- Diogenes of Sinope
Διογένης ὁ Σινωπεύς
(c. 412- c. 323 BCE),
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My Favorite Quotations[Diogenes of Sinope] lit a lamp in broad daylight and said, as he went about, "I am looking for a [virtuous] man."
-- Teaching of Diogenes of Sinope (412–323 BCE) from Lives of Eminent Philosophers by Diogenes Laertius
The unexamined life is not worth living.
-- Socrates, from the Apology by Plato (429–347 BCE)
When truth is buried underground, it grows and it builds up so much force that the day it explodes it blasts everything with it.
-- Émile Zola (1840–1902), French writer and political activist, from J'accuse! published in L'Aurore [The Dawn] (13 Jan 1898)
Economic "progress" is good only to the point of sufficiency, beyond that, it is evil, destructive, uneconomic.
-- E. F. Schumacher (1911-1977), from "Economics in a Buddhist Country" (1955)
Christianity... is the most avowedly materialist of all the great religions… Its own most central saying is: "The Word was made flesh," where the last term was, no doubt, chosen because of its specially materialistic associations. By the very nature of its central doctrine Christianity is committed to a belief in the ultimate significance of the historical process, and in the reality of matter and its place in the divine process.
-- William Temple (1881–1944), Archbishop of Canterbury, from Nature, Man and God (1934), p. 317
The beginnings of cosmic religious feeling already appear [at an early stage] of development, e.g., in many of the Psalms of David and in some of the Prophets. Buddhism, as we have learnt especially from the wonderful writings of Schopenhauer, contains a much stronger element of this. The religious geniuses of all ages have been distinguished by this kind of religious feeling, which knows no dogma and no God conceived in man's image; so that there can be no Church whose central teachings are based on it. Hence it is precisely among the heretics of every age that we find men who were filled with this highest kind of religious feeling and were in many cases regarded by their contemporaries as Atheists, sometimes also as saints. Looked at in this light, men like Democritus, Francis of Assisi, and Spinoza are closely akin to one another.
-- Albert Einstein (1879–1955), from The World as I See It (1934), p. 21.
There are many, you know, who think that this life journey through the world is not the first one we have made. Haven't you ever come across children who knew things that it was impossible for them to have learned? Have you ever gone to a place for the first time and felt sure that you had been there before? That's one of the reasons I do not travel much.
-- Henry Ford (1863-1947), from interview by S.J. Woolf in New York Times Magazine dated 24 July 1938
A human being is a part of the whole, called by us "Universe," a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. The striving to free oneself from this delusion is the one issue of true religion. Not to nourish it but to try to overcome it is the way to reach the attainable measure of peace of mind.
-- Albert Einstein (1879–1955), from a letter to Robert S. Marcus dated 12 Feb 1950 quoted in The New Quotable Einstein (2005), p. 206, by Alice Calaprice
[T]he world is in greater peril from those who tolerate or encourage evil than from those who actually commit it.
--Albert Einstein (1879–1955), from his tribute to Pablos Casals (30 March 1953) quoted in Conversations with Casals (1957), by Josep Maria Corredor
There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.
– Elie Wiesel, from his Nobel Lecture, 11 December 1986
Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them.
-- Frederick Douglass (1818–1895), in a speech delivered at Canandaigua, New York on 4 August 1857, quoted in Two Speeches by Frederick Douglass (1857), p. 22
To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places — and there are so many — where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an inﬁnite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.
-- Howard Zinn (1922-2010), from A Power Governments Cannot Suppress (2006)
Taxation is the price which we pay for civilization, for our social, civil and political institutions, for the security of life and property, and without which, we must resort to the law of force.
-- 1852, Journal of the House of Representatives of the State of Vermont, October Session, 1851, Appendix: Report of the Committee Appointed by the Governor to Take into Consideration the Financial Affairs of the State, Start Page 368, Quote Page 369, Printed by Chauncey Goodrich, Burlington, Vermont.
What I teach now as before, O monks, is dukkha and the cessation of dukkha.
-- Siddhārtha Gautama (563–483 BCE), the Buddha, from Alagaddupama Sutta: The Water-Snake Simile (MN 22)
Once Chuang Chou dreamt he was a butterfly, a butterfly flitting and fluttering around, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He didn't know he was Chuang Chou. Suddenly he woke up and there he was, solid and unmistakable Chuang Chou. But he didn't know if he was Chuang Chou who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he was Chuang Chou. Between Chuang Chou and a butterfly there must be some distinction! This is called the Transformation of Things.
-- Chuang Tzu (369—298 BCE), from The Complete Works Of Chuang Tzu, chapter 2, translated by Burton Watson (1968)
Nothing is so insufferable to man as to be completely at rest, without passions, without business, without diversion, without study. He then feels his nothingness, his forlornness, his insufficiency, his dependence, his weakness, his emptiness.
-- Blaise Pascal (1623–1662), from Pascal's Pensees (1669)
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
-- George Santayana (1863–1952), from The Life of Reason, Vol. 1, chapter 12 (1905–1906), Charles Scribner & Sons, p. 284
There is nothing which can better deserve [our] patronage, than the promotion of Science and Literature. Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of publick happiness.
