Category: Speculative Science

Cultural Discordance and the Evolution of Chivalry:  Western European Conflict as Moral Imperative

Cultural Discordance and the Evolution of Chivalry: Western European Conflict as Moral Imperative

The philosophical concepts of Chivalry develop from a mixture of what seem to be essentially two incompatible ethical systems; The Judeo-Christian ethical system and the warrior virtues of the Celtic/German tribal people of Europe. These two systems on the surface do not seem compatible and taken together should mix as well as oil and water. The ideology of Christ and that of the tribal people of Europe are in opposition in almost every way. So how did these two systems come together to form the underpinning of both Western society and the ethical imperative of the warrior class which dominated that society?

The answer to this question lies within the violent cultural mélange that was taking place in Europe at the fall of the Roman Empire. Out of this stew pot of cultural clash the ethical system of Chivalry arose. Chivalry combined aspects of Christian piety and ethics with the violent and individualistic hero worship of the European tribal people. Both these groups had inherited what was left of the fallen Roman Empire. The glue that held the church and tribal people together was their belief in the Roman idea of empire. The individualist warrior class that arose from the fall of Rome was a mess of conflicting beliefs. Those beliefs coalesced out of a mixture of German/Celtic barbarism, Roman civil ethics, and Christian mysticism. These cultures which had clashed during the long fall of Rome merged and began a thousand year domination of the ideology of the Western European upper classes. This emerging ideology would be called Chivalry after the French word for horseman and would arguably become the most important ethical philosophy of the middle ages.

 

Christian Morality and Chivalry

The warrior class in Europe had internalized Roman and Aristotelian philosophy during the long years of Roman domination, but with the fall of Rome the Catholic Church was working feverously to instill Christian beliefs and ideas into the ruling classes among these warriors. The Heliand or  Saxon Bible is one of these endeavors. To make Christian theology palatable to the warrior class Catholic monks recreated the New Testament gospels into a story that matched the type of heroic epic that German culture was accustom too. In the Heliand Joseph and Mary are transformed into heroic warrior figures Joseph a noble “Knight” and Mary a princess. Christ is the son of God and the promised “Warrior King” who will unite all the tribes.  It is a very different interpretation of the Gospel with magic, castles, and mystical heroes. A tale suited to entice the German pagans to convert. The Heliand is very similar to the same type of Arthurian tales that had been popular just after the fall of Rome in Briton and one might wonder if the origins of the Arthurian legends are not a lost mythology created by earlier Briton Christians seeking converts as well. Arthur is undoubtedly a British Christ figure. The once and future King who works to unite all the kingdoms in peace and equality.  A man prophesied to return from the dead and save Briton in a time of trouble. Far too many similarities exist to the Heliand to dismiss this as chance.

In the introduction to the Heliand by Ronald Murphy he states the Heliand” is intended to bring the gospel home to the Saxons in a poetic environment in order to help the Saxons to cease their vacillation between their warrior loyalty to the old Gods and to the might of Christ”[1]. Murphy believes that this work was never meant to be read in the church itself but was meant to be a Bible for laymen and warrior chiefs. It was to be recited in the mead halls as an epic poem. This epic was just different enough from the original gospel to fit into the warrior beliefs of these German tribes, just as the tales of Arthur fit into this same mold. Both works were geared towards turning a warrior tribal people away from their old religions to the new Christian faith. Sidney Painter in his work sees knighthood as an extension of several different philosophical ideologies. One philosophy dominated by the Germanic tribal warrior’s belief in prowess at arms, a second devoted to the Church militant, and a third devoted to a late outgrowth of chivalry devoted to sensual pleasures. The first two overlap greatly and it is sometimes very difficult to distinguish the holy knight from that one who holds the ideas of Christ first and foremost.  “From the sixth to the eleventh centuries the church strove to curb the typical vices of the warrior class or to turn them into channels it approved”[2] the Heliand was just one of the ways that the church sought to indoctrinate the warrior class. Another method that Painter discusses is the sublimation of violence to more useful efforts that served the church. The crusades were the culmination of these efforts. The crusades marked the ultimate power of the Church over the ideas of chivalry and the knights that followed those ideas. Here the church could use their influence over the flowering philosophy and develop for itself an army of true believers willing to die for their cause. When Pope Urban II called for the first Crusade on November 27, 1095 little did he realize how well the church had done its job at inculcating the people of Europe with the ideas of Christianity or how heart felt was the fervent desire to show their dedication to the cause of Christ. This desire was born out of a clash of cultures, the Christian ethics had merged with the tribal aggressive and warlike nature and born from this fusion were the knights of the church.“The response was immediate and tremendous. Cries of  ‘Deus le Volt’ God wills it interrupted the speech”[3]. With the crusades in full swing and the promise of eternal salvation for dying in the service of the church, the ideas of Christian piety would be stamped onto chivalry until well after the renaissance.

 

German and Celtic Hero Worship and Its role in the formation of Chivalry

 

“About this time, the king of England resolved to rebuild and embellish the great castle of Windsor, which King Arthur had first founded in time past, and where he had erected and established that noble round table from whence so many gallant knights had issued forth, and displayed the valiant prowess of their deeds at arms over the world.”[4]

 

The ideas that helped bind Christian morals and tribal warrior virtue into a coherent chivalric idea was the idea of the heroic individual. This idea helped navigate the difficulty in creating a warrior class that at once reveled in prideful boasts and great deeds, kept faith with their liege lord, and at the same time gave more than lip service to the ideas of virtue and humility that came with a belief in Christ. A cursory look at European cultural identity will show that the framework on which the chivalric philosophy rested existed in Europe prior to the influence of either Romans or Christians. This framework existed in both the Germanic and Celtic tribes that made up the bulk of the European population. These people had a tradition of what approximated Knighthood only lacking according to Sidney Painter “the nourishment of twelfth century France to spring into full flower.”[5] By this Painter means that the ideas of chivalry manifested and paired with the ideas of Christian courtesy and the Feudal commitment in the twelfth century and with this fusion it became a complete philosophy. The individualist hero had become the tame individual whose individuality was measured and tempered by his feudal obligations. As the middle-ages progressed Knighthood evolved from the rampaging Beowulf to the courteous Lancelot. Both literature and culture reflected the new individual as hero. The knight transformed in the twelfth century from tribesman to loyal servant while still maintaining his individuality. “[T]he fundamental quality of feudalism is reflected in one of the chief doctrines of their metaphysics: the self-sufficiency of the individual”[6] This individuality allowed the warrior class to embrace the Christian ethic of individual salvation. It encouraged that individual to see himself as a warrior of Christ rather than just a tribal thug.

