct proportion to their genetic relatedness.

Literally thousands of experiments in both nonhumans and humans show the power of Hamilton's Rule. This little equation is evolutionary biology's version of e = mc2. Over and over, we see that an analysis of the costs and benefits of altruism, along with genetic relatedness, allows us to predict the presence or absence of altruism. This is a truly remarkable finding.

Hamilton's Rule, of course, does not explain all altruism, nor did Bill Hamilton think it did. Another large chunk of goodness falls under the category of reciprocity--you scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours. Individuals are sometimes willing to be altruistic to someone now in the expectation that they will, in turn, be helped when they need it. Evolutionary biologists have been almost as interested in this type of altruism as in kinship-based altruism. And, amazingly enough, it was Bill Hamilton, along with political scientist Robert Axelrod, who formalized the models behind the evolution of reciprocity. Following up on some work done by Robert Trivers in the early 1970s, in 1981 Axelrod and Hamilton used a mathematical technique called game theory to predict when "reciprocal altruism" should evolve. Again, scores of empirical studies followed up the model. Reciprocity can be complex, but an evolutionary perspective has cleared the haze here the same way it did when it came to blood kinship and altruism.

If goodness is a problem, then the answer─or at the very least, part of the answer─can be found in evolutionary biology.

Samstag, 12. Mai 2007

Darwinian conservatism - bad and good

Larry Arnhart has some very important things to say about Harvey Mansfield, his book "Manliness" and his nihilistic interpretation of the philosophical thinking of F. Nietzsche. (Arnhart Blog) I read about some thoughts of this book of Mansfield with a lot of sympathy, but it is only now that I recognize, that Mansfield uses his thoughts to make support of the policy of G.W. Bush. This is nearly too silly to belief it. From Nietzsche to Leo Strauss to G.W. Bush! Awfull. I'm very happy, that Arnhart is most critically about this. What sort of a bad philosophy and of a bad political doctrine.

Arnhart says: "Darwinian science affirms thumos as expressing the natural desires for status and political rule, desires that belong to our evolved human nature. But Darwinian science would also affirm the natural desire to be free from the exploitative dominance of thumotic men, which supports the need for limited government under the rule of law." - In Germany we have Peter Sloterdijk who has good thoughts about "thumotic emotions" and the need of a psychological theory about them. He says, people like Sigmund Freud had missed to think about them enough. (In his book "Zorn und Zeit", 2006) I hope, he will not also go in the steps of Mansfield.

Donnerstag, 10. Mai 2007

"PZ Myers doesn't know anything ..."

Gene expression has a very good article about eugenics and IQ-(population-)genetics - a theme treated by "famous" PZ Myers.

Some things become trivial scientifically if you repeat them too often. And so Utah's geneticist Gregory Cochran is right in his short commentary: "- But these are themes that not only have to be discussed by scientists, they have to be discussed by the whole society. And this in no way trivial any longer.

Montag, 7. Mai 2007

Ravens and Intelligence

This is a very, very nice article about ravens. It has a lot of new implications. Konrad Lorenz would be very, very happy to learn about his successors in science. It was a very great surprise for me to learn so much new things about this birds and - for expample - about their ability for deception. It is good, that "Spiegel" has translated it into English.

American Conservatism and - - - Evolution

The conservatives in the US begin to think more seriously about evolutionary theory and evolutionary psychology. (New York Times, [whole page]), one of the proponents is Larry Arnhart (photo on the left). The titel of his book is "Darwinian Conservatism". (Amazon)

... Some of these thinkers have gone one step further, arguing that Darwin’s scientific theories about the evolution of species can be applied to today’s patterns of human behavior, and that natural selection can provide support for many bedrock conservative ideas, like traditional social roles for men and women, free-market capitalism and governmental checks and balances.

“I do indeed believe conservatives need Charles Darwin,” said Larry Arnhart, a professor of political science at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, who has spearheaded the cause. “The intellectual vitality of conservatism in the 21st century will depend on the success of conservatives in appealing to advances in the biology of human nature as confirming conservative thought.”


The fledgling field of evolutionary psychology also spurred some conservatives to invoke Darwinism in the 1990s. In “The Moral Sense” (1993), followed by “The Marriage Problem: How Our Culture Has Weakened Families” (2002), James Q. Wilson used evolution to explain the genesis of morality and to support traditional family and sex roles. Conservative thinkers from Francis Fukuyama to Richard Pipes have drawn on evolutionary psychology to support ideas like a natural human desire for private property and a biological basis for morality.