-- George Washington, in his address to Congress on 8 January 1790
Establish & improve the law for educating the common people...The tax which will be paid for this purpose is not more than the thousandth part of what will be paid to kings, priests & nobles who will rise up among us if we leave the people in ignorance.
-- Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to George Wythe dated 13 August 1786
Laws for the liberal education of youth, especially for the lower classes of people, are so extremely wise and useful that to a humane and generous mind, no expense for this purpose would be thought extravagant.
-- John Adams, from Thoughts on Government, April, 1776
It is ironic that the United States should have been founded by intellectuals; for throughout most of our political history, the intellectual has been for the most part either an outsider, a servant, or a scapegoat.
-- Richard Hofstadter, from Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, pp. 145-146
Shake off all the fears & servile prejudices, under which weak minds are servilely crouched. Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear.
-- Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to his nephew, Peter Carr, dated 10 August 1787
If ever there can be a cause worthy to be upheld by all toil or sacrifice that the human heart can endure, it is the cause of Education.
-- Horace Mann (1796–1859), from Thoughts Selected from the Writings of Horace Mann (1872), p. 7.
The all-important fact in the situation is this; any time the college professors of America get ready to take control of their own destinies, and of the intellectual life of their institutions, they can do it. There is not a college or university in the United States today which could resist the demands of its faculty a hundred percent organized and meaning business.
-- Upton Sinclair (1878–1968), from The Goose-Step: A Study of American Education (1923), p. 458
I hope we shall... crush in it’s birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country.
-- Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to George Logan dated 12 November 1816
It is, no doubt, a very laudable effort, in modern teaching, to render as much as possible of what the young are required to learn, easy and interesting to them. But when this principle is pushed to the length of not requiring them to learn anything but what has been made easy and interesting, one of the chief objects of education is sacrificed. I rejoice in the decline of the old brutal and tyrannical system of teaching, which however did succeed in enforcing habits of application; but the new, as it seems to me, is training up a race of men who will be incapable of anything which is disagreeable to them....A pupil from whom nothing is ever demanded which he cannot do, never does all he can.
-- John Stuart Mill (1806–1873), from the Autobiography of John Stuart Mill (1924), p. 37
How comes it that a cripple does not offend us, but that a fool does? Because a cripple recognizes that we walk straight, whereas a fool declares that it is we who are silly; if it were not so, we should feel pity and not anger.
-- Blaise Pascal (1623–1662), from Pascal's Pensees (1669)
The suppression of uncomfortable ideas may be common in religion or in politics, but it is not the path to knowledge, and there's no place for it in the endeavor of science.
-- Carl Sagan, from the Cosmos television series
The young specialist in English Lit ... lectured me severely on the fact that in every century people have thought they understood the Universe at last, and in every century they were proved to be wrong. It follows that the one thing we can say about our modern "knowledge" is that it is wrong. ... My answer to him was, "... when people thought the Earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the Earth was spherical they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the Earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the Earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together."
-- Isaac Asimov, The Relativity of Wrong, Kensington Books, New York, 1996, p 226.
A time is coming when those who are in the mad rush today of multiplying their wants, vainly thinking that they add to the real substance, real knowledge of the world, will retrace their steps and say what have we done? Civilizations have come and gone and in spite of all our vaunted progress, I am tempted to ask again and again: To what purpose?
-- Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869–1948) from D.G. Tendulkar, Mahatma: Life of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi Vol. 2, 2nd edn.(1960), p. 29.
Can we reconcile the idea that copying errors are an essential prerequisite for evolution to occur, with the statement that natural selection favours high copying-fidelity?
-- Richard Dawkins, from The Selfish Gene (2006) Oxford Univ. Press, p. 17
Let me try to make crystal clear what is established beyond reasonable doubt, and what needs further study, about evolution. Evolution as a process that has always gone on in the history of the earth can be doubted only by those who are ignorant of the evidence or are resistant to evidence, owing to emotional blocks or to plain bigotry. By contrast, the mechanisms that bring evolution about certainly need study and clarification. There are no alternatives to evolution as history that can withstand critical examination. Yet we are constantly learning new and important facts about evolutionary mechanisms.
-- Theodosius Dobzhansky (1900–1975), from "Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution", The American Biology Teacher Vol.35, No. 3 (March 1973), pp. 125-129
... there are many reasons why you might not understand [an explanation of a scientific theory] ... Finally, there is this possibility: after I tell you something, you just can't believe it. You can't accept it. You don't like it. A little screen comes down and you don't listen anymore. I'm going to describe to you how Nature is - and if you don't like it, that's going to get in the way of your understanding it. It's a problem that [scientists] have learned to deal with: They've learned to realize that whether they like a theory or they don't like a theory is not the essential question. Rather, it is whether or not the theory gives predictions that agree with experiment. It is not a question of whether a theory is philosophically delightful, or easy to understand, or perfectly reasonable from the point of view of common sense. [A scientific theory] describes Nature as absurd from the point of view of common sense. And it agrees fully with experiment. So I hope you can accept Nature as She is - absurd.
