Sanctimonious Santorum — Obama’s best bet for re-election

In 1964, as a newly-minted undergraduate with more enthusiasm than sense, I joined the quixotic effort to elect conservative Republican Barry Goldwater President of the United States.

Four years later, with less enthusiasm — too much had happened  — but with determination, I worked to push Eugene McCarthy (no relation to Tail Gunner Joe) to the Democratic nomination.

And in 1972, with the promise of LBJ’s Great Society horribly diminished by unending war in Vietnam, from the safety of the Great White North I hoped against hope for the triumph of George McGovern over Richard Nixon, whose personal letter (“Greetings from the President of the United States: You are ordered to report for induction to …”) started the sequence of events that led me north.

What do these forty going on fifty year old political campaigns have to do with today’s subject? Continue reading

Life, heat death, and the meaning of it all

Thirteen and a half billion years ago, something happened. Billions, perhaps trillions of years from now, nothing will ever happen again.

For a short time near the beginning of that unimaginable span, conditions in the universe are right for life. For an instant during that window of existence, humans live. And for a brief part of that instant, you and I live.

Yes, I’ve been watching cosmology documentaries again. Sigh. Continue reading

Common-sense dualism and the self

While doing background reading for an upcoming longer essay on our sense of self, I’ve spent some time reading articles from ages past. Well, no, they’re not that old, but in the online world, where last week is ancient history, they might as well be.

One article that caught my eye is psychologist Paul Bloom’s 2004 EDGE presentation, “Natural-Born Dualists.” Continue reading

Jefferson’s “Bible” — revising the revision

But while this syllabus is meant to place the character of Jesus in its true
and high light, as no impostor Himself, but a great Reformer of the Hebrew code
of religion, it is not to be understood that I am with Him in all His doctrines.
I am a Materialist; he takes the side of Spiritualism.

“This syllabus” is Jefferson’s revision of scripture, a document that has come to be known as “Jefferson’s Bible,” although he never gave it that name. It’s clear from the passage, from an 1820 letter, that Jefferson was in no sense an orthodox Christian.

But that doesn’t stop some on the Christian right in the United States from recruiting Jefferson to support their false claim that the U. S. was founded as “a Christian nation,” that the separation of church and state was never the intention of the Founding Fathers. Continue reading

Some insight into the psychology of belief

Back in April, I finished a series of articles on morality.
The final, summary article featured the ideas of Harvard psychologist Joshua Greene.

The most novel part of Greene’s thinking that I reported on then was his suggestion that a useful metaphor for the workings of our moral mechanisms is to view our moral cognition as operating like a digital camera.

Greene has continued his experimental work, and I’ve found time recently to read some of his latest short publications.

Continue reading

When wild chimps adopt

Sometimes I don’t choose a topic about which to write. Sometimes, a conjunction of the planets presents a topic, all dressed up and ready to go.

The usual cause of a self-generating topic is an unintended alignment of material, a grouping of articles or news reports or book chapters that comes together on its own and both suggests a subject and supplies the content.

It happened again the other day, when I encountered three overlapping articles in quick succession.

Putting together some of the key ideas of these articles yields an interesting set of views on animal rights, the animalness of human nature, the humanness of animal nature, and the movement of our culture away from a certain kind of closeness with other animals.
Continue reading

Some small thoughts on the smallest society

Even if you’re not a bacteriologist — and there must be at least a few of us who aren’t — there’s much we can learn from the behaviour of what has to be the smallest multicultural society we can observe.

That society is composed of all of the different species of bacteria that live with, and upon, all the rest of us, the multi-cellular conglomerations we fondly call “higher animals.”

It seems that there’s a lot more social organization going on inside us than we’ve thought — or that some of us may want to contemplate.

Continue reading