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.
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! 🙂
Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always
Following this weekend’s multiple mass shootings across our nation and what will surely be more in the coming days, or weeks, months, or years as things stand and have stood, our country will be buried alive in body-bags, drown in all the blood and endless tears from families and close friends… I desperately had to find relief. I paused to re-balance. I had to detox and find buoyancy in my music, reminding me that there are still many decent, stable, joyful, helpful, patient, compassionate, understanding, empathetic, peace-making people who do live, love, laugh, and gladly learn… then DO those things I list making this world a safer better place.
To that end, here are my three selected life-renewing songs (out of many) that have returned to me a warm smile and a bigger heart. I’ve also included a previous happy slideshow from a previous blog-post: Amour et Coeurs Jumeaux. Let me know if you like my songs. If you feel the need or urge, share one of your favorite happy feel good songs down in the comments. I think we could all use some.
Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always
When I was a small boy and with my family visiting Dad’s family in Galveston and Brazoria Counties, Texas, we always made a stop by my great grandmother at her rural small farmhouse for a full day, perhaps even late into the night if other aunts, uncles, and cousins would come by as well. They were fun times; lifetime memories. If all of us 12-20 cousins were also there, the time together was a circus complete with clowns of capers and their pranks. At grandma Konzack’s there were endless things to do, tinker with, play, and generally find as much mischief as possible.
My great grandmother Konzack had about 25-30 acres of land with 4-6 heads of cattle, a big hay-barn, and chicken coup near her 1900’s self-built, five bedroom antebellum home. She always had 2-4 dogs around, watch-dogs more less that were never allowed inside the house. They were somehow responsible for keeping guard of the house and policing wanted and unwanted animals outside during the night. Hours would fly by, but before we would leave, grandma Konzack would always pack us up with the family beef from her deep-freezer and literally the freshest eggs from her busy hens. She and my Dad always had strange, peculiar stories about the goings on with that hen-house. This is one of them… well, a version of one with my own allegorical twist. 😉
But first some quick background. Without going into a long revisit of my family heritage, suffice to say that many/most of my paternal ancestors were of Franco-German-Swiss heritage of Freethinking families. In other words, they often marched to their own beat not blindly following mainstream religion and yet without denying their strong convictions of family and civil service to community in the spirit of individual American freedom and liberty within the confines of our U.S. Constitution. This made many of my paternal family minorities in Texas given most Texans were Southern Baptists, Catholics, or Conservative mainline Protestants, or to say it diplomatically… all equally excitable. She was surrounded on three property-lines by Southern Baptists and Evangelical Protestants where over the years there developed a cordially silent, unspoken, public smiles of tolerance for each other. That’s how folks did it in 1940, 50, and 60’s rural America.
This is my allegorical tale called The Whereabouts.
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Grandma Konzack had several hens in her coop, but six of them were very special, particularly reliable and productive hens. Their Latin names were Curiositas, Contradictio, Testimonium, Scrutinio, Aequalitatem, and the best egg producer Didicit. She was the queen over all other hens. The chicken coop had six levels on one wall and six more on the opposite wall. In a way, the eggs from grandma Konzack’s hen-house were, numerically speaking, the 666 hens with 666 eggs! 😈 I tell you, they were the most delicious eggs you’d ever have the privilege of putting in your mouth!
Curiositaswas probably one of the most elusive hens to keep track of at any given time, even with the door to the hen-house closed and locked did not mean she would be happily content inside her specific nest box! If she had half a chance to to get out and explore, near or far didn’t matter, then she was GONE before you could say Whoa Nellie. However, Curiositas became one of the smartest, wittiest hens. She learned fast the most efficient methods of escape, hiding, and the most ideal locations on Grandma’s property to perch and watch everything below. She also learned equally as fast all the worst methods of the same.
One day she was never seen again. Vanished.
Contradictiowas THE HEN that could challenge the patience of any wise owl and the cunning of the feline Margay. If you thought you’d anticipate where Contradictio would be or would behave, 9-times out of 10 you’d be wrong. What was MORE astonishing was that she could anticipate your behavior practically every single time. She could unravel your tricks or dishonesty before or by the count of five.
One day she was never seen again. Gone.
Testimoniumon the other hand was a very friendly, gregarious hen. She always wanted to a part of or in the center of the day’s action. Testimonium also had a very nosy streak always getting in your way or face seeing up close what you were doing. If there was ever any sort of unscrupulous behavior taking place in the hen-house or outside nearby she would know firsthand EVERYTHING that took place! The quintessential court room witness of poultry!
One day she was gone, never seen again. Egg dishes are showing up less and less on the kitchen table!
Scrutinio was the single no-nonsense hen. You messed with or changed her nest-box even the slightest, she would know and immediately return it to her standards. In fact, change the daily routine in the smallest of ways and she was going to go all rooster on your ankles or hands! You could not slip anything past her scrutinizing eyes and high standards. Nothing!
And then one day she too was gone. Never to be seen again. Now there seems to be a pattern going on, right?