--Richard P. Feynman (1918–1988), from QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter (Feynman 1985), pp. 9-10
Males do not represent two discrete populations, heterosexual and homosexual. The world is not to be divided into sheep and goats. Not all things are black nor all things white. It is a fundamental of taxonomy that nature rarely deals with discrete categories. Only the human mind invents categories and tries to force facts into separated pigeon-holes. The living world is a continuum in each and every one of its aspects. The sooner we learn this concerning human sexual behavior, the sooner we shall reach a sound understanding of the realities of sex.
-- Alfred C. Kinsey, Wardell R. Pomeroy, and Clyde E. Martin. Sexual Behavior in the Human Male. (Philadelphia, Pa: W.B. Saunders, 1948) pp. 610-666.
In a republican nation, whose citizens are to be led by reason and persuasion, and not by force, the art of reasoning becomes of first importance.
--Thomas Jefferson in a letter to David Harding, from Monticello, 20 April 1824; found in H.A. Washington, ed., The Writings of Thomas Jefferson (New York : H.W. Derby, 1861).
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Giovanni Arduino (1714-1795) wrote a letter to Professor A.Vallisneri the younger, in which Arduino proposed a classification of Earth’s surface rocks according to four brackets of successively younger orders: Primary, Secondary, Tertiary and Quaternary. Today, his Primary corresponds to the Precambrian and Paleozoic Era combined, his Secondary is the Mesozoic Era, and his Tertiary and Quaternary combine to form the Cenozoic Era.On this date, the Italian geologist
read papers on original research on the biology of tiny marine organisms found along the Scottish coast to the Plinian Society at Edinburgh University.On this date, Charles Darwin
Conrad Gessner was born. His five-volume Historiae animalium (1551-1558) is considered the beginning of modern zoology, and the flowering plant genus Gesneria (Gesneriaceae) is named after him. But he is notable here because of his contribution to our understanding of fossils.On this date, the Swiss naturalist and bibliographer
Among early natural historians, the main problem impeding a proper view of the meaning of fossils was that resemblances of lithified objects to living organisms were not often obvious, and even when they were, there was no good reason for asserting that the resemblance was anything but fortuitous. There were, in other words, no sure criteria for recognizing and distinguishing fossils from inorganic objects, i.e., from objects that derived from inanimate things rather than from pre-existing organisms.
Conrad Gesner came as close to the correct view as any early natural historian. In his 1565 book, On Fossil Objects, he found the physical similarity between the modern sea urchin (A) and a lithified heart urchin (B) so clear that the organic origin of the heart urchin could not be denied – that it was a fossil in the modern sense of the word.
The absence of a yardstick for assessing the organic nature of lithified objects; the misapprehension of the great age of the earth; and because the mechanism of fossil preservation was unclear (Gesner’s main difficulty), the arguments of visionaries like Da Vinci and Gesner, imperfect as they were, fell on deaf ears.
According to the Lotharingian computists, on this date the world was going to end. They believed they had found evidence in the Bible that a conjunction of certain feast days prefigured the end times. Supposedly, it was on this day that Adam was created, Isaac was sacrificed, the Red Sea was parted, Jesus was conceived, and Jesus was crucified. Therefore, it naturally followed that the End must occur on this day!
The Lotharingian computists were just one of a wide scattering of millennial cults springing up in advance of that first Millennium. The abbot of Saint-Benoit of Fleury-sur-Loire sent a letter to his king complaining about the Lotharingians:
For a rumour had filled almost the entire world that when the Annunciation fell on Good Friday, without any question, it would be the End of the World.
The millennial panic endured for at least 30 years after the fateful date had come and gone, with some adjustment made to allow 1,000 years after the crucifixion, rather than the nativity.
attack on Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution has drawn more attention than Jenkin’s. Nearly every book in the history of evolution recounts the tale. It began in June, 1867 with Mr. Jenkin’s review of The Origin of Species in The North British Review (46: 277-318).On this date, the English physical scientist and engineer Henry (Charles) Fleeming [pronounced "flemming"] Jenkin was born. No other
- Stephen Jay Gould, Bully for Brontosaurus: Reflections in Natural History (New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Co., 1991) 340 -353.
- Ernst Mayr, The Growth of Biological Thought: Diversity, Evolution, and Inheritance ( Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1982) 512.
On this date, the American biochemist Sidney Walter Fox was born. In the 1960s at the University of Miami, Fox found that when he heated Stanley Miller’s amino acids (created through simulation experiments) to temperatures that would have been present on the volcanic primordial Earth, in conjunction with aspartic and glutamic acids (also created through simulation experiments), they formed protein-like polymers that he called”proteinoids”.
