Controversy arising from the recent opening of the “Ark Encounter” in Kentucky (promising something “Bigger Than Imagination”) has excited dismay among the international scientific community, echoing everywhere from New Scientist to National Public Radio. These ancient creation myths have so firmly passed through the evidence mincer into the file marked “Of Anthropological Interest Only” as to be beyond the need for refutation here, as has the pin-head dance of prevarication over what is to be taken literally, and what metaphorically: after all, who has the authority to determine which?
Two questions of greater significance involve the moral and the epistemological considerations of the Ark fable. The first is particularly resonant as it touches upon the upper hand that religion feels it holds over atheism: where would humanity go for its ethics if it didn’t have religion to show it the way? On the evidence of this particular fable, the moral of the story appears to be that you must die by drowning if you are not privileged to be Noah or a member of his family, or one of only two animals from each species which can leg it to the boat before the waters close in.
The second question may be more significant, at least cognitively: how do we know what we know? How did we come by that knowledge, then question it, revise it, and enhance it? Here is where humanity is so badly let down by its putatively holy books, in which no explanation is too risible for unquestioning belief to be compelled upon pain of eternal damnation, whatever evidence may emerge for more plausible explanations.
It is as if some ancient map had been handed down to posterity as an unerring guide to the world in all its flat majesty, promising that between the verdant coastline and the perils of the world’s edge, over which the oceans spill off and out into space, lie vast depths where there be dragons bigger than imagination. Onward marches history and the science of cartography, and slowly we come by better maps that reveal the world more closely adhering to the reality in which no traveller need ever fear slipping over the edge of the world, or being devoured by non-existent dragons.
But any insistence upon adhering to a belief in the old map will make landfall a much less likely possibility too, no matter how big the boat.
Lively Stuff from Planet BAM!
- Brain and gut connectedness: possible impact upon immunity
As a variation on the old saying that we are what we eat, notions of brain/gut connections prompt questions for those who talk of uploading, transplanting, or freezing and revivifying brains: what if the gut and the nervous system are part of the package?
- One of those stories that seems to be about this, when it's about that
The headline suggests a story that will seem to some to be a grandiloquent way of stating the obvious, but what really is interesting is the mapping of perceptions and actions within the brain: seldom singular and specific, but involving various areas working in combinations that remain largely mysterious.
- Brain power has less to do with size, more to do with number of neurons
Can it be that ancestrally, our brains are pretty much like monkey brains but we happened upon fire and they did not? The idea that our brains contain more neurons that work more effectively sits comfortably with the theory in Noah Yuval Harari’s excellent Sapiens, which suggested that fire enabled us to cook food, leading to quicker and more efficient digestion, which enabled us to re-direct energy away from our guts and up into our brains.