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All the Rest

Essays, Elucidations, Exegesis

  • Climates Change—Get Over It!

    We live on a restless planet. We wouldn’t be here otherwise. Our lineage, Homo sapien, began its social conquest of the planet some 200,000-year ago. Throughout the dramatic rise of our common ancestors, climates have changed. As ice ages advanced, enormous glaciers extending down from the poles sucked up the oceans of our planet turning them into mile-deep rivers of

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  • Applied Big History: Why It Matters to Value Investors

    Based on a talk given at the Research Retreat of Canyon Partners September 10, 2014, Beverly Hills, CA “If you don’t do macro, macro will do you.” —Daniel Och, CEO of Och-Ziff Capital Management Group Hedge funds are looking for competitive advantages in long-term investments. You want to understand large-scale market trends and investment opportunities in different segments of the

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  • The Competent Outsider

    What does it mean to be a “competent outsider”? This has been a major challenge in my life. I grew up during school desegregation and struggled with black and white lines that divided Wilmington, Delaware, and the rest of the country in the 1960s. I have traveled widely and lived abroad on several occasions—Israel, Germany, and Sri Lanka. I studied and

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  • Mathematics and Game of Thrones

    Let us pick up where we left off in the last episode. The queen is dead, long live the queen! We’ll recall that in medieval European universities, theology was thought of as “the queen of the sciences,” but today, theology can make no such claim on this academic throne. To do so, I argued, she would need to fully embrace what we

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  • The Queen of the Sciences

    Our medieval ancestors understood theology to be the queen of the sciences. Her twin sister Sophia—the Greek word for “wisdom”—was also venerated in the discipline of philosophy. It was hard to tell the two beauties apart, but together they once ruled the many domains of human knowledge. Theology departments today, however, are increasingly irrelevant backwaters in the modern university, engaged

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  • The Great Matrix of Big History

    Understanding Natural Hierarchies through Big History Our European ancestors once understood the universe to be a Great Chain of Being. All the entities of the world — animal, vegetable, mineral — were hierarchically organized. At the bottom were metals, precious metals, and precious stones. Then came plants and trees, followed by wild animals and domesticated animals. Humans were also hierarchically

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  • Religion und Naturwissenschaft

    Die Grundlage eines sinnvollen Engagements zwischen Religion und Naturwissenschaft Vortrag für den RSNG-Jahreskongress der Akademie der Diözese Rottenburg-Stuttgart. 28.-30. September 2012   Zunächst möchte ich mich für die Gelegenheit bedanken, wieder bei Ihnen sein zu dürfen, um neue Perspektiven kennen zu lernen und meine Kompetenzen zu erweitern.  Ich habe mich hier sehr wohlgefühlt und möchte die Gelegenheit nutzen, um mich bei

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  • Recovery Planning for Climate Catastrophes

    Join with me in a thought experiment. Imagine a major planetary cataclysm. It could be a global nuclear war, a devastating pandemic, or perhaps rapid climate catastrophes. It could be a sleeper computer virus, wiping out all digital memory banks. In any of these scenarios, we would anticipate an economic and environmental collapse, though not necessarily in that order. The

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  • Big History gets Bigger

    It was the first meeting of the International Big History Association, and it brought together 200 academics—university, secondary, and primary school educators from diverse disciplines, as well as some creatives and activists—united with a passion for putting together “the whole damn story.” Over the course of four days in Grand Rapids, Michigan, we were wowed by 143 presenters, performances, visualizations, and

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  • Greece, the Global Economy, and Big History

    Watching the sunset from the cliffs of the Santorini caldera attracts tourists from all over the world, I recently discovered on a family sailing trip in the Greek Islands. The Cyclades archipelago is one of the cradles of human civilization, dating back 6,000 years, when late Neolithic and early Bronze Age communities thrived here. They cultivated emmer wheat and wild

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  • Energy Solutions from the Perspective of Big History

    Humans now consume some 18 trillion watts of energy in a variety of forms—fossil fuels (coal, oil, gas); hydropower; nuclear; renewables (solar, wind, biomass, biofuels, and geothermal); and of course, the food that the 7 billion of us eat. Without this energy constantly running through the arteries of our global civilization, the world as we know it would collapse. Our

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  • Easter: A Moveable Feast

    Easter, you may have noticed, is not a fixed day in the calendar. While Christmas, in contrast, occurs reliably every year on Dec. 25, Easter wanders around on a given Sunday in late March or April. This year Easter will be celebrated on March 31, but in 2014 it will occur on April 20. The reason has to do with