Aequalitatem was undoubtedly the protectorate hen of all hens. She would not stand for any mistreatment of hen-femininity! If two hens wanted to sleep together in the same nest box, then as far as Aequalitatem was concerned it was no one’s business what two adult hens wanted to do in the privacy of their nest box. Her motto? If no chickens were being harmed in the acts of amore, consenting hens can do whatever THA F*CK their pretty feathers wanna do. Period! Yes, she was the Joan of Arc of bold hen-ness.
Then one morning she too had disappeared. This was now very serious. Only our honorable, most wise and intelligent Queen hen remained…
Didicit was the Queen for many reasons, but the one best reason was her wisdom and that she had come to us from Oxford, England. She had been a favorite hen of a number of Nobel Prize winning professors at Oxford University and had traveled the world with them as their lucky feathered Madame. It was reasonably rumored that she understood no less than five different languages! Many an avian university department requested her services for various scientific studies. Didicit’s eggs were never bothered for obvious reasons. Two of her chicks had thankfully survived.
When she had gone missing grandma Konzack was infuriated. She went to her three neighbors trying to determine if they had noticed any bizarre activity the last week or so. After chatting politely with all three neighbors, both Southern Baptist families and the Evangelical family, grandma noticed that all three families had the exact same painting on their living room walls (seen below).
Grandma Konzack asked her friendly neighbor about the familiar painting on the wall. They replied “Oh, we are big animal lovers, in particular foxes.” Curious, she asked why that particular animal. “They are remarkably stealthy, cunning canine carnivores. They keep all the unwanted trashy, disease-carrying animals away.” they answered with a sly grin. Grandma Konzack couldn’t resist and retorted back:
Yes, but they are not particularly honorable carnivores are they… sneaking up on their prey and always hiding, always fleeing scared of the slightest trouble. No wonder the British had so many fox hunts with their hounds!
Not amused her neighbors responded in a snide tone “Well that may or may not be true, but it’s always the end that justifies the means. If your survival depends on eliminating enemies with dishonorable stealth, then it deserves our favor.” Grandma was not particularly surprised by the logic. She had been around these type folks most of her life. It was why she enjoyed the company of others who enjoy life to the fullest. I’ll be on my way she said. “If you do notice anything out of the ordinary” she politely explained, “please let me know would you?” Their response was even more strange than their previous:
“We do not know the whereabouts of your fancy, expensive hens Mrs. Konzack.” The husband continued, “Perhaps they’ve simply runaway or perhaps tried and failed to cross the road.” His wife chuckled under her breath. Then, to show his “Christian politeness” he asked grandma:
We are having a weekend prayer-n-fellowship meal down at the church tomorrow afternoon if you’d like to attend. Do you know the whereabouts of our Fellowship Center? We’re having all sorts of goodies as long as the eye can see and the bellies can pack, including baskets of fried chicken!
“Thanks but no thanks” grandma replied quickly. “And yes, I know where the Fellowship Center is located” Knowing her welcome would not last much longer, she smiled in reciprocated charm and said:
“No one can miss it because it is as monstrous and gaudy as the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception” and as she opened the door to exit said in closing:
But nowhere near as beautiful, as naturally human, or as meaningful as The Temples of Khajuraho (see above video). But I am guessing you’ve never been outside Brazoria County, much less out of the United States have you? If you can put your bibles down for a day or find a quite spot other than your church sanctuary, read Mark Twain’s Innocents Abroad for an enlightening, delightful life-lesson of what it means to be truly human.
My grandma Konzack was a wonderful woman with a sharp, witty sense of humor. One would learn fairly soon too she did not appreciate any type of elitism from anyone, not the President, not the Queen of Britain, and damn sure not from any kuntry folk from rural Texas. She’s the one who taught me the meaning of “Right, but everyone sits on the pot the same for the same reason.” There were some other juicy tidbits she’d add, but I’ll skip those so not to offend the sensitive or faint-hearted. She was a tough, tough woman, but full of so much life!
I do miss my Grandma Konzack.
To my readers:Tell me in comments below what my allegorical story says to you. What happens to the Hen House and the future of flocks when the best hens (and their egg producing/teaching abilities) are silenced.
Live Well — Laugh Often — Love Much — Learn Always
Deborah Lipstadt is an American historian and author specializing in the Holocaust. In 1993 she published her book Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory where she responds in extensive detail to rising, growing movements in Europe and parts of N. America challenging the veracity of the Holocaust during World War II and claiming it did not take place and was overly exaggerated by the European Jews. David Irving, a Nazi Germany advocate and controversial scholar, sued Lipstadt and her publisher Penguin Books Ltd in the U.K. for her characterizations of his writings and public speeches writing in her book he was anti-Semitic, preposterous, and barely a pseudo-historian.
Lipstadt and Penguin Books won their case by proving in the British court that her characterizations of Irving’s work and speeches were significantly true and not libelous to Irving. The judge’s decision was a paramount victory not only against Holocaust denial, but also a major victory against shotty, ill-founded denialism while further reinforcing credible, consensual, established academia and scholarship by some of the world’s most elite institutions of higher (highest) education and their renown experts and staffs.