Fox observed that when proteinoids or “thermal proteins,” are placed in water, they self-organize into microspheres or protocells, possible precursors of the contemporary living cell. Under a microscope, the microspheres look like primitive cells. In fact, artificially fossilized microspheres are indistinguishable from the earliest known microfossils that date back to about 3.5 BYA. Fox argued that RNA or DNA need not date back to the origin of life, and he showed that proteinoid microspheres exhibit growth, metabolism, reproduction (by budding), and responsiveness to stimuli – all properties of life – though without a genetic system. Although hesitant to claim that these were alive, Fox stated that they were undeniably “protoalive”. This is not an evasive answer. As Tim M. Berra says in Evolution and the Myth of Creationism (1990):
For centuries, science knew nothing intermediate between non-living and living things, but today the distinction is not at all clear. Since life evolved from non-living matter, at some point we must arbitrarily draw a line and say that everything beyond that point is alive. Viruses, for example, appear to be alive when they infect a host, but seem to be non-living when outside a host.
As a result of his monumental discovery of thermal proteins and their self-organization into protocells and that these protocells exhibit virtually all of the properties associated with life, Sidney Fox was invited to lecture widely throughout the world. Even Pope John Paul II and his advisers, on at least three separate occasions, invited Fox to the Vatican to explain his work on the synthesis of cellular life in a test tube.
William Smith was born. Smith was instrumental in extending the science of stratigraphy. His early work was as a miner and an engineer, for a canal-digging company. From this experience he observed the difference in rock layers. He also recognized that the same succession of fossil groups from older to younger rocks could be found in many parts of England, which he called the principle of faunal succession. He traveled the entire country to verify that relationships between the strata and their characteristics were consistent everywhere. Thus Smith created a profile of the entire country of England. His great geologic map of England and Wales (1815) set the standard for modern geologic maps. Many of the colorful names he gave to the strata are still in use today.On this date, the English engineer and geologist
On this date, the English geologist and paleontologist Adam Sedgwick was born. He was one of the founders of modern geology. Sedgwick was the first scientist to apply the name Cambrian to the geologic period of time, now dated at 570 to 505 million years ago. Twentieth-century research has uncovered so many excellent fossils in Cambrian sediments, especially the Burgess Shale in Canada, that this geologic period is sometimes referred to as the “Cambrian Explosion.”
Sedgwick attended Trinity College at Cambridge University, where he took holy orders in 1817. In 1818, he became Woodwardian Professor of Geology at Cambridge, despite the fact that he had no formal training in geology. His lectures at Cambridge were immensely popular; he was a spellbinding lecturer, and – breaking with the traditions of his time – his lectures were open to women, whom Sedgwick thought could make great contributions to natural history. He kept giving his famous lectures until 1871.
After passing his examinations for the Bachelor of Arts degree in January 1831, Charles Darwin began attending Sedgwick’s geology lectures, which he found fascinating. During the summer of 1831, Darwin was Sedwick’s field assistant in north Wales, and Darwin got a “crash course” in field geology from Sedgwick. This was an experience that proved valuable to Darwin over the next five years, on his round-the-world voyage on H.M.S. Beagle. During this voyage, Darwin sent geological specimens and reports to Sedgwick, who wrote approvingly to Darwin’s family:
He is doing admirably in S. America & has already sent home a Collection above all praise. – It was the best thing in the world for him that he went out on the Voyage of Discovery. . .
However, after reading The Origin of Species, Sedgwick candidly wrote to Darwin on November 24, 1859:
If I did not think you a good tempered & truth loving man I should not tell you that. . . I have read your book with more pain than pleasure. Parts of it I admired greatly; parts I laughed at till my sides were almost sore; other parts I read with absolute sorrow; because I think them utterly false & grievously mischievous– You have deserted– after a start in that tram-road of all solid physical truth– the true method of induction. . .
Sedgwick was opposed to Charles Lyell’s models of slow, gradual geological change and a more or less steady-state Earth. Instead, he followed Cuvier’s idea of multiple “catastrophes” that had destroyed much of Earth’s life. But Sedgwick did not object to evolution, or “development” as such theories were called then, in the broad sense – to the fact that the life on Earth had changed over time. Nor was he a “young-Earth” creationist – he thought that the Earth must be extremely old. Nevertheless, Sedgwick believed in the Divine creation of life over long periods of time, by “a power I cannot imitate or comprehend — but in which I believe, by a legitimate conclusion of sound reason drawn from the laws of harmonies of nature.” His problem was with the amoral and materialistic nature of Darwin’s proposed mechanism of natural selection, which Sedgwick thought was degrading to humanity’s spiritual aspirations. His letter of November 24 went on to state:
This view of nature you have stated admirably; tho’ admitted by all naturalists & denied by no one of common sense. We all admit development as a fact of history; but how came it about? Here, in language, & still more in logic, we are point blank at issue– There is a moral or metaphysical part of nature as well as a physical. A man who denies this is deep in the mire of folly. Tis the crown & glory of organic science that it does thro’ final cause, link material to moral. . . You have ignored this link; &, if I do not mistake your meaning, you have done your best in one or two pregnant cases to break it. Were it possible (which thank God it is not) to break it, humanity in my mind, would suffer a damage that might brutalize it–& sink the human race into a lower grade of degradation than any into which it has fallen since its written records tell us of its history.
