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May 30, 2012

Blame it on the Brain; Fear vs Logic

That the human brain is the "most complicated machine in the Universe" is, of course, hyperbole: not only do we lack the wherewithal to measure the cosmos, the attempts made thus far suggest that it's vast beyond our ability to measure, or even comprehend.

Nevertheless, our brains are far more complex than those of other mammals; also more highly evolved. Anthropologists estimate that as many as twenty-one hominid species went extinct before modern humans appeared some two hundred thousand years ago. The very looseness of that estimate suggests it has taken a long time for Homo sapiens sapiens to reach its present degree of uncertainty.

Nevertheless, we have learned a lot about both ourselves and our environment. Paradoxically, that accumulated information hasn’t been very reassuring. In fact, it may be that rather than satisfaction, our insatiable curiosity has generated more uncertainty than ever about our future as a species. In essence, that's because individual humans are prone to interpret information about similar phenomena quite differently, and equally prone to resort to violence in settling those differences.

Back to brain evolution: at some point a process now known as cognition enabled us to encode abstract ideas in ways that allow their more or less reliable transmission and discussion. Unfortunately, the more Science and literacy have informed us, the more they have divided our species, a truism famously exemplified by Galileo's punishment by the Pope for daring to publish telescopic findings that appeared to confirm unwelcome Copernican ideas relating the sun to its planets.

Galileo and Newton (near contemporaries) are also logical avatars for Empirical Science, the most reliable method for investigating the "natural" universe yet developed, a notion that has since been validated by the sheer mass of accurate information generated by scientists all over the world. Paradoxically; that enormous glut of scientific information has yet to make us feel safer or more secure; largely because of the disagreements it gives rise to.

In brief, the more we humans think we know, the more we disagree; but because science also made us more numerous and technology has enhanced our weaponry, it has also rendered us more capable of killing each other and/or disrupting our planetary environment without an accurate understanding of the culprit mechanisms or their consequences.

Several examples come to mind; "recorded" history is largely a record of wars fought between rival nations for economic advantage. As weaponry has been enhanced by technology, wars have became progressively more deadly for combatants and civilians alike. Although two "atomic" bombs arguably hastened Japanese surrender and thus saved both American and Japanese lives, and the atom was quickly hailed as the key to a more prosperous and peaceful future, the triumph of Teller over Oppenheimer told a different story. After several fusion weapons were tested by both sides, the dangers implicit in testing were realized and a degree of sanity has prevailed.

However, a realistic analysis of the current risk of nuclear war would be that ever since Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a fragile nuclear truce has been in effect, one that could easily be broken if one of several nations that have pursued nuclear weapons development in violation of international treaties becomes convinced it has been targeted by another.

Beyond that, the “weaponization” of suicide, pioneered on a large scale by Japan towards the end of WW2, has been embraced and further refined by Islamic extremists who successfully used civilian airliners as flying bombs in September 2001 and have since demonstrated that the degree of suicidal extremism extant in various Muslim populations is enough to provoke reasonable concern.

Equally paradoxically, one of the few things the nations of the world do agree on is that anyone daring to bring even a small personal supply of cannabis across an international border should be immediately arrested and detained.

That such innocuous travelers are far more numerous than would-be suicide bombers is both a given and a reality that makes real suicide bombers more difficult to detect.

Talk about mistaken priorities...

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at May 30, 2012 08:15 PM