Saturday, March 28, 2015

History Hour #2 - The Agricultural Revolution

Conventionally the Agricultural Revolution is taken as ground zero in the birth of civilization. By regimenting and increasing food production yields the revolution freed up time for other human endeavours. This included the wholesale development of various artisan pursuits that in turn galvanized a technological revolution that continues today. In a way one can argue that the revolution was in a sense the fore bringer of our modern world.

However the shift toward planned farming (which in the west involved the domestication of wheat, barley, rye and oats and various livestock) was not without its disadvantages. Some feminists see it as the beginning of patriarchy for one. Others argue that it was destructive towards the environment, resource draining and over reliant on a societal hierarchy that at times promoted slavery. It cemented the idea of territory making war an inevitable outcome.

While some of these features endured many were more consistent with the early stages of an evolving dynamic. The Agricultural Revolution cemented the success of our species, freed us from the shackles of subsistence living and opened up the potential that is so evident across the landscape of human achievement.

Confirmation Bias

A typical error that we all are guilty of at one time or another is that we believe in some phenomenon and then look for evidence to support it. We are also less critical of the evidence if want the belief to be true. This is called the confirmation bias. Our challenge as thinkers is to be conscious of this pitfall. Conspiracy theory plays into this bias. People want to believe that there is some grander conspiracy so they look favourably on evidence that points in that direction and ignore or downplay conflicting information

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Abbas - Sitting Pretty

Despite the rhetoric of the chattering classes and the endless flirtations with the media it is becoming more evident that Palestinian Authority Head Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) does not want an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank. If he did he would have called Israel’s bluff a long time ago – dropped the request for the right of return and removed the delegitimization campaigns directed against Israel that dominate the PA’s news outlets and education system (not to mention the all too common Jew hatred that is a regular feature of both). In doing so he would have painted any Israeli government (Likud, Kadima, Labour or Zionist Union) in the corner and presented the strongest case that the Palestinian’s have for workable nation state. This has not happened. In fact overtures by the so-called Israeli center (and indeed left of center) courtesy of the handiwork of the soft and mushy Ehuds (Barak and Olmert) were rejected when they could have provided a possible pathway toward statehood.

The problem Abbas faces is that if statehood ever came to fruition he would be forced to hold an election that he would most likely lose. At present he is in the 11th year of an increasingly badly labelled four year term (apologies to Douglas Adams). Hamas has the popular support and election losers don’t fare well in the Arab World.
Abbas will turn eighty this week so it is in his best interests to sit and ride it out.

He will do just that while at the same time bashing the Israelis from the sidelines (why not? its an international sport after all). He seems to have extricated himself from all pressure and in a world with a distorted moral calculus, it his most optimum approach. Sitting pretty makes sense and if that includes making no promises with respect to Netanyahu’s demands then so be it. Unlike Israeli leaders he faces less global scrutiny, has a sympathetic POTUS, European support and behind-the-scenes backing of some of the Arab elites (largely the Saudis) who are equally unenthused about Hamas taking power in the West Bank. Not a bad gig…where can one sign up?

Thursday, March 19, 2015

History Hour #1 - The Hunter Gatherer Period

Champions of the primitive often see the Hunter-Gatherer Period (HGP) in human history as some type of ideal. A Shangri-La where humanity lived in blissful co-existence with their environment, where resources were rarely strained and the fight for territory was at most ephemeral.

More detailed studies of hunter-gatherer societies that exist on the periphery of the great civilizations reveal that this ideal does not agree with observed actualities but there are nevertheless many positives that are associated with this lifestyle. Simplicity, an egalitarian social-ethos, kinship in smaller bands and a focus on the fundamental of human existence are a few that spring to mind. The longevity of the HGP (by some accounts 1.8 million years if you go back to Homo Erectus - but in terms of Homo sapiens sapiens 70,000 years or so) are testament to this reality.

The term HGP is somewhat of a misnomer as many humans survived during this time period by scavenging and foraging. Nor were the hunting methods as clean as mythology would have one believe. In fact persistence hunting, involving long distance running may have been somewhat of a norm and the basic foundations of wild forest gardening may have provided the transition into the agricultural revolution that would supersede the HGP.

However what bought this period to an end in the west seems to have been a combination of overexploitation, unsustainable killing as well as the encroaching footprint of the Agricultural communities that started their expansion about 12,000 BCE.