Of course the evolution to this feudal knight began long before the twelfth century. We can see the beginnings of these warrior elite in the Romano-Celtic stories of King Arthur. To even consider the ideas of Chivalry without a discussion of Arthur would be to do no justice to the subject. Painter focuses almost solely on the contributions of the Germans and French to the ideas of Chivalry but it is in the sagas and stories of the early Britons that most of our mythology about knights and Chivalry are created. Those twelfth century French nobles who put the finishing touches on this warrior philosophy certainly had Arthur in mind as many of the stories of Arthur and his knights appear in France at this time. The warrior idea then develops from both the tribal German and the tribal Celtic tradition. The Germans provide Beowulf and Percival as the founding knights of their branch of Chivalry and the Celtic/Romans providing Arthur, and Galahad. The Celtic tradition also gives us the ideas surrounding the Holy Grail as it is a substitution of many different magical cups and bowls in Celtic mythology.

 

Contradictory Beliefs and Social Cohesion

The fall of Rome was a time of upheaval and of conflict. Small kingdoms rose and fell constantly. Western Europe had been thrown into a dark age without Rome to lead and warriors were constantly vying for power among themselves and with the Christian church. How does social cohesion come out of the conflict between these very different and competing systems of value. Much of this can be explained away by the fact that Chivalry was for the most part a very individualistic philosophy and that the individual was allowed to create for himself a way of thinking that could encompass the contradictions. That the church had bent over backwards to accommodate that type of thinking is evident by such things as the Heliand and the church’s ability to embrace pagan gods as saints and incorporate the worship of these gods into Christian theology. This allowed Christianity to out compete some of the other religious philosophies that had much more rigid theological rules. This does not however explain how a religion that at its core promotes peace and love could be shoehorned to fit the fractious warrior ethics of the tribal peoples of Europe.

To understand this I think one must understand the place the Church gave itself in medieval society. The church became not the tribe itself but an extension of the tribal family. We begin to see church leaders called father and brother. Female leaders become mother. We have what to the tribal people of Europe is an even more important place for the church than as a political entity. The Church becomes family and as such family is more central to their lives. This fits into the tribal sensibility in a way that other religions lacked. God was the head of the family the Father Head. It was a very personal religious experience very removed from the impersonal gods of both the German and Celtic tribes. This family aspect helped tie the tribal warrior to the Church. The idea of the Mother of God and her mercy may be one of the most important aspects that the Church allowed. This helped bind the warrior class to the teachings of the Church. You constantly find Mary mentioned alongside God in every medieval text, “that is those who love, serve, and honor God and His gentle Mother.”[7] Even here in a text that explains the very rules of war and Chivalry by Geoffroi de Charney you have admonition after admonition to the mother of God. This aspect of the family appealed greatly to the tribal people and the belief that these supernatural beings were here now and part of a larger family of man helped mediate a truce between the conflicting ideas of a tribal warrior culture and the Christian feudal culture that had begun to supplant it.

 

Late Medieval Knighthood the Culmination of Chivalry

Knighthood and the ideas of Chivalry are intertwined and where one ends and the other begins is a question almost more fit for philosophers than historians. What we do know is that the end result of the conflict between the ethical ideas of Christianity and the individualistic ideas of tribal Europe created the vibrant feudal culture and brought about the rise of the philosophy of Chivalry among the Nobility. As the middle ages waned these ideas slowly began to diminish in importance until they are often little more than philosophical ideas without real world application. By the end of the 14th century chivalry had begun to wane. The ideas were celebrated in songs and story but the ideas no longer held true to the newer generations. The tribal culture had been completely subdued and the Church was on the verge of a century of breakup and dissolution because of its own excesses. Without these two philosophical powerhouses to drive it chivalry was to die and be replaced by a more modern and less warrior centered culture. Nobles would hire others to make war for them and these mercenaries would change the face of combat. Chivalry would live on and from time to time be trotted out as spectacle. Even today the last vestiges of the old ideas flitter around the corners of our society influencing us as a culture is ways we may not even realize.

 

Conclusion

The medieval value system was in essence a continuation of all the Western values dating back to at least the time of Greece. We see in the Greek the very same elevation of the individualist hero that we have in the later European middle ages. This is of course because both Greece and Europe share an Indo-European heritage in which the individual warrior/hero is exalted. This idea of the individual hero became somewhat submerged in the state centered Rome. Where the Empire and civilization becomes the central figure and the individual sublimated himself to the idea of Rome. The rise of Christianity in the late Roman period pairs perfectly with this idea of the centrality of “State” over the individual where the idea of the state as father is replaced with the idea of “God” as father. You can see that in Augustine’s City of God where he states that the Romans of antiquity were virtuous pagans but that the city while great was one of this world and has now been replaced by his City of God.

The values of the early medieval warrior are not those values cherished by the Romans. The European knight is not a Roman hero who wins because he is part of a greater Empire but something far older; he is the winner of the Hero’s portion. An individual striving and winning by his own prowess.  The values of the Church and of Rome often run in direct contradiction to the earlier ethical ideas of the Germans and Celtics. Stressing humility over pride. Medieval chivalric values become a series of contradictory beliefs that must all be held at once. You are an avenging warrior, who is also a child of a forgiving God. Your must prized value is pride and nobility, but you must also be humble and free of sin. You are a virile man who lusts after women, wine, and song, but you must also be the chaste paragon of virtue who is a symbol of the state. Is it any wonder the poems include someone like Lancelot who was both the most noble of all warriors but who was fatally flawed.  Chivalry contradicts itself because it was cobbled together out of so many different ideas and cultures. The importance of chivalry is that while it was a flawed philosophy it worked and drug Europe out of the Dark ages maintaining order and at least some peace between cultural groups that may have never recovered after the fall of Rome without it and those who followed it.

