Saturday, April 29, 2017

From doing to thinking: 

The evolution of mankind     

Doing can only be important if it is a consequence of thinking.
Doing without thinking has characterised life on earth for millions of years.
You see it e.g. if you look at cattle in a pasture.  All animals there are doing the same at the same time, since they are programmed to do so and are only reacting on incentives from their environment.  Though some animals show traces of specialisation and collaboration, e.g. hunting lions and wolves, bees and ants collecting food or elephants protecting female and young ones in the herd, also this seems mainly to be the result of their genetic programme.
If the animals would have developed the capability to communicate, they could also have agreed who is doing what. As a consequence of such a communication, specialisation would thus become meaningful. As a consequence of communication and specialisation, they could have collaborated to improve the quality of their living, each according to its own specialisation. But this had to wait, because their brains were not yet designed for intensive and detailed communication.
During the evolution of mankind, brains developed and thinking became gradually more important than doing. Although power and the ability to react and defend, had been the main factors of success in evolution for a long time, emphasis on the brains did mean a real breakthrough. Finally the evolution did back the right horse.
Especially as a result of the progress of natural sciences and its consequence, i.e. the worldwide technical revolution, life of men has been changed exponentially in the last centuries and especially in the last decades of the last hundred years. Not only many more men are involved in science and technics, but also their results are rapidly distributed as a result of internet and email.
Communication and specialisation did allow efficacious research centres, but also hospitals, airports, logistics, space flights,  etc. It allowed men to visit the moon and to look under the arctic ice caps.
Nevertheless, if men are thinking, this is not always seen by other men. In contrast, if men are doing, this can be seen by anyone. As a result doing people are generally more appreciated than thinking people, in spite of the fact that robots, which are mainly the result of thinking, can do a lot more than men in the same time and during 24 hours a day.
Of course, natural sciences are not only a question of thinking, since the hypotheses resulting from thinking, should be tested by performing the right experiments. In universities such experiments are often performed by PhD students as part of their training.
That thinking is less popular than doing because it is less visible for the majority of other men, may be explained by the same mechanism which explains why it is generally accepted that environmental factors influence our behaviour and health, whereas genetical programming is usually not considered to play a significant role. Also in the latter case, environmental factors can be seen by anyone, but genetical factors are not clear to most of us. For that reason, biology and especially evolution biology should become one of the main disciplines in every form of education.
Nevertheless, thinking by the right man or woman, at the right moment on the right place, can add much more to the progress of mankind, than work done by hundreds of men working hard together during hundreds of years. Although doing men will have generally more fans than thinking men, as shown by the new president Trump and his supporters in the USA, this is no problem for thinking men, since they might prefer thinking fans.

Gradually the capabilities of robots - as a creation of men - will increase and they will take over the work of men. Initially only that of men without any specialisation, but later also that of those who did specialise.  Robots will become self-learning. If one looks e.g. at agriculture and industrial factories, one can only reach the conclusion that robots rapidly take over the work of men and it is obvious that this process will be accelerated in the decades to come. A question that haunts some science-philosophers is this: Would it be possible that robots, created by men, will ever be able to get rid of their creators? Some of them, also described as "future-watchers" are afraid that robots may become able to surpass their creators, at any time in the future and take over their position in evolution.
Given that men are the result of a gradual process of evolution of life on earth, long ago started as the coagulation of molecules, in volcanic areas as thought by scientists, one might wonder whether  planning as a consequence of thinking, would not be able to surpass the time consuming process of evolution, based  on accidental changes and survival of the fittest. If such changes are planned in stead of being a result of accidents, the process could be accelerated considerably.

Another question could be: Would it be possible to avoid a scenario in which only few people are working whereas the majority of men feels bored?  The provisional answer could be: "Probably not!" An alternative answer would be: "Unless we have destroyed our liveability on earth meanwhile, e.g. as a result of decisions of politicians such as Trump, who distrust scientists if their conclusions are not in agreement with their own believing!"
A more positive answer could be given on the question: "What could we do to prevent such a scenario?"
At first, education of children and adults should be improved. Not as a non-committal possibility to prevent boredom and to keep them from the street, but to use all of our possible human capabilities.
In general people will be happy if they can do work, best fitting with their interests and capabilities.
All forms of education, as well theoretical as practical, should be accessible to all children and also to adults who have to retrain, since their jobs are taken over by robots. Costs of all education should be paid from taxes. As a result no people are right if they say that they did not get a fair chance.
Of course we should avoid that trends are determining the choices of education. That all students want to become psychologists - as we have seen in the past - of which predictably only very few can find a job after finishing their study, should be avoided. Especially, if at the same time e.g. not enough physicists and chemists are available. Students who cannot find a job will be dissatisfied too. We should do everything to avoid that people are right if they say: "My life did happen to me, but I could do little to influence it".
Of course, support should be given to all who are willing, but are not able to participate. 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Human dignity, law and evolution-biology:

Why judges and lawyers should be taught biology

Human dignity is a name for a quality, characteristic for human life, according to the United Nations and the European court of human rights. Judges and lawyers use to refer to it when they state that each criminal person, sentenced to lifelong imprisonment, should get an outlook on release.
In the Netherlands, the Dutch Supreme Court recently forced the government to make it clear to a criminal person, sentenced to lifelong imprisonment for robbery with murder of a whole family (two adults and two children), when and under what conditions he could be released.
The Norwegian murderer Anders Breivik, a fascist, who killed 77 young people, did not show any sign of regret, but did in contrast bring the Nazi salute at court. Nevertheless he was condemned to 21 years in prison only, which was by the way a few months for each of his murdered young ones. Should we now reconsider our ideas about Hitler, Stalin, Mao Zedong and Pol Pot, because of their human dignity? Should all present murderers of IS get an outlook on release from prison as a consequence of human dignity? What about the many millions of their murdered victims, their families and friends?

Regarding to this, each of us should be aware of four totally different problems when lawyers, mostly not familiar with evolution-biology, natural sciences and sometimes not even with rational thinking in general, are confronted with such a problem:
1. What exactly is the definition of human dignity: This problem is clearly not solved as yet. So far, no definition has been produced at all. In scientific terms, this would mean that it could not have any consequence, since it is no more than a chimera.
2. What exactly means human, given the gradual evolution of species. Is walking on two legs enough, or should there be more?
3. If we should consider human in a way as many people in the Western world would do at the moment: How about the past and the future? How about the place on earth, e.g. Africa or Syria?
4. The most strange aspect of the empty slogan "human dignity" is this. How is it possible that it is mainly used in favour of just those, who seem to be exceptionally unsuited for an association with any future definition of "human dignity", when it might be produced and whatever it might be?

1. As already mentioned: There is no definition at all. So, there should not be any consequence as yet.
2. & 3. However, the absence of a definition is logical, because it is practically impossible.  Felipe Fernandez-Armesto explained in his book: "So You think You 're Human? A brief history of Humankind", that it is rather difficult to define what exactly is human and what not. At exactly what time during the evolution (See e.g. Charles Darwin: "The descent of man") human dignity became applicable?
Of course we could rely on the similarity in DNA. But  is it fair to distinguish between a Chimpanzee and ourselves, since there is 98% similarity in our DNA?  If we look at our body, another vertebrate, the mouse for instance. It has nearly all organs and tissues as well as the composing cells and in turn the molecules composing the cells in common with men, but needs only 20 grams for that, where we need at least 2000 times as much, unless we are close to dying. Is our weight playing a role in human dignity? And if yes, why does that not apply to an elephant or a whale?
And how to look at the past, when black men, women and children were not considered human and were sold as slaves by our ancestors, who were in turn considered themselves to be good Christians by their environment?
If we consider empathy as a typical human characteristic, how about apes, whales, elephants, some of them showing more empathy than a lot of human beings (see e.g. Frans de Waal: "A time for empathy.")
4. Many good people in the world, women and children, are raped and/or killed by others, during the many wars, as a consequence of the law of the jungle or as a consequence of other reasons which are usually man-related.
Why should we focus exactly on those, who seem to deserve it least? Would it not be better to focus on those who deserve it most?

If we decide that lifelong imprisonment is inhuman, there is only one other possibility to protect the human society against the most extreme and violent criminals, who did never regret their actions or did it only after advice of a lawyer, hoping to reduce jail sentence.
That possibility is capital punishment.
There are several reasons to have strong objections against capital punishment:
1. Capital punishment is irrevocable, whereas one's guilt has not always been proven unequivocally.
2. Ethnicity appeared often to influence infliction of capital punishment.
3. Last but not least: Capital punishment is often used to get rid of opponents, whose only crime was to have another opinion than the rulers of the moment.
To summarise the present situation in the world: Most human beings condemned to capital punishment did not deserve it, but most of them that did deserve it, did not get it.