In 2016 the film Denial dramatized these proceedings in British court, the case and the real-life characters, and was deservedly nominated for Best British Film in 2017. For these above reasons I highly recommend watching the movie. The official trailer:
When upsetting, distressing, or traumatic events and/or information arises that shake-up or shatter a person’s belief-system and/or our perception of life, our human brain and nervous system—and if we’re more fully comprehensive, our ego as well—can create a psychological coping routine, a mechanism that neglects and negates what is or has actually happened. Fear and anxiety over being wrong and confused or the potential of it, causes a large portion of the human population to simply deny those events/information exist(ed). For them it is easier to deny than walk the harder, troubling, longer road of learning to solve, adapt and cope. They will often seek out echo-chambers (organizations or groups) to further cement the psychological denial. Over time the repeated immersing into the neuro-cognitive pathologies and regular participation with echoing support-groups can and often do create long-term phobias.
Another powerful motive for denialism is self-interest, that prideful ego which convinces us we deserve favorable praise and inflated importance at the expense of reality and others. Self-preservation at any cost.
It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it. — Upton Sinclair
Or when his image of power is threatened! Sinclair could not be more correct when considering a long, long history of prime examples. I will name only a handful of examples, but the list of overly inflated egos (some tyrannical), self-preservation, severe denial, and paranoia through atrocious brutality is long and always growing:
Henry Ford and the too little too late Model A — Henry Ford, Sr. was in Model T La-La land (denial) virtually until his death. He blamed worker unions for the plummeting sales of the 20-year antiquated Model T automobile. When he finally relented to production of the Model A, Chrysler-Plymouth and General Motors had seized the industry’s top market positions, leaving Ford to wither and struggle until World War II arrived.
Coca-Cola — a small number of taste-test participants influenced or contaminated Coca-Cola Company’s (un)controlled market testing (Project Kansas) of a sweeter formula being considered as the New Coke to boost sales and market share. The change was an utter failure/denial by Coke executives because the facts of market data showed for decades it was Coke’s brand-name that made and kept loyal consumers, not a newer formula and change.
DuPont — and their disposal (or failure to properly dispose) of chemicals used to make Teflon that leak or eventually leak into human or animal drinking water-basins. Well over 3,500 lawsuits against DuPont and/or Chemours still await trial. Both mega-billion dollar corporations deny their chemical or waste management directly cause major health-injury problems in at least 27 U.S. states. However, since 1961 DuPont’s own scientists knew their chemical wastes caused severe and lethal problems in lab animals, but intentionally concealed (denied) these studies from the public and EPA.
Lehman Brothers — and their asset overvaluation (denialism & greed) then subsequent bankruptcy in 2008, a major player/cause of the 2008 Wall Street crash then bailout by U.S. taxpayers via the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
Joseph Stalin — the “Great Purge” between 1936 – 1938 when Stalin murdered around 750,000 political rivals and dissenters and over 1-million others he perceived as threats. These are conservative estimates.
Saddam Hussein — aside from the gassing of some 5,000 Kurdish Iraqis and wounding over 10,000 more in 1988, Hussein convened a public meeting of Ba’ath Party officials in July 1979. He ordered the gathering to be videotaped. Hussein read a list of 69 names of perceived “traitors” who were then escorted out in custody then executed by firing squad or given weapons inside a courtyard and ordered to execute each other or themselves.
Intel — for nearly 3 decades (60’s – 80’s) Intel reigned supreme in semiconductors, with their memory-chip and microprocessors both. By 1983 Japanese semiconductors had stolen a big chunk of that market. Intel was in a nose dive. Like Henry Ford, old vanguard CEO’s at Intel thought their long dominance in memory-chips were the future (denialism, skewed rationalism) whereas Gordon Moore and Andy Grove realized the ominous hard data, facts and stats overwhelmingly pointed to the microprocessor and PC’s as the future. Their decision to change the business model—amp up and expand production of microprocessors while cutting way back on memory-chips—saved Intel from looming bankruptcy. “Pentium” is now a household name.
ExxonMobil — one of the most blatant hypocritical cases of denialism for self-preservation has been ExxonMobil. Within almost 200 in-house publications between 1977 – 2014, the oil giant’s own scientists admitted (click here) that climate change was unequivocally occurring and caused by human discharge and/or waste.
Richard M. Nixon — though a number of U.S. Presidents clearly fall into this denial, truth, phobic examination, President Nixon is the poster-boy of denialism for self-preservation during and after the Watergate scandal in the early 1970’s. A new poster-boy President of blatant denialism and inflated ego may(?) be just around the corner.
Adolf Hitler — Duh, of course. No explanation necessary.
Should I name all the evangelical pastors or Catholic clergy?
R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. — in tandem with The Tobacco Institute and PR firm Hill & Knowlton, Inc., the tobacco industry launched a massive counter-attack against scientific and medical-health researchers determining and publicly publishing the negative impacts of smoking. Their counter-attack? “Doubt is our product.“
Merck and their VIOXX — Before the FDA could approve Merck’s blockbuster pain-relief rofecoxib hit drugstore shelves, health professionals were finding and reporting in 1999, 2000, and 2004 the drug increased the risks of heart disease. With 88,000 – 139,000 heart attacks (30% – 40% fatal) attributed to rofecoxib, over four years later the drug was finally banned in November 2004. Merck executives knew of these reports, but misled physicians, the public, and the FDA.
