21st-Century Humans More Peaceful

With utter fascination last Wednesday night Nov. 20th, I watched one of my favorite PBS shows, NOVA. The title of the show was The Violence Paradox. The one hour show investigated how over the last 200,000 years Homo sapiens as a whole are living and dying less violently. In other words, comparatively speaking in the 21st century by the compiled numbers most human beings are living and dying more peacefully than in our past.

stevenpinkerIn his two published books The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (2011) and its sequel Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress (2018), cognitive psychologist, linguist, and Harvard Professor Steven A. Pinker states on the show:

We’ve done something right. Let’s figure out what it is and keep doing it. The reality is that we may be living in one of the most peaceful eras in human existence. Violence has been in decline, but that just doesn’t count as news. You just never see a journalist saying, “I’m reporting live, from a country that’s at peace,” or “a school that hasn’t been shot up.” Once I stumbled upon this graph, I mentioned it in a blog post, and then I received correspondence from scholars in a variety of fields, telling me that I could’ve made an even stronger case. I saw data-set after data-set, all of which showed declines in violence, in different parts of the world, with different kinds of violence. And I realized there was a story that needed to be told.

Enlightenment Now_PinkerHowever, Pinker wants to be clear about the explicit and implicit meaning of his findings so as not to be painted as a deluded optimist.

To point out that things were worse in the past is not to say we should relax, our problems are all solved, quite the contrary. It’s by understanding how our predecessors were able to drive down rates of violence that we can be emboldened to try to drive them down even further.

And this is where I was personally intrigued! How. How has this downward trend of violence, on the global scale, been achieved? What various factors and events have contributed to humanity’s gradual increase to more peaceful existences with each other?

I found the entire 1-hour 53-minute documentary to be powerful and yes, hopeful with tangible solutions and methods offered and that are in fact tried and tested for success, offering more reasons to keep this peaceful trend rising. What I found especially intriguing from the scientific and statistical findings was of the many factors scientists have connected to violence or peace, seven modern societal conditions and their related sub-conditions which guided humans either toward, hate, prejudice, and violence, or on a path of peace, collaboration, and prosperity. They were:

  • Government or State — the rule of law kept better peace
  • The Civilizing Process — economic order went hand in hand with social norms and manners, etiquette, self-control, etc.
  • Equality — learning about others with the same experiences (with empathy below)
  • Literacy — not just reading, but how much could be read about from a diverse continent or around our diverse world (e.g. Uncle Tom’s Cabin)
  • Empathy — feeling deeply about someone else’s plight and/or prosperity (linked with equality)
  • Biggest World Powers — the top major powers/armies are not fighting, at the moment
  • Testosterone Levels — today violence is no longer an effective tool to get something done or achieve conquest as it was before. Non-violent movements are 2-3 times as successful as violent movements

However, without these seven conditions above or just two to four of them or one or more in fragile existence, the whole of a civilization could collapse, returning it/us right back to Medieval societal hardships when one ruler or small group of “Lords” could easily become sadistic tyrants willing, forcing their subordinates into heinous acts or genocide. From the show:

NARRATOR: At SWPS University, in Poland, Tomasz Grzyb and Dariusz Doliński are revisiting a famous experiment first conducted in the 1960s by the American psychologist Stanley Milgram. In the aftermath of the holocaust, Milgram wanted to understand how seemingly good people could follow terrible orders.

Just as Milgram did, the experiment starts by setting up a fake study.

TOMASZ GRZYB (SWPS University): There are two participants, and there is a guy who presents himself as a professor of psychology, and he says that, “Well, you are a participant in an experiment which is devoted to find out how memory’s working.”

NARRATOR: Grzyb is masquerading as a participant, the so-called “learner.” The other participant is the “teacher.” Grzyb pretends to memorize sets of letters, but his responses are scripted. The teacher is told that the student is hooked up to the machine, and they must administer a shock, if he answers incorrectly.

Because the experiment is highly stressful for the real subject, the so-called teacher, it’s controversial. So, it will be stopped at 150 volts, the 10th switch on the panel, which, if real, would be an extremely painful shock.

Will anyone go so high?