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  • Between Atheism and Fundamentalism

    In jest I call myself “a recovering Unitarian.” I was raised believing that all religions are the same, so we valued none of them, equally. While it is unfair to ascribe this view to Unitarian Universalists in general, it was true of my congregation in that time and place. In church we sang traditional hymns, but the verses had been

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  • Engaging the New Metanarrative

    Science is progressive, and it tends toward consensus of necessity. Science discovers, illuminates, and crafts facts, and we rely on these complex facts in practical ways. Unlike religion, science is pretty much the same collection of complex facts in all cultures around the world. These facts are uncovered with considerable effort by peer-reviewed scientific guilds around a multitude of specializations

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  • Telling Time: A Correlated Big History

    The challenge of measuring time reaches back to the origins of human consciousness. From a 28-day periodicity of the moon (and human female menstruation), early humans derived the concept of a month divided into four weeks of seven rising and setting suns. From the 365.25-day solar cycle, humans derived the concept of a year. And because 365 is not evenly

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  • History as Science

    History is generally considered part of the humanities, a discipline alongside literature and languages, philosophy and the arts. The humanistic study of history focuses on the interpretation of the written word and other cultural artifacts created by humans in ages past. The invention of writing marks the division between “history” and “pre-history.” Writing developed in Mesopotamia and Egypt beginning around

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  • The Neurosciences of Bar Mitzvah

    Attending a recent Bar Mitzvah ceremony, I was impressed, once again, by the wisdom of this ancient tribal initiation ceremony. The 13-year-old boy (or girl, in what’s called a Bat Mitzvah) is surrounded by family and friends as he recites the Torah portion in Hebrew and offers a short sermon about the importance of the reading. The ceremony takes place

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  • The New Silent Majority

    When Thanksgiving dinner conversation drifts into religious dogma, here is the way I’ll respond, with a wink and a smile: “That’s nice, Aunty. Thank you for sharing. But I am spiritual, not religious. I love the Brussels sprouts and chestnuts. Did you make that dish?” It is a polite way to change the subject. In the U.S., it is increasingly

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  • Christmas: A Meditation

    The Christmas story is subversive, so we try to render it safe and saccharine. Contrast the idea of God as some great, all-powerful being in the sky with the icon of the helpless baby in the manger. The former, many imagine, micromanages all the details of our lives and the nightly news; the other needs his diaper changed. The Christmas

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  • Ha! Philosophy of Science at the Comedy Club

    Back in 1989, I fell into a doctoral program when I discovered a passion and talent for teaching. Since falling in with Metanexus, I left the tenure-career track and became an itinerant professor, teaching occasional courses here and there—UPenn, Swarthmore, Peradeniya, and CCNY. Over the years, I have found myself in exciting teaching situations in universities and lecture halls all

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  • Climates Change

    We need a back up plan! In the face of the cold sciences and heated debates about climate change, we should remember first and foremost that climates do indeed change. Do not assume that the seasonal patterns humans have adapted to and enjoyed around the world for the last 10,000 years are a permanent fixture. Climates change and civilization needs

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  • Peak Humanity

    I was born in 1957. Eisenhower was president. The Soviet Union launched Sputnik. The Cold War was heating up, even as McCarthyism literally died out. Science and technology were all the rage. Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story debuted on Broadway. Leave It to Beaver with its vision of the ideal American family premiered on television. There were 2.8 billion people

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  • Millennialism at the Singularity

    Reflections on the Metaphors, Meanings, and Limits of Exponential Logic Imagine billions of nanobots, tiny computerized machines smaller than your red blood cells, travelling through your body, inserted in your brain, all communicating internally with each other and externally with machines outside of your body. These nanobots could repair damaged cells in your body, destroy cancer cells, eliminate pathogens, provide

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  • Reducing your Tech Overhead

    How a Small Nonprofit Made Simple Tech Tweaks and Saved $176,000 The Chronicle of Philanthropy February 20, 2011 Like many nonprofits struggling in the economic downturn, my organization has tightened its belt. A year ago we reduced our work force from 10 to four staff members and cut our operating budget by almost two-thirds. The Metanexus Institute works to promote

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  • Oh Say Can You See! Fireworks as Performance Art

    For twenty-two years Peter Schjeldahl and his wife Brooke Alderson have hosted a Fourth of July picnic at their summer home in the Catskills, New York. Schjeldahl is better known as the art critic for the New Yorker and an acclaimed poet, but his annual fireworks display has become a performance art piece of epic proportions. This explosive show is

