Posts Tagged ‘Bertrand Russell’

Bertrand Russell’s shortest book

March 4, 2017

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Click on HISTORY OF THE WORLD in epitome (for use in Martian infant schools), and scroll down, to read the text and illustrations.

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Birth rates and the global balance of power

July 31, 2015
A forecast and not a fact

A forecast and a possibility but not a certainty

african-v-eurpope-population-growth-economist-aug-28-2009

Also a possibility but not a certainty

It is a good thing, not a bad thing, that birth rates are falling worldwide.  If things continue as they are, world population growth will level off by the end of the century.

But the fact that they are not falling at the same rate in every country changes the world balance of power, as Indians outnumber Chinese and Africans outnumber Europeans.

Bertrand Russell once wrote that if there is to be peace in the world, nations will have to negotiate limits on their populations as well as limits on their armaments.

I don’t see how that would be feasible without nations also agreeing to totalitarian Chinese-style birth regulations.  The alternative is to wait for the “demographic transition” to click in.  Help people achieve a better life, provide women with reproductive rights and knowledge and wait for population to level off as it is doing in the developed world.

LINK

India set to become world’s most populous nation by 2022 – UN by Emma Batha for Reuters.

∞∞∞

The top chart was published by the BBC; the second chart by The Economist.

 

California’s water and the reality principle

March 25, 2015

Drought map USASource: Business Insider.

Bertrand Russell once wrote that democracies would always triumph in the long run over dictatorships because dictators had the power to ignore unwelcome facts while democracies did not, thanks to contested elections, freedom of the press and the loyal opposition.

In short, although Russell did not use that word, democracies had a better system of feedback.

I hope this is true, but I wonder about American democracy’s ability to face reality, as I look at the lack of U.S. response to global climate change, the failure to keep the nation’s physical infrastructure in good repair, the erosion of civil liberties and the continuation of failed interventionist policies in the Middle East.

Drought-2-650x435The California water crisis is an example of what I mean.  During the past few weeks, journalists have reported that California has only a year’s supply of water in its reservoirs at current rates of use.

That’s exaggerated, because the supply can be stretched out by means of rationing and pricing schemes, but most of California, left to its natural state, would be a desert, and that is a real possibility.

California voters last year approved a bond issue to pay for long-range solutions, such as large-scale water recycling and ocean water desalinization from the ocean.  But these will take years to implement.

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Bertrand Russell on a fundamental fallacy

December 2, 2014

The fundamental fallacy which is committed by almost everyone is this: 

“A and B hate each other, therefore one is good and the other is bad.”

==Bertrand Russell, in a letter to Sidney Hook in 1956

 

Haldane vs. Russell on science and the future

September 12, 2014

by Phil Ebersole

These are notes for my talk to the Rochester Russell Forum on Sept. 11, 2014.

My presentation tonight is based on two essays, Daedalus: Science and the Future, written in 1923, in which the mathematical biologist, J.B.S. Haldane said that science held the seeds of a possible utopian future, and Icarus: the Future of Science, written by 1924 by Bertrand Russell in rebuttal, warning of the dangers in the development of scientific technique.

These conflicting claims about science are still with us, and I think these older essays shed light on the question precisely because they are old.  Both Haldane and Russell made predictions about the future which we are in a position to judge.

I think most of us know something about Bertrand Russell, but maybe not so much about John Burton Sanderson Haldane.

J.B.S. Haldane

J.B.S. Haldane

He was born in 1892 to an aristocratic and secular Scottish family.  He made important contributions to science.

He helped lay the groundwork for combining Mendelian genetics with Darwin’s theory of natural selection, which is the current basis of evolutionary theory, and for the idea of kin selection, popularized by Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene.  He developed a theory of the origin of primitive life from complex non-living molecules, and constructed a human gene map for color blindness and hemophilia.

Like Richard Dawkins, he was both a successful popularizer of science and a militant atheist.  He was a staunch socialist and Marxist, and edited the London Daily Worker from 1940 to 1949.

In 1956, he emigrated to India in order, he said, to enjoy the freedom “not to wear socks”.  He became a naturalized citizen of India and worked at the Indian Statistical Institute until his death in 1964.