USS Indianapolis Capt. McVay Tragedy — in the dying months of the Pacific War 1945 the naval heavy battlecruiser, while carrying the atomic bomb to eventually be dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, was headed for her next assignment. At 12:15AM 30 July 1945, the USS Indianapolis was fatally struck by two Japanese torpedoes and sunk in 12-minutes. Due to her top secret cargo and mission she was never reported missing even after 24-36 hours after her scheduled arrival in Leyte. In the end and after an official investigation into the tragedy, the U.S. Navy solely blamed Capt. Charles B. McVay III and court-martialed him, putting the 1,139 lost sailors on his head and in self-preservation of and abdication by the U.S. Navy rather than take the public shame and embarrassment for numerous mistakes in combat intel. For many years after McVay received hate-mail from families of lost Indianapolis sailors. Declassified naval documents now reveal (though too late) that Capt. McVay was in truth not to blame for any causes leading to the ship’s sinking. But in 1968 McVay committed suicide.
These 14 prime examples are a proverbial drop in the bucket compared to the modern refined art of denial, distorting the truth and reality. I am quite sure you could name off several more I did not mention, right?
Public Outcomes of Denialism, Phobia, and Untruths/Lies
Immunization Non-Compliance — Despite the remarkable declines or near eradication of measles, mumps, rubella, and pertussis across the U.S. and most of the world over the previous century and modern, universal availability of vaccines, resurgence of these diseases persist. CDC data for the measles:
Paranoia Over Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s) — Despite the significant consensus by scientists, healthcare physicians, and bio-genetic engineers from many acclaimed prestigious institutions and universities across the world, who stake their lifetime careers and reputations on making these studies and publications, a large percentage of Americans are afraid and skeptical of foods that have been genetically modified. From the National Academies for Sciences, Engineering & Medicine:
One such university, Purdue University’s College of Agriculture addresses the misinformation and conflicting media stories; click here for more details.
The Impact of Ignorance or Restricted Knowledge — Truth or fiction. Fiction or truth. Many selectively choose what they want to accept as factual if it aligns with their own political, social, or religious beliefs. They also choose what is fallacy or untrue, or will ignore the evidence/data when it doesn’t align, whether it is verified, confirmed, factual and true, or not.
Ideological Divide On Climate Change — Despite the abundant evidence and facts over the last century measuring global climate change, there remains a deep ideological divide in the U.S. about whether it is very serious and harming people now.
Holocaust Doubting and Denial — Despite the eye-witness accounts by thousands upon thousands of Allied liberating soldiers and their commanders at Nazi death or concentration camps across Europe in the last months of World War II, as well as the abhorrent physical and forensic evidence at the time, a noticeable population today believe the Holocaust did not occur or was greatly exaggerated by Jews and Jewish sympathizers.
So of course I became, As befitted my delicate birth, The most casual bride Of the murdering scum of the earth!
Don Quixote: And still thou art my lady.
And still he torments me! How should I be a lady?
If you feel that you see me Not quite at my virginal best, Cross my palm with a coin, And I’ll willingly show you the rest!
Don Quixote:Never deny thou art Dulcinea.
Take the clouds from your eyes and see me as I really am! —Aldonza
Those are a portion of the musical lyrics from the song and scene “Aldonza” in the 1972 film Man of La Mancha. Though the beautiful, alluring, prostitute Aldonza is trying to convince Don Quixote that she is not the woman he imagines, it is clear for several reasons that he is not seeing it nor will he accept it. Such is the force of denialism lost in euphoric romance. Emotions have over-powered critical reasoning.
Recognizing Methods of Truthiness, Denialism, or Phobias
This will not be an exhaustive list, but I will spot-light more popular, modern methods of reframing, misdirection, or flagrant deceit by employing pseudo-science or pseudo-historicity (vs. accredited historicity & historiography) that an audience or people are so dazed by the audacity, they may doubt or question their own perceptions of reality. Here are five traits of denialism from the European Journal of Public Health by Paschal Diethelm and Martin McKee:
Pinpointing emotionally based or controversial conspiracies and publicizing those opinions. This would include tainted or polluted peer review or checks-n-balances by other expert colleagues in the subject field. Inversionism is a variant of conspiracy theories which can be utilized.
Employing fake experts or paper-vapor institutions to refute (and slander?) legitimate experts. The internet or world-wide-web is ideal for this tactic.
Specifically isolating or cherry-picking support and sources while ignoring or overlooking exhaustive databases, research studies, and counter-reviews.
Imploring near-impossible or ridiculous standards of confirmation, e.g. the Lenski Affair.
Why is the majority of the general public gullible and/or naïve to hyped or erroneous influences? Why do celebrity, charismatic personalities attract droves of people to ill-founded causes and misguided, immoral, unethical ideologies? When we are trapped by self-imposed fears and external turmoil caused and funded by targeted propaganda, it becomes easier to simply deny our imperfections and mistakes, as tragic as they might be, in order to feel right instead of the alternative: shame or embarrassment.
