Monthly Archives: June 2015

Time is Out of Joint!

The Shanidar cave in northern Iraq sheltered Neandertals for tens of thousands of years. During their occupancy, with a brain slightly larger than ours, they evidenced a flickering of mind: the group provided support for its disabled members. Paleo-stratigraphic analysis, layer by layer, gives absolutely no further evidence of change. Nada!

Neandertals, like all life for the last 3.8 billion years, ran on Darwinian Time, where a thousand years is but a moment. Best example: oxygen producing micro-organisms plugged away 1.4 billion years, before significantly changing the composition of our atmosphere. Talk about taking your time!

Spelunking at Chauvet left me reeling. Time is out of joint. No one had taken notice! In the cold and the dark, without warning, bursting through impenetrable rock, raced the Four Horses of Chauvet. From where to whence? Slowly, a great truth crept in, truth hard as any stone: all paleozoic art, whether in indonesia or Spain or France or Romania, wherever, hidden in oracular darkness, yet as visible as the Four Horses bursting into view at Chauvet, sends the same terrifying message: mind, racing, racing, now thunders across the earth, smashing forever Darwinian Time.

All clocks henceforth run on a speed unimaginable!

Consider our atmosphere again. Under Darwinian Time it took micro-organisms 1.4 billion years to create the 12 mile gas envelope necessary for oxygen-breathing life to survive and evolve. In less than 200 years, by burning oil beginning in 1860, we poisoned that life-sustaining atmospheric envelope at stupifying speed.

Throughout the two million years of the pleistocene, hominids worked as tool makers, hammering stone into blades, choppers, scrapers hand axes, utensils, bringing out new models maybe every one thousand centuries. for his daily bread, hunters hunted, gatherers gathered; Nature worked the land and provided the animals.

And then, from out of impenatrable darkness, most strict in its command, came the order:

“Pick a card!”

And Homo sapiens neandertalensis went extinct and our line evolved into Homo sapiens sapiens, switching from hammering stone into tools to hammering marble into a Parthenon. Only 8,000 years after the two great discontinuities, came the Age of Pericles. During the vasty pleistocene, no individual had peeped through that geologic epoch, and now, in a smattering of years, names tumble out like anagram pieces.

It is estimated hominids numbered 10 million ten thousand years ago, 100 million at the time of Christ. Increasing population played a major role in introducing that new sub-species of hominid to the planet -country folk, farmers and herders; before too long, introducing city folk, what with settlements becoming villages becoming towns becoming cities becoming empires. warp speed.

Homo sapiens sapiens changed the clocks of the world. How long did it take mind to transform a cave into a Paleolithic Sistine Chapel? or the hunting-gathering world into local, national, and global politics?

Not long!

(to be continued)

A Kuhnian Paradigm for History

The earliest hominid fossil, Homo erectus, was dated at 1.8 million years. However, a few months ago, the Journal Science reported a new hominid fossil 2.8 million years old. How did we survive? For nearly 30,000 centuries – based on the latest find – we hominids lived as group animals, not as individuals. Evidence suggests hunter-gatherer politics ranged from egalitarian to authoritarian. Membership in the group, however, was the critical invariant.

Not surprisingly, we experience to this day our most powerful and varied emotions as members of a group, none more so than as patriots. The Roman poet, Horace wrote,

“Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.”

How sweet and honorable it is to die for one’s country.

Our parochialism, which borders on the fantastical, shapes most of our activities – politics, religion, language, sports – a list longer than my arm. You want to start a war? Bring up religion or politics. Set marching the legions of the “One True Faith” or cross The Right with The Left.

A polar bear spends its life alone for most of the year. He doesn’t talk to anybody. Unlike us, he doesn’t need language. A bear is a bear is a bear. Without language, we’d remain as untamed as Helen Keller before Anne Sullivan taught her how to speak. When a sports stadium rocks with 100,000 FAN-atics shouting, we’re hearing Pleistocene thunder. We were always mad for the home team! Exactly when in that two million year geologic epoch we acquired the transformative power of symbolic language isn’t known. It wasn’t a game-changer! When after nearly three million years, hunting-gathering gave way to agriculture and animal husbandry, they were.

