Perspective Check: On Non-Exclusivism in Religion


Here’s a perspective we don’t get very often:

Originally posted on The Queen of Cups:

Religious_diversity_in_Nagasaki,_Nagasaki_Prefecture,_island_of_Kyushu,_Japan.Good evening, everyone,

My roommate and I got into a conversation last night which raised an interesting point.

In the West, it is absolutely ingrained in our culture that you are one religion OR the another. The Abrahamic God proclaimed early on in his ministry that his followers were not to pay homage to any other gods or their customs; thus started the Abrahamic tradition of quite literally demonizing the divinities and traditions of other religions. “These things may exist,” opined the Jews, Christians, and Muslims, “but if so, they are evil. They are demons.”

Elaborate theologies of logic and philosophy were built by the Abrahamic scholars, explaining why their worldview was right and all others deeply flawed. Treatises were written on the evil and insufficiency of “untruth” and “demonism,” which were both terms frequently applied to the religions which were native to a region before the Abrahamic missionaries showed…

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Time – The Ultimate Perspective Check

Skyscraper_on_Grand_Avenue-LAWriting science fiction can be strange.

There are many things the subconscious mind realizes that the conscious does not. Figuring out why something does not “feel right” can be an interesting process. What is the rational reason why this is wrong?

Take my recent effort to construct a future version of Los Angeles – about 100 years in the future. Wishing to avoid both the utopia and dystopia tropes, I found myself thinking “let’s see if we can keep it more or less the same as it is today.”

I promptly realized that this was impossible.

Adding shiny new superficial trappings like cosmetic genetic engineering was not enough to make Los Angeles feel “different enough” for the year 2015. Adding new architecture to its skyscrapers and a seawall to keep out the rising oceans didn’t help, either.

It was the socioeconomic structure that wasn’t right. And it was at that point that I realized that L.A.’s current socioeconomic dynamics – and those of America in general – are unsustainable.

We’ve all heard this claimed in theory: that our current lifestyle is unsustainable because one day we will run out of food, or descend into a horrible dystopia where people eat each other for sport. Alternately, we’re told by optimists that this very lack of sustainability will force us to evolve into a utopia, where everyone has food and housing and a high degree of respect for their fellow man.

It is one thing to hear this from statisticians who seem to live in a world apart from our own, or from activists whose self-righteousness often belies their cuase.

It is another thing to see it. To realize while attempting to envision our fairly-near future that the social dynamics of our current society cannot possibly remain as they are. That your own mind rebels against this idea for reasons that have nothing to do with abstract numbers and everything to do with what you can already perceive in your own world.

My own background in socioeconomic research gave me the groundwork I need to understand why a Los Angeles with the same wealth-power disparities we see today is physically impossible in the future.

Why my writer’s brain, my observer’s brain, told me, is that it didn’t feel right. Something was wrong, in the same way that something feels wrong when a character does something that is completely out-of-character because the author wanted them to. It didn’t work.

I could pick apart enough threads of why it didn’t work to connect this perception to some facts.

We know, for example, that wealth inequality has been growing in the United States for 30 years at a truly alarming pace. We know that the salaries of the top 1% of earners have risen at over three times the rate of our country’s median wage – and that the minimum wage has effectively not grown at all. We know that even as our median wage has risen by 60%, the cost of a college education has risen by 1200% over the same time period – effectively making college less attainable for the children of our median wage workers by a factor of 20. We know that the U.S. now ranks among the bottom third of world nations on the GINI coefficient – a measure of the equitability of resource distribution.

We know that NASA has published a study showing that the two conditions we are beginning to become aware of now – strained natural resources and an “elite” class separated from the daily realities of the lower classes – are the two conditions that portend the total collapse of a civilization within about 125 years.

We know that we can peg the “start date” for our current round of those conditions around the year 1980.

So perhaps my brain is onto something when it says that Los Angeles cannot exist as it is today 100 years from now. Combining NASA’s findings of 125 years with our findings on economic inequality really taking off around 1980, we can give the American civilization a tentative “complete collapse” date of 2105 – ten years before I’m trying to write this story.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be that way. We’ve turned it around before – our inequality growth profile was similar to today’s 100 years ago in the 1920s – right before the Great Depression and the comparably enormous changes of FDR’s New Deal and the boost that World War II gave our economy. From the 1930s through the 1980s, we reversed our inequality growth curve, creating the years of prosperity during which the middle class grew strong and became the basis for the idyllic American life – the America where everyone worked hard, contributed to society, and enjoyed comfort and freedom from that society in return.

U.S._Distribution_of_Wealth,_2007Perhaps we’d better start figuring out how we achieved the Great Reversal of the 1930s – how we went from the fast-track collapse of the Great Depression to what we now look back on as the years of American prosperity so quickly.

Our actions now will make the difference between utopia and dystopia for the land our children inherit.

What actions do you think we should take to avert a future collapse?