 

Speculation

This article attempts to draw a conclusion about the evolution of Chivalry out of several disparate ethical and cultural entities. There is one other ethical system that existed prior to the fall of Rome that may or may not have influenced the rise of Chivalry in Western Europe, The ethics of Aristotle specifically those ethics discussed in his work Nicomachean Ethics. Did these ethics have any influence over the development of Chivalry? The roman warrior elite would have certainly been exposed to Aristotle along with many of the early Christian philosophers. Is it a stretch to believe that these ideas could have trickled down into the warrior elite of medieval society?

 

 

 

Rome and Aristotle’s role in Chivalry

We find in the values of the early Middle Ages a stable system of belief that would eventually be called chivalry. Early modern writers on the subject such as Sidney Painter suggested that Chivalric ideas are directly centered on German and Anglo Saxon ethics and Christian beliefs. He gives very little credit to ideas of a Roman tradition and no mention of Aristotle at all in his book French Chivalry. This may be a mistake, the Roman tradition is all important to the medieval mind. Rome was the center of knowledge and power to conquerors like Charlemagne who sought to recreate Rome in his own Empire. This was not just lip service to these men they believed in Rome and in rebuilding the Roman Empire. They read the histories or had them read to them. Aristotle was an important part of this Roman idea. In Norman F. Cantor’s work The Last Knight he acknowledges that at least late in the late middle ages young knights were being educated in Aristotle, “These short tomes were written by university scholars educated in Aristotelian tradition, the principles the Mirror of Princes inculcated was drawn heavily from Aristotle’s Ethics and Politics.”[8] This is an important admission and points to the fact that knights may have often been educated in these ideas. If we look at Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics we can see the entirety of what could be called the Chivalric virtues laid out hundreds of years prior to any Western writer referring to them. In book three Aristotle lists these virtues as Liberality, Magnificence, Greatness of soul, Proper Ambition, Gentleness, Agreeableness, Sincerity, Wittiness, Modesty. These read almost the same as the knightly virtues with just slight differences and it is certainly closer to the tribal virtues that informed early chivalry than any of the Christian virtues that contradict many of these. Could Aristotle really be the father of the medieval ethic? Charlemagne certainly sought out and emulated the Roman idea as much as possible. Could his influence have added the ideas of Aristotle to the instruction he gave his own fighters. Or is this just a case of parallel evolution of ideas where tribal customs match philosophical ideas. This subject is worthy of further in depth study much more than what can be accomplished in this article.

[1] Murphy, G. Ronald, trans. the Heliand: the Saxon Gospel (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), 16.

 

[2] Sidney Painter, French Chivalry: Chivalric Ideas and Practices in Mediaeval France (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1964), 66.

 

[3] Steven Runciman. The First Crusade.(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 43.

 

[4] Jean Froissart, and Geoffrey Brereton. Chronicles (London: Penguin Classics, 1978), 66.

 

[5] Sidney Painter, French Chivalry: Chivalric Ideas and Practices in Mediaeval France (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1964), 32.

[6] Maurice De Wulf, Philosophy & Civilization in the Middle Ages (Princeton, NJ, US: Princeton University Press. 1922), 61

 

[7] Geoffroi de Charney, Richard W. Kaeuper, and Elspeth Kennedy. A knight’s own book of chivalry: Geoffroi De Charny (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005), 80.

[8] Norman F. Cantor The Last Knight: The Twilight of the Middle Ages and the Birth of the Modern Era (New York: Free Press, 2004),88.

 

 

Countdown to Interstellar: The Warp Drive in Hard Science Fiction….2….Gregory Benford

Countdown to Interstellar: The Warp Drive in Hard Science Fiction….2….Gregory Benford

Gregory Benford and Relativistic Effects

 

efecte-relativiste

 

I once attended a talk given by renowned mathematical physicist Roger Penrose where he described binary pulsars as the most beautiful objects in the universe, as they fulfill every prediction made by the Theory of Relativity. Similarly, the stories of Gregory Benford are among the most beautifully written in science fiction, not just because of their prose but how they illuminate the laws and hidden facets of the universe. As a physicist himself, much of Benford’s science fiction is distinguished by both his keen observations of the lives of scientists and his finely detailed depictions of them at work, and his ability to vividly convey the sort of cognitive and sensory impressions that are part of their experiences. He is able to chart vast vistas across space and time, as with his Galactic Center series, but even when he stays Earthbound, as with Timescape and Cosm, which are probably the genre’s best depictions of actual science at work, the entire fabric of the cosmos becomes essential to the story as it is revealed to both the protagonists and the reader. If there is a single passage that best sums up Benford’s fiction, it probably comes late in Against Infinity, when the now-grown up protagonist contemplates the fragment of the Aleph (the mysterious alien object that has wrecked havoc on humanity’s Ganymede colonies) as another character explains what the object means to their understanding of the basic laws and forces of nature.