That just happened 12,000 years ago! Yesterday! Two world-changing discontinuities came about. First, energy production went from subsistence level to surplus. (Remember, for all living systems, “Follow the energy.”) And, second, the individual was no longer wholly dependent for survival on the group.

“There were many brave men before Agamemnon.” Yes, there were, beginning with the Natufians, around 12,000 years ago. But of the many civilizations that arose in the Levant, in Mesopotamia, in the Nile valley, no name pops out for at least another 8,000 years. The first individual, some claim, was the Egyptian ruler, Akhenaten, 1300 BCE. A great poet, of course, told Agamemnon’s story, the ruler of the Maeceneans around 1100 BCE. From Homer’s Iliad tumble out names, names, names. When the Maeceneans went under, Greece fell into The Dark Ages for five centuries, except for initiating the Olympics in 776 BCE, recognizing individual accomplishment with a laurel wreath.

History tells the same story, over and over and over again – The Helpless-Led marched into battle by the Omnipotent-Ruler. Shakespeare’s first four plays tell the story of Britain’s War of the Roses. Same o Same ole!

David vs Goliath, now, that’s different! There we have an individual pitted against an enemy Group, WHILE SIMULTANEOUSLY A VALUED MEMBER OF HIS OWN GROUP. David and Goliath, each an individual with a name, fought for his “country.”

On a broad canvas of history, two time periods since the advent of agriculture recognized and valued the individual as a member of the Group – The Age of Pericles and The Age of the Roman Republic. The Glory that was Greece lasted about a century, ending in the disastrous Peloponnesian War, followed by the Thirty Tyrants. This Age witnessed an enormous burst of individual genius in the arts, astronomy, logic, mathematics. Many are household names, like Socrates and Plato. The Greeks, however, valued science more out of curiosity, rather than for its power; this in marked contrast to Francis Bacon, in the 17th century, endlessly extolling the benefits science could bring mankind.

The Roman Republic lasted around four centuries, much of its energy spent in expanding the Empire. However, it also featured an on-going struggle between the plebians and the patricians, with the 99 percenters making considerable gains. That too, ended in civil war, and so began the long line of Roman emperors and the Medieval Dark Ages.

A third period, pushing the individual to coeval status with the Group – began in 1215 A.D., at Runnymede, a patch of English meadow. King John, representing The Omnipotent Leader, various noblemen representing The Individual, signed The Magna Carta, “the greatest constitutional document of all time – the foundation of the freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of the despot.”

Kuhn’s deepest insight is that a paradigm change can only be launched by the unfathomable powers of a single mind. A group has no powers of originality. Genius exists only in the singular. Only in an individual. This insight is stunningly heuristic.

(to be continued)

Einstein

On 22 May, I sent out a blog, titled It’s a Mystery. Here’s what I said:

“Only genius can ignite a scientific revolution. And genius exists only in the singular. Kuhn’s deepest insight is that a paradigm change can only be launched by the unfathomable powers of a single mind. Only when a genius proposes a new paradigm comes a revolution. A group has no powers of originality. We know Copernicus by his name. We know Galileo by his name. Each had the powers of genius.

One of the great insights of the 20th century is that Science doesn’t work by the logic of induction. No group, however large, making however many observations, inducts a new paradigm. A discontinuity results by the creative leap of a single mind. It’s a mystery.

In the 6 March issue of Science, Michael Janssen reviews Jeroen van Dongen’s book, Einstein’s Unification, which focuses on the evolution of Einstein’s views on scientific methodology.

In 1952, just three years before his death, Einstein wrote a letter to his friend, Maurice Solovine, which came to be known as the “Solovine schema.” Janssen introduces Einstein”s summary:

“This ‘Solovine schema,’ which seems to privilege principle theories, consists of three layers, with sensory data at the bottom, fundamental axioms or principles at the top, and empirical laws to be derived from these principles and then compared to the data in the middle. This last step is represented by an arrow going from the empirical laws to the data. The first and most difficult step is represented by an arrow going directly from the data to the principles. In the 1910s, Einstein insisted that this key step requires empirical intuition or, as he put it,

‘the intuitive grasp of the essentials of a large complex of facts.’ He later came to believe that it requires mathematical intuition instead.”

Induction does not amass data and then derive a general principle. It comes about through the creative leap of genius. It’s a mystery. As is Hamlet.