Despite their differences, the two stayed friends until Sedgwick’s death in 1873.
On this date, Tennessee Governor Peay signed into law the Butler Act, “prohibiting the teaching of the Evolution Theory” in all public schools and universities and making it unlawful in public schools “to teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals.” This set the stage for the Scopes’ “Monkey Trial” in Dayton, Tennessee during the subsequent summer.
The author of the law, a Tennessee farmer named John Washington Butler, had introduced the bill into the state House of Representatives on January 25, 1925. Ironically, he later was reported to have said, “No, I didn’t know anything about evolution when I introduced it. I’d read in the papers that boys and girls were coming home from school and telling their fathers and mothers that the Bible was all nonsense.” After reading copies of William Jennings Bryan’s lecture “Is the Bible True?” as well as Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species and The Descent of Man, Butler decided evolution was dangerous. During the trial, Butler told reporters, “I never had any idea my bill would make a fuss. I just thought it would become a law, and that everybody would abide by it and that we wouldn’t hear any more of evolution in Tennessee.”
On this date, the American molecular biologist Walter Gilbert was born. In 1980, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Frederick Sanger and Paul Berg. Gilbert and Sanger were recognized for their pioneering work in devising methods for determining the sequence of nucleotides in a nucleic acid.
In a 1986 article (Nature 319: 618), Gilbert was the first scientist to use the term “RNA world” to refer to a possible stage in the origin of life on Earth (although the hypothetical possibility of an RNA world had already been suggested by others before him):
The first stage of [chemical] evolution proceeds, then, by RNA molecules performing the catalytic activities necessary to assemble themselves from a nucleotide soup. The RNA molecules evolve in self-replicating patterns, using recombination and mutation to explore new niches. … they then develop an entire range of enzymic activities. At the next stage, RNA molecules began to synthesize proteins, first by developing RNA adaptor molecules that can bind activated amino acids and then by arranging them according to an RNA template using other RNA molecules such as the RNA core of the ribosome. This process would make the first proteins, which would simply be better enzymes than their RNA counterparts. … These protein enzymes are … built up of mini-elements of structure.
Finally, DNA appeared on the scene, the ultimate holder of information copied from the genetic RNA molecules by reverse transcription. … RNA is then relegated to the intermediate role it has today—no longer the center of the stage, displaced by DNA and the more effective protein enzymes.
The possibility of an RNA world in the origin of life had been supported by the discovery by Thomas Cech in 1982 of the existence of naturally-occurring ribozymes.
The root of all superstition is that men observe when a thing hits, but not when it misses.
– Francis Bacon (1561-1626), English lawyer and philosopher
On this day, the American psychologist, author, inventor, social philosopher, and poet B(urrhus) F(rederic) Skinner was born. He developed the theory of operant conditioning — the idea that behavior is determined by its consequences, be they reinforcements or punishments, which make it more or less likely that the behavior will occur again. His principles are still incorporated within treatments of phobias, addictive behaviors, and in the enhancement of classroom performance (as well as in computer-based self-instruction).
Skinner believed that the only scientific approach to psychology was one that studied behaviors, not internal (subjective) mental processes. He denied the existence of a mind as a thing separate from the body, but he did not deny the existence of thoughts, which he regarded simply as private behaviors to be analyzed according to the same principle as publicly observed behaviors. To further improve the objective scientific value of observed behaviors, he invented the “Skinner box”, or operant conditioning chamber. It was a small, soundproof enclosure in which an animal could be isolated from all distractions and outside influences, responding only to the controlled conditions within the box, and is still used today.
Skinner’s analysis of human behavior culminated in his work Verbal Behavior (1957). He was a prolific author who published 21 books and 180 articles. In a June, 2002 survey, B.F. Skinner was listed as the most influential psychologist of the 20th century (Review of General Psychology, June, 2002, pp. 139-152). He was named “Humanist of the Year” in 1972 by the American Humanist Association.
One of Skinner’s most interesting and famous experiments, a classic in psychology, examined the formation of “superstition” in one of his favorite experimental animals, the pigeon. Skinner placed a series of hungry pigeons in a cage attached to an automatic mechanism that delivered food to the pigeon “at regular intervals with no reference whatsoever to the bird’s behavior.” He discovered that the pigeons associated the delivery of the food with whatever chance actions they had been performing as it was delivered (accidental reinforcement), and that they subsequently continued to perform these same actions:
One bird was conditioned to turn counter-clockwise about the cage, making two or three turns between reinforcements. Another repeatedly thrust its head into one of the upper corners of the cage. A third developed a ‘tossing’ response, as if placing its head beneath an invisible bar and lifting it repeatedly. Two birds developed a pendulum motion of the head and body, in which the head was extended forward and swung from right to left with a sharp movement followed by a somewhat slower return.
