Multae Sententiae is Latin for "many thoughts". Free thinking leads to Enlightenment. Enlightenment leads to happiness...

Monday, November 20, 2006 CE

Book Review Number 1: The Decline and Fall of the Ottoman Empire by Alan Palmer

Click at the picture to find book at

I just finished this book. I think it is well written, easy to follow. I perceived at some times the attempt to mimic Gibbon’s style, however, I believe that author wanted to keep it simpler than that.

The book gives the idea of an Ottoman Empire constantly in decline from the seventeenth century onwards, which is probably true. It places the pinnacle of the Ottomans at the siege of Vienna in 1683. It shows the multiple attempts and failures of ”westernization” within the Empire and the challenges the Empire had to govern the outer provinces.

This is not said, but one can obtain as a conclusion that the Industrial Revolution and the Enlightenment reversed the balance of power that existed between Europe and the Ottomans between 1453 and 1683.

**** 4 stars out of 5

Thursday, November 09, 2006 CE

Speciation and Creationist Mythology

Speciation is the formation of a new species. Defined more properly would be: “the evolutionary process by which new biological species arise.” It is a concept key to the understanding of evolution. Unfortunately, we live in times in which there is a great rift between scientists and not-scientists. Concepts that are basic for the science student at the university level are completely unknown for other people.

The first step to understand the concept is to define what a species is. A good general definition of species is “the basic unit of biodiversity”. However, we need to get a little bit more specific. A working definition for the post, at least for the sexually-reproducing species, is “a set of actually or potentially interbreeding populations, which always generate fertile offspring.” Using this last definition makes us easily visualize that, for example, the dog, in spite of all its different morphologies is a species. A Fox Terrier, can breed with a Great Dane and have fertile offspring. On the other hand, a horse and a donkey can breed, but their offspring is not fertile.

One creationist myth is that we have not seen a new species being generated since humans populated the planet. This is not true. Species have been created artificially. For example, domestic sheep were created by hybridization, and no longer produce viable offspring with Ovis orientalis, one species from which they are descended. The best-documented creations of new species in the laboratory were performed in the late 1980s. Scientists bred fruit flies, using a maze with three different choices such as light/dark and wet/dry. Each generation was placed into the maze, and the groups of flies which came out of two of the eight exits were set apart to breed with each other in their respective groups. After thirty-five generations, the two groups and their offspring would not interbreed. Evolution can happen in front of our eyes.

The second step to understand the concept is to understand the mechanisms by which this happens. I am not going to go deep into this, however, I will explain the simplest theory which is the allopatric speciation.. During allopatric speciation, a population splits into two geographically isolated allopatric populations (due to geographical change or emigration). The isolated populations then go through genotypic and/or phenotypic divergence, through mutations, as they become subjected to different selective pressures. When the populations come back into contact, they have evolved such that they are reproductively isolated and are no longer capable of interbreeding. This is what happened in the experiment mentioned in the previous paragraph.

Creationism implies that the species we see are the species that were created 6000 years ago by a divine being. This can be seen in websites such as Answer in Genesis. Intelligent design, a refined form of creationism, argues that a superior intelligence engineered the morphology of the current species and not different selective pressures through to random mutations in the genetic code. Unfortunately for the ID supporters, that would not be able to be proven since someone superior would have to have designed the designer, then the designer of the designer and so on until we reach the level of the supernatural designer, not provable, since it is outside nature. On the other hand, proper scientists have shown that new species can be formed and that the key for this is differential selective pressure combined with geographical isolation for a given period of time, which can be short like in the example of the fruit fly or longer like in the example of domestic sheep.
Further reading:

Thursday, November 02, 2006 CE

Are You Really Free?

Most people would answer “yes! We live in a free country!” However, in order to answer to this apparently simple question we have to clarify a couple of concepts.

First, we have the concept of political freedom, which is a combination of the ability to exercise, in an unrestrained form, the following rights: Assembly, association, education, movement (or travel), press, religion (or belief), speech, and thought. Anyone who lives in an environment that provides the above mentioned rights can consider itself living in a free society. However, is that enough?

There is also the concept of philosophical freedom. I went to the Wikipedia to find a good definition of this and I found this: “Freedom is a many-faceted, positive term encompassing the ability to act consciously, in a well-balanced manner and with self control in a given constructive direction”.” It is often measured by the degree of absence of external restraint or external control; however, the biggest restraints come from the self: ignorance, which leads to fear, then restraint; and the lack of self control”. External restraints (or control) are also the ones that make a society not free from a political point of view.

Given the two concepts, we must conclude that in order to be free, we have to live in an environment that provides enough rights {political freedom) and, at the same time, be able to act always consciously without internal restraints (philosophical freedom). Therefore, an individual who lives in a politically free society cannot consider itself free if its actions are limited by ignorance, fear and lack of self-control. Likewise, a person who is intellectually superior and emotionally balanced cannot consider itself free if it lacks the essential rights mentioned above.

Now, after the definitions have been provided, how many of us are really free? We can argue that we, in the U.S., live in a politically free society. So, in order to define ourselves as free we have to concentrate in the concept of philosophical freedom. We can reduce the issue to 2 simple questions. Are we ignorant? And, do we always exhibit self-control? (Or do I never let my emotions take control of myself?)

Ignorance is not an absolute term. We can be ignorant about some topics and knowledgeable about others. If we remain ignorant with respect, for example a potential threat, we become fearful, therefore prisoner of an emotion. This is a moment of weakness that can be used by other individuals to restrict our political freedom. The key to fight ignorance is to achieve high quality information. How do we achieve it in a world that seems to have an abundance of it? There are 3 elements that I took from an article by Sheldon Richman. They are independent thought, rigorous questioning and rational skepticism. If we exercise these 3 elements in our everyday gathering of information, we certainly become freer.

Emotion control is also important. Fear, rage, panic, sadness, extreme joy, can certainly impair the judgment and limit the range of options we have we confront situations. We are human beings, not machines, so we certainly will be moments in which our freedom will be restrained by an intense emotion.

Having said everything, I must conclude that freedom is not an absolute term. We can be free sometimes and prisoner in other times. However, I can say that there are people that are freer than other ones. Living in a politically free society that lets us speak our mind and travel where we want is certainly not enough.
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