What’s even more remarkable is that even Benford’s short stories are able to encompass the totality of the universe, its laws and languages, its mechanisms and mysteries, with the same simple beauty and elegance that a scientific equation manages to perfectly express in mathematical form. Following Hemingway’s dictum that you write what you know about, much of Benford’s  fiction derives from his own work as a scientist in the fields of experimental astrophysics and plasma physics, and his short story “Relativistic Effects” (reprinted in the collection In Alien Flesh) is one of the best examples of this. Inspired by a paper he had read on plasma jets in stars, he set about imagining what it would like to perceive such phenomena from the outside looking in; the finished story, as he admitted, wound up being an unconscious homage to Poul Anderson’s Tau Zero (which we just discussed; you did read it, right?). Although there are certainly similarities between the writing styles of Benford and Anderson, there are also crucial differences. Most notably, Anderson, despite a poetic writing style that transcended the genre’s pulp origins, was firmly a member of science fiction’s “Old Guard” standing in defense of its literary traditions. Benford, on the other hand, belonged to a younger generation of fans who grew up first with Heinlein’s juveniles, and whose adult entry into the genre was not with Astounding but with Galaxy and Fantasy and Science Fiction, magazines which emphasized social commentary and high literary standards as opposed to scientific rigor. Moreover, Benford was also influenced, although not unduly so, by the New Wave when he started writing, in particular by the American writer Roger Zelzany, who fended off comparisons with the largely British writers who spearheaded the movement by insisting that what he wrote was “style with substance” instead of style at the expense of substance (as cited by Jack Chalker in his introduction to his collection Dance Band on the Titanic). Consequently, Benford has also been inspired by major American storytellers from William Faulkner to John Cheever in his writing, finding ways to experiment with literary devices to strengthen instead of subvert basic storytelling. “Relativistic Effects” also reminds me of Manhattan Transfer by John Dos Passos in its stylistic use of “accelerated” collage to create the impression of events occurring rapidly juxtaposed with those occurring in “real time.” In Benford’s case, there is an obvious reason for using such a literary device in a hard-science fiction story: it helps to convey the relativistic effects of the title without resorting to higher mathematics or technical jargon inaccessible to non-specialists. It is this use of mainstream literary technique to convey not just scientific facts  but the lives of the scientist and the process of how science works, something that might be called literary scientific realism, that has put Benford at the forefront of modern hard science fiction writers.

Also like Dos Passos (and unlike Anderson), Benford focuses on the role of the working classes in his story, and here there is a curious similarity between them as well. Dos Passos was one of the original “neo-conservatives,” a Trotskyite and democratic socialist in 1920s and 1930s who like many others, turned sharply to the Political Right, and became a libertarian-leaning conservative for the rest of his life. Although Benford maintains that he still considers himself “an honorary member of the Left,” albeit one of the “anarcho-syndicalist variety” (in the Afterword for Worlds Vast and Various) he has nonetheless been a registered Libertarian for many years. His actual political views, however, with a heavy emphasis on both free markets and environmental protection coupled with a strong support of both the public and private sector in scientific advancement and a truly rational and pragmatic approach to policy decisions (as opposed to others on the Left who use the rhetoric of rationality and pragmatism to sell irrational and ideological proposals), seem closer to those of the Modern Whig Party than any other. Whereas Poul Anderson had an automated control center monitoring and maintaining the faster-than light vessel in Tau Zero,  the ship in Benford’s story (which also uses a “ram-scoop” mechanism to achieve relativistic velocities) requires the use of human “servos” to guide it; those who elect to this dangerous job not only put themselves in harm’s way with each journey, continually colliding with particles and radiation at relativistic speeds, but the long-term effects of these exposures critically shortens their life expectancy. They are not unlike those sailors in naval vessels who had continually exposed themselves to asbestos while working in the engine rooms. Already knowingly reducing their lifespans for other crew members, they are further asked to sacrifice even more as part of a plan to save two galaxies on the verge of collision…

“Relativistic Effects” shares much of its scientific basis with the Galactic Center series, drawing heavily from then-cutting edge work in astronomy and astrophysics, particularly Benford’s specialty of plasma jets. Although acclaimed for their complex, solidly-scientific depictions of AI lifeforms, it is less recognized for its formidable feats of world-building as well, which involve not just planets but whole stars, nebula clusters and black holes.  As Benford explained in the preface to the 2004 reissue of the first book in the series, In the Ocean of Night (0riginally published in 1977),  this task  strongly corresponded with his ongoing research in electrodynamic models in astrophysics (the paper that came out of that research can be read here) . The passages of “Relativistic Effects” describing the process of acceleration feel not so much like condensations of such a paper but a re-interpretation, in which the equations have not only been translated into words but transformed through a process of synesthesia, much like the effect the Aleph of Against Infinity has on those who observe it. The reader experiences the sensation of being at the heart of a plasma jet at relativistic speeds, aware of every force-gravitational, nuclear and electromagnetic-and every state of matter, from the huge billowing clouds of gas down the smallest particle, and the interactions between them.  Relativity is essential not just to the study of vast expanses of space and time, but tiny ones as well, a fact that Benford illustrates in this story and in others, such as “High Abyss” and “Mozart and Morphine,” which go even further, by making the connection between both cosmic strings and the birth of the cosmos (in the former) and the everyday life of the physicist (in the latter).

One of the ongoing quests of physics has been to try to reconcile General Relativity, which explains gravity, with Quantum Field Theory, which explains the other three fundamental forces, a so far daunting task due to language differences, one speaking geometry, the other algebra. Gregory Benford, who has also written frequently on another ongoing effort at reconciliation, between C.P. Snow’s competing Two Cultures of the Sciences and the Humanities, has found his own way to reconcile the Two Theories by bringing together the Two Cultures through the lingua franca of science fiction. When reading a story or book by Benford, the Nature of the Universe reveals itself, through a subtle use of the scientific method, and we come to realize how it is all connected, from the forces at the heart of a massive black hole to the more subtle shifts of electrons and photons. Even more importantly, we come to recognize how wonderful it is that we are able, as sentient and thinking organisms, to understand these phenomena and unities, an understanding that forms the basis of scientific theories.  Such an Epiphany Of Reason seems like a contradiction in terms, yet it probably best describes the experience of the Sense of Wonder while reading science fiction-especially hard science fiction intended to illuminate the nature of the physical universe.

Lucifer’s Hammer – Book Review

There are some books you plan to read, but never seem to get around to it.  In the case of Lucifer’s Hammer, this was true for me.  I like Larry Niven’s work, so I felt this would be a good read. I was not disappointed.