I  can agree with lawyers that nobody can be made responsible for his acts given that these are the final consequence of genes and environment and especially of the tremendous interaction of these factors mutually influencing their effect on human behaviour. However, I cannot agree with the idea that innocent citizens should be exposed to such acts of violence, because of the human dignity of  criminals.
If a possible definition of human dignity would be given, it should anyway be based on empathy with other men and even with other forms of life, and only allow aggression in order to protect oneself or other men against violent robbery, violent sexual passion or other forms of violence.
Given this, human society should be protected against criminals, especially if repetition might be expected. Lifelong imprisonment should remain a necessary possibility for that reason.
However, criminals condemned to lifelong imprisonment should be offered euthanasia, if they would prefer that option.
So, lawyers and politicians could better focus on a general human right: Euthanasia, a right for anyone who is considering his or her life as ready to be finished, because he or she is considering prolongation of that life as unbearable. Euthanasia will be the subject of one of the next blogs.
Nico van Rooijen, April 18, 2017, Haarlem NL

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Mathematics, Theology and Natural SciencesContrasts and Similarities.

Mathematicians will not easily be involved in a dispute.  Of course they may quarrel if they fall in love with the same woman, or with the same man if they are by chance one of the few female  mathematicians, but their dispute will not concern their specialism. 
The reason is clear. For instance: A straight line is the shortest connection between two points. Three of such lines may together form a triangle. The three angles of the triangle are together 180º.
If they are not exactly 180º, at least one of the three lines forming the triangle is not straight. If the outcome of the measurement is less than 180º, it is concave, and if it is more than 180º, it is spherical. Mathematicians think and discuss within the narrow limits of definitions and agreements. The old Greek philosopher Pythagoras was one of the founders of mathematics.

Narrow limits of definitions and agreements also play a dominant role in theology. Whereas  mathematicians may be communist or capitalist, atheist, christen or muslim, the conditions, definitions and agreements within their specialism are the same, because logic is the leading factor in their thinking within this discipline.
In religion, thinking is not done. So the definitions and agreements in that discipline are not determined by logic and thinking, but by dogma's devised and prescribed by religious leaders, in turn based on their holy books, that were written by their predecessors. These holy books were written long ago and clearly carry the traces of their time. As a consequence, a description of e.g. the Bible  as the "Word of God" can earlier be seen as an insult of an eternal and almighty God than as an homage to such a God.

Given that religions are not based on logic, but on individual questions and needs of the men who did design the religion, it is comprehensible that, definitions and agreements accepted by groups of religious believers, would develop along different lines, being dependent both on location and time.
Though women are usually forming the most loyal group of believers, men are among the most fanatic supporters. Women are not among the founders of religions because men would never accept that. At the best women can be declared holy.
Whereas some Indians living in the surroundings of the Amazon river were considering the sun and the moon as their gods, on other parts of the earth complicated religions were developed such as Buddhism, Hinduism and the Jewish religion. Christianity may be seen as an offshoot of the latter, given that the main addition was the Messiah in the person of Jesus Christ. In that sense Christianity was in fact a mixture of the Jewish religion and the Gods of the old Greek and Roman people, who also preferred to see the gods as if they were partly also men.
From that point of view, it is also comprehensible that religious groups accepting the same  definitions and agreements will again split up in separate groups, as soon as separation of their common values takes place.

In some villages in the USA, you will see streets with only churches on both sides. They remind to  shops in a shopping street. In the Netherlands, we had the so called "Hervormde kerk", and as a split-off, the "Gereformeerde kerk", the church of my parents. The names "Hervormd" and "Gereformeerd" are two words with the same sense. So, the first term should be translated by "Reformed Church" and the second  by "Re-Reformed Church". Once anyone has said: "The schisms in the Netherlands will only come to an end if there are exactly as many churches as residents in the country". By the way, I am proud to add that I am a Dutchman. Also, we have an extremely high number of political parties, even a party for the animals. Unfortunately no animals are invited to participate in the elections.
Doubts on the almighty God were already expressed by the old Greek philosophers. So Epicurus (ca.  300 BC) said in reference to the frequent suffering in the world: "Is God willing to prevent the evil, but he cannot, he is not almighty. Can he, but isn't he willing, he is malicious. Can he and is he willing, How can there be any evil?
Later, religious leaders, confronted with similar questions thought to be plain by answering: "God's ways are inscrutable." However the time that such silencers were accepted is over now.
A theologist to be considered as a scientist, can only be an atheist.