Thomas Jefferson, one of our nation’s Founding Fathers and the 3rd President, opportunistically attacked intellectualism. John Adams, as well as Alexander Hamilton, got into heated debates with Jefferson about democracy and how it should be governed. Jefferson and his political party supported the wisdom of the commoners, a peer review, if you will, to hedge against tyranny and oligarchies or dictators. Adams Sr. and Hamilton, however, knew too well how poorly educated most commoners of that day were to con-men tyrants and charismatic persuasion by corrupt causes and ideologies. Yet, in today’s more advanced, more widely educated populations—primarily in first-world or advancing second-world nations—as opposed to 18th-century America, the mob revolutions in which Jefferson witnessed in his day occur less frequently due to informed early detection by the citizens.
In other words, today there exists exponentially more credentialed “experts” to police Cults of Personality and protect the less fortunate and more gullible against precisely the cunning tyrants Jefferson detested. One difference in today’s pool of experts is that they are all highly specialized in very specific fields of study, possibly two or three, maybe four on a basic level. But not ten or fifteen or more. Being a Nobel Prize winning expert or scholar in ten or more subjects is humanly impossible. Therefore, like it or not, we must… no, we have no choice but to rely on highly trained, vastly experienced professionals, the “intellectuals” in their fields of expertise. In this regard, even Thomas Jefferson fell short. Now, with all due respect to our 3rd President, if we commission a large pool of experts, ala a democracy of intelligent commoners(?), then we could hope Tommy would have approved.
Pessimistic or Vigilant?
Truth does matter. Truth backed up by incontrovertible, scientific or historical facts, repeatable ad infinitum, do indeed exist. In an interview about the movie Denial and her legal run-in with David Irving, Deborah Lipstadt said:
I try to be optimistic about things, but history teaches me that that is not always the case. There are people out there who are very much beguiled by these stories. When I see it seep into the general conversation of people not on extreme ends, that’s when I get worried. This is why it is so important to challenge liars about their lies. Challenge them with the facts.
I do have a lot of admiration and respect for what Ms. Lipstadt and her legal team showed and protected regarding accredited scholarship, freedom of speech, and the accountability one must always own in speaking or printing ideas or opinions as facts of science and/or history. She certainly deserves applause and recognition for protecting the atrocious reality of the Nazi Holocaust against saber-rattling, self-proclaimed, self-absorbed, charismatic trouble-makers calling them self a great leader, or reformer, or intellectual. Her victorious feat cannot be denied.
Ms. Lipstadt is Jewish by birth and by all available accounts and information it is reasonable to assume she is still active in practicing her Jewish faith. There is no easily accessible information to the contrary. This leads me to my own question for Ms. Lipstadt in regard to her quote just above.
There are increasing amounts of scholarly and scientific evidence and facts suggesting, even convincingly demonstrating that all three Abrahamic religions are based on “beguiling stories” which are indeed within “general conversations of people not on extreme ends” over 2-3 millenia that in the end are hoaxes, gross distortions of historicity, and the three religions worry and cause great concern for a large number of sane, reasonably intelligent secularists and humanists around the world. My question:
Have you or would you, Ms. Lipstadt, put your religious faith to the exact same rigorous scrutiny you afforded the defense of the Holocaust and put bogus Holocaust deniers through?
To my readers, followers, and visitors. Please feel free to share your thoughts, questions, or challenges. They could stimulate an invigorating discussion or debate!
I must confess that four months ago when I chose to tackle this subject and new field of study for a blog-post or two—that turned out to be four—I had little idea it would be so laborious and challenging for me. Not only was it formidable over time, but it was equally demanding of quality representation, of which I feel I have failed or sacrificed in some ways. For that I apologize. I likely bit-off much more than I could chew. And though my current personal situation has made my time reading, researching, blog drafting, blog writing, and publishing difficult and quite limited, I do hope this conclusion is sufficient enough to glean from the whole, some expansion on a little known, little taught or discussed subject: ignorance. If nothing else, I hope these four parts have invoked a deep curiosity to learn and know more about what we don’t know, for it is great, it is endless, and paradoxically attainable.
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Previously in Part III, I examined the colorful ways we fabricate facts, or our conscious intentional lying, and how to discern and reveal their motives and utilization. I also covered how North and South American indigenous fossil knowledge and their worlds became lost or entirely omitted from Euro-American archaeological records. Then finished with how to understand the benefits and advantages of historical-interdisciplinary hindsight. In doing so this groundwork offers a comprehensive, enlarged intellectual body of reliable context as well as a necessary reversal of or counter to explicit and implicit ignorance in the U.S.