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Welcome to Perspective Check

Butterfly NebulayWelcome, everyone, to this blog’s new direction.

Perhaps it’s not so much a new direction as a new realization of what this blog has always been.

I had previously, somewhat unhelpfully, categorized it as “a blog about everything.” That suits some tastes, but it’s not terribly informative.

I struggled for years as a writer who wanted to write, quite literally, about everything. The sciences have always particularly attracted me – but that was true no less for anthropology than it was for astronomy. The things that attracted me, it seemed, did not fall neatly into one category.

But what they did all have in common, I soon realized, was their effect on me: I was attracted to things that change our perspectives, that shake us out of the little far-from-universal boxes of our own worldviews.

This would explain my propensity to blog about history and socioeconomics with the same fervor as astronomy and biology; it would explain why my astronomy-centric blog often ended up containing posts about religion.

So rather than offering you a blog centered around a single subject matter, I offer you a blog with a mission: I will share, as frequently as possible, facts and thoughtstreams that challenge one’s perspective on the world.

From empathetic rodents to the amazing discoveries of the Kepler telescope to things you didn’t know about your own country, I will strive to put things in perspective.

Which perspective is the right one?

We don’t know, so we’d better try all of them.

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So it turns out you CAN donate to NASA…

Good evening everyone,

I know I’ve been silent for a long while – one of the things I’ve been thinking about in the midst of this has been the perplexing fact that it does not seem possible to donate to money NASA online, which is particularly frustrating given that they were the recipient of less than half of one percent of the federal budget in the last fiscal period.

As of today, I discovered that you CAN donate to NASA – but only if you use bitcoin, or snail mail:

Since the requirement to purchase postage, physically print out a form, and then mail a physical form of money such as cash, check, or money order may be a big inhibitor for folks who may otherwise wish to donate $5 or $10 to NASA, I thought I would share this fundraiser to essentially put together a lump sum donation to NASA and thereby save its would-be contributors a little bit of postage and effort:

The disclaimers associated with this fundraiser are as follows:

1) The donation to this GoFundMe is not tax deductible, since you are technically giving money to an individual, not a charity.

2) NASA can do anything it wants with the money after it is in NASA’s hands. No specifying which purpose or project your money should go to.

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From UC Irvine: “Chemists find a way to unboil eggs”

Originally posted on Science Springs:

UC Irvine bloc

UC Irvine

January 23, 2015
Janet Wilson, UC Irvine


UC Irvine and Australian chemists have figured out how to unboil egg whites — an innovation that could dramatically reduce costs for cancer treatments, food production and other segments of the $160 billion global biotechnology industry, according to findings published today in the journal ChemBioChem.

“Yes, we have invented a way to unboil a hen egg,” said Gregory Weiss, UCI professor of chemistry and molecular biology & biochemistry. “In our paper, we describe a device for pulling apart tangled proteins and allowing them to refold. We start with egg whites boiled for 20 minutes at 90 degrees Celsius and return a key protein in the egg to working order.”

Like many researchers, he has struggled to efficiently produce or recycle valuable molecular proteins that have a wide range of applications but which frequently “misfold” into structurally incorrect shapes when they…

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From “For Alien Planets, Atmosphere May Be Key to Day-Night Cycle”

Originally posted on Science Springs:

space-dot-com logo

January 15, 2015
Calla Cofield

Alien planets that orbit close to their parent stars may be at high risk of the ultimate hot-cold scenario, with one side stuck in permanent daylight while the other shrouded in everlasting night. But a thin atmosphere may be enough to save a planet from this fate.

An artist’s concept of Kepler-186f, an Earth-size planet found orbiting in the habitable zone of its parent star. A planet like Kepler-186f with a smaller orbit than Earth’s could be at risk of having only one hemisphere face toward the star, with the other hemisphere always facing away. Credit: NASA Ames/SETI Institute/JPL-Caltech

Size comparison of Kepler-186 f with Earth

Living on a planet with one side in perpetual sunlight and the other in perpetual darkness would pose some significant challenges for survival — the sunny side of the planet might reach boiling…

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Nearly half the systems crucial to stability of planet compromised


Ignoring the truth will not make it go away.

Originally posted on After Big Bang:

Almost half of the processes that are crucial to maintaining the stability of the planet have become dangerously compromised by human activity. That is the view of an international team of 18 researchers who provide new evidence of significant changes in four of the nine systems which regulate the resilience of the Earth.

“People depend on food, and food production depends on clean water,” says Prof. Elena Bennett from McGill’s School of the Environment who contributed the research on the nitrogen-phosphorus cycle to the study. “This new data shows that our ability both to produce sufficient food in the future and to have clean water to drink and to swim in are at risk.”

The research fixing new planetary boundaries (which represent thresholds or tipping points beyond which there will be irreversible and abrupt environmental change) was published today in the journal Science. It suggests that changes to the…

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