Will it return? Perhaps only in a post-apocalyptic scenario. However it did provide the leg up for the agricultural revolution to follow and seems for all intent of purpose to be a necessary stage in the collective evolution of the neophyte western civilization.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Would love to see a Mission to Mars....soon

Buzz Aldrin urges a flight to Mars. I think its about time. Its 2015 after all.

50 Great Milestones in the History of Science prior to 1850

In chronological order (more-or-less)

1. Science of Agriculture (Irrigation, Plant and Animal Domestication).
2. Greek's develop the concept of the Atom.
3. Euclidean Geometry and the Mathematics of Conics.
4. Aristotle formalize logic.
5. Greeks conceptualize the concepts of change and motion.
6. Birth of Diagnostic Medicine - Hippocrates
7. Determination of the circumference of the Earth, distance to the moon and the distance to the sun.
8. Law of the Lever
9. Archimedes and the concept of buoyancy
10. Arabs expand work on Optics.
11. Madgeburg Experiment - Concept of the vacuum.
12. Copernicus and the Heliocentric revolution
13. Brahe and the changing heavens
14. Invention of the Telescope (First Refracting then Reflecting)
15. Galileo and the Birth of the Experimental Method - Inertia + Free Fall + Simple Harmonic Motion + Projectile Motion
16. Mineral Science develops under Agricola.
17. Vesalius and Modern Anatomy/Physiology
18. Kepler's Three Laws
19. Newton's Law of Universal Gravitiation
20. Newton and the Dispersion of White Light
21. Paracelsus and the Field of Toxicology
22. Newtonian Synthesis of Terrestrial and Cosmological Science
23. Newton's Three Laws of Motion - concepts of Impulse, Momentum, Action + Force.
24. Invention of the Calculus (Differential/Integral)
25. Invention of the Microscope
26. Birth of Cartesian Geometry. Synthesis of Trigonometry and Algebra.
27. Pascal's work on Pressure.
28. Mathematics of Probability
29. Fermat's Principle
30. Vector Algenra (and Calculus)
31. Foucault's Pendulum (Rotation of the Earth)
32. Comet Periodicity
33. William Harvey and the Circulatory System
34. Linneaus and the Taxonomic Classification system
35. Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier and oxygen as the driver for combustion (extension on the work of Priestly).
36. Huygens Wave Theory
37. Cell Theory
38. Mathematics of Differential Equations (Laplace, Euler etc)
39. Benjamin Franklin's work on distinct charge
40. Dalton and the Early Periodic Table
41. Bernoulli and Fluid Mechanics
42. Buffon and advances in Natural Science
43. Hutton - Modern Geology and Gradualism
44. Cuvier and Catastrophism
45. Jenner and the rise of Immunization Theory
46. Volta and the first electric battery
47. Charles Coulomb and the Electrostatic Force.
48. Sadi Carnot and the Ideal Heat Engine
49. Oersted discovers magnetic fields around current carrying conductors
50. Weather Patterns - Coriolis Effect.

The Israeli Election

The Israeli election still looks too close to call but the polls seem to be favouring the Zionist Union (basically an alliance between the Labour Party and the old Kadima crowd). Needless to say the dominant party will need to cobble together a coalition in to govern (nothing new in Israeli politics). Likud will have the backing of The Jewish Home (led by Naftali Bennett – a rising star and possible future PM), Kulanu and Yisrael Beiteinu. The Zionist Union have the support of the uber leftists at Meretz and will probably have to rely on Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid and the Joint Arab List (a largely anti-Zionist group) to form a coalition. As always the scandal plagued Shas party is in the mix as well. I don’t envy Israeli president Reuven Rivlin who will play a key role in deciding which group gets first dibs at the formation of a coalition should it come down to the wire. The economy (especially housing) appears to be a key driver and although Netanyahu has a stronger record on national security than his mainstream opponents he has yet to make this count. This is a tragedy.

Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni strike me as lightweights (Livni was part of the disastrous Olmert administration) but they are running a strong campaign that seems to be getting the necessary push from the outside world (including the meddler-in-chief). If they do take over the reins of government it is the hope of all of those who value Israel’s security that they continue with the necessary vigilance in the face of the Iranian nuclear threat. We will wait and see. Anxious times ahead.