Why don’t monkeys evolve into humans any more? Because: they never did. We primates all had a common ancestor. And that species evolved into Homo sapiens and others of that genus, as well as, separately, into Pongo pygmaeus and the other great apes. Monkeys do not become humans because the leap across the branches of the tree of life are too great. Their chance to be something different to what they are came and went a long time ago. Circumstance and geography made monkeys, monkeys and humans, humans. Why can’t the U.K. be like Switzerland? Or Norway? Or New Zealand? Or Singapore? Or any other country that flourishes outside the European Union? Because: each of these countries evolved into their current state, just as the U.K. evolved into ours. Continue reading “Evolution as a Metaphor for Why #Brexit is Still A Terrible, Impossible Idea”
But what if we could restart the body after it shuts down? The ReAnima Project, a project to assess the possibility of regenerating the brains of dead people, has just received approval from an Institutional Review Board at the National Institutes of Health in the US and in India. Bioquark Inc., the brains behind ReAnima (sorry, bad pun), was given the go-ahead to work with 20 patients already declared clinically dead from traumatic brain injury to test whether parts of their central nervous system can be brought back to life. Through the use of different therapies, the company will try to revive patients who are only kept alive through life support. These therapies include injecting the brain with stem cells and a cocktail of peptides, as well as deploying lasers and nerve stimulation techniques that have been shown to bring patients out of comas.
Rosalind English asks: If science was able to resurrect Neanderthals, would they have human rights? I think yes, due to the likely way in which such a resurrection would come about. Consider the way in which gene enhancement techniques will work, when scientists perfect their methods. They will fertilise an egg by means of IVF, and then test the DNA of the petri-dish embryo for whatever it is they are concerned about. They will isolate undesirable genes (such as, a predilection for cancer, green eyes, low IQ, &ct) and replace them with desirable genes (cancer resilience, blue eyes, high IQ, lizard skin, &ct). Then they will put the resulting embryo back into a womb, in the expectation a baby will grow as a result. Such a child (hereafter referred to as an Enhanced baby) will undoubtedly be considered to have human rights… even if a portion of its DNA is from elsewhere in nature. Continue reading “Do Neanderthals have human rights”
I’ve been thinking about the way languages are portrayed in the Star Wars film franchise, and what this says about the universe in which the adventures take place. Some films portray all languages as English. This often happens in war and action films, where you’ll have German World War II officers or Russian spies speaking in accented English. However, many English language films and television series choose to portray the other languages realistically, which involves subtitles (at least, when the dialogue is crucial). In the Star Trek franchise, the Starfleet heroes encounter alien races every week. The problem is cleverly explained by the use of a Universal Translator (apparently built in to the little space ship emblem on the officers’ jerseys) which uses sophisticated AI to simultaneously translate the aliens’ words. There is even an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where the Universal Translator unexpectedly kicks in, thereby alterting the Enterprise Crew to the presence of a bizarre life-form, where they had perceived only crystals. Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy series solves the language problem in a similar way. Arthur Dent puts a Babel Fish in his ear, allowing him to understand all alien languages perfectly. By contrast, Star Wars introduces no such trickery. Each alien race has its own language, and we often see subtitles when characters like Greedo or Jabba the Hut are speaking. R2D2 and Chewbacca speak languages that are unintelligible to the audience, but at least the main characters have learnt to converse with them. C3PO’s raison d’être is as a protocol droid, familiar in millions of languages. What does this say about the English used in Star Wars? Well, since all the alien languages are rendered as one might hear them, with no concessions to the audience, then we can assume that the language we hear spoken by Luke Skywalker and Han Solo is also as we would hear them. The actors are not speaking English as a cheat for the audience. They are speaking English because that is the language that these characters actually speak. Continue reading “Does Star Wars Prove That The Universe is Finite?”
According to Sunny Hundal’s new web service Rippla, Joseph Harker’s Guardianarticle, about racism and the demonisation of communities, was the most shared article in the UK yesterday. And quite right too. It’s a truly sublime piece of analysis, comparing recent news sources, real demographic data, and an apt turn of phrase, to analyse the differing media coverage given to the same crimes, when committed by different perpetrators. When Muslims are convicted of sex crimes, the stories receive much more attention than when generic white Englishmen are found to have done the same deed. Worse, the actions of wayward Muslims are deemed to be somehow inspired by their culture. This same extrapolation never happens for white people. This article feels like the definitive statement on the issue of how the media treats minorities. It raises its head in various guises all the time. Like many people, I have been mulling it for years. Back in 2003, when I was part of The LIP Magazine‘s editorial team, we published ‘Do You Belong To A Community?‘ by Aisha Phoenix which begins with a bite: “Whenever the media describes someone as coming from a ‘community’, you know they are not white.” Almost a decade later, and I see the same anxieties in this comment from the novelist Kamila Shamsie to the columnist David Aaronovich: “Could we have a moratorium on the phrase ‘Muslim leader’ please?” Much rhetoric in politics is of a kind where the speaker (or writer) claims that his or her special interest group are being treated unfairly, and if they were of a different skin colour or religion (or whatever) they would be treated better. This is often an incorrect assumption, which betrays a lack of understanding of the society in which we live. Harker makes precisely this kind of argument in his article, too. However, instead of making a vague assumption, the nature of the issue means he does have the ‘data’ to back up the rhetoric, and the article becomes akin to a scientific experiment. Since the two prosecutions he examines are so similar, it is almost as if one is the control group for the other, in one of those attitude surveys invented by psychologists: Keep the details similar but change the ethnicity of the person, and see how attitudes change. I would love to see other scientific analogies used in political discourse. In particular, I yearn for an equivalent of dye tracing or radio-active marking when a controversy flares. This would be very useful during some of the free speech arguments I follow, when some kind of institution has to decide whether to support or withdraw an offensive text, event or artwork. It would be great to trace the decision-making process in such a way as to perceive the point where the support for the principle of free speech breaks down. That would help us identify where these values should be reinforced. Unfortunately, I cannot quite imagine how one might set the ‘tracer’ off… short of manufacturing an argument. So, if Anjem Choudary is reading this, perhaps he would give me advanced warning of his next stunt? Then I can track the reactions he provokes with academic precision.