In this conclusion I want to very briefly touch on white, or Anglo/Caucasian ignorance, explore the social theorems of ignorance, and then ask Where are America’s public intellectuals, who might they be, and why today are they few and far between? and provide plausible answers. Let’s jump right in. (line break)
A few summers back as my two kids, my Mom, and my sister and I were seated around the dinner table, the discussion turned to American history, a subject that mostly interested my 15-year old son, but usually made my 22-year old daughter, Mom, and sister roll their eyes. When I made my point that our nation’s White House, the Capitol building, and some other government buildings were built by African-American slaves, I got facial expressions of pause, silence, and astonishment. Their faces said it all. As a state certified educator in Texas, I was not surprised by their baffled, yet silent responses. This tidbit of historical fact and its implications generally does not make it into state-approved classroom textbooks nor is it required by the state’s core-curriculum as critical learning. Thus, we have a classic case of anglo-caucasian (white) ignorance. I rather like this introduction…
White ignorance… It’s a big subject. How much time do you have? It’s not enough. Ignorance is usually thought of as the passive obverse to knowledge, the darkness retreating before the spread of Enlightenment. But… Imagine an ignorance that resists. Imagine an ignorance that fights back. Imagine an ignorance militant, aggressive, not to be intimidated, an ignorance that is active, dynamic, that refuses to go quietly— not at all confined to the illiterate and uneducated but propagated at the highest levels of the land, indeed presenting itself unblushingly as knowledge. — Charles W. Mills
Professor of philosophy at the City University of New York, Dr. Charles W. Mills believes by clarifying and demarcating historical white domination and its ramifications, as well as examining the individual and social processes of cognition with regard to race, we can start to understand how best to achieve multiracial enlightenment that garners short-, mid-, and long-term benefits not just for a few, but for all humanity.
White Domination & Ramifications Dr. Mills finds ten components to clarification and demarcation. I will point out four I find particularly important.
Race as a cognitive phenomena historized — white domination has been and still is a social-structure, not a physio-biological structure. “Whites” did not exist in the ancient world.
Leaving white paradigms — “White” in white ignorance doesn’t need to be confined to just white people. To a greater or lesser extent this has existed due to power relations and patterns of ideological hegemony.
Male ignorance — ignorance of the male gender must be analyzed equally as it is far more ancient, going back to the very origins of patriarchy.
Avoiding false beliefs — gaining a broader understanding of white ignorance is not only sociological, but normative too. Flawed patterns of cognition are promoted or propagandized by certain social models and group membership as are truthful-moral ones.
Individual & Social Processes of Cognition Before getting into Dr. Mills’ work below, watch this 6-minute video. It is a prime example of Memory and Testimonydiscussed below and how to incorporate it into social cognition:
An examination of white supremacy and its historical dominance, injustice, and ignorance cannot be done without understanding the influences of individual and social processes of cognition. Separating out these various components can be demanding for they are in perpetual interaction with each other. For example, when an individual discerns, they do so with sensors that have been socialized. Keeping this in mind, Dr. Mills analyzes five dynamics that I will summarize:
Perception— in general, perceptions and conceptions are practically one in the same, so tightly related that often they’re indistinguishable. Individuals do not create these categories, we absorb them from our cultural contexts. Two prime examples are the world’s continents, they’re sizes, and the term savages and its origin and context. They beg the questions, Why is Europe a continent and say India or Eurasia are not? And savage originated from Anglo-French cultures in the 13th century, the Age of Exploration and Colonization by European superpowers, and implies a person/people of uncivilized, primitive, dumb behavior and inferior to the designator(s). Why is this context assigned to savage? Does it justify imperialism, conquest, and domination? The context of savage continued into the 18th century and found its way into one of our most enduring U.S. documents:
When Thomas Jefferson excoriates the “merciless Indian Savages” in the Declaration of Independence, then, neither he nor his readers will experience any cognitive dissonance with the earlier claims about the equality of all “men,” since savages are not “men” in the full sense. Locked in a different temporality, incapable of self-regulation by morality and law, they are humanoid but not human. — Charles W. Mills
Conception— this aligns us to our known world. The unknown world, however, is assessed and judged not with the discreetly detached concept, but viewed and judged through the concept. Very rarely does an individual resist this societal bias. And here is the baffling irony of this egocentric, white-centric condition which surrounds the word savage:
In the classic period of European expansionism, it then becomes possible to speak with no sense of absurdity of “empty” lands that are actually teeming with millions of people, of “discovering” countries whose inhabitants already exist, because the non-white Other is so located in the guiding conceptual array that different rules apply. Even seemingly straightforward empirical perception will be affected—the myth of a nation of hunters in contradiction to widespread Native American agriculture that saved the English [e.g. Jamestown] colonists’ lives, the myth of stateless savages in contradiction to forms of government from which the white Founders arguably learned, the myth of a pristine wilderness in contradiction to a humanized landscape transformed by thousands of years of labor (Jennings 1976). In all of these cases, the concept is driving the perception, with whites aprioristically intent on denying what is before them. — Charles W. Mills
Memory— it is sadly ironic that as I get to memory of the individual and/or social cognitive process that events such as those in Charlottesville, Virginia, Aug. 12th occurred. It reiterates just how crucial it is to understand the fluid interconnectedness of these five components, including memory, and how it relates to white knowing and unknowing due to denial of requisite facts. While understanding collective memory, we must also understand collective amnesia. They always go hand-in-hand. We remember the Holocaust primarily because Hitler and Nazi Germany lost the war. But what about the Pequots, the Nama, the Tasmanians, the Beothuks, the Congolese, the Hereros, or the Armenians? What about the Native American Cherokees or any of the over 200 tribes on the continent? What about 19th century antebellum slavery, killing rebellions such as Nat Turner’s, and the atrocities throughout the American Civil War? Today, over seven generations later, Americans still confront their historical identity and memory over the Standing Rock Reservation oil-pipeline and Charlottesville, VA over a Robert E. Lee statue and what it means.