Skinner suggested that the pigeons behaved as if they were influencing the automatic mechanism with their “rituals” and that this experiment shed light on human behavior:
The experiment might be said to demonstrate a sort of superstition. The bird behaves as if there were a causal relation between its behavior and the presentation of food, although such a relation is lacking. There are many analogies in human behavior. Rituals for changing one’s fortune at cards are good examples. A few accidental connections between a ritual and favorable consequences suffice to set up and maintain the behavior in spite of many unreinforced instances. The bowler who has released a ball down the alley but continues to behave as if she were controlling it by twisting and turning her arm and shoulder is another case in point. These behaviors have, of course, no real effect upon one’s luck or upon a ball half way down an alley, just as in the present case the food would appear as often if the pigeon did nothing — or, more strictly speaking, did something else.
It is easy to see other human parallels of this type of behavior. A person playing a slot machine may alter the way he puts money in the machine and the way he pulls the handle if he thinks that doing these things a certain way will bring him luck. Independent of these behaviors the machine will occasionally pay off (reinforcement). Such a situation allows the person to develop a superstitious behavior, such as not looking at the machine while he pulls the handle. Observation of a gambling casino will reveal a large number of people displaying their superstitious behaviors at the slot machines. Each person’s superstition may be unique to him, as each of Skinner’s pigeons had a unique superstition.
Human superstitions are quite abundant. A college student in an elevator may keep pushing the button of his floor as if this would cause the elevator to move faster. A card player may pick up his cards one at a time as if to improve the hand he was dealt. A businessman may wear a “special” tie when going to an important meeting.
Many ancient beliefs involve superstition. For example, the rain dance: once when someone was doing the so-called rain dance, it started to rain. This person thought that perhaps their dance affected nature. After this rain dance was reinforced intermittently on a frequent enough schedule it became established as a superstitious behavior.
However, the pigeons’ behaviors were later reinterpreted as behaviors that improve foraging efficacy (analogous to salivation in Pavlov’s dogs), which suggests that the pigeons’ behavior does not correspond to Skinner’s intended meaning of superstition. Nevertheless, Skinner’s early account is notable in two respects. First, it recognized the possibility of superstition occurring outside the human realm. Second, and linked to this, Skinner emphasized the behavioral aspect of superstition: “The bird behaves as if there were a causal relation between its behavior and the presentation of food, although such a relation is lacking.” That is, he focused on there being an incorrect response to a stimulus (behavioral outcome), rather than the conscious abstract representation of cause and effect (psychological relationship), with which human superstitions are often associated.
There other differences between human superstitions based on psychological relationship and animal superstitions based on behavioral outcome:
- First, humans, as opposed to animals, often spend considerable time justifying why they are not reinforced each time they do their superstitious behavior. (“I have some questions about that so- called virgin we sacrificed to the volcano god.” “I lost the golf match today because my lucky hat doesn’t seem to work two days in a row.”)
- Second, humans spend more time than animals trying to convince others to adopt their superstitious behaviors. Children often carry on many of the superstitions of their parents.
- Finally, as Herrnstein (1966) points out, “Human superstition, unlike that of animals, arises in a social context.” The acquired superstitions in humans are not as arbitrary as those of animals. Rather they are molded by the person’s culture. Thus, although it is possible to develop a superstition about Wednesday the 11th, it is more probable in our culture to be superstitious about Friday the 13th.
It has only been with the advent of the scientific method that people have been able to distinguish between that which is superstitious and that which has a scientific basis.
- B.F. Skinner. “‘Superstition’ in the Pigeon,” Journal of Experimental Psychology 38: 168-172 (1948).
- Kevin R. Foster and Hanna Kokko.
“The evolution of superstitious and superstition-like behaviour,”
Proc R Soc B 276 (1654): 31-37 (January 2009). DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2008.0981
- R.J. Herrnstein. “Superstition: A corollary of the principles of operant conditioning,” in W. K. Honig (ed.), Operant Behavior: Areas of Research and Application. (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1966) pp. 33-51.
Why should Bill Gates be deciding how your kids are taught?
a) He is one of the richest men on Earth.
b) He never made it through college.
c) He can make more money by doing so.
Originally posted on Diane Ravitch's blog:
Think of it: the richest man in the world poured over $ 2 billion into the creation of national standards , and he is out on the media-power trail, fighting for their survival. Gates is worried about the pushback against the standards and the testing in a score of states. In some states, the very term “Common Core” has become so toxic that they are called something else, rebranded.
And don’t forget that Gates said not long ago that it would take at least ten years to know whether “this stuff” works. Some people wonder if it is a good idea to turn the nation’s schools upside down while we wait those ten years.