PBS NOVAThis experiment showed that with a powerful authority figure or figures ordering the “teacher” to commit this violence—by fear, coercion, or perhaps blackmail—of the 220 participants, about 90% of them obeyed the orders. Many of us think we would never commit such heinous crimes on another, a baby, child, or adult, but this test and others like it suggest otherwise. Similar to the soldiers of Genghis Khan or the Nazi SS of World War II, all of us have the capacity to commit heinous acts given our personal circumstances and surroundings. Peace and non-violence are not a forgone conclusion.

There were two other fascinating facts the show presented:  1) the Availability Heuristic, and 2) strong Gun Regulations, particularly on assault weapons, cut in half or more, crimes of homicide and mass killings.

Availability heuristic says that a diet of news stories will fool us into thinking that violence is much more prevalent than it really is. This is very much the case with social-media bombardments of a specific (viral?) topic. On the contrary, this very narrow propaganda or sensationalism (for revenues) does not factually represent the overall global or continental trends.

Gun regulations that are widespread and strong, e.g. in 1996 Australia, contribute to significant reductions in suicide, homicide, and mass-killing rates according to these studies, click here.

Cure Violence logoFinally, an international program called Cure Violence, ranked #9 in top 500 Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s) in the world, stops the spread of violence by using the methods associated with disease control. And cities around the world have turned to Cure Violence to prevent violence—from the United States to Latin America to the Middle East. One method utilized in Iraq (based upon Contact Theory) is through a football/soccer league where teams must have players of various ethnicities, religious beliefs, and/or social classes, even if historically opposed, in order to enroll and play the season. In football/soccer their are no national, ethnic or religious boundaries. Players and their families are also encouraged to socialize off the soccer pitch in restaurants and home-gatherings. The soccer league and additional off-field activities have been a huge success! How about that Ark! 😉

If you ever have the chance to watch this outstanding documentary, The Violence Paradox by PBS NOVA, I highly recommend you do it! It is well worth 2-hours of your time and undivided attention. Most of all, it shows us clearly how to understand our lesser nature for violence, but more importantly it gives us proven solutions and methods of stopping the spread of the violence disease and it becoming a repetitive epidemic.

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Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always

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Patty – v.22

22nd century Automaton

Patty — 21st century Automaton, non-gendered, image from the 2014 film Ex Machina

Who is Patty you ask. Patty v.22 is the most human-like, human made automaton ever created to-date in the history of human ingenuity. Unprecedented. The prototype of Patty was actually designed, constructed, and finished in 1924. Naturally, Patty’s creator back then invested unbelievable, immeasurable time, care, love, exhausting hours, and sacrifice for Patty to become the most phenomenal automaton ever made. Or at least have the best chance of surviving. Patty-v.22 is undeniably and by far the highest standard of any automaton in the past, present, and foreseeable future. Patty-v.22 is indeed a creation and work of exquisite perfection! To appreciate just how perfectly engineered Patty-v.22 truly is let’s compare Patty’s predecessors.

Da Vinci’s Knight
Historical evidence suggests that Da Vinci may have actually built a prototype in 1495 while working under the patronage of the Duke of Milan. According to Da Vinci’s surviving sketches of key components, his knight was to be powered by an external mechanical crank and use cables and pulleys to sit, stand, turn its head, cross its arms and even lift up its metal visor. In 2002 NASA engineers built a rough resemblance of Da Vinci’s Knight based on extant notes and sketches. It was fully functional as designed.

The Mechanical Monk
According to legend, Phillip II’s son and heir suffered a head injury, and the King vowed to the heavens that he would deliver a miracle if the boy were spared. When the Prince recovered, Phillip II commissioned a clockmaker and inventor named Juanelo Turriano to build a lifelike recreation of beloved Franciscan friar Diego de Alcalá (later Saint Diego). Completed sometime in the 1560s, Turriano’s 15-inch-tall automaton is powered by a wound spring and uses an assortment of iron cams and levers to move on three small wheels concealed beneath its monk’s robe. Artificial feet step up and down to imitate walking, and the friar’s eyes, lips and head all move in lifelike gestures. Working together, these elements give the impression of a monk deep in prayer. The robot can walk in a square pattern mouthing devotionals, nodding its head and occasionally beating its chest with its right arm and kissing a rosary and cross with its left. The 450-year-old device is still operational today, and is held at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.