Mr. Arnhart, in his 2005 book, “Darwinian Conservatism,” tackled the issue of conservatism’s compatibility with evolutionary theory head on, saying Darwinists and conservatives share a similar view of human beings: they are imperfect; they have organized in male-dominated hierarchies; they have a natural instinct for accumulation and power; and their moral thought has evolved over time.

The institutions that successfully evolved to deal with this natural order were conservative ones, founded in sentiment, tradition and judgment, like limited government and a system of balances to curb unchecked power, he explains. Unlike leftists, who assume “a utopian vision of human nature” liberated from the constraints of biology, Mr. Arnhart says, conservatives assume that evolved social traditions have more wisdom than rationally planned reforms.

While Darwinism does not resolve specific policy debates, Mr. Arnhart said in an interview on Thursday, it can provide overarching guidelines. Policies that are in tune with human nature, for example, like a male military or traditional social and sex roles, he said, are more likely to succeed. He added that “moral sympathy for the suffering of fellow human beings” allows for aid to the poor, weak and ill.


As for Mr. Derbyshire, he would not say whether he thought evolutionary theory was good or bad for conservatism; the only thing that mattered was whether it was true. And, he said, if that turns out to be “bad for conservatives, then so much the worse for conservatism.”

Dienstag, 1. Mai 2007

"Dembski left before the Q&A session was over ..."

Here is a nice, a very nice account about a speak, Conway Morris has given - and about the reaction of William Dembski: "I was hoping for more fun from Dembski, but he left before the Q&A session was over."

Here are two other articles (Baylor University, The Gospel Herald).

Samstag, 21. April 2007

The first woman about evolution of religiousness

I have not yet read the new book of primatologist Barbara J. King "Evolving god" (Amazon) - but it seems, that this is the first book about the evolution of religiousness written by a women. And it seems to me, that she has a very fresh and "female" look into religion. Isn't it a surprise to recognize that all other books about religion and evolution at the moment are written by men? (Look for example this list: Chronicle) It is very surprising, because we know from scientific insight, that woman have more interest than men in religion and religious activity. And even if Barbara J. King gives not a whole lot of more new good arguments and facts about the evolution of religiousness - most importantly is, it seems to me, that she gives a new "feeling" while reasoning about religion. Her main point is "belongingness". Have you ever heart about such a thing from another author writing about religion? And why not? - They are men!

"Biological anthropologist King contends that religion, conceived as a system not of beliefs but of actions, not as theology but as worship, is a consequence of primate evolution. It proceeds, she posits, from the sense of group membership that highly developed mammals, especially the great apes, demonstrate in many ways but most saliently for religion when they show concern for a group member that has died." (Amazon)

"King draws upon cutting-edge research in primatology to demonstrate that once animals are capable of emotional attachments and cognitive empathy, they are ready for—and even appear to require—certain intangibles like a belief in something greater than themselves." "It's true that the book requires some enormous argumentative leaps; it's a long stretch from demonstrating that contemporary primates have emotional attachments to claiming that they are then capable of creating religions, as King maintains human beings once did. But even readers who close the book unconvinced will be impressed by King's fresh insights and her lucid writing, which is a jargon-free, story-filled model." (Amazon)

... The origins of the religious impulse. King finds this in what she calls belongingness, "mattering to someone who matters to you," a trait found in contemporary humans but also in our human and non-human primate ancestors. (Amazon, Customer Reviews)

'Evolving God' has the added merit of pushing beyond the Abrahamic "big three," including a handy account of religious archaeology. King's touchstone is "belongingness," the idea that "hominids turned to the sacred realm because they evolved to relate in deeply emotional ways with their social partners, ... and because the human brain evolved to allow an extension of this belongingness beyond the here and now." David Barash (The Chronicle of Higher Education ) Barbara King says (according to Barash): "At bedrock is the belief that one may be seen, heard, protected, harmed, loved, frightened, or soothed by interaction with God, gods, or spirits."

Freitag, 20. April 2007

School shooter II - Was there a chance for him?

A lot of new information about Cho Seung-Hui.