Susan Ohanian here tracks his efforts to save his foundering pet project of the moment. She notes his numerous media appearances and joins it with a speech in which he raised doubts about raising the minimum…
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carbonaceous chondrite – a type of meteorite carrying carbon-based, organic chemicals – was unequivocally identified for the first time. Its arrival on Earth was noted at 5:30 pm, outside Alais, France. The organic chemicals it carried suggested the possibility of life on whatever body was the source, somewhere in the universe. According to the observations of the Swedish chemist Jöns Jakob Berzelius and a commission appointed by the French Academy of Sciences, it “emits a faint bituminous substance” when heated. Berzelius analyzed the Alais meteorite and reported in 1833 that destructive distillation yielded a blackish substance, indigenous water, carbon dioxide gas, a soluble salt containing ammonia, and a blackish-brown sublimate, which Berzelius confessed was unknown to him.On this date, a 6-kg
On this date, the physicist and mathematician Albert Einstein was born at Ulm, in Württemberg, Germany. He is best known for his theory of relativity and specifically for the mass–energy equivalence, expressed by the equation:
E = mc2
Einstein’s many contributions to physics included papers on these ideas:
- The special theory of relativity (1905), which reconciled the laws of Newtonian mechanics with the laws of the electromagnetic field. This conflict was famously illustrated by the velocity addition problem. Einstein showed that the observed independence of the speed of light on the observer’s state of motion required fundamental changes to the notion of simultaneity. Consequences of this include the time-space frame of a moving body slowing down and contracting (in the direction of motion) relative to the frame of the observer. This paper also argued that the idea of a luminiferous aether – one of the leading theoretical entities in physics at the time – was superfluous.
- The first fluctuation dissipation theorem which explained Brownian (random) movement (1905). By explaining such movement as the consequence of molecular action, this paper supported the atomic theory.
- The photon theory and wave-particle duality (1905), derived from the thermodynamic properties of light. Einstein put forward the idea that certain experimental results, notably the photoelectric effect, could be simply understood from the postulate that light interacts with matter as discrete “packets” (quanta) of energy, an idea that had been introduced by Max Planck in 1900 as a purely mathematical manipulation and which seemed to contradict contemporary wave theories of light.
- The general theory of relativity (1916), a new theory of gravitation obeying the equivalence principle. The equivalence principle proper was introduced by Albert Einstein in 1907, when he observed that the acceleration of bodies towards the center of the Earth at a rate of 1g (g = 9.81 m/s2 being a standard reference of gravitational acceleration at the Earth’s surface) is equivalent to the acceleration of an inertially moving body that would be observed on a rocket in free space being accelerated at a rate of 1g.
The papers Einstein published in 1905 are the ones that history has come to call the Annus Mirabilis Papers. At the time, however, they were not noticed by most physicists as being important, and many of those who did notice them rejected them outright. Some of this work – such as the theory of light quanta – remained controversial for years. Einstein received the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics “for his services to Theoretical Physics, and especially for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect.”
Einstein’s views on religion have often been misunderstood, distorted, and sometimes deliberately fabricated to suit the personal convictions of the reporter. Einstein clarified his religious views in a letter (1954) he wrote in response to those who claimed that he worshiped a Judeo-Christian god (as quoted in Albert Einstein: The Human Side (1981) edited by Helen Dukas and Banesh Hoffman):
It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal god and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.
In his book The World as I See It (1949), Einstein wrote:
A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, of the manifestations of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty, which are only accessible to our reason in their most elementary forms – it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute the truly religious attitude; in this sense, and in this alone, I am a deeply religious man.
Einstein was also an advocate of humanism and a supporter of Ethical Culture. He served on the advisory board of the First Humanist Society of New York. For the seventy-fifth anniversary of the New York Society for Ethical Culture, he noted that the idea of Ethical Culture embodied his personal conception of what is most valuable and enduring in religious idealism. He observed, “Without ‘ethical culture’ there is no salvation for humanity.”
Einstein published a paper in Nature (vol. 146, pp. 605-607) in 1940 entitled “Science and Religion” in which he said that:
a person who is religiously enlightened appears to me to be one who has, to the best of his ability, liberated himself from the fetters of his selfish desires and is preoccupied with thoughts, feelings and aspirations to which he clings because of their super-personal value … regardless of whether any attempt is made to unite this content with a Divine Being, for otherwise it would not be possible to count Buddha and Spinoza as religious personalities. Accordingly a religious person is devout in the sense that he has no doubt of the significance of those super-personal objects and goals which neither require nor are capable of rational foundation … In this sense religion is the age-old endeavor of mankind to become clearly and completely conscious of these values and goals, and constantly to strengthen their effects…[Conflicts between science and religion] have all sprung from fatal errors…[E]ven though the realms of religion and science in themselves are clearly marked off from each other [there are] strong reciprocal relationships and dependencies … [S]cience without religion is lame, religion without science is blind … [A] legitimate conflict between science and religion cannot exist…[N]either the rule of human nor Divine Will exists as an independent cause of natural events. To be sure, the doctrine of a personal God interfering with natural events could never be refuted … by science, for [it] can always take refuge in those domains in which scientific knowledge has not yet been able to set foot.
In a letter to the philosopher Eric Gutkind on January 3, 1954, Einstein wrote:
…The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honorable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this. These subtilised interpretations are highly manifold according to their nature and have almost nothing to do with the original text.