Al-Jazari’s Floating Orchestra
In the 12th and 13th centuries, Arabic polymath Al-Jazari designed and built some of the Islamic Golden Age’s most astounding mechanical creations. He invented a mechanized wine-servant, water-powered clocks and even a hand-washing machine that automatically offered soap and towels to its user. According to his “Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices,” published in 1206, he also designed a water-powered automaton orchestra that could float on a lake and provide music during parties. The contraption included a four-piece band—a harpist, a flautist and two drummers—accompanied by a crew of mechanical oarsman who “rowed” the musicians around the lake.

The Silver Swan
The still-functional “Silver Swan” is an avian automaton originally constructed by showman James Cox and watchmaker John Joseph Merlin in 1773. Using a trio of clockwork motors, the piece recreates the scene of a preening swan floating in a babbling brook. Levers and springs allow the bird to bend its neck and open its bill with startling realism, and an assortment of camshafts and glass rods create the illusion of a moving body of water with swimming fish—one of which the swan appears to catch and eat.
Seven Early Robots and Automatons, the History Channel’s website accessed Nov. 13, 2019 at https://www.history.com/news/7-early-robots-and-automatons

And then there is David Roentgen’s the Dulcimer Player he created in 1784 for Louis XIV’s queen, Marie Antoinette.

These astonishing, unbelievable human creations clearly showed that a human being’s passion, ingenuity, creativity, and pure relentless commitment, then or now, to make and maintain, care for, even build a legacy for the ages… could/can outlive time itself, or close to it. But there is a major catch, a major condition that comes with these exquisite works of praise and creation and their timeless evolution through the ages.

They cannot survive or maintain their impeccable beauty and awe without the creator’s (or creators’) regular attentiveness and willing maintenance.

Imagine if you will your own, perfected, tested and retested by years of design experience, an incomparable automaton creation, that relationship, commitment, unwavering persistence for your best possible outcomes for your best automaton to survive and perform above and beyond expectations. Can that human creation of beauty be robotically wound-up, put out on the sidewalks, streets, and highways of life, and be expected to go out and survive unscratched, return home in mint condition, let alone navigate all of those endless moving variables, road-blocks, pot-holes, stop-lights, one-way wrong-way signs, or never be rewound during its LONG real-world trek when its mechanisms are eventually spent, out of energy, exhausted? Can works of art for the ages just be wound up, left alone and expected to survive out there, let alone thrive?

Is it possible for a 1-in-a-million creation, work of art between two people, two hopeless Lovers to wind-up their automaton then expect it to return home perfectly unscathed? How would the most beautiful, work of creation, Patty-v.22, function in 1-year, 3-years, 10-years of no regular mechanical attentiveness by its creator/designer?

Why does anyone today think that a neglected creation of perfection, they once helped make or contributed in huge ways, might survive the hard test of time and neglect over many months or years? Riddle me that.

Then there is a more humbling, possibly deeper penetrating, painful epiphany of existence too many human-creators tend to avoid or run away from—the 500 lbs gorilla in the room, the pink psychedelic elephant roaring in the room you supposedly cannot hear—which is… what is anything we build/create or passionately care for or neglect expected to last for eternity? HAH! That is one very jagged, sharp pill to swallow and pass like a kidney stone!

Perhaps realizing and humbly embracing the fact we are so very imperfect designers, so-so creative engineers, poor risk-assessors or underwriters that we then expect WAY TOO MUCH of our creations as contributors or designers is in fact… never perfect 24/7 over 365 days a year for 5, 10 or even 50-years. There is truly a lot to be admired and treasured for those who readily admit their imperfections, flaws, and lack of regular attentiveness to others. I think much of the time we are very self-consumed primates basking in our own creations of brilliance while oblivious to the constant change, wear and tear of time that constantly beset our fragile immortal works of creation and beauty. Neglect is the virus and cancer of all beautiful timeless legacies.

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Live Well — Love Much More — Laugh Often — Be Humble — Learn Always

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Oscar Winners of Science

Beginning in 2012 eight scientists, philanthropists, and business entrepreneurs founded an international awards ceremony called the Breakthrough Prize. It is similar to the annual Nobel Prize ceremony, but with a bit more flair, showmanship, and business ventures to attract a different, wider viewing audience and consumer than strictly traditional one of dull academics—an event of more limited exposure and much less profitable potential. After all, factual science developed through renown institutions over years or decades does not sellout theaters, online customer streaming ques, or make lucrative, marketable products and services as the high-tech dramatic, fantastical entertainment industry does. Modern Asian and American consumers demand awe and wow spectacular optics and mind-bending fiction as the entertainment drug-of-choice with multi-billion dollar box-office and streaming subscriptions that draw FAT bottom-lines. This is the proven, indisputable consumer trend the last 10-15 years.