The story is a simple one – a comet is approaching earth and will strike it.  The book deals with three phases of this event: The time when the comet approaches, the actual strike of the comet and the aftermath.

The characters are varied and come from different walks of life.  They are a good representation of humanity and as each one of them deals with the disaster in their own way with different results.  It is ultimately the struggle between those who want to discard the fruits of civilization and those who try to preserve them.

From a conservative and libertarian standpoint, this is a great book.  The authors take on environmentalism, big government dependency and facing the realities of a worldwide disaster.  Probably the biggest issue that the authors are trying to get across to their readers is how much we are not prepared for a disaster from space.  In 1977 when this novel was released  both the Apollo and Skylab programs had just been canned in favor of the shuttle program.  The authors do not object to the shuttle program, but there does seem to be an underlying concern with the gap of time there would be in the space program in case of such a disaster.  The irony stretches to today with the cancellation of the shuttle program in favor of returning to rocket based missions. I do not think this is a good idea for much the same reasons.

If I have one a problem with the book, its seems the authors go out of their way to paint religion as the enemy of civilization and survival.  The religious people are nuts and fruitcakes of the story.  I have no doubt there would be some problems with this as some people do indeed look at such disasters through the lens of Biblical prophecy, but not all of them would do so.  Fact is, at time religion has been the saving grace of civilization through guarding knowledge in monasteries and such.  I am not speaking of Christianity, but also Buddhism and other faiths who have guarded and been the bastions of scholarship at times.  The one character that is religious that seems half OK is the local pastor at the Stronghold who offers advice but does not interfere other than to help the needy.  I am not saying religious people would not be a problem, what I am saying is that some would actually be helpful in such a situation.

Other than this, the book is one of the most realistic looks at disaster on a global scale from the standpoint of the technology of 1970s.  I don’t think much has changed other than the prepper movement has now become even larger.  The fact that we are more dependent on modern convenience actually makes the book seem more ominous to me.

I highly recommend this book for anyone to read, even liberals although they might not like the fact that they are proven to be the most unable to survive in a global disaster.

Next Review: A Canticle of Leibowitz

The Lucifer’s Hammer Scenario

I am currently reading Lucifer’s Hammer and I definitely find it fascinating.  I am usually turned off by disaster stories because there always seems to be a resolution where everything goes back to the way it was with very little if any change.  This book is definitely not that at all.  If anything this is one of the most realistic ‘future’ views of such a disaster.  A comet (or similar body) striking earth is most definitely a real scenario civilization may have to face at anytime.

The book was published in 1977, so the technology has changed and the space programs of the various nations have moved on.  The questions I began to pose to myself were many. What would be different if Lucifer’s Hammer were to descend on Earth today?  Are we better prepared today than we were in 1977 when the book was first published? Could humanity and civilization survive better now than then?

Firstly, my thoughts would say we would not only have earlier warning of such an event but a better idea of whether or not such an object would hit us.  I know that even those who track asteroids and comets admit they could miss something, I figure the comet described here would be large enough not to be missed.  With the ability to computer model such events, I think we would not only have a pretty good idea about if it would hit us, but we also would have a good idea of when and how.

Secondly, my thoughts turn to human response to this event.  This is where I get a little worried.  How exactly do you stop a comet from hitting the Earth especially one with multiple heads like a hydra of destruction?  Nukes? I don’t know just cracking it into multiple pieces may actually compound the problem further. Honestly, I am not sure if a comet is big enough that we can do much about it.

Third, the aftermath of such an event gives me worries.  If someone were to ask: are you a prepper?  I would answer: Yes to a point.  I am very prepared, as much as possible, from a mental point of view of what would be involved in surviving.  Most of it involves the realization that you cannot survive alone, you’re going to need a community dedicated to the thought of reviving civilization.  You can have all the stuff, but eventually that is going to run out and your going to have to rebuild society or build a new one.

One of the things that causes me concern here is how much more dependent we are on civilization for everything.  Trust me, I see this every day as I stock shelves at Wal-mart.  My most conservative guess is that is civilization went belly up, 95% of people would have absolutely no clue or personal knowledge of what to do.  How do you get food?  You go to Wal-mart.  If you need something?  Go to Wal-mart.  If you are sick?  Go to the doctor.  One thing America has created is a large dependent class and these people have absolutely know clue as to what to do if the government checks stop arriving in the mail.  I can realistically see them sitting at home and starving to death waiting for government intervention.

In the book, one scientist decries how little people understood about how things work and where things come from.  I would say this has become even more acute since its writing not just in terms of addition, but multiplication.  We know a lot more things but we have become ignorant of a whole bunch more. It seems every time we gain new knowledge we discard some of the old and that may be a bad move.

Once I am finished with the book I plan on writing a review that may prove interesting.  In the meantime, I pose a question:  What would happen in the Lucifer’s Hammer scenario today?

Space Colonization – It Ain’t Like Dusting Crops

If mankind is going to reach for the stars, it is most certainly going to involve some way to travel faster than light speed.  A recent post on this very site, reported the fact that certain scientists are considering warp drive as a possibility.  I am skeptical of such things but then again I am not a scientist.  My thoughts are that this is going to take a while regardless but there two basic schools of thought on how this is going to develop.  1) That we are going to have to colonize our own solar system and that through that colonization we may learn what it is going to take to head to new stars.  2) There are others though that propose that we skip the colonization of our own solar system because the prospects for terraforming, say Mars, are bleak at best.  I suppose that there are those that think we need to just do both because we need to do it.  These two opinions seem to be the basis though for all the rest.  Myself, I take the first route, because I believe mankind has a lot to learn before it can reach to the stars.

Hypothetically, lets take a trip to a star with our goal to colonize a world on it and at the moment of arrival we need to face the problems in doing so.  What is going to happen at that moment.