One of the reasons for the gradual exodus of churches is, that natural sciences - though never able to proof that God does not exist - did produce a lot of knowledge denying important statements in the bible and other holy books.
Karl Popper, a relatively recent, but well-known science-philosopher has explained that a scientific approach can only be useful to test a thesis, if there is a possibility to rule it out by empirical falsification.
As a consequence, doubts on the existence of a God can only be supported by doubts on the contents of the holy books.
Contrasts between firm religious dogma's and the contents of associated holy books on the one hand and the rapidly increasing knowledge produced by natural sciences on the other hand, are responsible for a decreasing interest in religion in the Western world. It is not surprising that only less that 10% of the top of well known astrophysicists and biologists in the USA do belief in a God, as reported by Richard Dawkins.
Today, many more scientists are involved in natural sciences, than in the past. Then at the time, natural sciences were mainly practised by individual scientists as a hobby, but the rapid distribution of their results as a consequence of accelerated communication by newspapers, journals, internet and email are together putting an increasing pressure on the religions.
Especially in the last century, the progress made by natural sciences did grow exponentially. Two developments did strongly contribute to their impact on human society. First of all, most men - even those belonging to the strongest opponents of modern science - are using its results, such as mobile phones, video camera's, flatscreen TVs, cars and GPS navigation, airplanes, computers, internet and email.
Maybe more impressive is that natural sciences were able to forecast important developments, especially if such developments were nearly incredible for those, not known with scientific progress in general.
Though mathematics in itself do not allow any forecasting, mathematics appeared to be one of the main tools used in natural sciences allowing their specific forecasting. The discovery of the unexpected power of nuclear energy and its applications by physicists and the discovery of new planets or solar systems by astrophysicists before they could even be observed, are examples. But also e.g. the finding of fossil rests of extinct animals, that were unknown, but nevertheless forecasted by biologists as based on the evolution theory.

Natural sciences differ from mathematics because interpretation of results may vary and may be changed as soon as new experimental results are obtained that force to revise the existing theories. This is an absolute condition to prevent that dogma's should get a chance, as they did in theology.
It is the only way to prevent that the tower of science should once appear to be a Tower of Babel.
Natural sciences differ from theology because belief is only the beginning, but not the end at the same time. In natural sciences, belief should - in general - be followed by a long experimental way to confirm that it is justified.
Conditions, definitions and agreements are also important in natural sciences, but exclusively with respect to methods used to perform the experiments, the right control experiments, evaluation of the results etc. Interpretation remains free, if based on a rational evaluation. Discussions should also be based on rational arguments only.
As was the case with respect to mathematics, the old Greek philosophers did also develop important ideas on natural sciences, although they were not able to confirm these ideas by subsequent research.
Metrodorus of Chios postulated in the fourth century BC: That the earth would be the only populated place in the infinite universe, is a thought as absurd as if in a field that is seeded, only one grain would grow out.
Hippocrates postulated in the same period of time that all human acts are determined by atoms (atoms as the smallest indivisible particles).

Nico van Rooijen, April 13, Haarlem, NL

Monday, April 3, 2017

Science and humor:
Creative Science for young associative 
researchers with a strong imagination 

A comic strip in ca. 132 pictures & 12 issues.

Nico van Rooijen

To appear as:


120. Finally your manuscript is ready. Submission was successful and the paper has been accepted within a few weeks.

121. All your friends will be happy with you.

122. You are in the seventh heaven and will see flowers only. In the summer>>    

123. But even in the winter.

124. Your girlfriend seems enthusiastic too, but you might be afraid that she will bite you. Her mouth seems more dangerous than that of the many mice and rats you have seen during your research.    

125. Choose your most festive clothes, if you are a man>>   

126. But as a woman, you might make another choice.>>

127. Don't forget to put on appropriate shoes in that case. 

128. Ask your girlfriend or - if you prefer that - the girlfriend of your best friend for a dance to celebrate your success!

129. If your parents have a lot of money, e.g. because they are employed in a financial sector, ask them to organize fireworks. But never forget that the satisfaction of your own work will probably exceed the satisfaction they did experience during their work. You did focus on creativity and originality in science. Creativity and originality in the financial sector may yield a lot of money, but can also bring people in prison.

130. Get rid of all remaining rubbish.>>    

131. Throw all your paperwork out of the windows

132. At the end, the scientific community and all laboratory animals will be grateful for your important contribution to science and they will together offer you a souvenir reflecting national pride combined with a sense of perspective.

This presentation will hopefully stimulate your enthusiasm and help you to start up your own research project!

                          Nico van Rooijen, Haarlem, April 1, 2017