This past November 3, 2019 nineteen winners were announced at a televised gala in three areas of science: Mathematics, Life Sciences, and Fundamental Physics. Each winning Laureates receive $3-million in prize money and the televised ceremony detailing all the remarkable achievements hopefully inspires many young future scientists. Following are this years 2020 Breakthrough Prize winners and their extraordinary achievements that must be recognized and understood in a world rot and overwhelmed with popular superstitions.

In Fundamental Physics

The Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration
Collaboration Director Shep Doeleman of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics will accept on behalf the collaboration. The $3 million prize will be shared equally with 347 scientists co-authoring any of the six papers published by the EHT on April 10, 2019.
Citation: For the first image of a supermassive black hole in the Messier 87 galaxy, taken by means of an Earth-sized alliance of telescopes from several observatories around the globe simultaneously.

In Mathematics

Alex Eskin, University of Chicago
Citation: For revolutionary discoveries in the dynamics and geometry of moduli spaces of Abelian differentials, including the proof of the “magic wand theorem” with Maryam Mirzakhani.

In Life Sciences

Jeffrey M. Friedman, Rockefeller University and Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
Citation: For the discovery of a new endocrine system through which adipose tissue signals the brain to regulate food intake.

F. Ulrich Hartl, Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry and Arthur L. Horwich, Yale School of Medicine and Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
Citation: For discovering functions of molecular chaperones in mediating protein folding and preventing protein aggregation.

David Julius, University of California, San Francisco
Citation: For discovering molecules, cells, and mechanisms underlying pain sensation.

Virginia Man-Yee Lee, University of Pennsylvania
Citation: For discovering TDP43 protein aggregates in frontotemporal dementia and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and revealing that different forms of alpha-synuclein, in different cell types, underlie Parkinson’s disease and Multiple System Atrophy.

New Horizons In Physics

Xie Chen, California Institute of Technology, Lukasz Fidkowski, University of Washington, Michael Levin, University of Chicago, and Max A. Metlitski, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Citation: For incisive contributions to the understanding of topological states of matter and the relationships between them.

Jo Dunkley, Princeton University, Samaya Nissanke, University of Amsterdam, and Kendrick Smith, Perimeter Institute
Citation: For the development of novel techniques to extract fundamental physics from astronomical data.

Simon Caron-Huot, McGill University, and Pedro Vieira, Perimeter Institute and ICTP-SAIFR
Citation: For profound contributions to the understanding of quantum field theory.

New Horizons in Mathematics

Tim Austin, University of California, Los Angeles
Citation: For multiple contributions to ergodic theory, most notably the solution of the weak Pinsker conjecture.

Emmy Murphy, Northwestern University
Citation: For contributions to symplectic and contact geometry, in particular the introduction of notions of loose Legendrian submanifolds and, with Matthew Strom Borman and Yakov Eliashberg, overtwisted contact structures in higher dimensions.

Xinwen Zhu, California Institute of Technology
Citation: For work in arithmetic algebraic geometry including applications to the theory of Shimura varieties and the Riemann-Hilbert problem for p-adic varieties.

Breakthrough Prize Junior Challenge

The Junior challenge is an annual competition for students, ages 13-18, to share their passion for math and science with the world! Each student submits a video that explains a challenging and important concept or theory in mathematics, life sciences, or physics. The winner receives a $250,000 college scholarship. The winning student’s teacher and school also benefit: $50,000 for the teacher and a state-of-the-art $100,000 science lab for the school. Jeffrey Chen is a senior at Burlingame High School in California. He won the global award because of his video entry designed to inspire high school students into creative thinking about fundamental concepts in the life sciences, physics, and mathematics. Here’s his video:

I must admit that in many ways this award ceremony is such a very positive promotion and inspiration for future scientists, mathematicians, intellectuals, and physicists to improve human life and our planet’s survival until as a supposedly intelligent species (hopefully) we can colonize another Goldilocks Planet to literally save ourselves and as many animals on Earth from total extinction. Here’s to hoping and here’s to factual, truthful, authentic, confirmed hardcore science and eventually the purging of all superstitions! 🙂

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Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always

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