Bonnet’s first published work appeared in 1745, entitled Traité d’insectologie, in which were collected his various discoveries regarding insects, along with a preface on the development of germs and the scale of organized beings. Botany, particularly the leaves of plants, next attracted his attention; and after several years of diligent study, rendered irksome by the increasing weakness of his eyesight, he published in 1754 one of the most original and interesting of his works, Recherches sur l’usage des feuilles dans les plantes; in which among other things he advances many considerations tending to show (as was later done by Francis Darwin) that plants are endowed with powers of sensation and discernment. Bonnet also studied photosynthesis in plants and noted the emission of bubbles by a submerged illuminated leaf (but see Jan Ingenhousz, who is also given credit for this observation). This very visible production of oxygen by an illuminated leaf is still used regularly in school laboratories as a way of investigating rates of photosynthesis.
Affected by his observation of the aphid, Bonnet argued, in Considérations sur les corps organisés (1762; “Considerations on Organized Bodies”), that each female organism contains within its germ cells (i.e., eggs) an infinite series of preformed individuals (Theory of Preformation), leading to an immortality and immutability of species. In his Contemplation de la nature (Amsterdam, 1764–1765; translated into Italian, German, English and Dutch), one of his most popular and delightful works, he sets forth, in eloquent language, the theory that all the beings in nature form a gradual scale rising from lowest to highest (scala natura), without any break in its continuity.
In order to explain the fossil findings of extinct species, Bonnet, in his work La Palingénésie philosophique (1769; “The Philosophical Revival”), advocated the view that Earth is periodically struck by global disasters. In these disasters most organisms die and the survivors climb the scala natura to reach new heights. According to this, mankind, the peak of evolution, would develop into angels after the next disaster, when plants would become animals, animals would become intelligent beings, and minerals would become plants. This disaster theory to explain evolution strongly influenced Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802), Charles Darwin’s (1809-1882) grandfather. This makes Charles Bonnet one of the first biologists to use the term evolution in a biological context. However, he was stuck in the preformation theory, which implied the immutability of species and precluded biological evolution.
On this date, the American evolutionary biologist Rev. John Thomas Gulick was born. John Gulick continued a family tradition by attending theological school and then did missionary work in China and Japan for over thirty-five years. But he also carried on a parallel career as a naturalist and Darwinian evolutionist. Gulick had collected land snails since his teen years, and became a convert to evolutionary thinking even before reading The Origin of Species. An acute observer, he noticed that many species and varieties of snails were often restricted to very geographically-limited ranges and, as his son Addison later wrote (Scientific Monthly 18 (January 1924): 89), Gulick came
to place great emphasis upon every form of isolation or prevention of mingling, and also to emphasize the great significance for evolution of many factors that are of internal origin, such as the unknown intricacies of the process of heredity, and the effects of new choices made by the evolving creatures…
In 1872, Gulick became the first person to advance the thesis that much evolutionary change is simply a result of chance variation; in other words, variation that has no effect whatsoever on survival and reproductive success can persist in a species. He came to this conclusion when observing the incredible diversity of local populations of Hawaiian land snails (Achatinella) and their seemingly random variation under apparently identical environmental conditions.
In 1888, Gulick introduced terms for the two patterns of evolution that are observed: the term monotypic evolution (previously called transformation) – what today we define as “the change in gene frequencies within populations over generations” – and the term polytypic evolution (previously called diversification) – simultaneous processes, like the multiplication of species, manifested by different populations and incipient species. Darwin had been far more interested in diversification, particularly during the early years of his career. Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, in contrast, had been almost exclusively interested in transformational evolution. He stressed change in time, emphasizing transformation from what was commonly called the lower to the more perfect groups, but his mechanism – “use and disuse” and the “inheritance of acquired characteristics” – was, it turned out, erroneous.
George Romanes later (1897) adopted Gulick’s terminology, distinguishing between monotypic evolution as “transformation in time” and polytypic evolution as “transformation in space.” In other words, monotypic evolution deals with the “vertical” (usually adaptive) component of change in time, while polytypic evolution deals with the “horizontal” component of change. [Today, monotypic evolution is also known as "nonbranching" evolution, or anagenesis, and polytypic evolution is also known as "branching" evolution, or cladogenesis.] This insight was largely forgotten again after 1897, until it was revived during development of the synthetic theory of evolution in the 1940s.
Gulick extended his ideas to societal evolution in human beings, which he thought was dependent on altruistic motives and a spirit of cooperation.
- Ernst Mayr, The Growth of Biological Thought: Diversity, Evolution, and Inheritance ( Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1982) 400-1, 555.
- J.T. Gulick, “On the variation of species as related to their geographical distribution, illustrated by the Achatinellinae,” Nature 6: 222-224 (1872).
- J.T. Gulick, “On diversity of evolution under one set of external conditions,” Journal of the Linnean Society of London (Zoology) 11: 496-505 [Read before the Linnean Society on Nov. 21, 1872].
- J.T. Gulick, “Divergent evolution through cumulative segregation,” Journal of the Linnean Society of London 20: 189-274, 312-380 (1888).