It is interesting that he entitled his essay “Daedalus,” who was, according to the legend, a morally ambiguous figure.  Daedalus was a technological genius who supposedly fled his native city of Athens to Crete after murdering his nephew, whom he feared would surpass him in achievement.  He constructed a wooden cow for the Cretan Queen Pasiphae (pas-if-eye) to hide in while she had sex with a white bull sent by Poseidon.  She became pregnant with the Minotaur, half bull and half man, so Daedalus, as Haldane pointed out, was the first genetic engineer.  He designed the Labyrinth to contain the Minotaur, which fed on youths and maidens, and he gave Ariadne, daughter of Pasiphae and King Minos, a thread by which her lover Theseus could find his way out after killing the beast.

King Minos shut Daedalus and his son Icarus in the Labyrinth, but Daedalus made feathered wings for himself and his son so they could escape by flying to Sicily.  But Icarus flew too close to the sun and the wax attaching the feathers to his body melted, and he drowned.  There’s more, but I’m going to turn to Haldane’s essay.

Haldane said the science is —
(1) the free activity of humanity’s divine faculty of reason and imagination
(2) the answer of a few to the demands of the many for wealth, comfort and victory, and
(3) humanity’s gradual conquest of
(a) space and time,
(b) matter as such
(c) the bodies of living things, including the human body, and
(d) the human soul

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Bertrand Russell on war for moral principle

September 5, 2013

In 1914, the British government justified its declaration of war on Germany by Germany’s violation of the neutrality of Belgium and by alleged German atrocities, most of which later turned out to be false propaganda.  Bertrand Russell, who opposed the war, wrote early in 1915 about the idea of going to war to punish nations for their crimes.

Moral judgment, as applied to others than one’s self, are a somewhat subtilised police force: they make use of men’s desire for approbation to bring self-interest into harmony with the interest of one’s neighbors.

Bertrand Russell

Bertrand Russell

But when a man is already trying to kill you, you will not feel much additional discomfort in the thought that he has a low opinion of your moral character. For this reason, disapproval of our enemies in wartime is useless, so far as any possible effect upon them is concerned.

It has, however, a certain unconscious purpose, which is, to prevent humane feelings toward the enemy, and to nip in the bud any nascent sympathy for his sufferings.  Under the stress of danger, belief and emotions all become subservient to the one end of self-preservation.

Since it is repugnant to civilized men to kill and maim other just like themselves, it becomes necessary to conquer repugnance by denying the likeness and imputing wickedness to those whom we wish to injure.

And so it comes about that the harshest moral judgments of the enemy are formed by the nations which have the strongest impulses of kindliness to overcome.

==Bertrand Russell, “An Appeal to Intellectuals,” 1915

Bertrand Russell on action and thought

July 21, 2013

russell-vicky-cartoon-sHalf the useful work in the world consists in combating the harmful work. 

A little time spent in trying to appreciate facts is not time wasted.

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        ==Bertrand Russell, The Conquest of Happiness

New links: LBJ, Higgs boson, philosophy, etc.

July 14, 2012

If you like my web log, I think you’ll like the articles and blogs in my links menu.  Here are the latest additions to this menu.

Articles

Lyndon Johnson and the passage of powerRobert Caro’s biography of Robert Moses and his on-going multi-volume biography of Lyndon Johnson are the best books I’ve read about power political power operates in the United States.  The link is to an excellent review and summary in the London Review of Books of Caro’s fourth and latest Lyndon Johnson volume.  Hat tip to Jack Clontz.

The Higgs boson made simpleReading this article on MSNBC’s Cosmic Log and the accompanying links helped me understand why confirmation of the existence of the Higgs boson was an important discovery.  Hat tip to John Lenz.

Article of lasting interest

Bertrand Russell: The Value of Philosophy.   Although Bertrand Russell was hostile to organized religion, the study of philosophy was, for him, a kind of spiritual practice.  The value of philosophy was not in offering specific answers to questions, but in focusing the mind away from personal desires, frustrations and resentments and toward the cosmic scheme of things.

John Scalzi: Straight White Male—the Lowest Default Setting There IsSF writer John Scalzi gave a good explanation why we straight white males should keep in mind how much better off we are than gays, people of color and women, without confusing the issue by dragging in “white privilege” or “white guilt.”  Hat tip to Making Light.

Documentaries

GlaxoSmithKline fraud case: Does crime pay?  This is an informative broadcast by Al Jazzera’s Inside Story Americas about a $3 billion fine imposed on the big British drug corporation GlaxoSmithKline for marketing dangerous drugs and suppressing information about their risks.