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  • Reinventing Science Education

    Government and business leaders are worried about STEM education. There is a growing shortage in the United States of teachers and students in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). Hundreds of million are invested in public-private initiatives to retrain STEM teachers and to recruit and prepare new STEM teachers. The initiatives rightly recognize the importance of STEM professionals to our

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  • Avatar and the Collective Unconscious

    Channeling 21st Century Ambivalences James Cameron’s Avatar (2009) takes us to a world beyond our imagination through the use of computer simulation to tell a powerfully real story about twenty-first century ambivalences. This paper analyzes the movie Avatar through the lens of archetypal psychology and the concept of ambivalence (Freud, Jung, et. al.). Theories of emplotment also help to understand

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  • Post-Darwinism: The New, New Synthesis

    A review of Ecological Developmental Biology: Integrating Epigenetics, Medicine, and Evolution, by Scott F. Gilbert and David Epel (Sunderland, MA: Sinauer 2009). As a combatant in the evolution wars here in the United States and abroad, I have penned and processed quite a few papers on the interpretation of evolution. This means also reviewing the vast literature in evolutionary psychology, particularly its attempts

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  • A.N. Whitehead’s Metaphysics

    Resources and Problems In 1927, British mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead was asked to give the prestigious Gifford Lectures on Natural Theology at the University of Edinburgh.  His talks were published two years later as Process and Reality, the book that introduced Whitehead’s process philosophy to the world and secured him a place in the canon of Western metaphysics.  Today, Whitehead’s

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  • Judaism in an Age of Science

    Universalism and Particularism A Review of Norbert M. Samuelson, Jewish Faith and Modern Science: On the Death and Rebirth of Jewish Philosophy, New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2009. Modern Jews are torn between the particularist teachings of their religious tradition and the universalist aspirations of science (or maybe they should be more so). Of course, other religious traditions face similar

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  • Astrobiology and the Human Prospect

    In the Heavens as It is on Earth: Astrobiology and the Human Prospect The collision occurred on February 10, 2009 over Siberia at 0455 GMT at an altitude of 790 kilometers (490 miles) above the Earth. An Iridium communications satellite struck a defunct Soviet-era Cosmos 2251 communications satellite. Scientists estimate that the collision speed of the two orbital objects was

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  • Our Common Story: A Big History Syllabus

    This is a teachable moment — the best of times and the worst of times. How should we understand the world around us? Take with me a semester-long course on Big History. This “Short Course on Everything” will provide you an overview of the physical, chemical, biological, and human sciences. We will debate how to understand our new common story and what it

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  • Nationalism, Terrorism, and Religion

    It has been my distinct privilege and pleasure to live in Sri Lanka these last eight months serving as a Senior Fulbright Fellow in the Department of Pali and Buddhist Studies at the University of Peradeniya. I have been able to travel widely in this beautiful country and to meet many, many truly wonderful people. I am here giving this

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  • Teaching the History of Nature

    Towards an Integrated Science Curriculum (1) The 20th century has seen enormous advances in science and technology. General science literacy, however, lags far behind the progress made by highly trained specialists in diverse disciplines. For instance, in the United States, arguably the most scientifically advanced country in the world, there is remarkable ignorance of basic scientific concepts, in spite of

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  • Leeches on the Road to Enlightenment

    No one warned me about the leeches. I arrived at Nilambe Buddhist Meditation Centre early on a Saturday morning full of trepidation. The Centre is located high up on the side of a mountain about twenty kilometers south of Kandy, Sri Lanka, where I am spending the year as a Senior Fulbright Fellow teaching comparative religion in the Department of

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  • Evolution as Revelation

    A review of Thank God for Evolution!: How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your Life and Our World (2007), by Michael Dowd. Japanese Buddhists use the term “the stench of Enlightenment,” or so I have been told, to describe someone who has newly achieved satori. The newly initiated or born-again religious believer is often just too much to take, hence

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  • Eating Well Together

    Donna Haraway’s Companion Species Manifesto It was a rainy fall day in Pennsylvania farm country. I was assisting the farmhand and the extension service veterinarian in separating the calves from a herd of some eighty Angus cows. The process involved herding the cattle into a pen and sending them one at a time through a shoot, where a vet inspection

