Category Archives: Education

What makes the “God Letter” important.

Written in 1954, when Einstein was 74, the one-and-a-half page response to German philosopher Eric Gutkind was sold at auction for  … Three Million Dollars!  Give or take.

Is $3 million a big number?

It seems so to me, but then, crazy people …

It certainly drew attention, which is good because of what’s behind it.  A clever, thoughtful mind, in collaboration with others.

My attention was drawn by Albert Einstein writing about god!

Einstein was a scientist.  The scientist.

Talking about religion.  In a deeply spiritual way.

If you are a bit like me: a scientist (small “s”, ie asks questions) who is religious about some things (including “antitheism” for a while), the”God letter” would intrigue you.

It is seen as a key statement in the debate between science and religion.  In the letter, written in his native German, Einstein summarises his views:

“The word God is for me nothing but the expression and product of human weaknesses.”

“The Bible a collection of venerable but still rather primitive legends.”

“No interpretation, no matter how subtle, can [for me] change anything about this.”

The physicist also muses on his own Jewish identity, writing that it is “like all other religions, an incarnation of primitive superstition”.

“The Jewish people to whom I gladly belong, and in whose mentality I feel profoundly anchored, still for me does not have any different kind of dignity from all other peoples.”

Skipping to the end, the newsflash read:

In 2017, a note in which he gave advice on happy living sold for $1.56m in Jerusalem.  A single sentence, it reads:

“A calm and humble life will bring more happiness than the pursuit of success and the constant restlessness that comes with it.”

Fascinated that this “laboratory based” character, this “mad professor” would express such complex spiritual understanding, a quick hop over to Wikipedia was in order to find out more about his perspective, which appears sensible and sound:

Einstein distinguished three human impulses which develop religious belief: fear, social or moral concerns, and a cosmic religious feeling. A primitive understanding of causality causes fear, and the fearful invent supernatural beings analogous to themselves. The desire for love and support create a social and moral need for a supreme being; both these styles have an anthropomorphic concept of God. The third style, which Einstein deemed most mature, originates in a deep sense of awe and mystery. He said, the individual feels “the sublimity and marvelous order which reveal themselves in nature … and he wants to experience the universe as a single significant whole.” Einstein saw science as an antagonist of the first two styles of religious belief, but as a partner in the third.[34] He maintained, “even though the realms of religion and science in themselves are clearly marked off from each other” there are “strong reciprocal relationships and dependencies” as aspirations for truth derive from the religious sphere.

In Einstein’s view, “the doctrine of a personal God interfering with natural events could never be refuted, in the real sense, by science,” for religion can always take refuge in areas that science can not yet explain. It was Einstein’s belief that in the “struggle for the ethical good, teachers of religion must have the stature to give up the doctrine of a personal God, that is, give up that source of fear and hope” and cultivate the “Good, the True, and the Beautiful in humanity itself.”

In 1936 Einstein received a letter from a young girl in the sixth grade. She had asked him, with the encouragement of her teacher, if scientists pray. Einstein replied:

“Scientific research is based on the idea that everything that takes place is determined by laws of nature, and therefore this holds for the actions of people. For this reason, a research scientist will hardly be inclined to believe that events could be influenced by a prayer, i.e. by a wish addressed to a supernatural being. However, it must be admitted that our actual knowledge of these laws is only imperfect and fragmentary, so that, actually, the belief in the existence of basic all-embracing laws in nature also rests on a sort of faith. All the same this faith has been largely justified so far by the success of scientific research. But, on the other hand, everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe—a spirit vastly superior to that of man, and one in the face of which we with our modest powers must feel humble. In this way the pursuit of science leads to a religious feeling of a special sort, which is indeed quite different from the religiosity of someone more naive.”

The following was written a few years before the “god letter”.

“The most beautiful emotion we can experience is the mystical. It is the power of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead. To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty, which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their most primitive forms—this knowledge, this feeling, is at the center of true religiousness. In this sense, and in this sense only, I belong to the rank of devoutly religious men.”[33] In December 1952, he commented on what inspires his religiosity, “My feeling is religious insofar as I am imbued with the insufficiency of the human mind to understand more deeply the harmony of the universe which we try to formulate as ‘laws of nature.'”[41] In a letter to Maurice Solovine Einstein spoke about his reasons for using the word “religious” to describe his spiritual feelings, “I can understand your aversion to the use of the term ‘religion’ to describe an emotional and psychological attitude which shows itself most clearly in Spinoza. (But) I have not found a better expression than ‘religious’ for the trust in the rational nature of reality that is, at least to a certain extent, accessible to human reason.”

