Archives for posts with tag: humanity

Airport arrivals, the point of transition. From a world of cramped spaces, endless queues and tiresome inactivity, now life can begin again. It is a place where worlds come together. In this spot, each day, a thousand mini-stories get told.

Witness the anticipation, the young woman hiding behind the sign. The father and daughter wearing outrageous, unkempt wigs. The small children sidling up to the doors, furtively looking down into the hallway. The expectant stares, the worried looks, the checking and re-checking of panels, counting the flights that have landed. What’s keeping them? Why is it taking so long?

Then the joy, the elation. The moment of recognition. Passivity suddenly replaced by pure joy. The children racing around, soon to be whisked into the arms of a loved one. The young woman jumping from behind the sign. The cries and grasps of delight. The older traveller feeling like a small helpless child, now reunited with a person long missing from their lives.

The embraces. The looks of sheer love and relief. The passionate kisses. The tears. For a moment, all is well with the world. For a moment, emotions are laid bare, differences forgotten. The importance of these people, being here, in this place, at this time. Nothing else counts.

The grabbing of the bags, the gifts handed over, the hands clenched tightly around each other. The small children raised aloft, like tiny trophies after the journey. Here, this way. Let’s go. You are with us now.

The story ends, to be replaced in seconds with another tale. Then another. And another. The arrivals hall. If there is such a thing as magic, you will find it here.

There is a difference between Science and Religion.

Science needs evidence. Science embraces evidence. If the evidence tells you something that conflicts with your beliefs, then in science, the evidence wins. It must win, because that’s how progress happens in science. Scientists follow the evidence, irrespective of how uncomfortable that might mean towards their beliefs.

Religion needs belief. Religion embraces belief. If the evidence tells you something that conflicts your beliefs, then in religion, the belief wins. It must win, because that’s the way religion preserves itself, often passing down the generations. Religious adherents follow the belief, irrespective of whether evidence exists to support those beliefs or even if if it refutes those beliefs completely.

If you are a scientist, and the evidence starts to conflict with your beliefs, but you hold fast to those beliefs despite strong evidence to the contrary, you are no longer practicing science. You are practicing religion.

If you are a religious adherent, and the evidence starts to conflict with your beliefs, so you change your beliefs to come in line with the evidence, you are no longer practicing religion. You are practicing science.

There is a difference between Science and Religion and this difference is unreconcilable. A wide, yawning, unbridgeable gap. You either accept that evidence has primacy, or that belief does. You can’t have both. Efforts to reconcile the two are unlikely to be very productive.

There is a difference between Science and Religion, but perhaps the issue is somewhat moot. The real question is what difference this makes to most of us. The problem is our brains, you see. Our brains have an interesting relationship with ideas, both scientific and religious. In our brains these things tend to get mashed together, confused with each other. Our brains can accommodate conflicting ideas. While science and religion are different, when it comes to scientific people and religious people, the distinction is far more blurry.

Most people don’t think about religion or science all the time. Most people spend their time thinking about other things. Whether they left the heating on, the pain in their foot, the hallway that needs a paint job, the local team losing last Saturday. Most people have friends to talk to, families to care for, work to do. Muslim, atheist, Christian, secular, Buddhist: when it comes to life and everyday concerns, we become less different. We become more human. The gulf can be traversed. It’s no longer black and white. It’s complicated.

There is a difference between Science and Religion, but our humanity keeps getting in the way. 

"Killers Crowd" taken by Steve Crane (Creative Commons Licensed)

In each day that goes by, almost 19 million years of human life is lived. If you were to spend twenty four hours in turn with each of the 7 billion people living on the planet, that’s how long it would take. Seven billion days. Nineteen million years.

In that span of time, whole continents can ramble about the globe, thrusting gigantic mountain ranges into the skies. Enormous tracts of land are submerged beneath the waves, while others wither in the heat. New species evolve, thrive and become extinct. Ice ages come and go like the seasons. Bolide impacts from space are a near-certainty, and catastrophes beyond our imagination, such as enormous earthquakes, tsunamis and super-volcanoes are a regular occurrence. The human race has been around for just 1% of this extraordinary time-span.

In one twenty-four hour revolution on our planet, 19 million years of human life will come to pass. You would imagine, given such extraordinary numbers, that almost anything that possibly could happen, and would happen, each and every day. Even if many billion people pass their day without event – watching TV, or taking the dog for a walk – this still leaves plenty of opportunity for far more interesting stories. Each day, every possible situation is being acted out: delight, despair, birth, death, sublime discovery and gruesome horror. These stories will remain largely unknown to us. It is impossible, therefore, to grasp anything but a thin essence of great historical events. The small stories, the petty tragedies and minor victories are doomed to be lost to posterity.

Somewhere in the world each day, one person may experience a one-in-seven-billion co-incidence: an event so extraordinarily improbable that it may seem miraculous. Such is the power of these numbers that strange events are not just expected, they must happen all the time. It’s not providence: it’s statistics.

Our media landscape serves us only a tiny slice of all the stories of the day. Television shows and newspapers often struggle to find news, and as so often happens, a single news story of two celebrities getting married, a sending off in a football match or a politician’s inane comments will dominate the media to the exclusion of everything else. The stories of the other 99.999999% of us, no matter how fascinating, will remain hidden from view.

We are oblivious to this accumulating tide of human history, because for most of us, each day is not much different to the one that went before. We spend our lives in a small corner of the world, perpetually nearby friends, aquaintances and colleagues. We are insulated from the great cacophony of our co-travellers. Knowing that we don’t know that much at all is both humbling and mind-blowing at the same time.

Photo credit: “Killers Crowd” taken by Steve Crane (Creative Commons Licensed)

The media is reporting that a woman has been discovered in Cambodia who has lived in the wild since the age of eight. She is unable to speak any language and has had no normal human contact for 19 years.

I find the subject of feral children both fascinating and discomfiting. Feral children (children that have been brought up in the wild) have been documented for many centuries and have inspired many of the great works of children’s literature, from the Jungle Book to Tarzan.

These children have been the subject of much scientific research since the eighteenth century because these cases seemed to posess a key insight to deep questions about humanity. What are humans like when civilisation and socialisation are removed? What is our natural state? Are we influenced by nature or by nurture? What aspects of us are innate and what are acquired traits? Are we naturally good, or naturally bad? Can we change who we are? Is religion instinctive? How close are we really to our animal neighbours? In what specific ways are we different?

In the case of feral children, many of these questions remain unanswered. The feral state, for a human child, is an unnatural one. Many of the children were damaged by their experience and needed significant care for the rest of their lives. In fact, cases of modern day child-neglect (such as the Genie case) are not dissimilar. The cases seem to emphasise strongly that we humans need others and probably have always done so. Studying a lone child in the woods eating roots and berries tells us very little, apart perhaps how great our ability to survive is and what effect isolation can have on the development of a young mind.

A few years ago, I wrote up some of the more celebrated stories here, and a very compresensive account of all the stories can be seen at this site.

Update 2006/01/24 : Reportedly, the girl has tried to speak, but the words are not intelligible.

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