As the individual represses unhappy or embarrassing memories, that may also reveal a great deal about[their]identity, about who[they are], so in all societies, especially those structured by domination, the socially recollecting “we” will be divided, and the selection will be guided by different identities, with one group suppressing precisely what another wishes to commemorate. Thus there will be both official and counter-memory, with conflicting judgments about what is important in the past and what is unimportant, what happened and does matter, what happened and does not matter, and what did not happen at all. — Charles W. Mills
Testimony— How do you know your exact birth date? Your knowledge of your birthday is most certainly told to you by those there in the delivery room, your mother and father, and perhaps doctors and/or nurses there at the time. Hence, your beliefs about your birth time, place, month, and year are through testimony. We are quite dependent on others for what we know and this most certainly involves elaborations of social epistemology. Those elaborations also come from other previous individual and social epistemic elaborations and so on. In cases of veracity and neutrality, it bears significant impact to ask ‘testimony by whom and for what (possible) interests gained or lost?‘
Motivational Group Interests — these can be found in varying strengths with any political, religious, economic, and/or sports groups with common interests. What these sorts of groups demonstrate are what is commonly known in cognitive, developmental, social, clinical, and neuropsychology as hot cognition (as opposed to cold/unemotional) associated with physiological arousal responding more to environmental stimuli. Peer-assimilation is another aspect of hot cognition. This certainly applies to racial grouping and “color-blindness” as well.
Though he speaks primarily on the African-American plight in the U.S., in this following video-clip Harvard University Fellow and MIT Professor Noam Chomsky talks about white domination and racism from the historical record. This really applies to all non-whites in America and the world, does it not?
Social Theorems of Ignorance
Is ignorance simply the absence of knowledge? The sum of society’s ignorance is much greater than the sum of our knowledge. Yet, how much do we really know about social or collective ignorance? Where does social-collective ignorance come from? How much do we impose it upon someone or upon ourselves? What role does social-collective ignorance play in interactions, group relations, in institutions, in civil, business, and criminal law, and managing risks? Typically our societal norms give negative connotations to ignorance, but when might it be preferrable not to know something? Can it be a virtue?
Dr. Michael Smithson, Professor of Psychology at the Australian National University, has been working in the area of uncertainty and ignorance for many years. He takes an interdisciplinary approach to socially produced uncertainty and ignorance and believes one must begin with defining what social ignorance is and is not.
Socially Produced Ignorance: What It Is and Isn’t Social ignorance is 1) emerging, it is 2) partially constructed by society, and it is 3) imposed. It is manipulated deliberately or as a by-product of some social movement or process. It is also typically at a macro-level of large groups within power relations. As far as how kinetic ignorance is managed(4) it is typically at the micro-level with individuals and how those individuals conceptualize, represent, negotiate, and respond to ignorance. Thus, the managing agent is often indirect or as a spectator concerning the thinking and behavior of ignorance. These are four theorems of social ignorance.
Social ignorance is not the external world and how it arises in non-social settings. For example, the non-social settings would be science and the limits of science. It also includes epistemological and religious frameworks that make assertions about non-knowledge or meta-knowledge in exogenous non-social terms. It is not a managingunder kinetic ignorance either. In other words, how people/groups think and act in uncertain environments, and not artificially generated under theory.
Negotiated Ignorances There are at least five different negotiated ignorances between social (or at least interpersonal) arrangements of ignorance. A sixth could be time, or the lack of time, to adequately understand dynamics of an event, place, or person, but for the sake of time (no pun intended), I will very briefly cover these five:
Specialization — is simply an admittance there is too much for any one person to learn everything exhaustively. Hence, spreading the perceived risks can be achieved in three ways: 1) diversified learning rather than direct or narrowed learning, 2) therefore, concurrently diversified ignorance is created, and 3) acquired knowledge is also diversified via social collaboration.
Privacy — another social ignorance arrangement which is not necessarily controlled access to information by others about self, but can also be consensual with trusted persons or experts. Secrecy is imposed unilaterally, but privacy involves levels of risk. And trust is interconnected within organized specialization.
Trust — is a state of perceived vulnerability or risk. Dr. Smithson (on Yamagishi) elaborates:
“[Toshio]Yamagishi and his colleagues argue that trust and “commitment formation” are alternative ways of reducing the risk of being exploited in social interactions. Commitment formation involves the development of mutual monitoring and powers to sanction and reward each other’s behavior. However, the reduction of transaction costs in commitment formation via uncertainty reduction comes at a price, namely the difficulty and costliness in exiting from the relationship and foregoing opportunities to form other relationships. Trust, on the other hand, entails running the risk of being exploited but increases opportunities by rendering the truster more mobile and able to establish cooperative relations more quickly. Trust, therefore, is both an example of a social relation that requires tolerance of ignorance and also trades undesired uncertainty (the risk of being exploited) against desired uncertainty (freedom to seize opportunities for new relations).”
