“Why is there anything at all?”

I must admit I’ve been bothered by the fact that we ultimately cannot find a satisfactory answer for why something like existence itself, well, exists. We now know the Big Bang (probably) wasn’t the origin of everything, and that the current stage of the universe we find ourselves in is just the latest stage of an eternally evolving universe that may very well be part of a larger multiverse, but where did that come from?

“Everything must have a cause” according to Leibniz’s “Principle of Sufficient Reason,” and yet all the causes offered up so far, from God to random quantum fluctuations, don’t give a satisfactory answer. It’s been suggested that this ultimate question of metaphysics is the philosophical equivalent of attempting to square the circle, but I cannot find myself accepting that. There has to be some sort of answer, and this is the territory that allows theism (or at the very least deism) to subtly creep back in, the ultimate god of the gaps that may very well never be shaken out of its hiding spot.

The idea that there exists things humanity will never even hope to comprehend is something far more suitable for Lovecraft’s universe than the scientifically enlightened (for a given value of “enlightened”) one we find ourselves in, and the fact this may very well be true is what disturbs me on a fundamental level. I am afraid I cannot give a satisfactory answer to this, and nor can anyone else. I am sorry.

“Religious freedom” in Ohio’s classrooms

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wuYGGqWGxsE

Groan, I`m from Ohio, and this is just ugh. We’re rapidly becoming the new Texas. Anyhow this video is by Rebecca Watson, a noted internet skeptic and social justice activist, and she goes over the intent behind the bill pretty well, explaining the “Wedge strategy” and how it relates to this particular bill’s intentions.

I suspect this will get flagged down by the courts, but fundies never give up, do they? It’s known that due to Trump’s mishandling of the Judiciary reactionaries are getting a lot more brazen, the latest bill about abortion coming from Ohio seems especially geared for the sole purpose of getting taken to court, and since the SCOTUS has a right wing majority, that’s bad news for progressives.

Some room for improvement

http://nymag.com/intelligencer/amp/2019/12/climate-change-worst-case-scenario-now-looks-unrealistic.html?__twitter_impression=true

I`m not a climate scientist so don’t expect me to reproduce all the technical details here, but in short both the worst case scenarios and best case scenarios for climate change seem rather unrealistic now, at least according to this article. If I got this right we’re expecting a 2° C increase in global temperatures, which means that major cities along the coasts will still get flooded, but total civilizational collapse seems unlikely.

Of course this is still all up in the air, and a lot of it depends on how the newly industrialized economies of the world regulate their carbon output, and other findings suggest we’re already fast tracked for a worst case scenario outcome, so make of that what you will. The point being that what will happen in the next few decades is up in the air at this point, no one knows, anything can happen, and what happens is ultimately up to us.

So don’t fall prey to the denialist, capitalist serving bullshit that is eco-pessimism, but don’t get your hopes up either, take action is all I`m saying, that’s what ultimately matters after all.

Neanderthal extinction revised

https://www.sciencealert.com/how-a-perfect-storm-of-sex-and-population-size-may-have-sealed-the-neanderthals-fate

Instead they were wiped out by demographic factors, namely small population size and inbreeding. Modern humans helped out by essentially serving as a sort of “sexual distraction,” so then when Neanderthals mated with modern humans the gene flow went to modern human populations rather than Neanderthal populations, ie we swamped them and assimilated them with little conflict involved, and thereby accelerated a process that would’ve eventually killed them all of anyways.

The Mystery of the Wow! signal.

Mr John Michael Godier here does a brilliant introduction and explanation of the eponymous “mystery of the Wow! signal,” especially why it’s unlikely to be of anything of either terrestrial or solar (as in the solar system’s orbit) origin. Perhaps most spookily, he notes that the signal appears to be corrected for the orbits of the sun and the earth, something that is not often mentioned about the solar system, and given how earth’s status as a life-bearing planet wouldn’t exactly be a secret to distant extrasolar observers, this is extremely spooky, only adding to the mystery surrounding the Wow! signal. Also of interest is that whatever emitted the Wow! signal also appears to be slowly moving towards us, at a speed of ten km/sec, of course that’s slower than the Voyager 2’s speed of 15 km/s.

Could this be some sort of intentionally sent probe, and the Wow! signal being an attempt to signal us to alert us of its presence? In the end, who knows? It’s unlikely the mystery of the Wow! signal is something that will be solved in the near future, but it definitely keeps us awake at night, showing that there’s still much more to learn about this strange universe we call home.

The Roots of Humanity

I propose that Australopithecus is to be more accurately considered a chronogenus, similar to how Homo erectus is considered a chronospecies. I mean, Australopithecus already is paraphyletic because it excludes Homo, its descendant genus, and there are human species that display many primitive, australopithecine traits, and many australopithecine species that feature advanced, human traits. So much so in fact that the line between “human” and “protohuman” has been increasingly blurred over the years, to the point we’re having debates over whether something like H. habilis is truly a human or rather an australopithecine proto-human instead.

We know that stone tools were already in use by 3.3 Ma, and that we were already losing our body hair by 3.2 Ma (which surprise surprise indicates persistence hunting), and that australopithecine social structures would’ve been more similar to modern humans than chimps (australopithecines gave birth the hard, human way, rather than the easy chimp way), including that the males took part in raising the young, and that australopithecine couples were at the very least serially monogamous. We don’t know how complex they were, or how much more similar to modern human socials structures they were than to chimps, since so much time has passed between then and now, but we know at the very least the beginnings of everything thought of as “human,” from bipedality to marriage to technology (rather than simple tool use), had its roots in the australopithecines.

Of course, that’s not to mention the extremely early migrations out of Africa that lead to the H. floresiensis lineage, since recent phylogenetic analyses indicates the Hobbits of Flores were even more basal than H. habilis was, and the findings of stone tools in China dated to over two million years ago, and how the primitive species H. naledi was found to have lived as recently as 200kya, we now know the story of human evolution is a *lot* more complex than we once thought, indeed it’s apt, if somewhat crude, to call it what it is: a *clusterfuck*.

Cemetery 117

On the shores of ancient Lake Turkana we find a hidden trove of all too human horrors, a trove of broken bones and unburied bodies, a testament to the inner cruelty of man. 59 victims were found, murdered and mutilated, their bodies left unburied. Only the tide would tend to their funerary needs, forever preserving this senseless, and ancient, act of wanton cruelty.

Thirteen thousand years ago an entire community was massacred, their hands and feet bound together as their skulls were smashed in, their scalps sliced off, and their tongues ripped out. All ages were among the victims, from the elderly to children. Among the dead was a woman in late pregnancy.

These people were not farmers, as it had been long presumed the horrors of war only started with the advent of agriculture. No, these people lived before the dawn of farming, but the world they lived in was changing. The ice sheets were melting, causing global chaos as what had been the norm for tens of thousands of years came to a grinding halt.

Lake Turkana was a paradise in this time, lush, wet, and green, filled with all sorts of wildlife like elephants, hippos, and crocodiles as far as the eye could see. This primordial Garden of Eden would seem like the last place one would expect to find the grisly atrocities of war, but alas, appearances can be deceiving.

What truly happened on that fateful day thirteen thousand years ago may never truly be known, but these broken bodies lay witness to the fact that war, war never changes.