1. About his grandfather and the sister of his grandfather, his great-aunt Yang-Sun, in South Korea: "Yang-Sun revealed the eight-year-old was diagnosed as autistic soon after his family emigrated to the US." She said: "Both his parents knew he had mental problems but they were poor and they couldn't send him to a special hospital in the United States. His mother and sister were asking his friends to help instead. His parents worked and did not have time to look after his condition and didn't give him special treatment. They had no time or money to look after his special problem even though they knew he was autistic." ( So, if you take this seriously, than Cho Seung-Hui was right to be full of hate against the rich people. They should listen more seriously to his words.

2. That he imitated several movie thrillers, mostly a famous South Korean movie called "Oldboy": " ... It tells the story of a man's struggle to understand why he is being tormented. In the final scenes Dae-Su furiously confronts his enemies with guns, hammers and knives. The result is a bloodbath." ( - Do we really need such movies?

3. One girl he had stalked two years ago said: "Once, he claimed he had been rejected by a girl and talked about wanting to beat her up." (= überfallen, verprügeln) (

And - may be - most interesting:

4. "Ross Alameddine sat near Cho for months in a class on horror films and literature. Both students were required to keep what were known as 'fear journals', in which they chronicled their reactions to the material covered in class and their own fears. (...) On Monday, Cho killed him." (But obviously not with the intention to kill exactly him.) " 'We had a whole discussion on serial killers,' one student said, who asked that she not be named because she wanted to avoid a crush of attention from the news media. Cho never spoke during the discussion, she said, but he took notes. The student was in another class with Cho: a 10-person workshop on playwriting, during which she grew fascinated by him. 'In all honesty, I took a huge interest in him last semester,' she said. 'I actually tried to follow him after class one day, but he got on a bike and I couldn't keep up. He had a red bicycle.' " ( (NYT)

It was a women he had looked for help - as the stalking shows. And there has been one, who took interest in him. And he didn't know that - as it seems.

Mittwoch, 18. April 2007

"A typical school shooter"

CNN gives information to understand the situation, that teachers and students were in with this (new) school shooter from Blacksburg (US) for at least two years. Mostly this words of a student. (After the class-reading of one of his plays: "Before Cho got to class that day" [last fall], "we students were talking to each other with serious worry about whether he could be a school shooter.") - And this video, in which the professor explains that she knew seriously, that he was a serious danger for the life of herself and her students: CNN.

Dienstag, 17. April 2007

Positive selection in chimps and humans

I have made a longer post on my german blog. (Studium generale) For more information look here. (Gene Expression) Nature, Science, New Scientists have articles now. But the best commentary, I have read until now comes from an australian physics departement exploring complex and nonlinear systems (!) (Nature, Comments):

It's a big jump from observing the number of genes which have a high proportion of non-synonymous mutations, to taking this to be a measure of how much the species has changed, how 'highly evolved' they are, or who is winning the evolutionary race - to use three phrases from the article in question. As many writers have beautifully and eloquently described (eg Gary Marcus' wonderful book The Birth of the Mind - How a Tiny Number of Genes Creates the Complexities of Human Thought) there are generally no simple correspondences between genes and phenotype properties. The genotype-phenotype map is complex, highly-structured and poorly understood. A more perceptive and thoughtful discussion of the possible interpretations of the reported data would be more welcome than the cheap pseudo-controversial headlines.
Also interesting: what is the possible impact of cultural evolution as a selective force?

Anne-Marie Grisogono

Samstag, 7. April 2007

A good book recommendation for young readers by Desmond Morris

Desmond Morris (The Naked Ape, 1967) was asked (American Scientist):

What book recommendations do you have for young readers?

For any young zoologist I would recommend Konrad Lorenz, King Solomon's Ring (1952). This will reveal just how much one can learn simply by sitting and watching animal behavior.

Donnerstag, 5. April 2007

Dangerous ideas

The american-jewish Online-Magazine "Jewcy" is going further to "improve" our thinking. (Jewcy) Most important is, I think, what it is reporting about social scientist Richard Herrnstein (author of "The Bell Curve" [1994]). I don't buy the rest of the argument of the article, that the IQ of children is formed at a larger extent by "good mothers" and good "kindergartens". Not IQ - but a lot of other traits are formed by mothers (and kindergarten's) - for example social traits. I only want to give the text here to show, of what sort of dangerous ideas Steven Pinker spoke of several months ago. (Edge) The article does not mention the fact, he is speaking about the whole time, that there is not only a black-white-IQ-gap of 15 points, but also a black-ashkenazi Jews-IQ-gap of 30 points (!) (and a white-ashkenazi Jews-IQ-gap of 15 points).