We people have consumed nature over the past 60 years using his, and others’ insights in to “technology”.  The nuclear age and sixth mass extinction began in 1945.  We have nuclear power and weapons, cars and guns, drugs and drugs, and food and houses and people and fewer other species and climate breakdown …

Sadly we paid less attention to the enlightened perspectives on the meta-physical and on liberating human potential which have been smothered as we clamour for more, … more stuff.

Happy christmas.

Three million dollars …

 

… breathe … think … flow….

Nature is the Teacher

After the opening hour of #edchatMENA “Nature vs Artificial Intelligence” on Saturday 24 March 2018 I went outside to my other “office”.

A large branch from a cedar tree had fallen during recent snow and wind.  We had cleared much of it in the past few days, but, because it was now looking a bit lopsided, we’d decided to trim the other branches.

Without realising it you think, and learn, a lot when playing with nature.  There’s the physical aspect of simply walking over fallen branches, or climbing up to get at the branches that you want to cut or carrying the saw.  Then there’s the care that you want to take to avoid getting hurt.  This is learning where failure can be terminal.  I’ve had a couple of close shaves, and have the scars to remind me, so I’m not as audacious as I used to be.

It would be wonderful if you could also hear the birds and smell the wood.  Fresh cedar has a powerful aroma.  Its sap is sticky and stays on you.  When you’re up close and personal with the tree you also notice the differences with the other fir trees nearby.  With a guide book in hand you can accelerate your understanding of the trees and their different habitat.

Here’s how it looked a couple of years ago after one of several main trunks had fallen backwards leaving a bit of a gap …  You can see a “monkey” in the fir tree to the left, which helps indicate scale.  The tree is about 30m high.

Continue reading Nature is the Teacher

The Blue Economy

Here’s a nice 6 minute video that puts us in the picture.  The big picture.

It’s not the whole story, but its brief and is a super introduction and a refresher for old hands..

We are past the point of stopping disruption.  It was 15 oC this evening.  (Ireland, December) 13 oC would be OK, maybe in the realm of normality.  But 15oC is not a symptom of normality.

And then there’s the data.  We believe in data because we live off it.  It is data that runs our lives, our businesses, our cell phones.  And data shows us what’s going on, what’s behind the hype.  So check out the movie and research some data.  Change is happening. Adapt.

ZERI, initiated by the founder of Ecover, explains why the “green” economy must evolve to the “blue” economy and how …

Time is running out: Behind the curve on SDGs

SustainAblility and Globescan’s recent survey of progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals is not encouraging.

Progress on transition to sustainable development to date (% of experts)
Progress on transition to sustainable development to date (% of experts)

Over 500 experts contributed.  The consensus is that progress and attention is lagging the need for change.  If data is restricted to those with a decade or more of experience the picture is worse.

“Poor” progress on transition to sustainable development to date (% of experts)
“Poor” progress on transition to sustainable development to date (% of experts)

Progress is dominated by social entrepreneurs and NGOs while national governments’ and corporates’ performance is considered poor.

Contribution of organizations to progress on the SDGs (% of experts)
Contribution of organizations to progress on the SDGs (% of experts)

The lack of attention by governments and corporates is underpinned by their “clients” – voters and consumers – so clearly there remains among people generally a lack of awareness of the need and opportunity for system change.  People don’t perceive the dangers of failing commercial and social systems and the disintegration of Earth’s natural environment upon which we rely.

Perhaps this is not surprising.  Except for change agents and social entrepreneurs, people are not engaged with the problems of the world but instead stick to traditional mindsets and routines.  (The SDG’s themselves are fundamentally flawed in their promotion of growth, as opposed to working within natural laws and the capacity of the biosphere.) Continue reading Time is running out: Behind the curve on SDGs

Perspective Matters

(Chapter from How to Get Rich and Famous.)

How do you see yourself? How do you see others? How do you see the world?

And do you see things the same way as other people around you? Even though what you’re looking at is the same thing, we often see them differently.

Perhaps you’ve come across this optical illusion:

  

Do you see the young lady looking away, or the old lady looking across to the left? Can you see both?

Maybe what you see depends on what you’ve just been thinking about, what you expect to see or how you think about the world. This collage of the young lady, the old lady and both helps us to see the illusion.

As children we are flexible in our views. We’re working everything out. We can be duped easily because we haven’t established what’s real and what isn’t. Have you seen a baby giggle at the game of “Peekaboo!”? But by the time we’re adults we’ve got a firmer idea of what the world is like. Since we rely upon our assumption every day, our ideas become more entrenched, unless we stay open to new information and interpretation. That’s why young people and old people sometimes don’t see eye-to-eye – understandably they see the world differently.