1) Conventional Drive Propulsion:  Even to survey such a system to find a suitable world is going to require  getting around that system far faster than we have been currently able to get around our own.  Even if we send a robot drone to do this, it is going to have to move.  Current missions to survey our own solar system have been slow and cumbersome taking years to do.  Depending on how we arrive, we may need to survey the system quickly or far in advance.  The need to get around a solar system quickly becomes apparent regardless because we can’t take all day finding the place to colonize.  We might be able to use our faster than light propulsion for this but there is also a possibility that we may not.

2) Communication: The recent Mars mission highlighted this problem.  Even in our own solar system time lag problems can be fatal.  Even if we follow a mothership with drone survey ships model, time lag can be difficult to get the colony going right away.  Some form of faster than light communication would be helpful, but more than likely we are going to have to deal with time lag and that means problems we are going to have to overcome.  I would rather practice this closer to home before we start sliding to other stars.

3) Terraforming:  It may be that as we send out robot ships out that we may to find much in the way of worlds we can colonize.  There is a real possibility that we may not find something better than Mars.  If so, I would rather have how to deal with such a world all worked out before I get there.

Then there are the issues of how we build such a colony ship in the first place.  Questions arise: Do we have all the resources we need to do so here on planet earth or are we going to have to exploit other planets and moons in our solar system to have the materials we need? That means at least robot mining colonies to do this.  What is the best way and place to build this starship.  Building it in space would help, but that means manufacturing technology is going to have to go to no gravity or low gravity environs.  The list of questions also includes environmental controls, life support, self sufficient technologies, etc. It is a long list of questions.

The main fact we have to face with this issue is that all we have done is gone to the moon and back and sent robot probes into or local neighborhood.  All this qualifies us for is that we have gotten off our belly and are on all fours.  We really have not even learned to crawl, let alone walk or run.  It may be that there is a giant leap in the near future that will help, but we cannot count on it.  In the meantime, questions can be answered by addressing the learning curve we need to face in the local neighborhood of our own solar system.  It becomes a great testing ground and nursery to learn to crawl and then walk.

I am hoping to hear the other side on this one, because maybe their objections to this have merit.  I am after all not a scientist or engineer.  My thoughts are that we may have many barriers to break before we break the speed of light barrier and that to break them we may have to look and experiment in our own back yard first before the stars can be reached.  I just don’t think this is going to be like dusting crops; it is far more complicated than what we would like it to be.

Warp Drive? We May Have Had a Breakthrough (cautious optimism)

Warp Drive? We May Have Had a Breakthrough (cautious optimism)

 

According to Yahoo News we may have had a breakthrough that will allow faster than light travel with low energy consumption. I have read the article…HERE….I don’t know if I believe they can really do it.  I relish the chance to try. The problem, as I see it, is the exotic matter ring. Producing it is still beyond our capabilities, as far as I know, but the scientists mentioned in the article seem confident they can produce a warp drive effect in the lab on small scales. We will keep our fingers crossed.

Scientific (Quantum) Immortality

Scientific (Quantum) Immortality

I have long been fascinated by the idea that the universe is not actually a singular object but made up of a multiverse comprised of an infinite number of “universes”. Each of these “universes” seemingly  branch off into new universes at every possible action or inaction. This idea is staggering in it’s immensity. It seems like science fiction and it has certainly been a staple of science fiction for at least forty years. It may have remained science fiction but fortunately I am not alone in believing this might in fact be possible. A growing segment of physicists are turning to this theory as one of the ways to make sense of the data they have been collecting about our own universe. There is now some evidence that other universes exist (link here). Of course the existence of other universes outside our own does not prove that we live in multiverse composed of infinite alternate universes…but it does give more credence to that conclusion, and from my understanding, the math we use to describe our universe works better in a true multiverse.

So how does all this multiverse talk bring us to Scientific Immortality? Frank Tipler of Tulane University believes he has the answer. In his book The Physics of Immortality he outlines how quantum immortality must exist if the universe is subject to the laws of physics as we now know them. Tipler postulates that no one who has lived has ever died in the fullness of the multiverse. If the universe is made up of an infinite number of alternate universes each branching off the other at every action or inaction then you can not die. In fact you will live forever in such a universe because no matter how small the chance of surviving, say a nuclear explosion or playing Russian roulette, there is always a chance you will live. For every choice there are at least two outcomes. There is a universe where in one you die but in another universe your consciousness survives. The book is fascinating and fits into something I have long believed about the nature of a multiverse. Tipler has his detractors of course and this is not an idea that has been tested.

However It could be tested. The outcome would only be realized in a very tiny number of universes but it would quickly be obvious to the person testing the theory himself. The proposed test is for the tester to point a loaded gun at his head and pull the trigger. In a multiverse the tester would experience either the gun misfiring or merely being shot and not dying. Do this several more times in a row and the tester, if he still lived, could be pretty confident that we live in a multiverse. Of course finding volunteers for this may be problematic. I think I can come up with a test that while less dangerous but would prove  to the observer over time that we all experience quantum immortality. This test requires some patience.

Observer Test for Quantum Immortality

The world should get stranger the longer you live. In a multiverse every moment you would be dying. From falling out of the chair you are sitting in and cracking your head open to the infinitesimal chance that all the oxygen in the room suddenly blinks out of existence. At the same time you are constantly avoiding death. You swerve out of the way of that car in the wrong lane driving to work this morning or you avoid falling down the stairs while putting on your jacket. As you age in a multiverse you are moving from one reality to another where you have avoided death more and more often. For that to happen the universe should become  stranger the longer you live just to account for your continued existence. In fact as you become elderly this strangeness should increase to a point where you can be certain around 150-200 years of age that something is happening that you may not understand. You might just dismiss this as technology providing drugs and treatments that keep you alive. Keep thinking that and maybe in 2000 years you will acknowledge you are stuck in this universe.

Asperger’s Man- The Search for Multi-Regional Human Speciation Part 2

Asperger’s Man- The Search for Multi-Regional Human Speciation Part 2

Could a Majority Aspergers Society Survive?