"... The social scientist Richard Herrnstein disagreed. (...) A perfect meritocracy, he proposed in a seminal 1971 Atlantic article, would allow the naturally brightest to end up on top. Those bright people would pair up and produce bright children and the American meritocracy would wind up looking less democratic than aristocratic. But unlike aristocratic Europe, where inbred imbeciles like George III ended up ruling empires,modern aristocracies would be fair . Even more alarming, this new, fair aristocracy would look like a racial caste system, Herrnstein theorized, citing a study showing a 15-point gap in the average IQs of whites and blacks.

In his important 1992 book, The End of Equality, Jewish pundit Mickey Kaus cautiously came to Herrnstein’s defense. Social mobility was beginning to decline, he theorized, because a perfect meritocracy had been nearly achieved. Those groups that had what it took to move up had already moved up. Meritocracy was like a centrifuge that spun the best to the top and left the dregs on the bottom. “At some point,” Kaus wrote, “we may run out of new groups to run through the centrifuge.”

Just as Herrnstein predicted, American society has become more aristocratic. (We even have George II, a dim-witted heir, running our country.) It is tempting, then, for Jews to take up the position Herrnstein outlined in 1971, essentially defending and legitimating hierarchy. After all, anti-meritocratic policies like legacy preferences at Ivy League colleges that used to hurt Jews now help them. (...)

Though Herrnstein was Jewish, many Jews were wary of embracing a view that sounded so much like eugenics, the pseudo-science that worked to legitimate the social order back when Jews were towards the bottom. Explaining away inequality as the result of black/white IQ differences sounded like something out of 1930s Germany—not the kind of argument most Jews want to defend. But once the racial element was removed, the argument became more appealing, even flattering. Perhaps there really was something superior about us. (...) claiming to be some kind of black-haired, brown-eyed master race (...)."

The article is speaking about really, really dangerous things. But I think it is doing it not in the right way. Not with enough responsibility. For example: It does not differentiate enough between facts and "wishes". - But because there is so much speaking now about Richard Herrnstein, I have looked for photos of him. There are not so many available in the internet, I have found only two:

Right: Genetics and IQ Conference, New York, 1990 (Herrnstein in the middle)
Bottom row, L to R: Mrs. H.J. Eysenck, Hans J. Eysenck, Arthur R. Jensen, Richard Herrnstein, Richard Lynn, Marian Van Court. Top row: Helmuth Nyborg, Linda Gottfredson, Ernst van den Haag, Robert Nichols, Michael Levin, J. Philippe Rushton, Chris Brand.

Dienstag, 3. April 2007

Diversification of positions concerning critique of religions

There is an article with a good overview about new trends in discussions between monotheistic religions and atheism. Pantheistic positions are not mentioned - as it is mostly. (E. O. Wilson is seen by some people as an pantheist, but sees himself as a deist.) I think, humanism in the sense of this article is also quite right, as is Wilson, as is Dawkins, as is Sam Harris. Everyone has his own important and necessary truth. So I think Harris is right: "Harris said he thinks there is room for multiple arguments in the debate between scientific rationalism and religious dogmatism."

Posted on Sun, Apr. 01, 2007

Atheists divided in their disbeliefs

Some humanists worry that “fundamentalists” will hurt the movement with their belligerence.
The Associated Press

BOSTON | Atheists are under attack these days for being too militant — for not just disbelieving in religious faith but for trying to eradicate it.

Who is leveling these accusations? Other atheists.

Among the millions of Americans who don’t believe that God exists, there is a split between people such as Greg Epstein, who holds the partly endowed post of humanist chaplain at Harvard University, and “New Atheists.”

Epstein and other humanists think that their movement is on the verge of explosive growth, but they are concerned that it will be dragged down by what they see as the militancy of New Atheism.

The most pre-eminent New Atheists include best-selling authors Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris.

Dawkins has called the God of the Old Testament “a psychotic delinquent.” Harris foresees global catastrophe unless faith is renounced. Religious belief is so harmful that it must be defeated and replaced by science and reason, they say.