But what about two people with similar profiles who see the world differently?  Continue reading Perspective Matters

Are you beginning to get it? The what, why and how of system change.

parisattack20151115There has been an outpouring of love and solidarity because of the tragic and terrific blood-letting in Paris this weekend.  It has been a synchronous focus on thought, feeling and action by millions around the world.  That is good.

The answers proposed have ranged from black to white, from vengeance to forgiveness.  (My preference is at the “healing the wounds” end of the spectrum, rather than at the “ripping more flesh apart” end.)  The personal grief is inevitably traumatic.  The reasons for young people to wreak blood and havoc and kill themselves are difficult to imagine, let alone comprehend.  But there are answers – there must be: we are humans and we can do it all.atomtoworld2

So what will we choose?

Walking around the garden as the light fades and the wind builds to another stormy night, it seems clear that the warnings are coming thick and fast.  It seems as though everyday another report comes in of violence, terror, corruption and injustice, and of storm, drought, flood, habitat destruction and species loss.  You can  see, hear, feel the immorality of human systems and the pain of nature.  Do we look, listen, touch?

There are two kinds of people: People who can see what’s going on and do something about it (i.e. you, people with access to media, educated etc).  The more resources they have, the more they can do something about it.  The other kind of people who are those who are too poor to be able to know what’s going on (most people know corruption when they see it and crazy weather when it passes), or if they do, live subsistence lives so have fewer choices.

It is increasingly evident that of those of us who can act, some act and others don’t.  Some have realised that the system must change and others continue to turn a blind eye.  Those who have realised it start with awareness and gradually start to change their behaviour, from diet to lifestyle to job to investment, commitment and philanthropy.

eatingmoneyOthers who turn a blind eye, should open them.  Elites – the people who influence and control human system (millionaires etc) – seem to be predominantly in the blind eye department.  That’s bad.

It must be that rich people are ignoring the obvious because they are the ones that determine the system, which is not working, and they remain largely ignorant of how to change the system and what to change it to.  Even when the how and what are obvious, admission of the need and course are slow, implementation is sluggish and patchy.

Here’s a quick example:  behaviour change is nurtured with education,  but education systems are well behind the curve. (Many observe that terrorism is inculcated by misinformation which would be hindered if critical thinking, even thinking, was a basic product of universal education.)

And a biosphere dysfunction example: 2015 is the hottest year on record and climate has risen 1 degree already yet fossil fuel companies are still subsidised and the so called “Sustainable Development Goals” are still talking about growth.

That’s the situation in a nutshell.  Things are bad.  We know how to change.  Too few of the people at the top are changing.

That’s a dangerous recipe.  You, like me, can make a difference.  Let’s all take a step in the right direction.  Slow down.  Take a breath.  Say sorry.  Change the system from fear and greed to love and sharing.  Do it now.  May be we’ve still got time.world02

Computers in school do not improve results. Doh! It’s about culture.

OECD research shows that  frequent use of computers in schools is more likely to be associated with lower results.   Among 70 countries, heavy  investment in information and communications technology have seen “no noticeable improvement” in Pisa test results for reading, mathematics or science.monkeyoncomputer

This is not surprising.  As with any technology, it can be “good” or “bad” depending on how it is used and all too often ICT is used as a substitute for thinking.  That might be ok if you are a thinker, but if using a computer is just a crutch, used to copy/paste ideas or fill time will 2D pictures and sound, then its use is retarding your development.

Continue reading Computers in school do not improve results. Doh! It’s about culture.

Cyborgs are coming to take your job, especially if you’re young.

The prospect of your job being automated is increasing.  The convergence of neuroscience, computing, biology and engineering has already made robotic prosthetics a reality and everyone carries a small thinking machine so that they can remember phone numbers, birthdays etc (media device/phone).monkeytorobot

We are certainly choosing a future in which we don’t work.  We haven’t addressed the consequences in a thoughtful way evidenced by the unchanged platitudes by politicians, ongoing agglomeration of industry and commerce (get big to survive) with its attendant pyramid of wages (little at the bottom, inconceivable wealth at the top) and public education systems still modelled on the factory.

Continue reading Cyborgs are coming to take your job, especially if you’re young.

Three things parents must teach children: money, food, autos

The following piece by Leah Holstein on Funderstanding is a simple, fun admonition with some helpful links.  Enjoy the read or just note the message:

Teach children about finances, cooking and cars because they are essential skills for life which are not taught at school

Continue reading Three things parents must teach children: money, food, autos