Aspergers is categorized as a dysfunction, but why would a society comprised of all aspies (affectionate term for Aspergers) be dysfunctional? There is nothing inherently dysfunctional about an individual with Aspergers. A society comprised of all aspies would be different socially and culturally than one comprised mostly of NTs (neurotypical or normal person) but not impossible or even improbable. Strength is not a problem in Aspergers they are no more or less strong than the general population. They are no more prone to psychological problems that aren’t caused by stress. Some researchers believe that many of the disabling aspects of Aspergers are brought on by stress.  This stress is caused by living in and around NTs. People with Aspergers experience many more stress related illnesses because they are constantly told to be and act normal.

The only thing that may limit an Asperger society is their sex drive which seems to be less intense than NTs.  This could be the reason NTs outnumber those with Aspergers from 100-500 percent depending on hich study you read. A low sex drive does not equate to “No” sex drive. If we look at the sex drive issue  in an evolutionary sense Asperger man’s decreased sex drive would result in fewer children and a lower population density than other hominid groups. This fits in with the overall speculative model for this possible human ancestor. Unlike his Homo sapien cousin Asperger’s man does not hunt in large cooperative groups. Instead he is a solitary hunter. This means that the Asperger groups would be protein poor compared to other human groups leading to lower population sizes. I think a suggestion for further study should revolve around family size in Asperger diagnosed families. Are the families smaller than average and a secondary study might look at infant mortality rates.

 What Would a Society Comprised of a Majority of People with Aspergers Look Like?

Hunters and gatherers tend to group in family units and extended family units. I see an aspie society as small 4-10 people where NT groups would have been 6-30 people possibly larger ( if I am remembering freshman anthropology). So political units in these hunting and gathering groups are merely extended families. We really don’t see much tribalism until the development of higher level social structures such as horticulturalists and agriculturalists. Aspies are social but they are social in a different way and tend to make small very tight groups of friends rather than the large social groupings that many NTs maintain. So an aspie culture is very possible on the hunting and gathering level of subsistence. In fact Aspie social groupings could be quite different from the extended family structure we see in NT hunter and gatherer societies. It is possible that instead of family groups aspies instead grouped into interest societies. Here I would also like to see a study of the relative strength of Asperger relationships between family members and those people the Asperger individual has deemed as friends. I would also like to see a study of the general age that an Aspeger individual leaves home. If these suggest that individuals with Aspergers form stronger bonds with non-family members and that these individuals become estranged from family more often it could lend credence to the idea that an Asperger society would be one revolving around common interests rather than common DNA. This could point to an evolutionary strength in Asperger populations. Where NT societies may be more (for lack of a better word) inbred, an Asperger population may seek outsiders to form cooperative groups. Interbreeding would not be as great a problem for the more outgoing NT society. They might breed with a greater number of individual in and outside their hunting and gathering group. These societies would remain genetically diverse in such a situation. An aspie society would not function in the same manner and the formation of interest societies over family centered societies would be a solution to inbreeding.

Genetic Evidence for the Evolution of Asperger’s Man

If Aspergers doesn’t have a simple single genetic component and these differences are more spread out over the genome say in two or more places it would explain why some people have more or less of these characteristics along the autism spectrum. It would bolster the idea that Aspergers represented a distinct genome inclusion separate from traditional Homo sapiens. These genetic markers would have been added to the human genome through interbreeding with ancient populations of people who expressed the Asperger genes. The simple explanation is that NT and Asperger populations interbred at some point in the past.

If Asperger’s man was a separate evolutionary sequence then these are  two things I expect to find relating to Aspergers.

1. Higher incidents of Aspergers in populations coming out of Central Asia, along European mountain ranges, within historically marginalized cultures such as among Jews, Romani gypsys, and the Basque. Also in areas that were traditionally considered harsh environments like parts of Scotland beyond Hadrian’s wall. I also would see spikes in parts of Asia that correspond to these same criteria.
2. We would likely see less Aspergers in Africa or in populations that have not traditionally intermixed with European and Asian populations.

 

Imagine Humans are Like Dogs. (not a perfect analogy)

Neanderthals are pitbulls they use their increased musculature to hunt large game and subsist almost entirely on meat.

Early modern humans are a social dog such as a spaniel they also hunt in large packs and subsist on both meat and vegetable matter. They are more emotive and outgoing.

Asperger’s man (Homo Aspergerensis) is like a herding dog. He lives and hunts in a much more dense or confusing environment. He has developed traits that help in this but are less useful as a cooperative hunter. He does his job alone or in small groups.

These three branches interbreed to create a mongrel race which is the ancestor of Both Asians and Western Europeans.

Like dogs the mongrel exhibits a variety of traits from each group. Some of these traits are dominate and some recessive so we don’t often see all traits in the same person at once. This creates a spectrum of traits that may be hard to define. Just like a mutt dog you can look at it and see traits but can’t always place which breed the dog is descended from.

What is the Future for Asperger’s Man?

Neanderthals evolved to hunt large game, early modern humans evolved in African savannahs and along coastlines in more open country both developed genetic traits that are specific to those environments. Humans living in open range and along coastlines would have required more in the way of social interactions and social hunting and gathering practices. Animals are much harder to stalk and hunt in open environments and there are larger animals living in these environments. To take these animals requires strong social interaction. In fact hunting in open areas and on coastal plains would have required a massive amount of team effort.

I believe Asperger’s man evolved in more restricted terrain  which favored very small groups and individual hunters. The aspie as a product of mountains and deep forests would have been a more solitary hunter who used methods of stalking prey that required much more concentration and detail orientation. Things aspies are good at. Reading tracks and being able to see distinct patterns left by an animal fleeing through a forested terrain, or even differentiating animals from the cover they are hiding in would have been their strength.

Some people believe that Neanderthal alone was the origin for Autism and Asperger traits in modern populations. I happen to think that there were two distinct hominids contributing DNA to ancient man, Neanderthal and the unknown group I call Asperger’s man. In either case these articles look at how groups of people who exhibit Aspergers would have lived and worked differently from early modern humans.