Epstein calls them “atheist fundamentalists.” He sees them as rigid in their dogma, and as intolerant as some of the faith leaders with whom atheists have the most obvious differences.

Next month, as Harvard celebrates the 30th anniversary of its humanist chaplaincy — part of the school’s chaplaincy corps — Epstein will use the occasion to provide a counterpoint to the New Atheists.

“Humanism is not about erasing religion,” he said. “It’s an embracing philosophy.”

In general, humanism rejects supernaturalism, while stressing such principles as dignity of the individual, equality and social justice. Humanists believe that if there is no God to help humanity, people better do the work.

The celebration of a “New Humanism” will emphasize diversity within the movement. It will include E.O. Wilson, a humanist who has sought to team with evangelical Christians to fight global warming.

Part of the New Humanism, Wilson said, is “an invitation to a common search for morally based action in areas agreement can be reached in.”

Wilson said the tone of the New Atheists will only alienate important faith groups whose help is needed to solve the world’s problems.

“I would suggest possibly that while there is use in the critiques by Dawkins and Harris, that they’ve overdone it,” Wilson said.

Harris, the author of Letter to a Christian Nation, sees the disagreement as overblown. Harris said he thinks there is room for multiple arguments in the debate between scientific rationalism and religious dogmatism.

“I don’t think everyone needs to take as uncompromising a stance as I have against faith,” he said.

But, he added, an intellectual intolerance of people who strongly believe things on bad evidence is just “basic human sanity.”

“We do not jail people for being stupid, but we do stop listening to them after a while,” he wrote in an e-mail.

Harris also rejected the term “atheist fundamentalist.” He noted that, when it comes to the ancient Greek gods, everyone is an atheist and no one is asked to justify that to pagans who want to believe in Zeus.

“Likewise with the God of Abraham,” he said. “There is nothing ‘fundamentalist’ about finding the claims of religious demagogues implausible.”

Dawkins did not respond to requests for comment. He has questioned whether teaching children that they could go to hell is worse in the long term than sexually abusing them, and he compares the evidence of God with evidence for unicorns, fairies and a “flying spaghetti monster.”

Dawkins’ attempt to win converts is clear in The God Delusion, in which he writes of his hope that “religious readers who open it will be atheists when they put it down.”

A 2006 Baylor University survey estimates about 15 million atheists in the United States.

Sonntag, 1. April 2007

Adventurer and geneticist: Spencer Wells

A very good interview with geneticist Spencer Wells about his Genographic Project at PlosGenetics. He says about Hungary:

We've gotten some fascinating results and a lot of e-mails. For example, a Hungarian woman wrote in and said, “You've got to redo my test. You told me I'm native American or Siberian, and I know my ancestors came from Hungary—I can tell you the village they were living in in the sixteenth century.” The Hungarian language, Magyar, is actually related to languages spoken in Siberia, and this is one of the first cases where we've actually seen Siberian lineages showing up in the Hungarian population. They are there at very low frequency. We now through this project have over 350 people who are of Hungarian descent and we see these [Siberian] lineages at four to five percent on both male and female sides.

And he says about the traditional tribal genealogical thinking (here in southern Tajikistan):

... Most people are interested in their history, and indigenous people, who are the ones who give us the clearest glimpse of their genetic history, are particularly interested, because in many cases it is all they have—what they cling on to—their sense of identity.

I was just in Tajikistan a week and a half ago, and we were sampling all over the southern part of the country and asking people to name their grandparents and great-grandparents and so on. I could do that back to maybe to my great-grandparents. These people can do it back six, seven, eight generations. They've always lived in the same place and beyond that they know even more about their history, but not necessarily their names.

So they have a sense, a clear idea of where they came from, that something is passed from generation that ties them to their ancestors. You explain to them that that thing is DNA and that it will tell us not only about the people they can name but also people beyond that that they can't name ...

Some personal things about this blonde Spencer Wells:

My father (...) he comes from a military family. His father, whom he never knew because he died in World War II, graduated top of his class from West Point and was apparently a wild man out in the field. I think maybe I got some of my love of danger and going to strange places from him. ...

"Our spiritual need to be connected with nature ..."