A message for our time from Bertrand Russell

June 3, 2012

I’m a member of the Bertrand Russell Society, and just now got back from the BRS annual meeting, which was held this year in Plymouth, N.H.   My friend Tim Madigan, who teaches philosophy at St. John Fisher College near Rochester, showed some video clips of Bertrand Russell that he uses in his class—including this one, which was taken from an extended interview shown on the British Broadcasting System in 1959.

Russell was asked what message he would sent to the future.   We are part of the future for whom his message was intended.

Below is another video clip of Russell.

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Bertrand Russell’s maxims for paranoids

June 3, 2012

1.  Remember that your motives are not always as altruistic as they seem to yourself.

2. Don’t overestimate your own merits.

3.  Don’t expect others to take as much interest in you as you do yourself.

4.  Don’t imagine that most other people give enough thought to you to have any desire to persecute you.

These maxims are from Bertrand Russell’s The Conquest of Happiness.

Click on Bertrand Russell Bulletin for information about Bertrand Russell and the Bertrand Russell Society.

Click on Russell Texts Online for writings by Bertrand Russell.

Click on Bertrand Russell Facebook for more about Russell.

Click on Schedule of Greater Rochester Russell Set for Russell-related talks and discussions in Rochester, N.Y.

What liberalism ought to be

February 17, 2012


Fundamentally liberalism is an attitude.  The chief characteristics of that attitude are human sympathy, a receptivity to change and a scientific willingness to follow reason rather than faith or any fixed ideas.
    ==Chester Bowles

***

This, perhaps, is the testament of Liberalism.  For underlying all the specific projects which men espouse who think of themselves as Liberals there is always, it seems to me, a deeper concern.  It is fixed upon the importance of remaining free in mind and action before changing circumstances.
This is why Liberalism has always been associated with a passionate interest in freedom of thought and freedom of speech, in scientific research, in experiment, in the liberty of teaching, in an independent and unbiased press, in the right of men to differ in their opinions and to be different in their conduct …
    ==Walter Lippmann

***
The essence of the Liberal outlook lies not in what opinions are held, but in how they are held: instead of being held dogmatically, they are held tentatively, and with a consciousness that new evidence may at any moment lead to their abandonment.  This is the way opinions are held in science, as opposed to the way they are held in theology.
    ==Bertrand Russell

***

What do I understand by the Liberal principle?  I understand, in the main, it is a principle of trust in the people only qualified by prudence.  By this principle which is opposed to the Liberal principle, I understand mistrust of the people, only qualified by fear.
    ==William E. Gladstone

Bertrand Russell’s rule

May 22, 2011

When people are mistaken as to what is to their own interest, the course they believe to be wise is more harmful to others than the course that really is wise.

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Bertrand Russell’s message to our descendants

May 15, 2011

Bertrand Russell, one of the 20th century’s most important and most interesting thinkers, lived from 1872 to 1970.  The video is from a BBC Face-to-Face interview in 1959.

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Bertrand Russell’s rules for skeptics

December 19, 2010

1.  When the experts are agreed, the opposite opinion cannot be held to be certain.

2.  When they are not agreed, no opinion can be regarded as certain by a non-expert.

3.  When they all hold that no sufficient grounds for a positive opinion exist, the ordinary man would do well to suspend his judgment.

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Bertrand Russell’s Ten Commandments

May 21, 2010

The philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote his own personal set of ten commandments. They were published under the title “My Ten Commandments” in Everyman magazine in 1930.

They ran as follows: –

1. Do not lie to yourself.russell_commandments

2. Do not lie to other people unless they are exercising tyranny.

3. When you think it is your duty to inflict pain, scrutinize your reasons closely.

4. When you desire power, examine yourself closely as to why you deserve it.

5. When you have power, use it to build up people, not to constrict them.

6. Do not attempt to live without vanity, since this is impossible, but choose the right audience from which to seek admiration.

7. Do not think of yourself as a wholly self-contained unit.

8. Be reliable.

9. Be just.

10. Be good-natured.

Years later he wrote another set of ten commandments, this one just for teachers. It was published in an article entitled “The Best Answer to Fanaticism – Liberalism” in the New York Times Magazine in 1951.

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