Politeness — is another example of how social relations trade on ignorance. Within formal public conversations people typically don’t expect to first place their hand on a bible and state “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” The strategies a talker may utilize are varied in creating disinformation, e.g. promoting a false impression of approval, or agreement, or offer tactful brevity, vagueness, or ambiguity. However, this latter strategy is not always negative because it could nurture healthy adaptability or change due to diverse interpretations.
Legitimation— social ignorance is also used in a number of facades to vindicate inaction, keeping the status quo (also known as business as usual), opportunism, evasion of responsibility or liability, and risk management strategies. Our American legal differences between civil cases versus criminal cases, as one example, are where a verdict in the former can be given on probabilities and in the latter it must be given “beyond reasonable doubt.“
“Licit” actions and choices done on the basis of social ignorance are abundant in our mundane life as well. As previously discussed in this series, legitimizing high-level federal policy change, or non-change, use (abuse?) the precautionary principle, e.g. climate change counter-measures.
Is Social Ignorance Always An Insight-Deficit? Contrary to popular belief, ignoramuses are not always at a disadvantage. There are cases where they are better off than very knowledgeable people. Case and point, if you could be told exactly when and how you were going to die, would you want to know? Why or why not? Would you want your spouse and children to know the details of your death? Why or why not? Often in the field of counseling where doctor-patient confidentiality existed, I found myself in the position of aiding social ignorance between spouses, family members, employers or a circle of friends for legitimate reasons, e.g. one spouse’s history of unfaithfulness, in order to maintain necessary therapeutic stability. Many spouses/partners don’t care to know intimate details of former lovers/spouses. Dr. Lael Schooler and Ralph Hertwig, both of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, assert from their research that forgetting facilitates the use of inferential heuristics that also trade on environmental structures.
What I hope has been adequately conveyed here is that ignorance, particularly social ignorance, is quite prevalent. It exists practically everywhere, including with yourself. It is predominantly socially structured. Accordingly, it deserves as much attention, monitoring, and updating as one’s repository of knowledge. This, our social and individual human ignorance-condition, I hope would conflate wise, cunning humility and not inflated arrogance. Therefore, how might we as social parts of a whole get regular checkups, quarterly or annual appraisals of our cunning humility and/or inflated arrogance? Glad you asked!
America’s Public Intellectuals – Questions
What does intellectualism mean? After this four-part series, is it possible for intellectualism to thrive and coexist with ignorance? Should that even be questioned? Can intellectualism guide ignorance and ignorance guide intellectualism offering more balance, more tolerance? In our modern age of technology and data-overload, are we too knowledgeable, too informed?
Today, we are not necessarily uninformed, but so over-informed it forces our cognitive capacities to seek out preferable trigger-topics and information that bolster our own perspective. That is most certainly a self-imposed ignorance and to degrees social ignorance. On the aforementioned section of social ignorance, sociologists define that as a neo-tribalism tagged with near-fanatical insistence on cohesion and monism in a world, its Nature and fauna that is anything but monistic or binary. Within this neo-tribalism, humans — perhaps just advanced primates at this point? — historically have resorted to bullying and moral castigation to keep their own status quo. But at what cost? Many public intellectuals agree: the egghead is dead, replaced by chest-beating activists. That may be true.
If our nation’s Founding Fathers were alive today, they would almost certainly be distraught and aghast at the loud polarity and lack of common interests. This isn’t to say those members of the 1787 Constitutional Convention, lasting a miserable 116 steamy days and nights, did not have their heated differences. Indeed they did. However, those resilient intellectuals mixed daily with their communities and adversaries; they had no choice really but to learn basic etiquette, tolerance, compromise, and mutual understanding and do it face-to-face. Those differences, conflicts, and resolutions took enormous amounts of highly skilled dialogue, negotiation, candor, and listening as they did expressing.
Fortunately, our modern intellectuals are still around, as seen in the Stargazer’s Guide image, as well as several of their interdisciplinary colleagues I’ve included throughout this four-part series. They too could easily be included on the map in their respective fields. Perhaps they are not as recognizable or accessible today because technology is increasingly finding intrusive ways to get in front of our faces and into our schedules, not weekly or daily, but hourly! Too much information-knowledge is just as bad for us individually — and potentially within a social framework of influence — as ignorance is because covertly hyper-knowledge fosters more risks that would otherwise be spread-out, diversified to minimize risks or learning-bankruptcy.
The difference between intellectualism (knowledge) then in 1787 and now (over-knowledge), as I personally see it, is that whether opposing sides embrace it or not, we know a lot less than we think we do (ignorance). Arrogance with power is the chief combatant of agnotology and collaborative progress. To remain stagnant in current knowledge without diversifying and going into the darkness of ignorance and where it leads is to risk terminal illness at the hands of Nature, predatory Nature to be specific. That assured apathy (that all is known) will be especially lethal if we do not recognize, with no exceptions, that ignorance is an equal or greater dichotomy. An egalitarian dichotomy not to be feared, but merely appreciated, explored further, confronted if necessary, and thus made more commonly defined, inclusive of both individual and social frameworks.
(paragraph break) Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always