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  • Entangled Narratives

    Competing Visions of the Good Life   Our first business will be to supervise the making of fables and legends, rejecting all which are unsatisfactory; and we shall induce nurses and mothers to tell their children only those which we have approved. — Socrates in Plato’s Republic   Modern humans, perhaps more than at any other time in human history, are caught up

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  • Metanexus: The Challenge

    My charge tonight is to give a keynote in which I lay out what I think the major challenges are for Metanexus and the work ahead. I was not to offer a retrospective, but a prospectus, both intellectual and strategic. I would like to begin by unpacking our call for “the constructive engagement of religion and science”. I will first

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  • Useless Arithmetic and Inconvenient Truths

    A Review of Useless Arithmetic: Why Environmental Scientists Can’t Predict the Future by Orrin H. Pilkey and Linda Pilkey-Jarvis, Columbia University Press, 2007. ISBN 0-231-13212-3 My story begins with the intriguing title of a new book — Useless Arithmetic: Why Environmental Scientists Can’t Predict the Future .  The authors are a father and daughter team.  The father is Orrin H.

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  • Evolution as Revelation

    A review of Thank God for Evolution:How the marriage of science and religion will transform your life, by Michael Dowd (2007) Japanese Buddhists use the term “the stench of Enlightenment,” or so I have been told, to describe someone who has newly achieved satori. The newly initiated or born-again religious believer is often just too much to take, hence “the stench”! With

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  • Review of Beinhocker The Origin of Wealth

    In Search of New Economic Metaphors for Biology  A review of Eric D. Beinhocker, The Origin of Wealth: Evolution, Complexity, and the Radical Remaking of Economics, Harvard Business School Press, 2006. _______________________________________________   What if biologists were to go back and reread economics? This is the question I want to foreground. It is well-known that Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection

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  • Metanexus: The Very Idea

    The juxtaposition of the concepts “science” and “religion” in our civilization is a kind of Rorschach Test for all kinds of deeply held prejudices and beliefs. The terms are often thought of almost as antonyms and reflect a profound cultural ambivalence in our postmodern civilization. That is why we decided to create a new term, a neologism that in our

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  • Science, Religion, and the Bomb

    Presented at the First International Congress on Religion and Science, Tehran, Iran, May 2006 I want to thank the organizers and sponsors of this First Iranian International Congress on Religion and Science. Many years and a lot of hard work brought us to this event.  Much study and thought has gone into preparing the many wonderful lectures.  Thank you also

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  • Sleepless in Tehran

    2:00 AM. I woke up suddenly from a nightmare.1 It takes a few days to get over the jetlag. It may take a lifetime to get over this trip. Since arriving a few days ago, I plowed through a busy schedule and crashed each night after eleven, only to wake up again an hour or two later. Should I take a

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  • Science, Semiotics, and the Sacred

    Seeking Spiritual Information in the Deep Structure of Reality Our principal benefactor at Metanexus Institute is John Templeton, the 90-year-old visionary mutual funds manager of significant fame and accomplishment.  Templeton is fond of using the term “new spiritual information” to describe the purpose of his philanthropic work in science and religion.  With the explosion of information in the 20th century,

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  • Ecology, Religion, and Science

    in The Encyclopedia of Religion, Second Edition, edited by Lindsay Jones, New York, Macmillian Reference, V. 1, 2005. The contemporary dialogue between religion and science is part of the foundation of the religion and ecology dialogue. Many of the contemporary luminaries in this dialogue—Ian Barbour, Holmes Rolston III, John Haught, John Cobb, Jr., and many others—also have published on ecological issues.

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  • Universal Reason

    Science, Religion, and the Foundations of Civil Societies Presented at the Institute for Wisdom and Philosophy, Tehran, Iran, May 9, 2005 In the name of God, the Compassionate and Merciful.   At a time of heightened alienation and conflict between Islam and the West, there is an urgent need to promote a “dialogue of civilizations” as called for by President

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  • Beyond Intelligent Design

    The English theologian William Paley wrote an influential book in 1802 entitled Natural Theology: Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity, Collected from the Appearances of Nature.  Paley employed the metaphor of a watch discovered on a beach.  One would not know who made the watch, but one could infer that there was certainly a watchmaker.  In such a

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  • Engaged Contemplations for a Troubled World

    presented at the international symposium on Modern Science, Mysticism & East-West Dialogue Held in Lonavla, India January 2-6, 2005 This talk is dedicated to the victims, survivors, and responders to the December 26, 2004 Earthquake and Tsunami in South Asia. Some years ago, when my daughters were young , they came home from elementary school with

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