Photo by Carlos de Toro @carlosdetoro

Some make us look foolish,

and some make us look wise.

We are imperfect mirrors

for each other’s lives.

Photo by Elias Arias on Unsplash

There is an awful and predictable sameness to the violence between Israelis and Palestinians, and to the gun violence in the United States. It leaves those of us who are spectators feeling helpless and possibly even guilty. What can and should we do to try to prevent, or at least mitigate, such events?

It seems that there is little I can do as an individual, except perhaps to offer what should be some rather obvious advice, based on a few simple observations and the appropriate metaphor that violent human conflicts are like wildfires.

Some people enjoy violence. Many young men…

Nothing in the universe is “artificial”

Photo by Photoholgic on Unsplash

It continues to amaze me how delusional and self-important we humans can be. Experiencing our lives up close, many of us fail to comprehend and reflect upon what an apparently rare but imperfect phenomenon our species is in our universe. Instead, we often obsess over local, universally meaningless animosities or spend our limited time on trivia.

Although we often feel, as individuals, that many events in our lives are out of our control, we may comfort ourselves by believing that other people — our leaders — know what they are doing and will help…

Photo by Tom Podmore on Unsplash

The title of this article is intentionally misleading. We may think we build our societies, but they grow, often without much control. To the extent that we do have control over how they grow, we can follow some guidelines from modern engineering design and from observations of natural systems other than us.

Considering how different we individual people are from on another, and how many flaws we all have, it’s amazing that we have been so successful as social animals — if we can consider our dominance of our planet as “successful”. Since the Industrial Age, principles of system design…

Where lies understanding?

Is this a picture of God?

Photo by Joel Filipe on Unsplash

An old joke describes the difference between a specialist and a generalist:

A specialist is a person who learns more and more about less and less until s/he knows almost everything about almost nothing.

A generalist is a person who learns less and less about more and more until s/he knows almost nothing about almost everything.

A more serious contrast for me is the one between knowledge based on nameless forms, like the ones created by abstract artists and musicians, and knowledge based on formless names, like the ones created by…

Photo by Ross Sneddon on Unsplash

Learning and using a second language is an interesting challenge. We use our languages to construct partial pictures of our experiences to show to other people, but each language cuts up our picture of life differently.

With two languages it’s as if we have two puzzles with the same picture, but each with pieces of different shapes and sizes. We are most familiar with our oldest puzzle — our first language — which we have put together in parts many times, over and over again. (Life is a huge puzzle that we never finish assembling in full.)

When we learn…

Speculations about lost civilizations like Atlantis are always interesting. Thanks, Geoff, for your article!

What's difficult, of course, is to distinguish fact from fantasy, or at least plausible ideas from implausible speculations. Scientists with careers in archaeology to protect, and trained in collection and evaluation of evidence, are naturally wary of sheer speculation. The rest of us are free to conjecture.

There seems to be some plausibility to the idea that folk tales can contain ancient cultural memories. It has long struck me that the giants in the Grimm brothers' fairy tales may derive from ancient memories of our Neanderthal…

Jim Mason

Studies language, cognition, and humans as social animals

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