Altruism, Optimism and Worries

“A relentless addiction to indignation may be one of the chief drivers of obstinate dogmatism and possibly the ultimate propellant behind the current culture war.” The New York Times previews a groundbreaking scientific-medical tome — PATHOLOGICAL ALTRUISM (edited by Barbara Oakley) — about ways that one of humanity’s highest traits can sometimes go terribly wrong. (I wrote two of the papers, but don’t worry: most of the contributing doctors and researchers are actually qualified!) A fascinating topic.  And long past-due for serious attention.

So many proclaim how bad things are today…Here’s a recommended eye-opener for people who have let dour romantics of right or left talk them into pessimism. Steve Pinker presents a look at history, examining the statistics on violent deaths, finding that rates of violence have declined substantially over time. Real progress HAS happened and that is the reason to demand more. See this talk from Pinker: “What may be the most important thing that has ever happened in human history is that violence has gone down, by dramatic degrees, and in many dimensions all over the world and in many spheres of behavior: genocide, war, human sacrifice, torture, slavery, and the treatment of racial minorities, women, children, and animals.

Also, check out Pinker’s latest book,  The Better Angels of our Nature: Why Violence has Declined. Pinker argues that humanity’s “better angels” are winning. When you look at the numbers, “The present looks less sinister, the past less innocent.” Use it against the dogmatic grouches in your life. This is the real issue dividing us.

So, if things are better, why are grinches yammering at us that it’s all downhill? Forget the economic downturn. That’s not it. Nor even the fact that self-centered boomers are feeling old (yes that too.)  So?  Fight back with facts that will knock the Know-Nothings on their behinds! (More on this on my next blog post.)

For example, see an important review of the early history of inoculation and vaccination in America, describing how Washington ordered compulsory smallpox inoculation of the Continental Army in 1777 and thus saved the Revolution.  Way back in the days of the original “tea parties” there were also ninnies screaming against health measures that made life better for everybody. (Y’know who the most popular man in America was, in 1959? Jonas Salk! Have we gone dumber?)

People who are better at memory, and especially telling the difference between true memories and imagined ones, seem to have a better-developed fold at the front of the brain called the paracingulate sulcus (PCS). This brain variation is present in roughly half of the normal population. It’s one of the last structural folds to develop before birth, so it varies greatly in size between individuals in the healthy population. Researchers discovered that adults whose MRI scans indicated an absence of the PCS were significantly less accurate on memory tasks than people with a prominent PCS on at least one side of the brain.  If verified, a stunning and important finding.

Our family has been renting DVD episodes of Morgan Freeman’s science show “Through The Wormhole” to share with our youngest. We’ve all been enjoying it immensely. Highly enlightening about the mysteries of dark matter and dark energy, origins, alien life etc. Without doubt one of the best sci-shows of recent years and well worth your attention.  Of course, it could have used a few physicist-scifi-authors.  Or even one.  But I’ll take the good stuff however I can get it!

==Peer to Peer Communication==

When calamity strikes, the cell phone system frequently shuts down, as it did in Japan’s tragic earthquake and tsunami. Want to see the real reason why the major cell phone companies don’t want to adopt my idea for peer-to-peer text passing, even though they could charge for it and it would make the nation 50% more resilient against disaster? Read this: Free texts pose threat to carrier:

“More than two trillion text messages are sent each year in the United States, generating more than $20 billion in revenue for the wireless industry. Verizon Wireless alone generates as much as $7 billion a year in revenue from texting, or about 12 percent of the total…. At 20 cents and 160 characters per message, wireless customers are paying roughly $1,500 to send a megabyte of text traffic over the cell network. By comparison, the cost to send that same amount of data using a $25-a-month, two-gigabyte data plan works out to 1.25 cents.”  (From The New York Times)

The system is over-due for change.  Simply require that all cell phones be equipped to pass along text messages on a peer-to peer (P2P-packet) basis, all the way to the edge of the afflicted zone, whereupon they can be sent on their way.

== And Interesting Items ==

China and Singapore join forces to create a new eco-city on former wasteland. An inspiring undertaking that may enrich us all and teach new ways.  And look at it this way. Your purchases at WalMart helped to make this happen!

The science behind Nobel Prize in Physics explained simply.

Dang!  Read about Elon’s Falcon Heavy booster. This article may lean heavily on the positive slant.  Still, I have a lot of confidence in this bona fide American genius.

Hold it… hold it… Recent research indicates: “It turned out that the worse you had to pee, the better you did on tests of self control and even deferred gratification. When you have to pee, you are more patient rather than less! In fact, further studies showed that just being told about needing to pee, increased the participants need to pee AND increased their self control….”

And now… Bacterium transforms ammonium, an ingredient in urine, into hydrazine, rocket fuel. Apparently NASA lost interest when they realized it would be hard to generate large quantities of hydrazine. I guess they had trouble with deferred gratification. (Get it?)

Fascinating graphic showing the 7000 spacecraft launched into orbit or beyond, by country and by year – with color-coded proportions for military, government, commercial and amateur. Note the substantial, recent increase in commercial launches… as well as a rising age of amateurs!

Fascinating. Fountains of life found at the bottom of the Dead Sea. First scientific dive into the dead sea, finding astonishing life in the lowest place on Earth, where salinity is 6X the ocean and fresh water springs under the sea make the equivalent of “smokers.”

== Terrorism Foiled ==

Rezwan Ferdaus is accused of planning to use three remote control airplanes measuring up to 80 inches, packed with five pounds of explosives in each, to hit the Pentagon and blow the Capitol dome to “smithereens.”

SmartestMobNewAnyone remember this passage from my novella “The Smartest Mob”? (It will also be part of my new novel EXISTENCE.) “Exceptional numbers of toy airplanes were purchased in the Carolinas, this month, suggesting that a swarm attack may be in the making, just like the O’Hare Incident…”

Oh, I don’t know if I should mention this, since it might cause evil ones to choose a different target. But y’know all those movies that show the Capitol dome exploding into little white plaster bits? Well it won’t ever ever happen, even with a nearby nuke! Reason? The dome is made of IRON! It may go flying and rolling across the countryside. But it ain’t giving no smash-up satisfaction. What would Ferdhaus have actually accomplished? The tap might have made it ring… like a liberty bell.


It’s the (Not the) End of the World Cruise! Come with us to sea and celebrate the world Not coming to an end during the “Mayan Millennium” winter solstice in 2012 with parties, special guests & speakers, including astronaut Steve Hawley, Authors David Brin and Robert Sawyer, plus several renowned scientists.  Featuring snorkeling, a costume party, fascinating talks, and a visit to the Mayan Tulum ruins on Dec. 21, 2012. During the week that some think will be the world’s last, join us on a more enlightened, and enlightening, week-long cruise in the beautiful Caribbean.  (Also, what better place to be, either way?) Don’t be… left behind! And fer gosh-dern sakes, don’t have the singularity without us, while we’re away!

Cool! On November 9-10, 2011, Explore Mars, Inc. will be presenting the Women and Mars Conference at the Jack Morton Auditorium at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.  Topics to be discussed at the conference include, “Why are so many women involved in Mars exploration?” and “How can ‘Mars women’ help to advance STEM education for young women and reach non-traditional audiences?” Go get em, gals.  Lead us.



Filed under science, society, space

2 responses to “Altruism, Optimism and Worries

  1. Alex

    The “tea party” didn’t oppose the health care bill because they don’t want people to have health care. They opposed it because they knew how it would be implemented and believed that it would result in less care, for more money, for most people*.

    *everyone except people who got a presidential waiver.

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