Jane Goodall - a fascinating new interview. Here some snips:


If chimps are so much like us, why are they endangered while humans dominate the globe?
Well, in some ways we’re not successful at all. We’re destroying our home. That’s not a bit successful. Chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans have been living for hundreds of thousands of years in their forest, living fantastic lives, never overpopulating, never destroying the forest. I would say that they have been in a way more successful than us as far as being in harmony with the environment.


Large humanitarian initiatives in Africa, like those spearheaded by Bill Gates and Bill Clinton, understandably focus on the needs of people. Does that human focus conflict with the needs of the animals?
Sometimes. But even if you forget the animals, what these people sometimes totally ignore is the environment. If you cut down all the trees at Gombe, yes, the chimps will go. But you’ll also get terrible soil erosion, desertification, and flooding. People will suffer terribly. So in addition to addressing the physical needs of people—like water, sanitation, education—you also must address their impact on the environment and our spiritual need to be connected with nature. That’s really a psychological need that we have. I also have problems with the way a lot of aid is delivered.


What is it like to be such a public scientist? When you attend primatology meetings these days, how are you treated?
I’m the elder female. I’m mobbed, really. My role now is to talk about conservation and to try to inspire some of the young field biologists who are desperate because their study animals are disappearing. So I try to encourage them with stories like those about TACARE and how to involve local people so their study animals survive and they can continue their research. We each have to do our bit and realize that when you add up those bits, you have massive change.

Freitag, 30. März 2007

Oseberg woman stems from the Middle East

The grandmother of Harald Fairhair, first king of Norway, had a servant, whose ancestors were coming from an area in the Middle East. This is supposed by a new ancient DNA research of one of her tooth (see here and here). It is supposed, that the two women, that were found in the famous Viking Oseberg ship, which was excavated 1904, and which is dated to 834 AD, were this grandmother (at death around 80 years old) and her servant (at death around 50 years old). More in the text:

... "Our results so far have been very interesting. Further analysis of the remains of both women would hopefully allow us to establish whether the two were related. What we already know is that the ancestor to the younger woman came from the the area around modern day Turkey and Iran," said Professor Per Holck. He has also found that their diet was heavy on meat, but that they ate comparatively little seafood. The full findings will be presented in an article in the British magazine "European Archaeology" later this year. (...)

"This is the first DNA profile we have from a Viking skeleton," says Lena Fahre, archaeologist and spokeswoman at Midgard Historical Centre. (...)

Until now, the common assumption for many years, though less and less in vogue among historians and archaeologists, has been that the older woman in the grave was Queen Åsa, mother of Halvdan the Black, and grandmother of Harald Fairhair, the first king of the united Norway, and that the younger woman was her servant, who went to her death with her mistress. Dendrochronological analysis, or tree-ring dating, of the timbers used to build the burial chamber, shows that they were felled in the autumn of the year 834 AD. ...

Montag, 26. März 2007

The impossibility to understand quantum physics deterministically

A very nice review has appeared in "Nature" about a very nice book (Uncertainty - Einstein, Heisenberg, Bohr, and the Struggle for the Soul of Science - by D. Lindley) concerning the first discussions of quantum mechanics. An excerpt:

In Uncertainty, David Lindley tells the intriguing tale of how Albert Einstein, Werner Heisenberg and Niels Bohr (among others) struggled to create and understand the new quantum physics. Lindley organizes his tale around the issue of indeterminism, which Max Born raised in 1926 in the paper that introduced probability as fundamental to interpreting the quantum world. Within a year, at the end of his paper on the uncertainty principle, Heisenberg declared determinism (or causality) dead, a pronouncement that brought probability, chance and uncertainty into the quantum domain in a fundamental way.

Lindley tracks the rise of chance from its roots in statistical reasoning (brownian motion and entropy) through to Bohr's 'jumping planetary model' of the atom and beyond. He selects important episodes from this 'old' quantum theory and then retells them in a lively and insightful manner. This provides the background for Heisenberg's theory of matrix mechanics and Erwin Schrödinger's wave mechanics. The author tells how Bohr encouraged, derided, cajoled, inspired and browbeat all sides to orchestrate the Copenhagen synthesis to meet his own physical intuitions and philosophical likings. Lindley captures the passion of the struggle, showing both the public controversies and the sometimes harsh private judgements (for example, writing to third parties, Heisenberg and Schrödinger each described the other's work as repulsive, and worse). ...

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