NTs will always outnumber people with Asperger Syndrome. However the future is a place where Asperger traits are not only welcome but may be cultivated for positive gain. Humans that can concentrate on problems for long periods of time and can differentiate patterns from vast amounts of information are the perfect vanguard of our information heavy age. We may even see the rise of Asperger’s man once again as he successfully out competes the NT along the intricate webs of knowledge that hold our society together.

Asperger’s Man- The Search for Multi-Regional Human Speciation Part 1

Asperger’s Man- The Search for Multi-Regional Human Speciation Part 1

 

Introduction

My first love will always be archaeology and the study of what makes us human.This article is speculation. This is my personal musing on the development of certain psychological and physiological human traits. This is not to be taken as anything but my personal opinion. I have no evidence that there was an Asperger’s man. This article was also written several years ago and since then more evidence for the possibility of interbreeding with other hominids has come to light in Russia and in Africa that may support my original idea.

Multiregional Theory

The current  model of Homo sapiens evolution is that all modern humans evolved in Africa and spread out from there displacing, destroying, or even out competing all those other hominids they encountered. Multiregional theory has been set aside because it postulated that Homo sapiens evolved in more than one place and there were regional variations. We now know that in at least one case that of the Neanderthal that there was an evolutionary event that created what has been considered a separate species of Human but one capable of interbreeding successfully with Homo sapiens sapien.

So we now know that 3-4% of our genome at least in Asian and European populations contains Neanderthal DNA. This means that Homo sapiens were able to breed with Neanderthals and produce viable offspring. Which means that Neanderthals are most likely regionally evolved Homo sapiens adapted to their unique environment. This would seem to bode well for a reexamination of multiregional theory.

 

Multiregional Speciation?

What if there are other regional human variants that have bone structure so similar to Homo sapiens that they are classified as such, but they have evolved to exist in a different environment?

Imagine that a group of Homo Sapiens evolved separately from other Homo sapiens groups possibly somewhere in the mountains of Central Asia. Neanderthal developed to hunt game in open areas in large family groups growing large bone structures and musculature, while this unknown species evolved in a more rugged forest or mountainous environment. Instead of evolving cooperative hunting and social structures like early modern humans, this unknown species developed a different more isolated way of dealing with the environment and unique ways of thinking. This unknown group is less social because they don’t hunt large herd animals cooperatively like both early modern humans and Neanderthal. Instead they hunt in rugged mountains or deep forests adopting a more singular hunting experience with one or maybe two hunters leaving for days or weeks at a time.
This group of hominids develop heightened senses. They are more sensitive to light because they hunt diurnally at dusk and dawn. Their others senses become heightened as well to make them more aware of danger. This is a dangerous time and while other hominids hunt in large groups our hypothetical people work alone. Their sense of smell and taste are stronger so they become somewhat picky eaters. Their sense of touch becomes more acute and along with that they would seem to have less tolerance to pain. While they are more sensitive to touch they are often more tolerant to temperature variations because they have evolved to live in smaller groups or alone and don’t have group body heat to fall back on. These heightened senses have a trade off. These people are less agile than their homo sapiens cousins because the brain and ear are working overtime on the other senses so these people may seems clumsier.
They are likely to sleep less soundly because they don’t have a large group to protect them. This group would experience more sleeping disorders as a result. Because they are less social they don’t develop as much social interplay or social understanding. They don’t require the ability to read the facial language used by other hominids when hunting in groups. They hunt in dense forests or mountains so this silent facial language would have no meaning to them. They have emotions but have no real evolutionary need to express these emotions because most of their time is spend outside of the main group or in very small groupings.
These people are also more intelligent on average than either Neanderthal or the other Homo sapiens branch. The are individual hunters so they can’t rely on the group dynamic to solve problems. This intelligence allows them to subsist in areas not suited to hunting large animals in groups. They become intensely focused on the task at hand and block out almost anything else. This would prove very useful when stalking prey animals and we see this behavior in many large cats. Their heightened senses have another advantage, they are much better at seeing patterns in their environment. They can discern the smallest detail that may be out of place this would make them excellent trackers, again an adaptation to hunting smaller game animals in a rugged environment.

Could this unknown race of man exist? Is there any evidence for him? Is he hidden somewhere in our genome? Yes, I would suggest that people with Aspergers fit this description. While there are some disabling factors in Aspergers most of those are stress related (fits of anger, depression, facial and body ticks). These stress related problems are almost entirely due to not fitting in properly in a non-Aspergers world. In an all Aspergers world those would probably not even exist.

What is Aspergers

The current belief is that Aspergers is a subset of Autism- The reasoning is that people with HFA (high functioning Autism) mimic Aspergers in many ways. I disagree and I believe that further study of the genetic component of both Autism and Aspergers will bear that the two are separate “disorders”.

Aspergers has a list of traits associated with it including

1. inability to “read” the emotions of other people through facial expression (this can be learned)This has often been mistaken for inability to show empathy.
2. Higher sensory sensitivity (light, taste, touch, hearing etc)
3. Lower sensitivity to temperature extremes
4. clumsiness
5. Intelligence level is always from normal to advanced (basically lower intelligent individuals do not fit into the criteria
6. ability to focus intensely on subjects (these are generally considered to be subjects of interest to the individual)

I’ll quote from wiki on the sensory aspect.

“Individuals with AS often have excellent auditory and visual perception.[33] Children with ASD often demonstrate enhanced perception of small changes in patterns such as arrangements of objects or well-known images; typically this is domain-specific and involves processing of fine-grained features”

If these are evolutionary traits then they fit well a hunter who spends much of his time focusing on prey in a very diverse environment. These hunters would by necessity and prey scarcity hunt and live in smaller groups and focus more on elusive smaller prey animals.

Yes this is all conjecture at this point, but all knowledge starts from someone asking a question. I am asking could there be an evolutionary component to Aspergers?